Saturday, January 21, 2017

Irenaeus and the Date of Revelation

There are basically two conservative views as to when the book of Revelation was written: (1) it was written in the late-90s AD, toward the end of Domitian’s reign; or (2) it was written sometime prior to 70 AD, during the reign of Nero. Scholars produce both internal and external evidence to support whichever view they hold.

In terms of external evidence, there’s a quote from the church father Irenaeus (130–202 AD) that is often referenced in debates about the date of Revelation. There are two questions I want to address here: (1) what Irenaeus actually said, and (2) what Eusebius thought Irenaeus said.

What Irenaeus Actually Said

Here is the oft-referenced quote from Irenaeus, the context of which is a discussion about the number and name of the Antichrist:
“Had there been any need for his name to be openly announced at the present time, it would have been stated by the one who saw the actual revelation. For it was seen not a long time back, but almost in my own lifetime, at the end of Domitian’s reign.” (Against Heresies, 5.30.3)
The phrase “it was seen” is translating a single Greek word: ἑωράθη. And this word is commonly taken to refer back to “the actual revelation” which had just been mentioned. Thus, Irenaeus would be stating that John saw his apocalyptic vision at the end of Domitian’s reign, and this would support the later date for Revelation (late-90s).

But what needs to be noted here is that ἑωράθη is a third-person singular verb, which means the subject can be either he, she, or it. So this particular verb in this particular form can just as easily be translated “he was seen.” And plenty of examples can be produced from Greek literature where the word ἑωράθη refers to a person who was seen rather than a thing or object. And just to belabor this point beyond what is necessary, here are a few of those examples:
“And he was seen (ἑωράθη) by practically all mankind. For there was no city of repute, and no nation, which he did not visit; and among all alike the same opinion of him prevailed — that they had seen no one more beautiful.” (Dio Chrysostom, Discourse 29, section 6) 
“In the capture of the city, no Theban was seen (ἑωράθη) begging the Macedonians to spare his life, nor did they in ignoble fashion fall and cling to the knees of their conquerors.” (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, 17.13.2) 
“And when he came to the last hall, then he mounted a chariot, but sometimes he mounted a horse; but on foot he was never seen (οὐδέποτε ἑωράθη) outside of his palace.” (Athenaeus, Deipnosophists, 12.8)
The point to draw from this is that only the context can determine whether ἑωράθη is best translated as “it was seen” or “he was seen.” And that’s what needs to be kept in mind when we’re interpreting Irenaeus’s use of the word.

Personally, I think Irenaeus’s point makes better sense if ἑωράθη is translated “he was seen.” In that case, Irenaeus would be referring back to John himself and not to the revelation that John saw. A paraphrase might look like this: “If Christians had needed to know the precise name of the Antichrist, John could have easily made it clear, seeing as how he was seen (i.e. he was alive) until very recently, almost in our own day.”

And if ἑωράθη is actually referring back to John himself, rather than John’s apocalyptic vision, then this oft-referenced statement from Irenaeus does not support the later date of Revelation.

To frame the issue a different way, we’re basically choosing which of the following statements makes better sense:
a. John could have revealed the name of the Antichrist, because John was seen alive until very recently.
b. John could have revealed the name of the Antichrist, because John saw the apocalyptic vision very recently.
You could argue that both statements are sensible enough, but I think the first one makes better sense. The logic seems more natural to me.

In making this decision, we also need to consider other things Irenaeus says about the book of Revelation. In fact, very shortly before the oft-referenced quote above, Irenaeus states that the number 666 is “found in all the most approved and ancient copies” of Revelation (Against Heresies, 5.30.1).

Think about that. Irenaeus makes reference to “ancient copies” of the book of Revelation. So not only were these copies ancient (i.e. they had been around a very long time), but they were also in fact copies (i.e. non-original versions). So when Irenaeus, just a couple paragraphs later, speaks of something that “was seen not a long time back, but almost in my own lifetime,” how could that be a reference to the vision of Revelation? What kind of sense would it make for Irenaeus to refer to copies of the apocalyptic vision as “ancient,” but also maintain that the vision itself occurred almost in his own lifetime?

This problem is alleviated if we understand ἑωράθη as a reference to John himself (“he was seen”), rather than the apocalyptic vision (“it was seen”).

What Eusebius Thought Irenaeus Said

Here’s how Eusebius utilized Irenaeus’s statements:
“There is ample evidence that at that time the apostle and evangelist John was still alive, and because of his testimony to the word of God was sentenced to confinement on the island of Patmos. Writing about the number of the name given to antichrist in what is called the Revelation of John, Irenaeus has this to say about John in Book V of his Heresies Answered
‘Had there been any need for his name to be openly announced at the present time, it would have been stated by the one who saw the actual revelation. For it was seen not a long time back, but almost in my own lifetime, at the end of Domitian’s reign’” (The History of the Church, 3.18).
We need to remember that Eusebius himself was very unsure about the authenticity and authority of Revelation. In setting up this quote from Irenaeus, he refers to the book as “what is called the Revelation of John,” indicating a degree of doubt as to whether John actually wrote it. More significantly, Eusebius elsewhere places Revelation in the category of “spurious books” (3.25).

So bear in mind that when Eusebius produces this quote from Irenaeus, he’s not doing so in order to make a point about the date of Revelation. He’s only trying to make a point about John himself. Specifically he’s asserting that John was alive during (and affected by) the reign of Domitian.

That said, Eusebius does claim that John’s confinement on Patmos occurred during the reign of Domitian. (In the larger context, Eusebius is speaking about the many victims of Domitian’s cruelty.) And this fact alone would support the late date of Revelation (Rev. 1:9).

But the Irenaeus quote doesn’t say anything about John’s confinement on Patmos. So why does Eusebius appeal to this statement from Irenaeus? How is he reasoning?

It seems to me that the only way for the Irenaeus quote to count as “ample evidence” for John’s exile to Patmos under Domitian is if Eusebius were assuming two things: (1) that ἑωράθη (“it was seen”) refers to the apocalyptic vision itself, rather than to John himself, contrary to what I argued above; and (2) that the testimony of Revelation 1:9 is authentic: “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”

In other words, Eusebius would be reasoning as follows:
1. Irenaeus says that Revelation was written at the end of Domitian’s reign.
2. In Revelation, John records that he was exiled on the island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9).
3. Therefore, John was exiled to Patmos during Domitian’s reign.
But it’s difficult to understand why Eusebius would reason in this way if he considers the book of Revelation to be spurious, or even if he simply wasn’t sure about the book’s authenticity.

If Eusebius was only seeking to provide evidence for the more general claim that John was alive during Domitian’s reign, then his use of Irenaeus does nothing to support the late date of Revelation. In that case, Eusebius might have interpreted Irenaeus precisely as I did above.

However, if Eusebius was also seeking to provide evidence for the more specific claim that John was exiled to Patmos during Domitian’s reign, then he does appear to interpret Irenaeus differently than I do. But this would seem to require him also to accept the testimony of Revelation as authentic, which he was never sure about, best we can tell.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Conducing Factors

Here’s a little meme-type thing that I came across the other day:

So the graphic is making the point that the only cause of rape is rapists themselves. And it also emphasizes that things like revealing clothes and intoxication are not causes of rape.

I’d like to offer some thoughts in response to that, but let me preface them with an analogy. If your house were to get burglarized, it’s true that the blame would rest solely on the burglar. He’s the only one who is truly at fault for the crime itself. However, if it’s discovered that the doors of your house were all unlocked, then the incident also serves as a reminder that it’s really not a good idea to leave your doors unlocked.

But when people point this out, they’re not blaming the victim for what happened. The unlocked doors were not the cause of the burglary, but they were definitely a conducing factor (if that’s the correct term). What I mean is, the unlocked doors made your house conducive to burglary. And keep in mind that what I’m calling a conducing factor is not the same thing as a mitigating factor. The burglar’s guilt is not lessened at all by the fact that your doors were unlocked.

Moreover, we would rightly be incredulous toward any insistence that homeowners shouldn’t have to keep their doors locked if they don’t wish to. Because that’s just not realistic. Sure, it would be great if we lived in a perfect world where burglars didn’t exist and therefore no one had to keep their doors locked. But that’s not the kind of world we live in.

So to bring this back to the issue at hand: It’s absolutely true that the blame for rape rests solely on rapists. Rape is never in any sense the victim’s fault. But there’s also a place for offering some advice as to additional conducing factors. What I mean is, in terms of certain rape scenarios, it’s perfectly rational to caution women against wearing revealing clothing and getting drunk in bad places with bad people. The only problem is that nowadays anyone who suggests such common-sensical advice can count on being reflexively accused of victim-blaming. So it goes.

But just to be clear about a few things, I’m not talking about heartlessly dismissing actual rape victims because they should’ve known better than to get drunk with scumbags. What I’m talking about is preemptively cautioning women ahead of time, so as to decrease the likelihood of this kind of crap happening to them. And also remember that a conducing factor is not a mitigating factor. The victim may have made unwise decisions, but that does not at all mitigate the rapist’s crime.

One question that might be raised at this point is where to draw the line. Say a mass shooting were to occur at a large public gathering, something like a sporting event. Could the large gathering itself be described as a “conducing factor,” and does that mean we should avoid such gatherings? And you wouldn’t have gotten injured in that car accident had you not been driving a car, so maybe we should avoid driving cars? Where should the line be drawn?

I guess the key is in whatever level of value is assigned to the “conducing factor.” Large gatherings and automobiles (at least in this day and age) seem like relatively indispensable aspects of life. Would we say the same about wearing revealing clothing and getting drunk in bad places with bad people? Is that an indispensable aspect of a woman’s life?