Sjef van Tilborg, «The Danger at Midday: Death Threats in the Apocalypse», Vol. 85 (2004) 1-23
This paper proposes a new suggestion in the discussion regarding possible death threats in the Apocalypse. It makes a comparison between relevant texts from the Apocalypse and what happens during festival days when rich civilians entertain their co-citizens with (gladiatorial) games. At the end of the morning and during the break special fights are organized. Condemned persons are forced to fight against wild animals or against each other to be killed by the animals or by fire. The paper shows that a number of texts from the Apocalypse are better understood, when they are read against this background.
2 Sjef van Tilborg
Revelation was indeed written in response to a crisis, but one that
resulted from the clash between the expectations of John and like-
minded Christians and the social reality within which they had to
E. SchÃ¼ssler Fiorenza thinks that
Like John, Christians of Asia Minor suffered a deep tension between
their faith and their experience. They believed in the ultimate power of
God and Christ, but at the same time they experienced daily their
powerlessness in the face of harassment, oppression, and persecu-
I donâ€™t think it is possible to reconstruct from a fictional text â€”
and the Apocalypse is in the NT a fictional text par excellence â€” the
historico-sociological setting in which the book would have arisen.
The social reality has influenced the thinking and the imagination of
the author but in my opinion it is not possible to retrieve this from the
text. What is very well possible is to show parallel lines: to make a
reconstruction of a historico-sociological reality and parallel to it to
show that (parts of) the text of the Apocalypse reflect this reality; that
they refer to it within this particular historico-sociological context; that
the same type of language is used.
There has always been a big interest in the relationship between the
cult of the emperor and the persecution. In the study of the Apocalypse
the role of Nero and Domitian in particular has then been examined.
Meanwhile it is clear that, aside from the incidental actions against
some Christians in Rome, there was no question of State persecution.
The actions in Rome had no â€” or in any case no demonstrable â€”
consequences in the provinces, in Asia Minor in this case(5).
This may all be true but according to P. Prigent it should not lead
to the conclusion that there would not have been any real danger to the
life of Christians in the Asia Minor area covered by the Apocalypse:
(3) A. YARBO COLLINS, Crisis and Catharsis (Philadelphia 1984) 165.
(4) E. SCHÃœSSLER FIORENZA, Invitation to the Book of Revelation (Garden
City, NY 1981) 28.
(5) See e.g. E. GRIFFE, Les persÃ©cutions contre les chrÃ©tiens aux Ier et IIe
siÃ¨cles (Paris 1967); Opposition et RÃ©sistance Ã lâ€™Empire dâ€™Auguste Ã Trajan (ed.
G. ADALBERTO) (Vandoeuvres â€“ GenÃ¨ve 1987); L.L. THOMPSON, Book of
Revelation, 95-132; B.W. JONES, The Emperor Domitian (London â€“ New York
1992); Sh. BARTSCH, Actors in the Audience. Theatricality and Doublespeak from
Nero to Hadrian (Cambridge, MA 1994); R.A. BAUMAN, Crime and Punishment
in Ancient Rome (London â€“ New York 1996); B. LEVICK, Vespasian (London â€“
New York 1999); FRIESEN, Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse, 145-151.