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.
The Danger at Midday: Death Threats in the Apocalypse 21
There is even no talk of any form of resistance. In a fast succession of
verbs, it states there: â€œhe will make war upon them and conquer them
and kill themâ€ (11,7). The fate of the bodies prefigures or predicts (62)
the fate that befalls the bodies of the people who are killed in the
midday intermission of the munera. There is no burial. On the
contrary, the burial is denied. The people are even happy when they see
the bodies lying. After this the possible comparison between what
happens with the bodies of the two witnesses and with the bodies of
the ordinary damnati stops. The two witnesses, like Elijah and Moses,
and like Jesus, accompanied by cosmic happenings are taken into
heaven. With the (Christian) damnati one can hope for and believe in
this, but in any case cannot see.
With chapter 12 (vv. 13-17) we find ourselves totally in the land of
myths: a dragon, a fight in heaven between angels, a woman with
cosmic attributes (63). The last part of the story is told in the form of a
qhriomaciva: the animal fighting with the human being, the dragon
fighting with the woman. What maybe are to be considered most
enlightening are those representations which K.M. Coleman so
charmingly called â€˜fatal charadesâ€™: the executions staged as
mythological enactments (64). That was a special form of amusement.
The story of the myths is re-enacted, sometimes until death ensues.
That is not the case here. The dragon begins his fight, but the woman
gets the two wings of the big eagle with which she can fly. The dragon
spits water like a river, but the earth comes to the rescue of the woman
and swallows all the water. The fight ends undecided, but the rage of
the dragon is not satisfied. He continues the fight: â€œto make war on the
rest of the offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God
and bear testimony to Jesusâ€ (12,17). Thus also here, in spite of all
(62) This past or present is dependent on whether one places the two witnesses
in the past or the future of the narrative.
(63) Very many studies have appeared, of course, about this text. For the
mythical background see in particular J.W. VAN HENTEN, â€œDragon Myth and
Imperial Ideology in Revelation 12â€“13â€, Society of Biblical Literature 1994
Seminar Papers (ed. E.H. LOVERING) (Atlanta, GA 1994) 496-515. In the
commentaries one finds a more complete bibliography. The following have
appeared recently: H. GIESEN, Studien zur Johannes-apokalypse (Stuttgart 2000);
Chr. NANZ, â€œHinabgeworfen wurde der AnklÃ¤ger unserer Bruderâ€, Theologie als
Vision. Studien zur Johannes-Offenbarung (Hrsg. K. BACKHAUS) (Stuttgart 2001);
J.U. KALMS, Der Sturz des Gottesfeindes. Traditionsgeschichtliche Studien zu
Apokalypse 12 (Neukirchen 2001).
(64) K.M. COLEMAN, â€œFatal Charadesâ€, 44-73.