Revelation resources -- Revelation, persecutions and the imperial cult

Most recent revision May 26th, 2002

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Description: This page gives references to the works who treat the themes of persecutions and the imperial cult with or without reference to Revelation. Although some scholars have uttered their disagreement, until recently few Revelation scholars have doubted that there were imperially initiated severe persecutions in Asia which was the primary reason for Revelation. Now, however, several scholars have rejected or modified this traditional view, but no consensus has been reached, and the debate is likely to continue untill more research and synthetic interpretation has been carried out. (27 Dec 1996 22:31)

See also

Boer, Willem den (ed.): Le culte des souverains dans L’empire romain. (Entretiens sur l’antiquité classique 19). Genève: Fondation Hardt, 1973.

This books contains lectures, and responses from a number of experts on this topic, including Fergus Millar, Jean Beaujeu, Willem den Boer, and Christian Habicht. Only recently has the view of, e.g., Fergus Millar found acceptance. (27 Dec 1996)

Cuss, D.: Imperial Cult and Honorary Terms in the New Testament. (Paradosis 23). Fribourg: The UP, 1974.

Cuss's 168 page book treats the topic of imperial cult and honorary terms. After two initial chapters on the sources and a survey of NT implications towards the Roman Empire and the Emperor, Cuss then analyses references to the imperial cult in Revelation, the significance of the "second beast" and its implications in Imperial Worship, Two Cult-Expressions parallelled in Imperial and Christian usage (i.e., ascension as glorification and the implications of epiphaneia and finally the questions of the relationship between persecution and the Imperial cult. The get-up of the book includes a scriptural index, indices to Greek and Latin literary sources and to deities, a general index and an index to modern scholars and a 8 page bibliography. This work is interesting in the light of recent reader-oriented research, but fails to argue its premises which are, unfortunately, not as sure as they were generally thought to be in the seventies. A second problem might be that because the majority of NT material is found in Revelation, the relationship between Revelation and imperial cult is analysed on the basis of the texts from Revelation which Cuss already has decided in advance to be references to the imperial cult. If it can reasonably be argued that this premise is subject to debate, then the thesis of this work is also subject to debate. (2 Feb 1997)

Keresztes, P.: Imperial Rome and the Christians. Vol. 1. From Herod the Great to about 200 A.D. Lanham, MD./New York/London, 1989.

Focus on Roman government and law. Chapter 2: “Paul, the Acts and Imperial Rome” (pp. 45-66), chapter 3: “The Profession of Christianity Made Criminal” (pp. 67-82) and chapter 4: “The Terror of Domitian” (pp. 83-101) are relevant to the theme on this page. Keresztes has quite another view than, e.g., Thompson, Book. (27 Dec 1996)

Kraybill, J. Nelson: Imperial cult and commerce in John's Apocalypse. (JSNT.SS 132). Sheffield: JSOT Press (an imprint of Sheffield Academic Press), 1996.

No description yet, but apparently a quite interesting book ... (19 May 1997).

Price, S.R.F.: ”Between Man and God: Sacrifice in the Roman Imperial Cult” in: Journal of Roman Studies 70 (1980), 28-43.

Quite important study on this topic which is often mistreated in studies written by Western scholars who have lost the ancient view on the role of sacrifices. (27 Dec 1996)

Price, S.R.F.: ”Gods and Emperors: The Greek Language of the Roman Imperial Cult” in: Journal of Hellenic Studies 104 (1984), 79-95.

No comments yet ... (27 Dec 1996)

Price, Simon R.F.: Rituals and Power. The Roman imperial cult in Asia Minor. Cambridge; London; New York: CUP, 1984.

This dissertation is written by one of the worlds leading scholars on the topic of imperial cult, Dr. Simon Price. This book is the starting point, if you want to understand the imperial cult. Price has received honor for his book, but also some critique. See S.J. Friesen: Twice Neokoros above. (27 Dec 1996)

Scherrer, Steven Joseph: Revelation 13 as an Historical Source for the Imperial Cult under Domitian. Diss. Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., 1979.

No comments yet ... (27 Dec 1996)

Scherrer, S.J.: ”Signs and Wonders in the Imperial Cult: A New Look at a Roman Religious Institution in the Light of Rev 13:13-15” in: Journal of Biblical Literature 103 (1984), 599-610.

Scherrer's thesis supports the usual understanding of Rev 13, but his arguments should only be followed with great caution, in my view. (27 Dec 1996)

Sordi, Marta: The Christians and the Roman Empire. London; London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986.

Sordi has treated the topic of relationship between the Roman Empire and the Christians earlier (Il christianesimo e Roma (1965) and this is her second book on this theme. Her view has not changed, but this book treats the questions raised since 1965 including misunderstandings which have arisen as the result of her proposition. Sordi proposed (and still do) that "the conflict between Rome and Christianity was ethical and religious, ideological and emotional, but was not, at least not on its deepest level, a political conflict at all" (p. 4). In order to tidy up all the issues (although she admits that some ambiguities and difficulties remain) she analyses the relationship between the Christians and the Roman Empire throughout the first three centuries in two parts. One: The Christians and the Political Power and Two: The Christians and the Roman World. I highly recommend this book to anyone working with NT and Revelation in particular. Sordi claims that Christians were persecuted and that a great many people lost their lives, but that the conflict almost never was a political one. The Christians continued to "profess their loyalty to the Roman state and to call themselves good Roman citizens even during periods of persecution" (p. 4). Of course, the Sordi's proposition is dependent on her definitions, but do read the book to verify the qualities of her work. (29 Mar 1997)

Thompson, Leonard L.: The Book of Revelation. Apocalypse and Empire. Oxford, 1990.

Thompson's study is one of the most important studies on Revelation written in the last decade. Thompson argues strongly that the traditional pejorative view on Domitian is due not to balanced arguments in modern scholarship, but to writers supporting the new imperial dynasty after Domitian's assassination. Domitian did in fact suffer from paranoia, but so did emperors quite often. There is no evidence that Domitian persecuted Christians or even thought about it. In fact, Domitian was a good emperor to Asia, but persecuted only those who were a threat to his power. Thompson supports a traditional date anyway. (23 Dec 1996)

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