Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Apocalyptic? #24: The “Land” of “Ten Kings”: Josephus

The Two-Letter Greek Word That “Blinds” the Interpreters                     

Jesus was fond of quoting Isaiah (6:9-10) concerning the “blind guide” interpreters of his day, just as I suggest that many modern-day interpreters are “blind” to what is clearly in front of their eyes:

"In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:  'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.  For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.  Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.'" (Matthew 13:14-15 NIV.  Cf., also Mark 4:12 and 8:18, Luke 8:10, John 9:39, and Acts 8:26). 


Jesus even repeats this “blindness/deafness” concept as an admonition to each of the seven churches of Revelation: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  Novice students of Revelation sometimes conclude that, since there are so many different takes on Revelation, the book is impossible to understand.  On the contrary, if one reads the various interpretations carefully, one sees that Revelation interpreters agree pretty much across-the-board concerning the interpretation of Revelation 1-5 (the Letters to the Seven Churches and the picture of God and the Lamb in Heaven) and 21-22 (the New Heavens and New Earth).  The many different interpretations are generated concerning what is going on in the seals and trumpets and plagues.  Why is this so?  Most of the differences in interpretation can be boiled down to something the interpreters, for some unexplained reason, cannot “see”:  a misinterpretation of a tiny little two-letter Greek word:  GĒ.  Although virtually ALL of the interpreters know that the interpretation advocated here is very possible, the vast majority of them choose not to “see” the best translation of this little word.  In my blogpost Apocalyptic? #11, I explain: 

The issue as to whether the term "earth" [GĒ] is to be taken as generally referring to the entire world or specifically as referring to Palestine is important.  The Jews most frequently refer to the “Land of Israel” as simply the “Land.”  The Hebrew word for “Land” is the same word translated “Earth [GĒ].”  . . . If Babylon is Jerusalem, the location of her porneia would appear to be in the "land" of Israel. Certainly, either interpretation--Palestine or Earth--is possible, as Charles acknowledges (Commentary, 1:289).

The earth/land is to be the focus of the seven last plagues in 16:1, so this is a very important interpretive issue.  If John is speaking of a destruction which comes upon the land of Israel, rather than the entire earth, it is easy to find historical referents in the Jewish war of 66-73 A.D.

The sole individual who was intimately involved in (and also has written an extensive chronicle concerning) the Jewish-Roman War of 66-73 A.D. is Josephus.  As I will demonstrate (from Josephus, himself) shortly, he is one of the “ten kings of the land” described in Revelation 17:12-18 (NKJV, with my correction for the incorrect translation “earth/GĒ”):

“The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. 13 These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast [i.e., ROME]. 14 These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”

15 Then he said to me, “The waters which you saw, where the harlot [i.e., JERUSALEM] sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. 16 And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. 17 For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. 18 And the woman whom you saw is that great city [i.e., JERUSALEM] which reigns over the kings of the [LAND/].”

I expand on my explanation, in my blogpost Apocalyptic? #16:

John is continuing his rejection of the villains' nomenclature.  Thus, he renames "the holy city" (11:2) in which the "Lord was crucified" (11:8), "Sodom and Egypt."  If he refers to Jews who dwell in Judea, he calls them the "inhabitants of the land" and leaves off the words "of Israel."  . . . In his message to the church in Philadelphia, “the hour of trial” that is coming upon “the inhabitants of the earth/land” (actually, meaning Judea, throughout the seven-year war between the Jews and the Romans from 66-73 A.D.), the NIV translation incorrectly translates what should be translated as “the inhabitants of the land” as “those who dwell upon the earth.”  “The inhabitants of the land/earth” is the exact terminology used to refer to the (non-Jewish) inhabitants of the (Promised) Land (before Israel dominated it) throughout the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, I and II Samuel, and I and II Chronicles, and even later.  Genesis 34:30, 50:11, Exodus 23:31, 34:12 & 15, Leviticus 18:25, 25:10, Numbers 13:32, 14:14, 32:17, 33:52 & 55, Joshua 2:9, 7:9: 9:24, Judges 1:32 & 33, 2:2, I Samuel 27:8, II Samuel 5:6, I Chronicles 11:4, 22:18, and II Chronicles 20:7 all use the expression “the inhabitants of the land” when referring to the non-Jewish population of the (Promised) Land.  The word translated “land” in every one of these instances is the word ארץ/ARETZ, in the Hebrew, the equivalent of γῆ/GE in the Greek, which virtually all Bible versions incorrectly translate as “Earth,” in Revelation.  A tremendous amount of confusion regarding what Revelation is predicting is removed once one realizes that the prophecies directed against the so-called “earth” (and the “inhabitants of the earth” and the “kings of the earth”) in Revelation are actually only directed against the “land” (of Israel).

G. K. Beale grapples briefly with the translation of GĒ as “land” on pp. 924-925 of his Commentary, arguing that, in Matt. 23:25, GĒ “is best translated ‘earth’ instead of ‘land’ (i.e., land of Israel),” thus, indicating that Beale understands correctly that the term GĒ may be translated either way—earth or land.  To his credit, he cites Chilton who identifies “merchants of the earth” in Revelation 18:11, 23 as “only Israelite merchants” and notes: “Furthermore, the word [GĒ] is used about eighty times in Revelation . . . .  The remaining uses could be debatable, depending on one’s overall perspective on the book . . . .  Similarly, Ford proposes that the list of trade goods . . . are best understood against the background of the economic situation in Jerusalem and especially its temple.”  A major flaw in Beale’s work is that he consistently gives short schrift to views with which he disagrees, and generally concludes his discussion with an arbitrary dismissal of their value.  Here, the value of translating GĒ as “land is, at once, stunningly mind-blowing.

The most significant attack against the credibility of the Book of Revelation has been that critical scholars believe it predicts the destruction of the EARTH [GĒ], as occurring “VERY SOON,” a prediction which, of course, did not occur.  (This problem in New Testament studies is commonly referred to as “The Delay of the Eschaton” or “The Delay of the Parousia,” which biblical problem I will discuss in a future blogpost.  Revelation 1:1 (NIV) states: “The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must SOON take place.”  John is to be listened to by his audience, according to Revelation 1:3 (NIV): “because the time is NEAR.”  John repeats his consciousness of the “what must SOON take place” throughout Revelation.  John predicts that the "time" is "near" (Revelation 1:3, 22:10), that Jesus is "coming soon" (Revelation 3:11, 22:20), that the dragon’s "time is short" (Revelation 12:12), and that these things “must soon take place" (Revelation 22:6).

This entire argument against the credibility of the Book of Revelation quickly dissipates—vanishes, melts into thin air—if one understands that it predicts the destruction of the LAND (of Israel=GĒ), AS OCCURRING “VERY SOON.”  It did, in fact, happen and history records it (especially, Josephus).  If Babylon is, as Ford argues and I agree, the old Jerusalem (not Rome), the city DID FALL VERY SOON AFTER JOHN PREDICTED IT.  If the “Kings of the Land” (not the Kings of the Earth) are indicated in Revelation 17:12-18, their actions become immediately understandable and historically demonstrable.  They are being fulfilled, even as John writes the Book of Revelation.


The (Ten) Kings of the Earth (i.e., Kings of the LAND)                    

In my book Revelation:  The Human Drama (p. 84) I observe:

John mentions the "kings of the earth" in Revelation 1:5; 6:15; 17:2,18; 18:3,9; 19:19; and 21:24.  In Revelation 1:5, Jesus the Christ is called the ruler (archon) of the kings of the earth.  . . . In Revelation 6:15, the kings of the earth are among those who hide from the great day of wrath.  This may be the wrath of God directed against the kings of the earth in Psalm 2:5.  In Revelation 17:2 and in 18:3 and 9, the harlot Babylon commits porneia [i.e., harlotry] with the kings of the earth. In Revelation 17:18, the harlot Babylon is the city which has "kingship" over the kings of the earth.  In Revelation 19:19, the kings of the earth assemble for war with the Messiah, after the harlot has been destroyed, and the beast is at that point thrown into the lake of fire.  The kings of the earth (at least some of them?) appear to have survived for in Revelation 21:24 the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into the New Jerusalem, along with the glory and honor of the "nations" of those who are "saved."


Luke assists us in understanding how the phrase “Kings of the Earth/Land” is to be interpreted, in Acts 4, in his historical application of Psalm 2:

And the peoples [Gk. laoi] think vain things.  The kings of the earth and the rulers [Gk. archontês] were assembled on the same (day) against the Lord and against his Christ.  For indeed both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the heathen and the peoples [Gk. laoi] of Israel were gathered together against your holy child, Jesus, whom you anointed. (Acts 4:25-27, emphases mine)


Acts 4, thus, identifies two important terms: "rulers" and “kings.”  In Acts 4:5, the “rulers” were gathered along with the “elders and scribes.”  Specifically, verse 6 reports that this group of “rulers” included "Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of high-priestly family" (emphasis mine).  Peter addresses the group in verse 8 as "rulers [archontês] of the people [laos] and elders of Israel" (emphasis mine).  In Acts, then, an authoritative Christian historical application, this Psalm is interpreted as an alliance between the “rulers” of the people (the priestly family) and the “kings of the earth/Land” (Herod and Pontius Pilate, specifically).  The only specific "kings of the earth" who are identified in the Acts 4 passage are Herod and Pilate, both of whom ruled over only the "land" of Israel, although they received their authority from Rome.  John’s favorite Psalm is Psalm 2.  According to Nestle and Aland, he cites this Psalm eight times in the book of Revelation.  For John, this Psalm denounces an alliance between Jewish “rulers” and "the kings of the earth," as does the author of Acts.  The Psalm asks:

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.

     "Let us break their chains," they say, "and throw off their fetters."

     The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.  Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, "I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill."

     I will proclaim the decree of the Lord:

     He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father.  Ask of me and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.  You will rule them with an iron scepter . . .” (Psalm 2:1-9).

Since the “kings of the earth/Land” refers to kings who rule over only the “land” of Israel, we may consult Josephus to see if there was a specific historical group of “ten kings” as described in Revelation 17:12-18 (cited above) who ruled only over the Land of Israel.  Josephus knows of this group of ten kings quite well, because he was one of them.  I state in my book Revelation: The Human Drama (pp. 91-92):

The ten horns of the beast are "ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom but will receive authority as kings one hour along with the beast" (17:12).  If they are identified as the "kings of the earth/land" (meaning Palestine), they enter into the equation, in the sense that they would then be understood to have committed porneia with Babylon [Jerusalem], and therefore this would explain the parallel references to the ten horns of Revelation leaving her naked (17:16) and Ezek. 16:37 where it is Jerusalem's lovers who leave her naked.  Thus, these "kings" would have an explicit link with Rome (since they are the horns of the beast), although that link is implicit.  But these ten horns are described in language that links them philosophically with the second beast [the Jewish high priesthood].  17:17 says, "For God gave into their (the horns') hearts to do His mind and to act in one mind and to give their (plural!) kingdom (singular!) to the beast."  The independent Jewish government of 66 A.D. (headed by the High Priest Ananus) was similarly described by Zeitlin:  "This government . . . played a double role.  . . . Inwardly it was for peace.  It wanted to disarm the extremists so that it should have all power concentrated in its hands and thus be allowed to make peace with Rome."


How many rulers did this government have?  TEN.  The following list is from Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book I, Chapter XX.3-4, in William Whiston, Trans., Josephus Complete Works (Grand Rapids, MI:  Kregel Publications, 1974), 497 (emphases and numbers mine):


[T]hey . . . appointed a great many generals for the war [with Rome].  [1] Joseph also, the son of Gorion, and [2] Ananus the High priest, were chosen as governors of all affairs within the city [of Jerusalem] . . . .  They also chose other generals for Idumea; [3] Jesus the son of Sapphias, one of the high priests; and [4] Eleazar the son of Ananias, the high priest; they also enjoined [5] Niger, the then governor of Idumea. . . .  Nor did they neglect the care of the other parts of the country, but [6] Joseph the son of Simon was sent as general to Jericho, as was [7] Manasseh to Perea, and [8] John, the Essene, to the toparchy of Thamma; Lydda was also added to his portion, and Joppa and Emmaus.  But [9] John, the son of Matthias, was made the governor of the toparchies of Gophnitica and Acrabastene; as was [10] Josephus, the son of Matthias, of both the Galilees.


This tenth king is the same Josephus who wrote this book (Wars of the Jews) from which we are citing the history of the Jewish Roman War.  These "kings of the earth/land" are Jewish (not heathen), but then, Herod, whom Luke named in the book of Acts as being one of the “kings of the earth/land” considers himself to be Jewish, also.  And, if Solomon Zeitlin (mentioned above, the foremost Jewish authority on Josephus and the Jewish-Roman War, in the past century) is to be believed, they act in favor of the "heathen" rule of Rome.  These "kings" are specifically "kings of the land," meaning the "land" of Palestine.  Since they took office at the time the Jews declared their independence from Rome, they actually rule for a short period "along with the beast" (Revelation 17:12).  While they are (plural) kings, they share a (singular) kingdom (Revelation 17:12, 17).  And they do in fact work in league with the beast to destroy Jerusalem (Revelation 17:16-17).  Zeitlin (2:253) observes:


“This government . . . was greatly responsible for turning a revolution into a civil war."  The civil war was the instrument, perhaps more than the Roman siege, which destroyed Jerusalem.  The various parties in the war ravaged the citizenry, confiscated and wasted precious food and ammunition.  Vespasian, himself, waited for the Jewish civil strife to complete much of the work of destroying the Jewish nation before he pressed the siege.  Jewish writers of later years blame those internal struggles for the destruction of Jerusalem.


In the next blogpost, we will consider John’s (Trumpet 2, Trumpet 3, Bowl 2, and Bowl 3) prophecies concerning the Seas and Rivers turned to blood, according to Josephus’s historical evidence. 

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