Saturday, July 24, 2021

Apocalyptic? #25: The “Water Turned to Blood” Plague: Josephus


The Plagues of Egypt Transformed into War Terminology              

In my previous blogpost, Apocalyptic? #23, I observed that the seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven plagues repeat each other (frequently, echoing the Exodus Plagues):

a.       Egyptian Plague 1—Water turned to blood (Exodus 7:14-25, Revelation Trumpet 2, Trumpet 3, Bowl 2, Bowl 3, See also Revelation 11:6—in a break between the 6th and 7th trumpet—a reference to Moses and the Plagues, especially turning water to blood)

b.      Egyptian Plague 2—Frogs (Exodus 8:1-15, Revelation Bowl 6)

c.       No Revelation parallels to Exodus Plagues 3 (gnats) or 4 (flies)

d.      Egyptian Plague 5—Pestilence (Exodus 9:1-3, Revelation Seal 3)

e.       Egyptian Plague 6—Boils/Sores (Exodus 9:10, Revelation Bowl 1, Bowl 5)

f.        Egyptian Plague 7—Hail and Fire (Exodus 9:22-24, Revelation Trumpet 1, Bowl 7)

g.      Egyptian Plague 8—Locusts (Exodus 10:4-5, Revelation Trumpet 5)

h.      Egyptian Plague 9—Darkness (Exodus 10:21, Revelation Seal 6, Trumpet 4, Bowl 5)

i.        Egyptian Plague 10—Death (Exodus 11:4-5, Revelation Seal 4)

While that fact is interesting, it is also interesting that virtually every one of those Exodus plagues have been transformed by John from some sort of natural disaster (as was the case with the Exodus plagues) into WAR TERMINOLOGY—indicating that the fulfillment of these Exodus plagues in Revelation pertains to a specific “war.”  Before we leap too quickly to discussions of the “Battle of Armageddon,” we should reflect on how the same war terminology was present in the mini-Apocalypse of Jesus, as described in the gospels.  Matthew 24:1-31 (NKJV) records a thorough account.  (See also Mark 13.)  I have highlighted the pertinent “war” portions:

24 Then Jesus went out and . . . His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

Now . . . the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

And Jesus . . . said to them: “. . . you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. . . . For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.”

. . .

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. 10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.

15 Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. 19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.

. . .

27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”


Luke 21 (NKJV) spells out which specific “war” Jesus was talking about; he is referring to the Roman siege of Jerusalem (70 A.D.) and the war pertaining to the land of Israel (66-73 A.D.):

20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. 22 For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people24 And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.


So, how does John in Revelation transform the Exodus Plagues into war terminology?


   He begins the seven seals with the first four--the FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE: conquest, war, famine, and death.  In my blogpost Apocalyptic? #6, I discuss the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, and cite Josephus as recording the history of what these four seals (horsemen) meant to John’s audience in 69 A.D.  Clearly, conquest, war, and death are easily seen as war terminology, but “famine” could easily be taken as a “natural disaster.”  I will demonstrate in a future post, however, by citing from Josephus, how “famine” became one of the greatest killers of Jews in the Jewish-Roman War of 66-73 A.D.  Remember, these plagues were sent upon non-Christian Jews.  Jesus had warned those who trusted his words to flee from Jerusalem and Judea (Matthew 24:16-18):  then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.” Again, Jesus warns Christians in Revelation 18:4 (NKJV): “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.


   Secondly, whereas the first Egyptian Plague—WATER TURNED TO BLOOD (Exodus 7:14-25) refers to a change of nature in the Nile River, Revelation’s Trumpet 2, Trumpet 3, Bowl 2, and Bowl 3 refer to events in the Jewish-Roman War.  Revelation 16:1 says that the bowls (of the seven last plagues) will be poured out upon the “earth/land” (see my previous post).  After the sea and the rivers were turned to blood (in 16:3-4—Bowls 2 and 3), an angel proclaims, "Since they poured out the blood of the saints and the prophets, You gave them blood to drink" (16.6).  Revelation 17:6 identifies Babylon as being "drunk from the blood of the saints and from the witnesses [martus] of Jesus."  Revelation 18:24 claims that "in her was found the blood of the prophets and of the saints, and of all those having been slain on the earth/land."  The only specific city accused elsewhere in the New Testament of "killing the prophets" is Jerusalem (Matt. 23:29-39; Lk. 11:47-51; 13:33-34).  Charles (Commentary, 1:lxvi.) claims that John is certainly familiar with Matthew and probably familiar with Luke.  Therefore, John knows about this accusation by Jesus of Jerusalem killing the prophets and saints.  In the Old Testament, Ezekiel 22:2ff. calls Jerusalem the "city of bloodshed" who "brings on herself doom by shedding blood." 


With regard to Trumpets 2 and 3, Revelation 8:8-9 (Trumpet 2) records that “a third part of the sea became blood” due to a “great mountain burning with fire” being “cast into the sea” and resulting in a third of the creatures alive in the sea dying and a third of the ships being destroyed.  These “ships” being destroyed, plus “part of the [understand:  Mediterranean] sea [becoming] blood” sounds very much like the battle between the Romans (Vespasian) and the Jews over the seacoast city Joppa in July, 67 A.D., before John completed writing Revelation but one year after the Jewish-Roman War began.  Adjacent to Tel Aviv today, Joppa was Jerusalem’s main seaport--the major natural harbor on the Mediterranean Sea for Israel. King Solomon had arranged to have cedar wood for the construction of the Temple shipped to this port, just 35 miles from Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 2:1-16). Jonah (1:3) had sailed from this seaport in his attempt to avoid prophesying to Nineveh (before being swallowed by the fish).  It held a very early Christian population, since Peter (as recorded in Acts 9:36-43) brought Tabitha (her Hebrew name), aka Dorcas (her Greek name), back to life, there.  Wikipedia reports: “Ancient Jaffa [Joppa] was built on a 40 metres (130 ft) high ridge, with a broad view of the coastline, giving it a strategic importance in military history.”  


This high ridge could well be the “mountain burning with fire” in Revelation 8:8. The fire on this ridge may have been the visual signs at night of the Roman “troops over[running] the country, as they were ordered to do, and la[ying] desolate the whole region” (Wars III.IX.4).  Or, perhaps, the reference to fire refers to the 1-year earlier Roman conquest of Joppa at the first of the war as Cestius “sent part of his army to Joppa . . . [and] took the city with ease . . . slew them all, with their families, and then plundered and burnt the city.  The number of the slain was eight thousand four hundred” (Wars III.X.10). As Josephus describes the 67 A.D. battle (Wars III.IX), Jews from Galilee, where Vespasian had defeated (one of the ten kings of Revelation) Josephus at Jotapata, came to Joppa, rebuilt some of its fortifications (from the time Cestius had destroyed it, a year earlier) and built pirate “ships and turned pirates upon the seas near to Syria, and Phoenicia, and Egypt.”  Vespasian came and attacked the city, but the Jews quickly abandoned the city and “fled to their ships and lay at sea all night out of the reach of [the Romans’] darts” (Wars III.IX.2).  Josephus describes the “rough shore . . . where there are deep precipices, and great stones that jut out into the sea.”  Josephus continues: “[T]he north wind opposes and beats upon the shore and dashes mighty waves against the rocks” making the sea more dangerous than the land the Jews of Joppa had just deserted.  


Writes Josephus:

Now as those people of Joppa were floating about in this sea, in the morning there fell a violent wind upon them . . .  “the black north wind,” and there dashed their ships one against another, and dashed some against the rocks, and carried many of them by force . . . into the main sea; for the shore . . . had so many of the enemy [Romans] upon it, that they were afraid to come to land; nay, the waves rose so very high, that they drowned them; nor was there any place whither they could fly, nor any way to save themselves; while they were thrust out of the sea, by the violence of the wind, if they stayed where they were, and out of the city by the violence of the Romans; and much lamentation there was when the ships were dashed one against another, and a terrible noise when they were broken to pieces; and some of the multitude that were in them were covered with the waves, and so perished, and a great many were embarrassed with shipwrecks; but some of them thought that to die by their own swords was lighter than by the sea, and so they killed themselves before they were drowned! although the greatest part of them were carried by the waves and dashed to pieces against the abrupt parts of the rocks, insomuch that THE SEA WAS BLOODY a long way, and the maritime parts were full of dead bodies; for the Romans came upon those that were carried to the shore, and destroyed them; and the number of the bodies that were thus thrown out of the sea was FOUR THOUSAND AND TWO HUNDRED (Wars III.IX.3).


Perhaps, John’s comment “every mountain and island were moved out of their places” in Seal 6 (Rev. 6:14) is a reference to this battle, as well, as the Jews had no land to which they could flee in the tumult at sea. When Bowl 2 (Rev. 16:3) records that “the second angel poured out his bowl upon the sea, and it became as the blood of a dead man; and every living soul died in the sea,” it is reminiscent of the Joppa battle where even those souls who made it safely to dry land were “destroyed” by the Romans, so that every living soul in the sea died.  A similar destruction on the “sea” occurred on the “Sea of Galilee,” shortly thereafter.  However, the “sea” of Galilee is actually a fresh water lake, called also by the names Lake Tiberius and Lake Gennesaret, where Jesus walked on water, calmed the sea, and performed the miracle of the great number of fish.  Jesus’ first four disciples—Peter, Andrew, James, and John—made a living fishing on this lake prior to their call.  Since it is called the “Seaof Galilee, John (who, even though he is probably not the Apostle John, certainly had discipleship ties to the Apostle John) may have classified the following event with the “sea turned to blood” prophecy.  On the other hand, since it is a freshwater lake, effectively a part of the Jordan River (Josephus, Wars III.X.7), John may have classified the Sea of Galilee destructive event with Bowl 3 (Rev. 16:4-6):  “And the third angel poured out his bowl upon the rivers and fountains of water; and they became blood . . . thou hast given them blood to drink.”  People do not drink salt water, but they do drink freshwater.  Josephus describes the drinking water from Lake Gennesaret: “Its waters are sweet, and very agreeable for drinking . . . and of a more gentle nature than river or fountain water” (Wars III.X.7).  John is surely well-aware that many ships were constructed on the shores of Galilee, since his mentor, the Apostle John, had sailed in such ships, while fishing.  In the military conflict at the Sea of Galilee, Jews took to those ships to sail away from the Roman intruders.  

Josephus writes: 


Taricheae [a city on the Sea of Galilee]  . . . had . . . a great number of ships gotten ready upon the lake, that in case they were beaten at land, they might retire to them; and they were so fitted up that they might undertake a sea fight also.  . . . [T]he Romans pursued them, and drove them into their ships, where they launched out as far as might give them an opportunity of reaching the Romans with what they threw at them . . . and brought their ships close, as in a line of battle, and thence fought the enemy from the sea (Wars III.X.1).


Titus [Vespasian’s Son] then conducted war against the city and took it.  Josephus informs:


Titus rode apace down to the lake . . . .  Hereupon, those that were upon the walls were seized with terror . . . so they left guarding the city [of Taricheae] . . . and fled over the country while others of them ran down to the lake, and met the enemy . . . and some were slain as they were getting up into ships. . . . There was also a great slaughter made in the city . . .but for those that had fled to the lake, upon seeing the city taken, they sailed as far as they possibly could from the enemy (Wars III.X.5).


Nevertheless, since there were so many ship-builders and materials for building ships on the shores of the lake, Titus ordered that ships be built and fitted to pursue those who had escaped in the ships (Wars III.X.6).  The Jewish ships were “too weak to fight with Vespasian’s vessels” (Wars III.X.9).  Josephus describes:


Roman darts could reach the Jews . . . they became sufferers . . . and were drowned . . . the Romans ran many of them through with their long poles . . . .  Sometimes, the Romans leaped into their ships, with swords in their hands, and slew them . . . .  And for such as were drowning in the sea, if they lifted their heads up above the water, they were either killed by the darts, or . . . the Romans cut off either their heads or their hands, and . . . [many] were forced to get upon the land . . .  and the Romans leaped out of their vessels, and destroyed a great many more upon the land:  one might then see the lake ALL BLOODY, and full of dead bodies, for not one of them escaped.  And a terrible stink, and a very sad sight there was . . . for the shores . . . were full of shipwrecks, and of dead bodies all swelled and the dead bodies were inflamed by the sun and putrified, they corrupted the air.  . . . This was the upshot of the sea-fight.  The number of the slain, including those that were killed in the city before, was six thousand and five hundred (Wars III.X.9).


Perhaps, this contamination of the Sea of Galilee, PLUS THE JORDAN RIVER PLUS THE DEAD SEA, resulting from such battles is the Wormwood spoken of in Revelation 8:10-11: “10The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water- 11the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.”  The Greek word translated “Wormwood” is APSINTHOS (יΑψινθος).   Easton’s Bible Dictionary states: “The name by which the Greeks designated it, absinthion, means ‘undrinkable.’” Were the waters of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River made “undrinkable” by this metaphorical “Wormwood” contamination of the waters resulting from the battle at Taricheae (and later by a slaughter at the Jordan River itself that Josephus describes)?  Josephus states (Wars IV.VII.6): “[The] Jordan could not be passed over, by reason of the dead bodies that were in it., but also because the lake Asphaltitis [another name for the Dead Sea] was also full of dead bodies that were carried down into it by the river.” Furthermore, after Vespasian’s general Placidus filled the Jordan and Dead Sea with the bodies of those who had fled from Gadara, “He then put his soldiers on board the ships and slew such as had fled to the lake [i.e., the Dead Sea]” (Wars IV.VII.6).

If that were not enough references to bloody waters, Josephus describes the Jewish Civil War (between Jewish insurrectionist Simon and Jewish insurrectionist John) as being so fierce around the temple area that even pilgrims from “the ends of the Earth” who had come to celebrate a Jewish festival became victims along with the priests:


D]arts . . . were thrown by the [catapults] . . . went over all the buildings, and the temple itself, and fell upon the priests . . . insomuch that many persons who came thither with great zeal from the ends of the earth, to offer sacrifices at this celebrated place . . . fell down before their own sacrifices themselves, and sprinkled that altar, which was venerable among all men, both Greeks and barbarians, with their own blood; till the dead bodies of strangers were mingled together with those of those of their own country, and those of profane persons with those of the priests, and the blood of all sorts of dead carcases stood in lakes in the holy courts themselves (Wars V.I.3).


While the enslaved Jews in Egypt at the time of Moses may have cheered the First Plague (Turning the Waters of the Nile into Blood), because they could begin to glimpse the End of their Slavery, John mentions this Plague of Turning Waters into Blood more than he does any other plague, because those who survive the destruction and desolation which the Romans will bring on the Land of Israel will themselves, once again, be sold back into slavery. In the Battle of Taricheae on the Sea of Galilee, thirty thousand four hundred Jews were sold as slaves.  At the end of the Battle of Jerusalem, according to Josephus: 


[S]ince his soldiers were already quite tired with killing men, and yet there appeared to be a vast multitude still remaining alive, Caesar [meaning Titus] gave orders that they should kill none but those that were in arms and opposed them.  But . . . they slew the aged and the infirm; but for those that were in their flourishing age, and who might be useful to them, they drove them together into the temple, and shut them up . . . .  Fronto slew all those that had been seditious . . . but of the young men, he chose out the tallest and the most beautiful, and reserved them for the triumph[al procession into Rome]; and as for the rest of the multitude that were above seventeen years old, he put them into bonds, and sent them to the Egyptian mines [thus, returning them as SLAVES TO EGYPT—See also Moses’ prophecy in Deuteronomy 28:68].  Titus also sent a great number of them into the provinces, as a present to them, that they might be destroyed upon their theatres, by the sword and by the wild beasts; but those that were under seventeen years of age were sold for slaves . . . .  Now the number of those that were carried captive during this whole war was collected to be ninety-seven thousand . . . the number that perished during the whole siege [of Jerusalem], eleven hundred thousand [one million one hundred thousand] (Wars VI.IX.2-3).


Once again, these plagues did not affect the Christian Jews who had heeded Jesus’ warning to flee from Jerusalem and Judea—only those “inhabitants of the land” who did not trust Jesus’ warning.  More plagues upon the “inhabitants of the land” of Israel in the next blogpost.

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