Saturday, August 14, 2021

Apocalyptic? #27: The Plague of “Frogs”: Josephus and Enoch Stories


The Plague of Frogs in Egypt Transformed into Demon and War Terminology                

Moving from Egyptian Plague 1—"Water Turned to Blood”—and Egyptian Plague 9—“Darkness”—to Egyptian Plague 2—“Frogs” (Exodus 8:1-15, Revelation Bowl 6)—John combines “plague” terminology with Hellenistic Jewish “demon” terminology with “war” terminology.  Clearly, Moses’ plague of frogs involved REAL FROGS (in nature), but John’s frogs are a war reference, using a literary allusion to demons in the Enoch legends.  Revelation 16:12-16 (NKJV) reports:

12 Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared. 13 And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. . . .

16 And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.  (Emphases, mine.)

Just as John alludes to a myth to refer to one of the seven heads of the Beast (Nero) who received a “death blow” (when Nero committed suicide in 68 A.D.) but “came back to life” as an “eighth head” (in the person of Nero’s General Vespasian in 69 A.D.), so John uses the power of “the demon myth” from Enoch legends as a literary allusion here as he describes the manner by which Vespasian and his two sons (Titus and Domitian) ruled as the next three emperors, even at first, effectively reigning together.  (Titus is quoted—using the plural—in Wars VI.VI.2, “we were made emperors.” Josephus also calls Domitian “Caesar Domitian” at the time when “Vespasian was [at] Alexandria, and Titus . . . at the siege of Jerusalem” [Wars VII.IV.2]).  John knows fully-well that “demons” do not actually exist in the real world—they only exist in the lies that people believe, such as the lies concerning false gods and idols.  He states in Revelation 9:20-21: 

And the rest of mankind, who were not killed with these plagues, repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood which can neither see nor hear nor walk, and they repented not of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts. (Emphases, mine.)


Importantly, John does not even agree with the Fallen Angel story from Enoch materials as he describes the Fall of Satan in Revelation 12 as occurring following the crucifixion of Jesus.  Enoch materials (incorrectly, for John) placed the fall of the angels at the time of the Flood (in Genesis 6).  John places the fall of the angels (and Satan) in the first century A.D.  Yet, as I state on pages 213-214 of my book Angels and Demons:  The Personification of Communication (Logology):


Bernard Bamberger summarizes the story of how demons originated as that story is presented in the Ethiopic book of Enoch, a second century B.C. work:


One passage states that the giants [who were the offspring of the fallen angels and the daughters of men] became evil spirits; another, that the fallen angels became evil spirits, leading men astray to sacrifice to demons, while the women they married became sirens.  But the usual view is that when the giants were slaughtered, in accordance with the punishment decreed for them, the evil spirits emerged from their bodies.  In any event, the demons, once they made their appearance, remain at large until the final judgment.


John, the author of Revelation uses this “usual view” of the origin of demons only as a literary allusion, to describe the connection between the Roman Emperor Nero (the last of the Caesarean family and the three primary Roman emperors who followed him (from the Flavian Dynasty):  Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian.  Revelation 16:12-13 states:


And the sixth angel poured out his bowl onto the great river Euphrates.  And its water was dried up so that the way of the kings from the land of the rising sun might be prepared.  And I saw out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits coming out as frogs.  And they are spirits of demons doing signs, which go forth to the kings of the land—even of the whole inhabitable world to gather them together to the war of the great day of God Almighty.  (Emphases, mine.)


On page 215 of my book Angels and Demons, I state:


While the story of the origin of demons in the Ethiopic book of Enoch is certainly . . . (Jewish folklore), . .  John is not . . . alluding to this [folklore to] suggest that John believed the [folklore] to be a true account of the origin of demons.  . . . Revelation 9:20 appears to agree with Paul—that demons (like idols) are nothing.  John writes of unrepentant men who worshiped the “works of their hands”—“demons and golden idols, and silver, and bronze, and wooden, which are not able to see, nor hear, nor walk.”  If demons are the works of men’s hands--neither able to see, hear, nor walk—demons do not exist as super-human forces that can take over the bodies of humans.


John is also illustrating the fact that one need not believe in the historical truth of the stories from the various books of Enoch in order to use them for literary purposes.


On pages 186-188 of my book
Angels and Demons, I write concerning Paul’s view of demons:


In . . . I Corinthians 10:18-26, Paul returns to the issue of eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols, and introduces the way he understands and uses the term “demons”:


Observe those physically the people of Israel!  Are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers of the altar?  What then is my suggestion?  That an idol offering amounts to anything or that the idol itself is anything?  No, but that what they sacrifice, they are offering to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to fellowship with demons.  You cannot drink the Lord’s cup and a demon’s cup.  You cannot participate in the Lord’s table and in a demon’s table.  Or shall we provoke the Lord to indignation?  Are we mightier than He?  Everything is allowed, but not everything is helpful.  Everything is allowed, but not everything is constructive.  . . . Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscientious scruples, for the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s (Berkeley).


. . .  I [Stan Lindsay] am writing about demons, and whether they exist, according to Paul.  Paul has asked a rhetorical question: “What then is my suggestion--that an idol offering amounts to anything or that the idol itself is anything?”  When asking a rhetorical question, no answer needs to be given, because the answer is obvious.  Nevertheless, Paul actually answers this one—just to be sure that everyone understands: “No, but that what they sacrifice, they are offering to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to fellowship with demons.”  In a Burkean sense, Paul has made “idols” equal “demons.”  He has stated (rhetorically) that “idols” are “not anything.”  Earlier, in I Corinthians 8:4, he had stated, “We know that no idol really exists; that there is no God but one.” 


Logically, if there is no God but one, and idols do not therefore exist, and offering to idols is the same as offering to demons, we may conclude that “DEMONS DO NOT EXIST.”  THEY ARE FALSE ENTITIES.  If Paul had thought that there really were true entities called demons, who were at war with God, could he ever have concluded that eating meat he claims is “offered” to them might be called innocent?  Could he ever have suggested, “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, without asking questions,” if he thought the meat had been associated with an existing entity at war with God?  The entire basis of his reasoning that allows the conclusion that it is not sinful to eat meat sacrificed to idols is that idols are nothing.  They are like demons—they do not exist.


Incidentally, neither the Gospel of John nor the Epistles of John mention demons either.  Yet, here is John in Revelation making reference (not primarily to Demons but, rather, to FROGS—as in the plague of frogs) in a context reminiscent of the origin of demons folklore.  THREE FROGS emerge from MOUTHS of the Dragon (Satan), the Beast (Nero), and the False Prophet (Jewish High Priest).  These three (Satan, Nero, and the High Priest) were the “giants” in John’s literary analogy.  The three FROGS (Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian) were the “demons” in John’s literary analogy.


Josephus expands:


But when Vespasian had overthrown all the places that were near to Jerusalem, he . . . heard . . . that Vitellius was emperor.  This produced indignation in him . . . he was not able to . . . apply himself to other wars [such as the Jerusalem siege] when his native country was laid waste . . . .  But now his commanders and soldiers . . . consulted openly . . . there is so much juster reason for Vespasian’s being emperor than for Vitellius . . . neither will the Roman Senate . . . bear . . . Vitellius, if he be compared with their chaste Vespasian . . . him that is a father . . . we ought to have Vespasian,--or . . . from the strength of a young man, we ought to have Titus; for . . . we shall have the advantage of both their ages . . . those that shall be made emperors . . . Vespasian’s . . . other son [Domitian;] . . . intrusted with the government of the city, which office of his will be no small means of Vespasian’s obtaining the government . . . they declared Vespasian emperor (Wars IV.X.1-2).


After accepting the emperorship proclaimed by his soldiers, Vespasian proceeded to Egypt to gain the support of the Roman legions there.  John gives the following “hints” so that we may understand his war-time analogy:


Hint #1:  Nero-redivivus.  The Nero-redivivus myth is explained by Wikipedia as “a belief popular during the last part of the 1st century that the Roman emperor Nero would return after his death in 68 AD. The legend was a common belief as late as the 5th century.  The belief was either the result or cause of several pretenders who posed as Nero leading rebellions.”  As I mentioned previously, John refers to one of the seven heads of the Beast (i.e., Nero) receiving a “death blow” (when Nero committed suicide in 68 A.D.) but “came back to life” as an “eighth head.”  Revelation 13:3 (NKJV) declares: “And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast.”  On pages 41-42 of my book Revelation:  The Human Drama, I write:


Caird comments:  "Since the main trait of the monster's character is that it wages war on God's people, the emperor who best fits the specifications is Nero.  His suicide in A.D. 68 could have been regarded as a deadly wound.  . . . Only with the accession of Vespasian did the monster come to life again."  . . . [A]s Caird has seen, the clearest fit in terms of the monster's character would be Nero, the emperor who declared war on the Jews in 66 A.D.  Vespasian was Nero's general whom Nero sent to besiege Jerusalem, and who in 69 A.D. became emperor after the Roman civil war which followed Nero's suicide (in 68 A.D.).  With Caird, I find Vespasian to be the best candidate for the head which "seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed" (Revelation 13:3).  No other candidate for emperor could more clearly have represented Nero-returned-to-life to the Jews in 69 A.D. than did the general whom Nero sent to attack Jerusalem.

Hint #2:  The Origin-of-Demons Imagery.
  Bamberger observes that in Ethiopic Enoch, “when the giants [the offspring of fallen angels and women] were slaughtered, in accordance with the punishment decreed for them, the evil spirits emerged from their bodies.”  The “giants” were dead before the demons emerged.  Likewise, the “beast” (Nero) and the “false prophet” (the High Priests Ananus and Jesus) have died by the time the three “frogs” emerge “from their bodies.”  Revelation 16:12 states: “And I saw out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits coming out as frogs.”  The dragon has not yet, of course, died, but he has, at least, been cast out of heaven in Revelation chapter 12.  (Note also that while the Beast and False Prophet were cast into the Lake of Fire at the beginning of the Millennium in Revelation 19:20, the Dragon was only chained in the abyss, during that time—to be released later.)  Nero had, of course, commissioned Vespasian (with his mouth, presumably) to conduct the war in Judea.  Ananus (and Jesus) had attempted to give Jerusalem to Vespasian (using his/their mouth/s to persuade the populace of Jerusalem). Hence, Vespasian proceeded out of their mouths.

Hint #3:  The Beastly Trinity.
  Romans were accustomed to thinking of powerful trinities, so it was not hard for them to conceptualize an emperorship that was divided among three emperors.  According to Wikipedia:

The Capitoline Triad was a group of three deities who were worshipped in ancient Roman religion in an elaborate temple on Rome's Capitoline Hill . . . .   The triad held a central place in the public religion of Rome.  . . . The three deities who are most commonly referred to as the "Capitoline Triad" are Jupiter, the king of the gods; Juno (in her aspect as Iuno Regina, "Queen Juno"), his wife and sister; and Jupiter's daughter Minerva, the goddess of wisdom.

In Revelation, the “diabolical” trinity of dragon, beast, and false prophet (aka, second beast) is matched by the “Beastly trinity” of frogs.  They are three in number.  When Vespasian’s commanders and soldiers consulted concerning declaring Vespasian emperor, they argued that all THREEVespasian, Titus, and Domitian—would play a role in Vespasian’s ruling of the Roman Empire (Wars IV.X.1-2).  Josephus comments (Wars IV.XI.3-4) concerning Antonius’s defeat of Vitellius:

[M]any . . . perished, and among them Vitellius’s whole army, being thirty thousand and two hundred, while Antonius lost no more than . . . four thousand and five hundred . . . he then . . . sent . . . to Vespasian, to tell him the good news.  . . . And now . . . that Antonius was approaching . . . Rome, . . . many men of character came over to him, with Domitian . . . .  Antonius . . . then produced Domitian and recommended him to the multitude, until his father should come himself.

Perhaps, some of the confusion church fathers in the second century had concerning Revelation being written during the reign of Domitian pertains to the fact that DOMITIAN ACTUALLY DID REIGN IN THE CITY OF ROME DURING THE TIME HIS FATHER VESPASIAN WAS EMPEROR, while Vespasian was away in Egypt cementing the alliance there.  Domitian became the sole and official emperor of Rome after his brother Titus died (in 81 A.D.)  Titus had become the sole and official emperor of Rome after their father Vespasian died (in 79 A.D.); however, Josephus constantly referred to Titus as “Caesar” during the siege of Jerusalem (in 70 A.D.), even though, technically, Vespasian was the emperor at that time.  When Titus had completed his destruction of Jerusalem and marched in triumph to Rome, according to Josephus, “what made the most splendid appearance in Titus’s opinion was, when his father met him and received him; but still the multitude of the citizens conceived the greatest joy when they saw them all three [Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian] together” (Wars VII.V.3).  Josephus uses the plural “emperors” to describe them (Wars VII.V.4, 6).  This trinity of emperors would not have confused the Romans.

Hint #4:  The Euphrates.
  Both Trumpet 6 and Bowl 6 have a concern with something happening at the Euphrates:  Revelation 16:12-13 (NKJV) reports: “Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth(s).  Revelation 9:13-19 (NKJV) adds:

And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind. Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them.  . . .  By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed—by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths. For their power is in their mouth.

In Exodus 8:5 (NKJV), Moses had Aaron stretch his rod “over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up on the land of Egypt.”  Likewise, John has his “frogs” emerge from a river—the Euphrates.  The Euphrates was the eastern border of the Roman Empire and Nero had placed Vespasian in command of preserving that border (“the East”), along with the campaign against the Jews (Wars III.I.2).  Josephus (Wars III.V.7) muses: “[W]hat wonder is it, that Euphrates on the east, the ocean on the west, . . . Lybia [Libya, bordering Egypt, in Africa] on the south, and the Danube and the Rhine on the north, are the limits of this empire?” Syria was the Roman province that bordered the Euphrates, and it was in Syria that Vespasian took command of the Roman armies and “sent his son Titus . . . to Alexandria [Egypt], to bring from thence the fifth and tenth legions” (Wars III.I.3), thus, bringing the armies at the eastern and southern borders of the empire together to battle Judea.  It was to Syria that Titus sailed back from Greece “and came in great haste to Cesarea, to his father” when the unstable situation in Rome was known to him (Wars IV.IX.2).  When Titus was then commissioned to prosecute the war against Jerusalem, “There followed him also three thousand, drawn from those that guarded the River Euphrates(Wars V.I.6).

Hint #5:  Marching through the Cities of the Seven Churches.  I pointed out in my earlier blogpost—Apocalyptic?  #20:  Mirroring the Gospels:  Jesus in Heaven! (Rev. 4-5)—"What is remarkable is that (after Chapter 3) John, in Revelation, NEVER AGAIN mentions those [seven] churches.”  Instead, he turns his attention to the “land” of Israel.  Some may wonder why, then, he addressed the book to the seven churches in Asia Minor at all, if he were concerned primarily with the events in Judea.  Here is why:  The very year John wrote Revelation, Vespasian’s armies were marching through Asia Minor where many of the Jewish Christians from the “land” of Israel had migrated (perhaps, even “fled,” in response to Jesus’ warning—this possibility, considered in a future blogpost).  Now, the very armies that had demolished virtually all of Judea—except Jerusalem—are coming through their towns!  They (those to whom John is writing) are also “Jews,” albeit “Christian Jews.” These churches needed to understand God’s plan and what was happening to them and to the homeland.  Furthermore, there would have been no point in addressing Revelation to churches in Judea because, by now, the Christians who believed Jesus’ prophecy have fled away.  Yet, in Asia Minor, the Jewish Christians are located IN THE VERY MIDDLE of the wars with the Beast.  Nero had blamed the Christians for the Roman fire of 64 A.D., just five years prior to this (so Christian Jews are already targets of the Beast), and now the armies are marching from the Land of Israel back to Italy, after conducting war with the entire Jewish nation (including any Christian Jews).  Vespasian, having won the support of the governor of Alexandria and Egypt to be emperor and considering himself already to be emperor is ready to take Rome and the Empire by force.  Writes Josephus (Wars IV.X.6):

[Vespasian] got all things ready for his journey [to Rome.]  Now fame carried this news abroad more suddenly . . . that he was emperor over the east, upon which every city kept festivals, and celebrated sacrifices and oblations for such good news; the legions that were in Mysia and Pannonia . . . were very glad to take the oath of fidelity to Vespasian . . . .  Vespasian then removed from Cesarea to Berytus, where many embasaages [embassies] came to him from Syria, and many from other provinces . . . and . . . told him of every city that had taken the oath of fidelity to him.

I have already mentioned “how Antonius Primus and Mucianus slew Vitellius” (Wars IV.IX.2), but we return to that period of time to explain how that event took place.  Josephus explains in Wars IV.XI.1-2:

[W]hen Vespasian came to Antioch [Syria] . . . he sent Mucianus to Italy, and committed a considerable army . . . to him; yet was Mucianus afraid of going by sea, because it was the middle of winter; so he led his army on foot through Cappadocia and Phrygia.  In the meantime, Antonius Primus took the third of the legions that were in Mysia, for he was president of that province and made haste in order to fight Vitellius.

The province of Mysia from which Antonius Primus took the third of the legions is where some of the seven churches to whom John addressed Revelation are located, especially Pergamum, of whom John quoting Jesus writes (Revelation 2:13 NKJV): “where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is . . . Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.  The cities in Mysia are certainly counted among “every city [that] kept festivals, and celebrated sacrifices and oblations for such good news.”  Is this the “porneia” of which Jesus warned the seven churches?  Did “Jezebel” and “Balaam” join the “Nicolaitans” in celebrating sacrifices for Vespasian? Were “Jezebel” and “Balaam” and the “Nicolaitans” trying to protect themselves from the wrath of Vespasian that had already demolished most of the “land” of Israel?  The province of Pannonia was north of Mysia, on the land route from the seven churches to Italy.  The provinces of Cappadocia and Phrygia through which Mucianus led his army on foot are located to the east of the area with the seven churches, so those armies would have marched through the region of the seven churches on their way westward to Rome.  Antioch [Syria]—in the land of the Euphrates—from whence Vespasian commissioned his armies to go to Italy was between Judea and Asia Minor; the home of the seven churches lay in the pathway.

Hint #6:  The Kings from The
Land Of The Rising Sun.  The kings from the land of the rising sun (i.e., from the land of the “east”) are either Vespasian and Titus or they are Mucianus and Antonius Primus, as just described, or perhaps, all of the above.  The Plague of Darkness (Bowl #5) which had been poured out “on the throne of the Beast” has now been completed—as the Plague of the Frogs, with Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian now move to occupy the “Throne” of the Beast.  We return our focus to the “land” of Israel in the next blogpost.

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