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Does Revelation Contain an Eyewitness Account of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius? Guest Post by James Tabor

July 15, 2021

As I continue to work on my book on Revelation, I thought it might be interesting to ask my friend and fellow NT scholar, James Tabor, who has done guest posts before on the blog, to provide a couple more.  James has written and thought about Revelation for many years, and he has intriguing and controversial views about it.  He will be providing two posts for us.  In this one he argues that part of the book of Revelation is based on an eyewitness report of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE, which the author understood to be an indication that the end of time had now come.   Intriguing stuff.This was first posted on James’s own blog.  Be sure to check it out:

The Destruction of Pompeii and the New Testament Book of Revelation

Nine years, almost to the day, after Roman legionaries destroyed God’s house in Jerusalem, God destroyed the luxurious watering holes of the Roman elite. Was this God’s revenge? That’s not exactly the question I want to raise, however. Rather, did anyone at the time see it that way? Did anyone connect the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 C.E. with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70?

Hershel Shanks, “The Destruction of Pompeii–God’s Revenge?”  Biblical Archaeology Review, Jul/Aug 2010, 60-67, 77.


Editor Hershel Shanks raises a most provocative question in this 2010 feature cover article in Biblical Archaeology Review. Did Jews living in the Roman empire associate the sudden volcanic incineration of the Naples port city of Pompeii in 79 CE with God’s payback punishment upon Rome for destroying Jerusalem? As Shanks shows, there is good evidence that such is the case. He points to some amazing archaeological remains, such as a charcoal graffiti that seems to reference “Sodom and Gomorrah,” as well as a Christian apocalyptic text, book 4 of the Sibylline Oracles, that parallels the two events and refers to the latter as “the wrath of the heavenly God.”

BAR Vesuvius Cover

I have become convinced there is much more. In 2010 I spent several months studying the archaeological records related to ancient Pompeii, including significant time at the site working with Simcha Jacobovici and his research team who were filming his international television special, “Vesuvius and the Fear of God,” available through Associated Producers in the series “Secrets of Christianity.” The film documents some of the major discoveries we made including some “behind-the-scenes” interviews with several Italian experts and curators who presented evidence that had never appeared on camera before. I came away convinced, based on the material/archaeological evidence, that Jews as well as Jewish and non-Jewish Christians understood Pompeii’s destruction as divine retribution. The thesis of the film is a bold one–not only that Jews and Christians saw the destruction of Pompeii as a sign of God’s apocalyptic wrath but that the utter destruction of the city served as a huge boon to the spread of Christianity in the Roman world:

Long ignored archaeological evidence – found beneath the ashes of Pompeii and Herculaneum – seems to suggest that what put the fear of God into pagan Romans was not Jesus, Peter or Paul. It now seems that the event most responsible for Christianity’s conquest of the Roman Empire was…the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

The excavated ruins of Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background
The excavated ruins of Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background

However, in the course of my own textual research I made another discovery–one that was new for me at least. I became convinced that chapter 18 of the New Testament book of Revelation is an eyewitness account, very much parallel to that of Pliny the Younger, of the August 79 CE destruction of Pompeii–but understood by the writer as signaling the fall of Babylon the Great–namely, the demise of the Roman Empire itself! Most scholars agree that the prophecies of the book of Revelation can be dated variously  from the end of the reign of Nero through the Flavians (68-80s CE). The author of chapter 18 of Revelation provides us with a poetic oracle against the “great city” pictured as a “whore” riding the seven-headed beast of the Roman Empire–drunk with the blood of the martyrs and the saints. Her destruction comes with fire–in one hour–while those in ships watch her burning from afar, lamenting the loss of her wealth and the splendor of her trade and commerce. The Naples/Pompeii port was the gateway to ancient Rome. As such its destruction signaled that of the expected apocalyptic FALL of Rome itself–both as a city and an empire.

Whore Babylon

Here is a translation (Revised Standard Version) of the oracle itself without commentary. I think my readers will agree that one could hardly imagine a more accurate description of the destruction of Pompeii/Rome down to its every detail:

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor. And he called out with a mighty voice,

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
It has become a dwelling place of demons,
a haunt of every foul spirit,
a haunt of every foul and hateful bird;
For all nations have drunk the wine of her impure passion,
and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her,
and the merchants of the earth have grown rich with the wealth of her wantonness.”

Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues;
for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.
Render to her as she herself has rendered,
and repay her double for her deeds;
mix a double draught for her in the cup she mixed.
As she glorified herself and played the wanton,
so give her a like measure of torment and mourning.
Since in her heart she says, ‘A queen I sit,
I am no widow, mourning I shall never see,’
so shall her plagues come in a single day,
pestilence and mourning and famine,
and she shall be burned with fire;
for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.”

And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and were wanton with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; 10 they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,

“Alas! alas! thou great city,
thou mighty city, Babylon!
In one hour has thy judgment come.”

11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo any more, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble,13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.

14 “The fruit for which thy soul longed has gone from thee,
and all thy dainties and thy splendor are lost to thee, never to be found again!”

15 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,

16 “Alas, alas, for the great city
that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet,
bedecked with gold, with jewels, and with pearls!
17 In one hour all this wealth has been laid waste.”

And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off18 and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning,

“What city was like the great city?”

19 And they threw dust on their heads, as they wept and mourned, crying out,

“Alas, alas, for the great city
where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth!
In one hour she has been laid waste.
20 Rejoice over her, O heaven,
O saints and apostles and prophets,
for God has given judgment for you against her!”

21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying,

“So shall Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence,
and shall be found no more;
22 and the sound of harpers and minstrels, of flute players and trumpeters,
shall be heard in thee no more;
and a craftsman of any craft
shall be found in thee no more;
and the sound of the millstone
shall be heard in thee no more;
23 and the light of a lamp
shall shine in thee no more;
and the voice of bridegroom and bride
shall be heard in thee no more;
for thy merchants were the great men of the earth,
and all nations were deceived by thy sorcery.
24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints,
and of all who have been slain on earth.”

2021-07-15T08:41:10-04:00July 15th, 2021|Revelation of John|

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  1. kt July 15, 2021 at 7:27 am

    It is too far away to be viewed as dramatic. This eruption would have been seen from a person living in Patmos, at the sea level,,,and the eruption would could have been seen over whole Greece from east to west which is pretty hilly region,,,and also from (almost ) east to vest in a hilly part of Italy (one of my favorit summer vacation areas) in a distance of about 1 200 kilometer, but I don’t thing this distance view would have been that dramatic.

    If, and only if John had a deep vision, a deep meditation vision, I think there are enought scholarly work on this to find what might have came from such. And, yes,,,they all did that even before John, and up to this day. Even the gnostic movement seeemed to use it extensively (see for example late biblical scholar Dr. John Turner) and more. I think these images are not referring to external events, but internal events/condictions/forces. You refert to Babylon and the whore could easily be interpreted part of our own “self” and how that has evolved.

    • JDTabor July 21, 2021 at 9:00 am

      Thanks KT…I really was not thinking at all of the reputed author “John,” whoever he might have been. I think the book as we have it shows various redactions and stages of composition. Chapter 18 would be one of them. See my 2nd guest post on July 20th here on Bart’s blog–I suggest some of the stages of composition history.

  2. fishician July 15, 2021 at 8:33 am

    Thanks for this interesting post. Funny how God is always acting in line with the story teller’s interests. Like 911 was brought on by abortion and homosexuality, not neglect of the poor or systemic racism.

    • JDTabor July 21, 2021 at 9:03 am

      Yes indeed, beyond the point of my post, Rev 18 is an incredible rich and valuable passage for getting a glimpse of the author’s view of the “Roman world,” from a societal standpoint, including culture, economics, etc. There are of course parallels with many of the “taunt” hymns of the Hebrew Bible against Babylon–Isa, Jer, and Ezk, but the elements in this chapter really stand out.

  3. RICHWEN90 July 15, 2021 at 9:07 am

    Could the fire that consumed a lot of Rome during the reign of Nero have fed Christian apocalyptic ideas or expectations as well? I remember bits of an old history channel episode in which it was suggested that Christians actually DID set that fire, in an effort to destroy the “beast” and trigger the end times, forcing God’s hand, in effect, or perhaps acting as an agent of God in the end times. The evidence presented for this scenario was sketchy, but, still…

    • BDEhrman July 16, 2021 at 2:57 am

      Yes, that’s sometimes argued. But that would mean that the fire didn’t trigger the expectations but that the expectations triggered the fire!

      • dankoh July 16, 2021 at 10:25 am

        That argument would also mean that it was OK to try to help the end-times along. I thought Christians weren’t supposed to do that? (One could argue that their experience with Nero led to that prohibition, much as the failure of Bar Kochba led to the rabbis deciding to wait for the messiah.)

        • JAS July 16, 2021 at 11:15 am

          There is also the matter that the fire appears to have so well served Nero’s plans, even if he failed to consider all of the ultimate consequences. Would Christians setting fire to part of old Rome really do anything to trigger the end times? I don’t see that. Would is be very convenient to Nero to burn out a large section of old Rome so that he could launch a big building project dedicated to his own glory? Hmmm, that does seem like a good fit.

          • dankoh July 18, 2021 at 1:03 pm

            My reading of the history (casual, I admit) is that the fire was started by accident but that Nero took advantage of the destruction to advance his building program. He was said to be out of town at the time, so I can’t say whether he hindered attempts to fight it. In any case, we don’t have anything close to an objective account.

        • Judasthejust July 21, 2021 at 5:12 pm

          Yes, I think you’re right about Rev. 18. I’ve been to Pompeii. It’s big. The description fits.
          Have you done any more on James the Just? I know Dr. Eisenman. He is on the right track with Judas covering James in Acts 1. I have lots more on that I want you to know. James was the successor to Jesus. Hiding James was the sole reason for composition of all the orthodox Gospels. I can prove it.

    • charrua July 16, 2021 at 4:26 pm

      And don’t forget the two fires started in the imperial palace in Nicomedia in times of the Great Persecution, sometimes god needs some human help to achieve his goals, I always wondered why the Israelites in Egypt had to signal the door frames and keep in their houses (“ Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning.. “) . maybe a kind of signal for the real human perpetrators to avoid these houses?

    • Leovigild July 16, 2021 at 7:45 pm

      There really isn’t good evidence to link the Christians with the fire. Suetonius, for example, describes the fire, and describes Nero’s persecution of Christians, but fails to link the two, suggesting that the two were unrelated.

    • JDTabor July 21, 2021 at 9:08 am

      I think we know very little of what started the fires given the nature of our literary/historical sources. However, the general point you make DanKoh is so important in understanding apocalyptic expectations through the ages–something I have specialized in–from “Qumran to Waco,” as I often say. I have a article by that title if you are interested–it is on-line:

      Patterns of the End: Textual Weaving from Qumran to Waco,” in Toward the Millennium: Messianic Expectations from the Bible to Waco, edited by Peter Schaeffer and Mark Cohen, (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1998), pp. 409-430.

      What really intrigues me since 1948 and 1967 are the attempts of evangelical Christians to support Jews and Israel–expressing their love for them, encouraging and even donating for them to rebuild the Temple, so the antiChrist can come defile it–and Jesus can return as per 2 Thess 2. Wow! Quite a combo of ideas there.

  4. dankoh July 15, 2021 at 9:55 am

    A fascinating connection! I can see that Rev. 18 may well have been written by an eyewitness to Pompeii. But I would like to hear more about Pompeii encouraging the spread of Christianity. It seems to me that while Pompeii was a disaster, it was a local one, and the rest of the empire continued to grow and flourish – and on occasion to execute Christians for breaking the pax deorum.

    • JDTabor July 15, 2021 at 11:21 am

      Hey Dankoh, that is the thesis of the film…which I appear in as one interviewed but don’t necessarily buy the whole thing–however the case is worth considering. Briefly…in those post 70CE apocalyptic times the destruction of Pompeii/Herculaneum was seen as the beginning of the end for Rome by both Jews and Christians…God is finally going to intervene, the end is very near, and so forth. Film is worth watching for that. But my point is separate from that, in terms of Revelation 18. I am trying to figure out if someone else has noticed this before–I am sure they likely have.

      • AstaKask July 16, 2021 at 4:35 am

        And yet the Roman Empire lasted for another 400 years in the West and 1400 years in the East. Apocalyptic timetables never seem to come true, do they?

        • JDTabor July 21, 2021 at 8:57 am

          As my teacher Norman Perrin at Chicago always said about biblical apocalypticism: It is the only enterprise in the West that so far has a 100% failure rate!

      • edwardtbabinski August 1, 2021 at 11:00 am

        I mentioned Vesuvius’s impact to Larry Hurtado on his blog in 2016. In one of his last books Hurtado pushed a version of J.P. Holding’s “Impossible Faith” argument, though Hurtado would never put matters in so blunt an apologetic manner being an academic. (Though I recall he was also raised Pentecostal). Instead he listed all the drawbacks a Roman might experience upon converting to Christianity, without delving into the superstitiousness of the era and the types of unique attractions and fearful prophecies Christianity employed.

  5. Bennett July 15, 2021 at 10:05 am

    While parts of this passage certainly bring up visions of the eruption and destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum, for this to be an actual description of the event would require an equivalence of Rome and Naples. I find that difficult, since the two are separated by quite some distance. True, Naples would have been a ‘gateway’ port to Rome, but is there any other documentation where Naples and Rome are equated as the same place? Or perhaps you are suggesting that the observer of the Vesuvius event is imagining the same thing happening to Rome.

    • JDTabor July 19, 2021 at 7:59 am

      More or less…maybe both. But watching it from the sea…just to the south, see Pliny’s eyewitness account. Precursor of things to come.

  6. Vridar July 15, 2021 at 10:21 am

    I also would be interested in the eruption’s contribution to the accelerated spread of Christianity. My theory of the rapid spread is that the commoner’s plight was so dreary the promise of a better life afterlife contributed to the fast spread. Undoubtedly many things contributed to the rapid spread starting around this time. I’d be interested in others’ thoughts on what promoted the rapid spread of Christianity.

  7. charrua July 15, 2021 at 11:26 am

    “Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea …”

    “Then we saw the sea sucked back, apparently by an earthquake, and many sea creatures were left stranded on the dry sand. ”
    From the second letter written by Pliny the Younger to the Roman historian Tacitus.

    Perhaps the angel throwing the stone it’s a reference to the volcanogenic tsunami .

  8. Robert July 15, 2021 at 11:27 am

    James: “I came away convinced, based on the material/archaeological evidence, that Jews as well as Jewish and non-Jewish Christians understood Pompeii’s destruction as divine retribution.”

    One can easily make a case that the book of Revelation is aligned with a more observant form of Jewish Christianity (cf 2,9.14.20 3,7.9), and they may indeed have understood the eruption of Vesuvius as divine retribution for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

    Is there any evidence that relates to specifically gentile Christians understanding Vesuvius in this manner? On the other hand, we do know that some gentile Christians saw the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem as divine retribution against the Judean leadership in Jerusalem who had handed over Jesus to be crucified or even all Judeans or Jews who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah.

    James: “The Naples/Pompeii port was the gateway to ancient Rome.”

    My son the budding classicist says that Ostia (from the West) and Brindisi (from the East) were much more important gateway ports to Rome. Is that not so?

    • veritas July 18, 2021 at 8:27 pm

      Robertus, I would agree with your son. Ostia and Ostia antica was the main port of Rome and later Portus built by Claudius 42-54 A.D( today Fiumicino,Rome’s main airport) was built to sustain the heavy commerce into Rome. Civitavecchia was later built by Trajan,2nd century, much bigger then previous Ostia and Portus. I lived there a few years and loved the area. Sorry to interject into your inquiry.

      • JDTabor July 19, 2021 at 4:49 pm

        Good points. I don’t think it was so much of a matter of the main ports but the overall effect of this overwhelmingly cataclysmic event–and the language of Rev 18 fits so well what happened. The ash, darkness, utter destruction–was visible for miles all around.

      • Robert July 20, 2021 at 1:19 pm

        Thanks, veritas. As I was looking into this I wondered if Claudius’ building of Portus and the later expansion by Trajan are an indication of limitations of the port at Ostia. Perhaps that is also why some people used the port at Naples and then traveled by land?

    • Judasthejust July 19, 2021 at 12:00 pm

      Yes, I think you’re right about Rev. 18. I’ve been to Pompeii. It’s big. The description fits.
      Have you done any more on James the Just? I know Dr. Eisenman. He is on the right track with Judas covering James in Acts 1. I have lots more on that I want you to know. James was the successor to Jesus. Hiding James was the sole reason for composition of all the orthodox Gospels. I can prove it. Judaswasjames dot com

    • JDTabor July 21, 2021 at 9:12 am

      I am sure your son is right, but since the volcano was near Puteoli, it would nonetheless have had an chilling effect on the whole area of the bay–as I said, a kind of precursor of things to come. And this would be after the fire in Rome…

  9. bholly72 July 15, 2021 at 12:02 pm

    Well, I’m open to the idea that the passage is about Pompeii, but I don’t see anything that indicates an eyewitness account. What am I missing?

  10. bholly72 July 15, 2021 at 12:02 pm

    Well, I’m open to the idea that the passage is about Pompeii, but I don’t see anything that indicates an eyewitness account. What am I missing?

  11. jimgoetz316 July 15, 2021 at 12:12 pm

    Do you know about the timing of the circulation of Pliny the Younger’s account of the eruption? I guess a lot of people saw it from afar and it was the talk of many towns.

  12. jrdavis July 15, 2021 at 1:00 pm

    You indicate that scholars date the prophecies in the book of Revelation to between 68-80 ACE, but my understanding is that some parts of the book were written later, around 95 ACE.

    Can you talk about how we arrive at the dates for these different parts of the book, at least at a high-level?

    • JDTabor July 21, 2021 at 9:17 am

      Dating the various strands and levels of this book as we now have it is notoriously difficult–like dating many of our NT documents–including the gospels and the pseudo-Pauline stuff. Also, as Bart well knows, the textual history of this book is riddled with all sorts of variants, indicating lots of folks are wanting to put their hand into the mix and stir it. I think the main method is to try to sort out the horns on the “beast,” and their sequence…five are fallen, one is, one is yet to come…plus 666/616=Nero Caesar. Again, I refer you to Ford’s Anchor Bible commentary.

  13. EricBrown July 15, 2021 at 1:07 pm

    Very interesting!

    I would suggest “eyewitness account” may be too stringent a requirement. Surely a variety of accounts circulated in the aftermath with sufficient detail to allow a distant author to “comment” on the event with this kind of fidelity.

    As for tyhe distinction between the “jewel” of the empire’s fall and the empire itself, perhaps apocalypticists saw this as parallel to the “first fruits” of resurrection?

    • JDTabor July 20, 2021 at 6:50 am

      Yes, I agree, any strict use of the term “eyewitness” is perhaps overstating. I was just struck by the language–especially of the merchants, presumably in their ships, watching afar off and seeing the smoke of the burning.

  14. brenmcg July 15, 2021 at 2:52 pm

    I think its about the great fire of Rome in 64 where 2/3 of the city was destroyed.

    Nero was one of the heads of the beast of Rev 13.3 that “seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed.”

    • JDTabor July 21, 2021 at 9:21 am

      You may well be right but I think it belongs to a slightly later time given its placement in the sequence of things–and the stages of composition we can sort out. But it is admittedly a very slippery enterprise.

  15. boblyle July 15, 2021 at 4:29 pm

    Quite interesting! The film series and this episode in particular is available on YouTube. Here is the link to Dr. Tabor’s episode:

    • JDTabor July 21, 2021 at 9:26 am

      Yes, that is probably a bootleg copy but it is there and I am fine with people viewing it, as Youtube is allowing it. It is definitely worth watching–and we have some remarkable experiences in filming it–with some graffiti items that everyone thought were lost getting pulled out of the back of the storage room by the guy we met on the street. Lori and I spent a week there and got to go behind the scenes–one nice thing about being with an international film crew that has the right fixers. Watch if you can. It is an amazing film.

  16. Apocryphile July 15, 2021 at 5:21 pm

    I suppose it’s equally likely that the author of Revelation could simply have heard a description from an eyewitness(?) Probably impossible to prove either scenario.

    Great pic of the Whore of Babylon, btw! I’ll have to try to find a poster-size of that.

    • JDTabor July 21, 2021 at 9:24 am

      And great pic of the “other woman” in the post–my lovely wife Lori surveying the new excavations.

  17. SJB July 15, 2021 at 10:13 pm

    Assuming that the reference to Babylon in Rev 18 refers to Pompeii and not Rome itself slated for some future destruction, wouldn’t knowledge of Vesuvius have been enough inspiration for the writer without actually requiring him to be an eyewitness?

    • JDTabor July 21, 2021 at 9:22 am

      Yes…but secondary testimony can be “eyewitness” in a loose sense…such as claimed by the author of Luke/Acts.

  18. Kashif69 July 16, 2021 at 1:48 am

    What a fascinating topic!!

    Maybe untimely death of Vespasian (79AD) and Titus( 81AD) and Fire in Rome (80AD) could be added into the historical matrix/landscape of Rome and Asia Minor of 80s and 90s to get more realistic picture of “fear and popularity” implemented into the hearts of Roman citizenry by Jewish-recently-turned- Christian God ?

    What’s your take on Wisdom of Solomon’s fresco recovered from Pompeii ruins? And evidences of presence of Kosher food stalls in Pompeii ? Maybe a considerable Jewish population was present in Pompeii which helped promote the fear of Jewish God into the minds and hearts of Romans?

  19. Lev July 16, 2021 at 12:29 pm

    A very interesting proposal!

    Does either Bart or James see a similar picture painted in the Apocalypse of Abraham ch 30?

    This introduction to the AoA notes (footnote 16) that the odd number plagues could describe the events in years 69-70 (especially the Roman conflict in Judea) while the even-numbered plagues describe the events at Vesuvius. Is this a stretch, or do you see a parallel?

    A link to the Apocalypse of Abraham:

  20. jonas July 16, 2021 at 2:55 pm

    So if I’m following the argument here, it’s basically that the author of Revelation was using vivid memories of the destruction of Pompei to give purchase to his prophecy that a similar fate was awaiting Rome itself? I can see that, particularly as Pompei and Herculaneum were basically high-end resort towns and we know there was a lot of wealth there and a vibrant flesh trade. But contemporaries would have also noted that the city of Rome itself was nowhere near a major volcano like Vesuvius, so was unlikely to suffer a similar fate. Or would that have mattered? I guess God and his angels can whip up firestorms of judgment wherever they want, right?

  21. hankgillette July 16, 2021 at 8:40 pm

    Wouldn’t it have been more effective if God had not waited nine years to punish Rome for the destruction of the Temple? It seems like having Vesuvius erupt in 71 C.E. might have made the connection clearer.

  22. cristianp July 17, 2021 at 12:48 am

    I’ve been researching catastrophic natural events for some time that served as possible substrates for multiple flood accounts, especially the “Younger Dryas” from 12,900 years ago. Personally, I have long with the thesis of the “Mount Vesuvius event” as a substrate for part of the story in the book of Revelations. Mr. Tabor, can you share the archaeological evidence in more detail?

  23. bmain249 July 18, 2021 at 11:28 am

    Lots of written and drawn graffiti, some translated. I’m curious now that if slaves did this, literacy to some extent was more wide spread than I’ve been reading here. Fascinating episode on Pompeii’s volcano

    • BDEhrman July 19, 2021 at 1:24 pm

      Slaves often were indeed literate — those in elite upper class households who were trained to tutor the children. Slavvery in antiquity was very different from in the American South, as an institution.

    • JDTabor July 21, 2021 at 4:11 pm

      You might want to watch the video referenced above as it covers several of the major graffiti including some what had not been seen for many decades and presumed lost–and given the contexts several seem to have definitely been written by slaves–and one even in a kind of “coded” language. Fascinating stuff!

  24. charrua July 19, 2021 at 11:05 am

    “So shall Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence,
    and shall be found no more;”

    The description in chapter 18 it’s about something that DID NOT occur to Rome (Babylon) but it’s an example of what WILL happen to her .

    I got convinced that the Vesuvius eruption could be the inspiration for that passage.

    Christians felt that this was god’s retaliation not for the temple destruction but for the strong persecution they were facing, so much hatred and need of revenge was certainly not for free.

    It is odd, we have far more evidence of persecution of christians than of the existence of Jesus. In fact , the evidence we have of Jesus’ existence is indirect and in relation to … persecution of christians. But then we are told that there are no doubts about Jesus’ existence but many doubts about persecution of christians as regular practice.

  25. kt July 19, 2021 at 5:30 pm


    I see your scholarship takes you in many directions, checking available evidence,,as you should.

    Can I give you an advice? Change the persception related to the Book of Revelation, and investigate its relationship with modern psychology, in particular the Jungian psychology which workes much with the self, evolution of self, and conciousnesses. In this you will soon come over the extensively work on comparative religious myths, mythology, symbology, if you read works by Carl jung, and also late Edward Edinger ((for example Transformation of the God-Image”) and Robert Campbell and many more. Perhaps the most interesting is the extensive work of the psychology origin of such myths/symboligy, and what comes out of meditative practises which John perhaps went through.

    This will drag you through a paradigm looking at the revelation through your own Ego, Self, and conciousnesses based on the deepest scholarly psychology. It also involves the evolution of the Ego to a higher tarnscendent self. In my mind, this is the key to the Revelation, and what the book of Revelation is about.

    It takes some time/reading to grasp the symbology and the methology, but I’m sure a little down the road you will see it, if not just to get a broader perspective ,,,or just some fun.

  26. Robert July 20, 2021 at 2:36 am

    James: “I came away convinced, based on the material/archaeological evidence, that Jews as well as Jewish and non-Jewish Christians understood Pompeii’s destruction as divine retribution.”

    Is there any evidence that relates to specifically gentile Christians understanding Vesuvius in this manner?

    On the other hand, we do know that some gentile Christians saw the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem as divine retribution against the Judean leadership in Jerusalem who had handed over Jesus to be crucified or even all Judeans or Jews who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah.

  27. JDTabor July 20, 2021 at 7:01 am

    Several have commented on my use of the term “eyewitness,” which I probably used a bit too loosely. My intent was simply to note that the descriptive language–which I offered above without any detailed comment or analysis–might well reflect this sort of cataclysmic event, especially as viewed from merchant ships in the harbor–references to the smoke, swift destruction “in one hour,” and so forth.

  28. JDTabor July 20, 2021 at 3:57 pm

    I have read through the comments and thank you for them all. Lots of good exchanges here. I will be replying tomorrow on this and the most recent post–check that out too if you are interested in reading what I am suggesting might be a “Pre-Jesus” version of the book of Revelation!

  29. Sblake1 July 23, 2021 at 2:40 pm

    Terrific and fascinating article. I had never made the connection, but it makes sense. WE see the same kind of thing in our own times. How many so-called prophets proclaimed the end of the world after 9/11. But if I may make a comment about the text itself. I have always been struck by verse 13, translated a “slaves and human souls” in the NRSV but in the Greek it reads after a list of commodities – kai… kai… kai – finally kai somaton, kai psychas anthropov (I wish I had Greek characters). I think the NRSV translation takes away some of the horrific starkness of the text – and human bodies and human souls, psyches. The word anthropon is genitive and modifies both somaton and psychas – is that correct Dr. Ehrman, I defer to your expertise on the Greek. (Continued in next post… hope that is ok).

  30. Sblake1 July 23, 2021 at 2:41 pm

    For me this is the only place I can find in the New Testament where the ancient institution of slavery is condemned. Even though it is not directly condemned here (or anywhere) just listing it at the end of a group of the commodities that have reflect the depravity of the Empire it seems to me is an indictment of the institution. And listing it last in that ironically forensic manner simply adds to the horror. In my view anyway. I would appreciate your comments. Thank you.

  31. Steefen July 24, 2021 at 2:48 pm

    The Book of Revelation was written sometime around 96 CE in Asia Minor. The author was probably a Christian from Ephesus known as “John the Elder.” According to the Book, this John was on the island of Patmos, not far from the coast of Asia Minor, “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 1.10).

    Steve Campbell, author of Historical Accuracy (the case for Christ is appealed, evidence that demands a verdict, a new verdict)

    Turkey is on the east side of Greece, Italy is on the west side of Greece. John, on the east side of Greece was able to see the eruption of Vesuvius? If yes, to what extent? SIMPLER: how did the writer of Revelation become an eyewitness of the eruption of Vesuvius(?) 1) by staying in present-day Turkey, or 2) had he traveled closer to Naples?

  32. markritz August 2, 2021 at 2:00 pm

    Hi Bart! I asked my catechism teacher this question when I was ten but she never got back to me. In Luke 23 Jesus says to one of the thieves “Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise”. Maybe I’ve missed it but I’ve never heard your take on this seemingly obvious (at least to me) contradiction. Didn’t Jesus get the memo that he wouldn’t be raised from the dead for three days?

    • BDEhrman August 3, 2021 at 6:46 pm

      I think the solution is that Luke believed Jesus was going to go to heaven straight at death in his spirit, ,and then come back into his body three days later (as opposed to simply not existing for the period or going to Hades for it).

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