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Is the Book of Revelation a Revised Version of a Non-Christian Apocalypse? Guest Post by James Tabor

July 20, 2021

Here now is the second guest post by my friend and cross-state colleague, New Testament scholar James Tabor.  Other scholars have suggested Revelation started out as a Jewish text that was later “Christianized” by an editor who produced the version we have today.  Here James embraces that view and mounts an argument for it.  See what you think!

James originally posted this on his own blog.  Check it out! Can A Pre-Christian Version of the Book of Revelation Be Recovered?

Can A Pre-Christian Version of the Book of Revelation Be Recovered?

The thesis of this post is a simple one. Behind the New Testament book of Revelation, formally called “The Revelation of Jesus Christ,” (Rev 1:1), is an older Jewish apocalyptic document that had nothing to do with Jesus or the early Christian movement. The question is, can such a older text be recovered, given the overtly Christian editing?

In my post titled “The Destruction of Pompeii and the New Testament Book of Revelation,” on the destruction of Pompeii by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE I suggested that one of the authors/editors of the New Testament book of Revelation was reacting to this specific disaster and giving it an apocalyptic interpretation in the materials we now find in chapter 18–the “Fall of Babylon the Great.”

One of the areas of study I have specialized in over the past three decades is the phenomenon of ancient and modern apocalypticism–namely those systems of thinking about the future in which an imminent “end of the age” is contemplated. I have published widely on this subject, from the Dead Sea Scrolls, to Jesus as an apocalyptic messiah, to David Koresh and Waco. [1]

One of my graduate courses deals with  “Embedded Texts” within our New Testament corpus, including the book of Revelation. Here is the course description.

This semester’s topic is Embedded Texts and Ur-Texts within Early Christian Literature. How does one identify and date “embedded texts” in early Christianity? What are the methods and assumptions involved in positing strata of textual traditions within a finished work? Texts examined will be the so-called Q and L sources in the Gospel of Luke, Ur-sources in Acts, the ‘signs’ source in John, and a possible pre-Christian Jewish apocalypse in the book of Revelation. The focus of this course is on method – therefore it is targeted to a wider audience beyond those interested in specializing in early Christianity since the phenomenon of layered texts is ubiquitous in many religious traditions.

In considering the possibility of a “pre-Christian” Apocalypse embedded in our current book of Revelation we  began with the very informal and preliminary work I had done years ago inspired by my former colleague at the University of Notre Dame, Josephine Masssyngberde Ford in her  volume on Revelation in the Anchor Bible Commentary series (now Anchor Yale Bible Commentary, edited by J. J. Collins). [2] Although colleagues have been fairly critical of Ford’s work in this volume, and particularly her claim that the book of Revelation can be traced back to pre-Christian John the Baptizer circles, with links to Qumran and the DSS, I have found her basic insights quite compelling and I highly recommend my readers get a copy of this volume. It is truly a wealth of research and information. [3]

One thing I had noticed in my own work on the book of Revelation over the years was that the explicit references to either “Jesus” “Christ,” or “Jesus Christ” outside the letters to the churches of chapters 2 & 3, are mostly clustered in chapters 1 and 22, with few in the middle chapters.

But what is even more astounding, to me at least, was the observation that nearly all of these references can be easily removed without detracting in any way from the structure or flow of the passages in which they occur. In other words, one could get the distinct impression that references to Jesus Christ lay quite lightly on the text and could even be seen as secondary interpolations.

In the references below I have put these interpolative elements bold italicized brackets. This exercise strongly suggests that these are later additions to an original Jewish text inserted to “Christianize” a book that in its origins had nothing to do with Jesus. This is a rather astounding phenomenon and once one sees it it seems clear that the underlying original text remains intact and makes complete sense without these references:

Rev 1:1 The revelation [of Jesus Christ,] which God gave [him] to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,
2 who testified to the word of God [and to the testimony of Jesus Christ,] even to all that he saw.
3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.
4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,
[5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood,
6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Rev 1:9 I, John, your brother who share with you [in Jesus] the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God [and the testimony of Jesus.]

NRS Rev 11:8 and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, [where also their Lord was crucified.]

Rev 12:17 Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God [and hold the testimony of Jesus.]

Rev 14:12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God [and hold fast to the faith of Jesus.]

Rev 17:6 And I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints [and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus.] When I saw her, I was greatly amazed.

Rev 19:10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades [who hold the testimony of Jesus.]Worship God! [For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.“]

Rev 20:4 Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded [for their testimony to Jesus and] for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned [with Christ] a thousand years.

Rev 22:16 [“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”]

Rev 22:20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. [Come, Lord Jesus]

Rev 22:21 [The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.]

The remaining references to the “Lord” or to the “Messiah,” such as those in 11:15, 12:10, and 20:6, are generic and fit easily into the thought world of generic late 2nd Temple Jewish apocalypticism, with nothing implicitly “Christian,” while the reference to “the Lamb” that is slain fits well into the generic image of the suffering “Son of Man,” returning triumphantly in the clouds of heaven, taken from Daniel 7:13-14, where it is understood to  be the corporate people of the “saints of the Most High,”  as well as the corporate nature of the “Suffering Servant” in the four “Servant Songs” of Isaiah (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12

In contrast to these references to Jesus, that so clearly exhibit a heavy hand of Christian interpolation, one finds multiple references to the LORD (Yahweh/Yehovah) God Almighty, as well as “his Messiah,” that echoes closely the language of the prophetic texts of the Hebrew Bible. None of these contain explicit references to Jesus and clearly exhibit a textual integrity that reflects the language and thought world of pre-Christian thoroughly Jewish apocalypticism:

Rev 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the LORD God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Rev 4:8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, “Holy, holy, holy, LORD God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”

Rev 4:11 “You are worthy, our LORD and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Rev 6:10 they cried out with a loud voice, “LORD LORD, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?”

Rev 11:4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the LORD of the earth.

Rev 11:17 singing, “We give you thanks, LORD God Almighty, who are and who were, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.

Rev 15:3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: “Great and amazing are your deeds, LORD God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations!

Rev 15:4 LORD, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed.”

Rev 16:7 And I heard the altar respond, “Yes, O LORD God, the Almighty, your judgments are true and just!”

Rev 18:8 therefore her plagues will come in a single day — pestilence and mourning and famine — and she will be burned with fire; for mighty is the LORD God who judges her.”

Rev 19:6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunder peals, crying out, “Hallelujah! For LORD our God the Almighty reigns.

Rev 21:22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is LORD God the Almighty [and the Lamb.]

Rev 22:5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the LORD God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Rev 22:6 And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for LORD, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his Messenger to show his servants what must soon take place.”

The implications of this simple textual examination are quite profound. First, it appears that one can fairly easily recover a pre-Christian version of this text, more or less, with very little change to the underlying text itself. What this would then allow is a re-reading of the book as a whole, with its references to the “Beast,” the “False Prophet,” and “Babylon” in a pre-70 CE setting. Scholars have most often applied the basic setting of the book to the reigns of the Roman emperors Nero and Domitian, with several stages of redaction in the period from 68 to 100 CE. However, since Rev 11:15 appears to be a clear reference to the city of Jerusalem, not Rome, as “Sodom and Egypt,” an entirely different line of interpretation opens up. The perspective of the authors of this primitive Ur-text of the Apocalypse is a radical disenfranchisement from the authority structures of pre-70 CE Roman destruction Jerusalem, whom they consider agents of the “Beast.” Further, the martyrs in this Ur-text are the “two witnesses,” whose slain bodies are left in the streets of Jerusalem, not Jesus the crucified messiah.

I am convinced that in the same way the basic apocalyptic texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls have as their historical reference points the parties and politics of the mid-1st century BCE, the Ur-text of revelation is most likely composed against the backdrop of local events in Judea in the 40s and 50s CE–and has little to do with Rome and its emperors.

The text, of course, has an ongoing history, first in the reign of Nero (54-66 CE) but certainly through the reign of Domitian and the destruction of Pompeii by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the summer of 79 CE, as noted in the introduction to this post.

1 Some of these materials are now on-line, most recently see my article “Ancient Jewish and Early Christian Millennialism,” In Oxford Handbook of Millennialism, ed., Cathy Wessinger. At the turn of the millennium–remember the Y2K panic?–I published Why 2K?: The Biblical Roots of Millennialism in Bible Review, which offers an overview of Christian apocalypticism through the ages. There is also “Apocalyptic Schemes and Dreams: How An Ancient Jewish Vision of the Future Came to Dominate the Modern World,” in The End of Days?: Millennialism from the Hebrew Bible to the Present, edited by Leonard J. Greenspoon and Ronald A. Simkins (Omaha: Creighton University Press, 2003), pp. 49-61. On the Dead Sea Scrolls and Jesus as an apocalyptic figure of the late 2nd Temple Jewish period, see: “Standing in the Shadow of Schweitzer: What Can We Say about an Apocalyptic Jesus?” The Review of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion 2:1 (2007): 8-10; my paper “One, Two, or Three Messiahs: Dynastic and Priestly Pedigrees from the Maccabees to Masada,” the overview “What the Bible Really Says About the Future,” in What the Bible Really Says, edited by Morton Smith and Joseph Hoffmann, and of course my book, The Jesus Dynasty. I wrote an entire book on Waco with Eugene Gallagher, you can read the first chapter on-line here, and I urge readers to get the book as well, especially those interested in interpretations of the Book of Revelation. Remember, it was David Koresh whose claim to fame was the ability to open the “Seven Seals.”
2 I began my teaching career at Notre Dame in 1979.
3 I might also recommend here G. R. Beasley-Murray, “How Christian is the Book of Revelation?
2021-07-26T18:39:32-04:00July 20th, 2021|Revelation of John|

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  1. kt July 20, 2021 at 6:45 am

    An interestin post !!

    In an analytical psychological approach, the physical body is a pattern of universal consciousness / superconcentration or collective unconciuousness. And according to the Bible, the human body is the temple of Holy Spirit and perhaps God.

    Throughout the Bible we are encouraged to “know ourselves”, which was also emphasized in (earlier) more esoteric branches of Christianity (see for example the Gospel of Thomas) and perhaps also stated in John 14:26

    Revelation can be understood within such a pattern as it is in my mind the image of man returning to and becoming one with God. It shows a connection between the physical, mental and spiritual elements that lead to the new consciousness in Christ.

    “Know thyself” in my mind is within the spiritual “remember” (basically chapters 5-11), where the two witnesses are involved in each body’s life, is our consciousness and unconsciousness. “They” are the 2 witnesses in all the life of the body.

  2. RICHWEN90 July 20, 2021 at 9:14 am

    I’m going to assume we don’t actually know who might have written the original text. So, several texts combined by one author? And the evidence might be stylistic differences within the document or inconsistencies? Another question might relate to the origin of the imagery– any known earlier texts containing similar imagery, or is the imagery unique to revelations, in which case, can we make any suppositions about the author, in terms of cultural context (hellenistic) or perhaps pagan borrowings?

    • JDTabor July 29, 2021 at 10:15 am

      I am thinking that the various layers and redactional elements make it really hard to identify any certain “John” with our “author,” although clearly the first person language running throughout presents things as the singular visionary experience of one who is first, “in the Spirit,” (1:10) and subsequently told “Come up hither”–again “in the Spirit” (4:1-2) certainly dominates our current version of the text. Compare 2 Cor 12:1-10 and Paul’s “ascent to Paradise,” see my new book, previously featured on this blog: The challenge is that many of the “ascent texts,” which I survey in my book, have that same “1st person” motif–and often are even associated with a name.

  3. Woodystock July 20, 2021 at 9:28 am

    Dr. Ehrman, how “fringe” is this theory? Can´t wait to get my hands on the book of yours, reading Bruce Metzger´s Breaking the Code in the meantime.

    • BDEhrman July 22, 2021 at 4:10 am

      It’s not a widely held view, no. But as with all scholarly views, it needs to be considered seriously

    • JDTabor July 29, 2021 at 10:16 am

      See my comment below Woodystock.

  4. quadell July 20, 2021 at 10:07 am

    It seems to me that the “lamb that was slain” is an inherently Christian image. Tabor says it “fits well into the generic image of the suffering ‘Son of Man,’ returning triumphantly in the clouds of heaven,” combined with “the ‘Suffering Servant’ in the four ‘Servant Songs’ of Isaiah.” But although these characters are often confused in early Christian circles, are there any non-Christian sources that link the two? I don’t know of any. And I suspect the only reason Christians linked them was to find scriptural support for a crucified messiah, which non-Christian groups wouldn’t need to do.

    The fact that it’s specifically a lamb is notable too. John’s gospel calls Jesus “The Lamb of God”, and earlier gospels seem to subtly link Jesus with the Passover lamb, but do any non-Christian sources have an apocalyptic figure represented as a lamb?

    It seems like it would be a striking coincidence if an otherwise-unknown non-Christian group connected Daniel’s Son of Man with Isaiah’s Suffering Servant in the same way Christians later would, but for different reasons… and also depicted this composite figure as a lamb, in the same way Christians would. Why is that more likely than a Christian origin?

  5. sschullery July 20, 2021 at 10:56 am

    Surely, if you’re going to strike out all mentions of JC, you’ve got to also eliminate the intro greeting to the seven churches, which, after all, were established in his name?

    I wonder if some creative mythecist couldn’t do the same thing with nearly any NT book to reveal an earlier, non-Jesus-dependent core.

    BART: Is this sort of thing really considered legit in scholarly circles?

    • JDTabor July 26, 2021 at 7:28 pm

      See my recent longer comment below that addresses both your concerns…Not sure how the term “legit” really fits here.

  6. charrua July 20, 2021 at 11:09 am

    “Several stages of redaction in the period from 68 to 100 CE”

    Could not all be written around 95 CE but with reference to what happened in the last decades?

    John was detained in Patmos probably in relation to some kind of persecution ,no matter if there is or not external evidence (we can’t expect to have evidence of ALL what happened in these times).

    When released he wrote Revelation in order to:

    1) Reassure his position over the churches in Asia (chaps 2-3)
    2) Encourage the christians communities to hold on until god’s revenge.

    As Bart wrote “ The churches of his world had suffered from economic exploitation and some Christians had been martyred. But God was going to put an end to it all.” In dealing with persecutions he shows an “obsession” (as Bart called it) with Nero , this doesn’t mean that these passages were written before his own times , he is simply talking about the worst persecution the christians ever faced.

  7. avdominello July 20, 2021 at 12:13 pm

    Hi Dr. Tabor–

    Read this particular post with interest since recently I read Elaine Pagels’ book “Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation.” To me it seems your views and Dr. Pagels’ are similar in that she posits (if I read her book correctly) that the writer of the Book of Revelation was a Christian Jew in Asia Minor who was directing his ire at his fellow Christian Jewish congregations who seemed to be straying from what he saw as the true message of Jesus.

    I wonder if you’d comment on your views of this and how they might dovetail with your own, if at all. Do we know that the churches of Asia Minor mentioned were Apocalyptic Christian Jews, as opposed to say Pauline Christians who were also Apocalyptic?

    I know Dr. Ehrman is taking a different view to Dr. Pagels (and perhaps to yours), and this is a discussion far above my pay grade, but I’m curious nonetheless. Hence my presence on this blog.

    Thank you, in advance, for your time!

    • JDTabor July 29, 2021 at 10:24 am

      My focus has been on what Ford proposes–a stage of this writing that was pre-Christian. So I have not been focused on the book as it appears now–and clearly chapters 1-4 are key to discerning the situation and addresses of the final editing and “author.”

  8. Linda July 20, 2021 at 12:26 pm

    Revelation is so completely saturated in OT imagery it becomes hard to imagine a gentile Christian would not simply choose to write their own apocalypse rather than use one which is truly Jewish in all respects.

    On the other hand, if it was written by a Christian Jew then it easily makes sense.

    The forceful criticism in Revelation of those who teach “eating meat sacrificed to idols” is a key to the fact that this was a Christian Jew who did not agree with Paul’s teaching on doing so, if conscience permits.

    “Conscience permitting” to a strict Jew is for the most part an anathema. Either he is doing what God has instructed or he is not, plain and simple.

    Revelation was written by such a man, a Christian Jew who believed:

    John 4:21  Jesus said to her, “Believe Me, woman, that a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” 

    Revelation is about that time.

    John 4:22  “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews.”

    The Christian Jew who wrote Revelation knew that to be so.

    • JDTabor July 29, 2021 at 10:25 am

      Thanks Linda, same comment as above–and see my more extended reply below summarizing my argument and what my focus was.

  9. robgrayson July 20, 2021 at 1:19 pm

    It’s a fun theory but not one I find particularly convincing, at least not in the way Tabor has presented it here. He seems to leap straight from the speculative (“one could get the distinct impression that references to Jesus Christ lay quite lightly on the text and could even be seen as secondary interpolations”) to the assertive (“these references to Jesus, that so clearly exhibit a heavy hand of Christian interpolation”). The fact that Revelation *could* plausibly be a Jewish apocalyptic text overlaid with Christian interpolations doesn’t mean it necessarily *is*.

  10. charrua July 20, 2021 at 1:47 pm

    The two witnesses, Sodom and Egypt.

    “ the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified”
    Is this a reference to Jerusalem?

    Ok, “their Lord was crucified” in Jerusalem but “ the GREAT city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt” appears to fit better with Rome and perhaps when John said ”where their Lord was crucified” he “symbolically ” refers to christians martyrs in Rome ,in particular Paul and Peter and then we have the two witnesses.

    “and their dead bodies will lie in the street(πλατείας,’plaza,’ square?) … For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. ”

    That fits exactly with Tacitus reports about chrstians being “nailed to crosses, or doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination”, obviously the surviving christians could not retire the bodies .

    What a horrible scene it was, obviously it was something they couldn’t forget easily.

    Again, it was not something they “perceived” , they really experienced horror in the same way as many other “hated” groups in history.

  11. Em.Freedman July 20, 2021 at 3:59 pm

    Hi Dr. Ehrman!

    Out of interest: do you, yourself answer each comment, or do you have assistants to help you?

    • BDEhrman July 21, 2021 at 1:15 pm

      I do them all myself– except when guest posters answer ones directed to them.

      • Em.Freedman July 21, 2021 at 1:35 pm

        Ah epic!! Good to know!

  12. tcasto July 20, 2021 at 5:06 pm

    Interesting but inconclusive. Rev 1:4 would indicate it is a Christian document or maybe Tabor meant to highlight it as well.

    • JDTabor July 29, 2021 at 10:25 am

      I think that is pretty clear in my post but if not, see extended comment below.

  13. fishician July 20, 2021 at 6:43 pm

    Really interesting! I’ll have to go back and read it again with this in mind.

  14. zwiefldraader July 21, 2021 at 2:20 am

    I know this being highly speculative, but given the idea that the Revelation has been written and edited maybe over several decades (I remember having read something like the text rooting back to the mid sixties and being finished in the nineties) – does it make any sense that John wrote it as an apocalyptic Jew, later converted to Christianity and reinterpreted whatever might have been his primary experience (which he MAY have had before writing the apocalypse in the first place) in the light of believing Jesus being the Messiah and Lamb of God?
    Just asking, because I don’t know if and how the writing style of the possible inserts differs from the Ur-text.

    • JDTabor July 29, 2021 at 10:26 am

      Again, those questions were not my focus but I would say yes…

  15. Moshe July 21, 2021 at 5:30 am

    Professor Tabor, you make a very plausible case. With the Jesus references removed, what remains reads perfectly as a an example of Jewish apocalypticism.

    I’m reminded of the few times I’ve had occasion to attend a Christian service. In every case I was struck by how familiar parts of the liturgy were. If one subtracted the references to Christ and Jesus, what was left made it obvious that Christianity had Jewish roots.

  16. Regis July 21, 2021 at 6:26 am

    Wow, your argument about a pre-Christian embedded text seem compelling to me at least, a non-scholar. Professor, which part of these arguments do NT scholars find not convincing, and why? Also, do any extant manuscripts of Revelation include the Tetragrammaton, or do you speculate they were included in the original embedded text?

    • JDTabor July 29, 2021 at 10:28 am

      Re: the Tetragrammaton, not that I know of. Other than a ton of variants–which I take to be mostly later than the core Greek version we use today (see Metzger), my argument is constructed solely from our “standard” text as it now stands–mostly 4th century CE.

  17. JDTabor July 21, 2021 at 9:31 am

    In my graduate class I had all the students “create” with supporting notes and arguments, what portions of the text as we have it might have been a kind of pre-Christian–or maybe better said–“pre-Jesus” version. I have uploaded a PDF sample of our collective results if you just want to download, print out, and give it a read. The PDF on the post might not show if you view it through the link here. Here is the URL of the text itself:

    • tom.hennell July 21, 2021 at 1:33 pm

      Fasinating speculation James.

      But I got confused when you say:

      “the reference to “the Lamb” that is slain fits well into the generic image of the suffering “Son of Man,” returning triumphantly in the clouds of heaven, taken from Daniel 7:13-14, where it is understood to be the corporate people of the “saints of the Most High,” as well as the corporate nature of the “Suffering Servant” in the four “Servant Songs” of Isaiah (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12”

      I can certainly see Isaiah 53:7 in the reference to “the Lamb”; but I cannot find any reference to a lamb in the Book of Daniel with reference to the “saints of the Most High”. Is there any text in non-Christian apocalytic literature that associates a “Son of Man” figure with a Lamb that is slain?

      • JDTabor July 29, 2021 at 10:29 am

        See my comment above Tom re: the work of Fischbane, Knohl, et al.

  18. FocusMyView July 21, 2021 at 12:39 pm

    You mention millenialism. At one time records temporally referenced by the reign of the king. “In the eigth year or Dark is the Made” for example. But the Seleucid calendar seems to change that. While annual agricultural patterns involving the moon and the sun, dying and rising gods such as Tammuz, continued was there any changes in deities we can trace to these lengthy calendars that became so popular?

    • BDEhrman July 22, 2021 at 4:18 am

      Not that I know of.

      • TheaLoggi July 24, 2021 at 3:45 pm

        Two things come to mind that I don’t see specifically mentioned by Professor Tabor:

        1. Revelation has many direct references to OT books, Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Zechariah, as well as 2 not directly prophetic books, Psalms and Exodus.
        2. Martin Luther thought Revelation didn’t show (the true) Christ, with not enough emphasis on faith in Christ.

        Both these points add support to the idea that Revelation could have been a non-Christian apocalypse to which references to Jesus were added. Whether the support is strong is debatable.

        • JDTabor July 29, 2021 at 10:30 am

          Yes, good points. And that would fit with the “strawy” epistle of James! For Luther at least.

  19. Kashif69 July 21, 2021 at 4:44 pm

    Dr Tabor,

    Have any of earlier manuscripts ever been found where Christianization of text is missing?( i.e. Rev 1:1 where “of jesus christ” is missing from the text?)

    I found similar pattern in Gospel of John about “holy spirit” where many a times the text flows completely well even if we remove ” the Holy spirit ” from a sentence and original text remains intact and makes complete sense without these references to Holy Spirit.

    I asked Dr Ehrman about it but he refused the notion on the ground that ” no earlier manuscript have ever been found” without such additions.

    What’s your take on that?



    • JDTabor July 29, 2021 at 10:31 am

      See my response above but no, I do not make use of any ms. evidence whatsoever…just our “standard” 4th century witnesses, Nestle, et al.

  20. brenmcg July 21, 2021 at 5:55 pm

    I think the dragon (Satan) the beast of the abyss (seven-heads) and the beast of the earth (with two horns like a lamb) are supposed to be the evil anti-Trinity. [God seven-fold spirit and the lamb].

    And so the whole book must be christian.

  21. DemandDroid July 21, 2021 at 10:32 pm

    I’m curious as to why “John to the seven churches in Asia” is seen as part of the original text, not an interpolation. Is a “church” ever spoken of as being part of the Jewish community? Are the words for “church” and “synagogue” the same or different in ancient Greek? Hearing different “churches” being referred to in the sense of almost a corporate body just sounds very Christian to me, even if local Jewish had their own congregations in various places in Asia, I’ve just never heard them refer to themselves like that, either in antiquity or modern times,.

  22. Pcrtje July 22, 2021 at 12:05 am

    Very interesting. Have your arguments been found convincing to other NT-scholars? E.g. is there any consensus on Revelation being a pre-christian writing that has been modified later?

    • JDTabor July 29, 2021 at 10:32 am

      Not that I know of. I have not really put them out there other than this blog post–as a result of the graduate class I taught. See Ford’s Anchor commentary though.

  23. jonas July 22, 2021 at 8:31 am

    This is really interesting! Positing an earlier Jewish apocalypse here would seem to solve one key problem with Revelation: figuring out who all these “martyrs” are that John keeps talking about. There weren’t a lot of Christian martyrs in the second half of the first century CE that we know of, but after 70, if you were Jewish and had just witnessed Rome’s brutal siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, the idea of all these recent martyrs clamoring for God’s vengeful justice suddenly makes a lot more sense.

  24. JDTabor July 22, 2021 at 10:31 am

    Hey everyone, I will get to all your comments over the next few days–as they are finally appearing and the glitch in the software appears to be fixed as of yesterday allowing me to comment freely. Thanks for the input so far. I am eager to dive in as my schedule permits.

  25. Bhoward July 22, 2021 at 12:35 pm

    When I try to read the following post on his blog, it says “fake worder unable to load” (in a red box) for the hypothetical text (I assume).

    Anyone else have this problem and know of a solution?

    • BDEhrman July 23, 2021 at 1:32 pm

      For any problems like this, click on Help and send a question to Support. Hopefully we can figure it out. (Or, well, not “we” but Ben, our director of technology)

      • JDTabor July 23, 2021 at 1:38 pm

        If you click on the link itself, here in your comment, you should get the web site and can see the PDF. If that does not work here go here and you will find that and many of my other publications in PDF form you can download:

  26. curtiswolf69 July 23, 2021 at 8:15 am

    Is there anything in Revelation that is clearly Jewish and can be differentiated from the prevailing Christian thought in the first century? I need something more than the fact that the references to Jesus are not integral to the message of Revelation.

  27. petrejo July 23, 2021 at 5:12 pm

    It’s relevant that your thesis is almost identical with the one by Josephine M. Ford (Anchor Yale Commentary, 1978) in her commentary on the Book of Revelation.

    Dr. Ford proposes that Revelation is Jewish, but more importantly, it represents a sect of Judaism that was quite current in the earliest days of Christianity — specifically, the theology of John the Baptist.

    This explains why the book was so beloved by the early Church — they would not let it go.

    The tone of the Book of Revelation matches the tone of the Baptist’s preaching as recorded in the Gospels.

    The words “Jesus” and “Christ” are missing in chapters 4 through 11 — an impossibility in the rest of the New Testament.

    Further, the verses of Revelation 4:1-11 closely match the opening verses of the Book of Ezekiel in the OT.

    This is a fruitful field of research because neither Luther, Calvin, or Zwingli — in their thousands of pages of Bible Commentary — gave us any commentary or guidance on the Book of Revelation.

    Even the Catholic Church downplayed Revelation as far as possible. The fanatics, then, took control of interpreting the Book — and they always interpreted it in a political manner, making their political enemies into the Beast 666.

    That still goes on today.

    • JDTabor July 26, 2021 at 7:24 pm

      Yes, absolutely, I learned it first from her teaching at Notre Dame in the 1980s. We were friends and colleagues, as I note in the post.

      • petrejo August 7, 2021 at 1:33 am

        Best wishes, Dr. Tabor. This will be the future of scholarly studies regarding the Book of Revelation, I say.

        Martin Luther left us a Bible Commentary of every book except Revelation. Same with Calvin. Same with Zwingli.

        I say that amateurs have tried to fill that gap for 500 years now — and all failed miserably until Dr. J.M. Ford came along. I will follow your work, professor.

  28. KingJohn July 24, 2021 at 11:15 am

    Dr. Tabor:

    Should Christians at least have an elementary knowledge of Greek? There are so many words and phrases in the New Testament that simply cannot be translated with accuracy. What is your view on this?

    • JDTabor July 29, 2021 at 10:41 am

      Well I took my first Koine Greek course at age 17 at Abilene Christian University (then “College”) and studied with the likes of Abraham Malherbe and Everett Ferguson. I subsequently got so hooked that I majored in Greek! Imagine telling my parents of my new “marketable” college Major. But I was hooked, for precisely the reasons you state here. I love reading the NT in Greek and have been through it so many times it is an old familiar friend, but I still find endless new things in the standard sources, especially dealing with key vocabulary–Liddell-Scott, Bauer BDAG, Mouton-Milligan, Kittel’s TNDT. It is endless. And I love Classical greek as well, but the Koine stuff, especially papyri and inscriptions, really draws me.

  29. JDTabor July 26, 2021 at 7:26 pm

    It sounds like a few of you are finding my proposal either unlikely, or overly speculative, or even “fringe.” It is certainly not a widely held view, as Bart has noted, but I invite those of you who don’t find it particularly convincing to consider the following points:
    1. The explicit references to Jesus/Christ, other than those within letters to the Seven Churches, are clustered in chapters 1 and 22 with very few scattered through the middle chapters.
    2. When one looks at the content and style of these Jesus references, they are formulaic, repetitive (“testimony of Jesus” “faith of Jesus” etc.), and in every case the verses in which they occur are not fractured in flow or meaning by their removal. They seem to function as “insertions,” which is often a key to identifying interpolations.
    3. The fourteen references to the LORD God Almighty have a strong monotheistic formulation, and only in 21:22 do we get the addition of “the Lamb.” (continued…)

    • kt July 29, 2021 at 6:39 pm

      I think that’s an interesting idea.

      It reminds me of a discussion the late Bible scholar, Dr. John Turner, was open to the Gnostic The Apocryphon of John being Christianized from a more barbeloic source (before Christian). It seems that he suggested that the ideas from both Pythagorean, Platonic, and Jewish ideas found in some of the Gnostic views may have been Christianized.

      So what you are proposing is an interesting idea, at least for a Norwegian like me!

      You can say that the Revelation is different from the Gnostic myth ,,,, which may be partly true in my mind. An interesting observation is that when the founder of deapth psychology, Carl Jung (who was also very deep in religious symbols and visions) claimed that Gnostic viiew symbolically is a mirror of his psychological view.
      Another interesting observation is the Gnostic technique, the rituals, the “baptism” to get to these spiritual visions / journeys addressed by John Turner, to see this spiritual ascension especially if you look at the soul ascend history story in the Gnostic Gospel of Phillip. I’m pretty sure you can apply some of the Gnostic symbolism that Carl Jung uses in his psychological analyzes and apply it to the story described in the Book of Revelation, it really fits well !!.

      Anyway, and whatever, I find your idea interesting!

    • FocusMyView July 29, 2021 at 8:17 pm

      How much of this goes under the radar? Honestly because this work will probably never go mainstream, most people interested will never know THIS truth that you have shared with us today. Is Academia too rigid? Certainly I would rather hear the work of students working together in a class than random rabbit holes on the internet.

      All this capability to collaborate to find the Truth seems to have barely scratched the surface.

  30. JDTabor July 26, 2021 at 7:26 pm

    (Continued) As a result, one, based on these phenomena one can extract the remaining content and what results is a tightly coherent narrative that contains no explicit references to Jesus. Someone commented that you could do this with any number of other texts of the New Testament. Other than the letter of James—with its two extraneous references to “the Lord Jesus Christ,” (1:1; 1:1b that I likewise take to be interpolations)—I don’t think there is any other such text—whether gospel or letter. Removing the “Christological” (Jesus, Christ, Lord, Son, et al.) references would make a complete mishmash of any text or portion thereof I can think of.

    If you want to download and even print out a copy of the results of this exercise I think you will find it does have an impact—beyond just reading through the listing of passages in myh post. Here is the link to the PDF we produced in my course:
    Also, take a look at Beasley-Murray’s article: and if you can get a copy, Ford’s original Anchor Bible commentary on Revelation.

  31. JDTabor July 26, 2021 at 7:31 pm

    I will get to other comments throughout this week. Thanks for the feedback, it is most helpful and interesting.

  32. IOguy July 28, 2021 at 10:34 pm

    Much of the imagery in the Revelation is taken from Ezekiel, which pertains to a judgement on ancient Israel. That’s what the Revelation is describing…the end of the age judgement of old covenant Israel and their temple system.
    1.The Throne Vision (Rev. 4; Ezek. 1)
    2.The Book (Rev. 5; Ezek. 2–3)
    3.The Four Plagues (Rev. 6:1–8; Ezek. 5)
    4.The Slain under the Altar (Rev. 6:9–11; Ezek. 6)
    5.The Wrath of God (Rev. 6:12–17; Ezek. 7)
    6.The Seal on the Saint’s Foreheads (Rev. 7; Ezek. 9)
    7.The Coals from the Altar (Rev. 8; Ezek. 10)
    8.No More Delay (Rev. 10:1–7; Ezek. 12)
    9.The Eating of the Book (Rev. 10:8–11; Ezek. 2)
    10.The Measuring of the Temple (Rev. 11:1–2; Ezek. 40–43)

    Many more examples could be shown.

    Ezekiel is to the Old Testament what the Book of Revelation is to the New Testament. Ezekiel laid out the coming destruction of Jerusalem (by the Babylonians) in the Old Testament, and John used the same prophetic language to speak of the imminent coming destruction of Jerusalem in the New Testament. With that framework, the symbolism of Revelation is set in place and becomes simpler to interpret. It’s an apocalyptic text describing the end of Israel’s old covenant religious system and temple community.

    • JDTabor July 29, 2021 at 10:41 am

      No question about it but I would include Daniel and lots of other references here and there…If you have never looked at 2 Esdras give it a look. Shows how one might reappropriate a prior text…and modify it, although that author even tells you he is modifying it! One of the most interesting passages in this genre of “rewritten” Bible texts–see 2 Esdras 12:10ff for my favorite example. And we then have this text with lots of variants in Latin, Ethiopic, Arabic, Syriac/Aramaic!

      • IOguy July 29, 2021 at 11:01 pm

        I think you don’t fully appreciate the significance of the Revelation being the description of the end of the old covenant religious system and temple community. If you have had any exposure to preterism, you would know that the term ‘heaven and earth’ was used by Jesus, Peter, and John in the Revelation to refer to the old covenant religious system and temple community. It’s also used in that way throughout the old testament. The implications are very significant, but lost on many people who either aren’t looking or who have their own academic agenda. The entire bible, from start to finish, is the story of the beginning of heaven and earth, and the end of heaven and earth. It’s Israel’s redemptive narrative, not all humanity’s. The heaven and earth that was created in the beginning was not the universe and earth, but the old covenant religious system and temple community. Israel’s redemptive narrative ended in AD70. The need for the ‘gospel’ ended with it. The ‘Christianity’ that followed AD70 was a faux version, perpetrated by Greeks (so-called ‘church fathers’) who misappropriated bits and pieces of Israel’s redemptive narrative and created a Jesus cult of their own.

  33. KingJohn July 29, 2021 at 8:45 am

    I hope Dr. Tabor answers my question.

    • BDEhrman July 30, 2021 at 1:50 pm

      He wasn’t able to answer them all. I’d suggest zapping it to him in a note. It’s easy enough to find his email.

    • JDTabor July 30, 2021 at 5:32 pm

      I think I responded to everyone now down to this point…went back this week and caught up…thanks KingJohn. I will continue on from here as others come in.

  34. IOguy July 30, 2021 at 12:04 am

    The two witnesses were Ananus ben Ananus and Jesus ben Gamaliel (Joshua Ben Gamala), two former high priests who led a peace movement in opposition to the Zealots until they were killed during the Zealot Temple Siege of February/March AD 68. There were said to have had the mastery of speech over those who opposed them. They were killed the day after a great earthquake. Their enemies rejoiced over their deaths and their bodies remained unburied in the streets of Jerusalem, referenced in Revelation 11:3-13, and Josephus…. “they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial,” (Josephus, Wars 4.5.2). It was these Idumeans and Zealots who profaned the temple for forty two months, referenced in Rev 11:2. The ‘beast’ was the corrupt Israelite religious community. The ‘mark’ of the beast has its origin in the old testament, Ezek 9:6. It was a symbolic way of describing the identifying characteristic of one who was of faith. The ‘mark’ of the beast in the Revelation was the antithesis of the genuine mark that identified genuine, faithful Israelites. Only Israelites would have recognized John’s abundant use of Old Testament imagery. The Revelation is about Israel.

  35. IOguy July 30, 2021 at 1:09 am

    Another hypothesis is that since there were multiple coins being minted by different Jewish groups between AD65-70, and one could not buy or sell without the coin, it was symbolic of one’s political and religious affiliation within a context of the Jewish conflict in Jerusalem between AD65-70. The ‘mark of the beast’ was possibly a coin indicating one’s allegiance to the Zealots, who had begun minting their own coins after they ran the Romans out of Jerusalem in AD66. John probably considered Zealots corrupt, ‘beastly’ and violent, unworthy to be considered a genuine Jew. Accepting their coinage may have been an expression of loyalty to their cause or an endorsement of their violence.

  36. Regis July 30, 2021 at 6:29 am

    Prof Tabor, according to this interpretation of Revelation being an original Jewish apocalypse recycled by Christians, what do you think is the identity of the Two Witnesses? Isaiah (said in later tradition to have been sawn in half by king Manasseh in Jerusalem) and High Priest Onias during the Macchabean revolt? Others?

  37. scottpc July 30, 2021 at 6:06 pm

    I took Professor Tabor’s advice and have read Josephine Masssyngberde Ford’s commentary on Revelation. She has an interesting thesis, and I’m certainly not the scholar to evaluate it (I thought Tabor summarized it well), but I also noticed that the volume has been replaced by a new one in the Anchor Bible Commentary series. I wonder about the reception of her thesis (basically that Revelation was a Jewish apocalypse from the “school” of John the Baptist). What’s the state of scholarship in this most vexing book?

    • BDEhrman July 31, 2021 at 7:49 am

      Yes, her thesis was not well received. The replacement commentary by Craig Koester is very solid in most ways.

    • BDEhrman July 31, 2021 at 7:49 am

      Yes, her thesis was not well received. The replacement commentary by Craig Koester is very solid in most ways.

  38. Kashif69 August 2, 2021 at 6:49 am

    (couldn’t get reply earlier, hence posting again)
    Dr Tabor,

    Have any of earlier manuscripts ever been found where Christianization of text is missing?( i.e. Rev 1:1 where “of Jesus Christ” is missing from the text?)

    I found similar pattern in Gospel of John about “holy spirit” where many a times the text flows completely well even if we remove ” the Holy spirit ” from a sentence and original text remains intact and makes complete sense without these references to Holy Spirit.

    I asked Dr Ehrman about it but he refused the notion on the ground that ” no earlier manuscript have ever been found” without such additions.

    What’s your take on that?



    • BDEhrman August 3, 2021 at 6:35 pm

      I think James is no longer engaging comments, but I can tell you the answer is no. THese materials are in all the mss we know of.

  39. Steefen August 2, 2021 at 7:50 pm

    Reference: Revelation, chapter 11, verse 15
    Then the seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and loud voices called out in heaven: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever.”

    James Tabor
    Since Rev 11:15 appears to be a clear reference to the city of Jerusalem, not Rome, as “Sodom and Egypt,” an entirely different line of interpretation opens up. The perspective of the authors of this primitive Ur-text of the Apocalypse is a radical disenfranchisement from the authority structures of pre-70 CE Roman destruction Jerusalem, whom they consider agents of the “Beast.”

    The authority structure of pre-70 CE was the Roman Empire was still the Roman Empire, even if not the generals Vespasian and Titus. Why are you not dating this Ur-text before the Roman Empire supported Herod the Great, then?

    James Tabor
    The Ur-text of Revelation is most likely composed against the backdrop of local events in Judea in the 40s and 50s CE–and has little to do with Rome and its emperors.

    Some of the Roman governors over Judea in the 50s and 60s were terrible producing conditions deserving an end/apocalypse (judgment followed by righteousness). Date it then?

  40. RM July 4, 2022 at 8:11 pm

    I’ve been thinking about it for a while

    Unless I’m wrong

    Literally every single author in the new testament is either forging, lying, fabricating events, tampering with torah scripture and misquoting it to deceive.

    The only exceptions I know are 2

    Mark who is unknown


    Curiously these are the 2 that scholars seem to tell us have the worst linguistic skills. Almost hilarious commentary on its own. The only nondeceptives are those with the worst literacy! Which is not to say they are true, just that neither seems to me to discredit themselves off the boat by showing clear lying/deception/tampering.

    But there’s another parallel almost. Mark is the most distinct about Christ being meek suffering oppressed and sacrificing

    Revelation is the most distinct about….the exact opposite!

    The trope about those at the edges only disagreeing about which side they’re on rings true here. At the heart of Christianity before what the resurrection means is what Jesus being your lord and the son of God means

    • RM July 4, 2022 at 8:15 pm

      If your God is too wrathful, soften Him up with a child He loves as a father does, who will intercede with Him and remove His wrathful from you. If His son is involved in the decision making, he along with God will together decide your fate, not just God alone. So you have an advocate on your behalf who is part of the final decision like a lawyer to a judge except the lawyer is the judges child.

      Conversely, if you are persecuted or at least hate the neighboring church of heretics, or you just need someone to hate and dominate, but you aren’t sure God hates them the way you hate them, be sure that they’ve offended His son and so now on His sons behalf God and son will be wrecking vengeance on those who you rightfully or wrongfully despise!

      There is here a key departure from Judaism. Jews of that era who would become rabbinical jews did not hold on to such an ethos. God is just God, we might tussle with obedience but I’ve got no ally in a high place who can nudge Him for me or against those I hate.

    • BDEhrman July 5, 2022 at 2:06 pm

      I’d say that’s a bit strong. I don’t see evidence of deceit in the NT authors use of Scripture. I do see it when authors knowingly claim to be a famous person when they weren’t, but not in how they quote Scripture. Their quotation habits are consistent with what was practiced widely in their world. We may not think this is the best way to use texts, but that doesn’t make it deceitful.

  41. BillyMallard March 10, 2024 at 1:12 pm

    Dr. Tabor – Thank you for this post and for the link to your reconstruction. Fascinating idea; I had never heard that there might be pre- and post-Christian strata of Revelation.

    Do you have any evidence suggesting the existence of such an Ur-text, beyond that the Christ bits can be extracted without marring the flow? Have you done any similar digging for the “signs” source that the Gospel of John putatively draws on? Would love to see that.

    Really intriguing idea, thanks again. Enjoyed your Paul and Jesus book, and all the great popularizing you do on your website and YouTube.

    Prof. Bart – Realizing that Dr. Tabor has probably clocked out from reading these comments, I was wondering, especially given the deep dive you did for your Revelation book, what you make of Dr. Tabor’s idea here?

    • BDEhrman March 11, 2024 at 8:41 pm

      I don’t agree with it. Others have argued it, of course, including — ready for this? — D. H. Lawrence!

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