1.1. ROME – BABYLON THE GREAT
In the 1st century the Jewish people was under Roman domination. Due to this fact, the image of a liberating Messiah was more widespread and anticipated than ever. There was a powerful feeling of urgency and expectation because the Jews believed that, as in the case of the Egyptian and Babylonian captivities, the Messiah would appear and deliver them from the Roman bondage. On the other hand, many of the early Christians were Jews. This inevitably led to an influence of Jewish eschatology upon Christian eschatology and it is very likely that the Messiah expected by the Jews came to be mistaken for the Second Coming of Christ. As Paul the Apostle intimates in the letter to the church of Thessalonica, some of the new converts believed that the end of the world was imminent:
Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him; to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is just at hand (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).
This belief was so strong that in the year 90 AD Clement I, bishop of Rome,52 spread the word that the world may end at any moment. Likewise, in the 2nd century a bishop from Pontus, Asia Minor, told his followers that the end would come within two years, urging them to sell their goods and not to cultivate their lands.53
Christian eschatology was vulnerable to Jewish influences because Christianity, as a religion, was not yet clearly defined. It was a time when the sacred texts were written on scrolls and the concept of Bible was non-existent. Until the 4th century Christianity was a confused religion: there was neither a clear distinction between canonical texts and apocryphal texts nor the dual classification of the Old and the New Testament. Lots of contradictory and questionable texts circulated in parallel, without being a qualitative distinction between them. This was also the case of the most important prophetic books, the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation. The early scholars treated them equally, thinking that they refer to the same set of events, but each from its own perspective. Consequently, the lack of doctrinal delimitation led to multiple interpretations and heresies, Montanism being one of the best examples.
After having adhered to Christianity in the year 156, Montanus, together with Maximina and Prisca, two ex-priestesses of the goddess Cybele, started to preach his own religious system in the rural area of Phrygia, Asia Minor. The three claimed divine revelations and prophecies in a similar manner to the Greco-Roman oracle. Despite an immediate success, the trained clergy rejected Montanus for being an impostor who likens himself with God: “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever” (John 14:16). The “Comforter” from John’s text refers to the Holy Spirit who descended upon the apostles after the ascension of Jesus to Heaven (Acts 2:2-3). Montanus, on the other hand, saw in the miracle of Pentecost the beginning of the Age of the Spirit (the Age of the Paraclete), or the actual activity of the Spirit in the Church. The Holy Spirit descended not only upon the apostles, but he descends also upon every person who converts to the Christian religion. Accordingly, Montanus declared himself to be full of spirit and sinless, without the possibility to commit other sins. At the same time, Prisca claimed that God has dual nature and Christ had revealed himself to her in the form of a woman. Montanus even said that the town of Pepuza, his birthplace, was the New Jerusalem, where Christ was going to descend for the second time.54
Despite its absurdity, Montanism survived until the 4th century, when the Christian doctrine began to be clearly defined. In the year 364 the Council of Laodicea divided all religious texts into two categories: canonical texts, which must be followed, and apocryphal texts, which must be ignored. In addition, the canonical writings were partitioned into two large groups, having as a point of reference the birth of Christ: the Old Testament, texts composed before the birth of Christ, and the New Testament, texts composed after the birth of Christ.55
The first five centuries were crucial for the Christian religion. The early theologians elaborated the foundations of Christianity and the most and influential apocalyptical theories of all times. These early theories fueled the medieval apocalypticism and to some extent they are present even in the contemporary one.
At the moment, the Book of Daniel is considered the most important prophetic text of the Old Testament, which describes the historical evolution of the Jewish people. By contrast, the Book of Revelation is the most important prophetic text of the New Testament, which portrays events related to the evolution of the Church. But in first three centuries the situation was quite different. Without the crucial distinction between the New and the Old Testament, the scholars of the period granted the same value and importance to all the prophetic manuscripts. The early eschatological studies began with the premise that the Book of Revelation and the Book of Daniel describe the same set of things, events and periods of time, but from different points of view, complementing each other. The final events of the world were believed to be described by Daniel in chapters 2, 7 and 8, in the revelations he had during his captivity in Babylon (605-562 BC). The first revelation was received in a dream by King Nebuchadnezzar:
Thou, O king, sawest, and, behold, a great image. This image, which was mighty, and whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the aspect thereof was terrible. As for this image, its head was of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of brass, its legs of iron, its feet part of iron, and part of clay. Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon its feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them in pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken in pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors; and the wind carried them away, so that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king. Thou, O king, art king of kings, unto whom the God of heaven hath given the kingdom, the power, and the strength, and the glory; and wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens hath he given into thy hand, and hath made thee to rule over them all: thou art the head of gold. And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee; and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron, forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things; and as iron that crusheth all these, shall it break in pieces and crush. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters’ clay, and part of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men; but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron doth not mingle with clay. And in the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people; but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever (Daniel 2:31-44).
The second revelation was received by Daniel himself, also in a dream, in the first year of the reign of Belshazzar:
And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made to stand upon two feet as a man; and a man’s heart was given to it. And, behold, another beast, a second, like to a bear; and it was raised up on one side, and three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh. After this I beheld, and, lo, another, like a leopard, which had upon its back four wings of a bird; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, a fourth beast, terrible and powerful, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth; it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with its feet: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things. ... I beheld at that time because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake; I beheld even till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed, and it was given to be burned with fire. ... I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; until the ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High, and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom. Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all the kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. And as for the ten horns, out of this kingdom shall ten kings arise: and another shall arise after them; and he shall be diverse from the former, and he shall put down three kings. And he shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High; and he shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and half a time. But the judgment shall be set, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. And the kingdom and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High: his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him (Daniel 7:3-8, 11, 21-27).
The two prophecies refer to the same political events, complementing each other. Each part of the image from the first vision is in correlation with a beast from the second vision, as follows: the golden head of the image is one and the same with the first beast, which looks like a lion and has eagle’s wings; the silver breast and arms are in relation to the second beast, which looks like a bear, is raised up on one side, and has three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; the brass belly and thighs are in connection with the beast that looks like a leopard with four heads and four wings; the iron legs of the image correspond to the fourth beast, the strongest and scariest of all, with great iron teeth and ten horns; finally, the feet (toes) of the image – made of part iron and part clay – are in relation to the ten horns of the fourth beast.
A first interpretation of the two revelations is made shortly after their description by Daniel himself, who says that the golden head of the image and the first beast are symbols for the Babylonian Empire (Daniel 2:37-38).
A second interpretation is made in Daniel 5, where the prophet confesses to the king Belshazzar that Babylon will be given to the Medes and the Persians due to the sins and crimes of the Babylonians: “Peres; thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians” (Daniel 5:28). This interpretation is resumed in Daniel 8, where the second and the third pair of symbols are identified with the Medo-Persian Empire and the Greek-Macedonian Empire. A third vision reveals the evolutions of the two empires through the symbols of a ram and a goat:
Then I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and, behold, there stood before the river a ram which had two horns: and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last. I saw the ram pushing westward, and northward, and southward; and no beasts could stand before him, neither was there any that could deliver out of his hand; but he did according to his will, and magnified himself. And as I was considering, behold, a he-goat came from the west over the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes. And he came to the ram that had the two horns, which I saw standing before the river, and ran upon him in the fury of his power. And I saw him come close unto the ram, and he was moved with anger against him, and smote the ram, and brake his two horns; and there was no power in the ram to stand before him; but he cast him down to the ground, and trampled upon him; and there was none that could deliver the ram out of his hand. And the he-goat magnified himself exceedingly: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and instead of it there came up four notable [horns] toward the four winds of heaven. ... The ram which thou sawest, that had the two horns, they are the kings of Media and Persia. And the rough he-goat is the king of Greece: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king. And as for that which was broken, in the place whereof four stood up, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not with his power (Daniel 8:3-8, 20-22).
The generally accepted interpretation of Daniel’s prophecies is the following. The golden head of the image from the first vision is related to the lion with eagle’s wings from the second vision, both being symbols of the Babylonian Empire (604-538 BC). The golden head represents the empire’s characteristic richness, unmatched by any of the other three empires. The military, economic and urban achievements of the Babylonians were so advanced that they can be seen as real wonders of the world. The eagle’s wings from the second vision symbolize the rapid expansion and the social and military mobility. But the beast that symbolizes the Babylonian Empire experiences an evolution: at first it has wings, but they are plucked and it stands up. At its beginnings the Babylonian Empire led a policy of conquest and enslavement, the Hebrew people being among the victims. But toward the end of its existence the empire stagnated from a military point of view and concentrated on economic development; so, A“the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made to stand upon two feet as a man.” Revelation 18 depicts the fall of another Babylon, Babylon the Great (the Whore of Babylon).56 Since Babylon from Revelation and Babylon from the Book of Daniel share the same fate and the same features, the early interpreters believed that the historical Babylon is one and the same with the apocalyptic Babylon.
The silver breast and arms of the image and the second beast, the bear raised up on one side (leaning on one leg) with three ribs in its mouth, are symbols for the double empire of the Medes and the Persians, two forces united by Emperor Cyrus in 538 BC for the conquest of Babylon.57 The same emperor ordered the liberation of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity. The bear suggests the brute force of the empire. Deficient in war tactic, the united forces of the Medes and the Persians relied on the large number of soldiers. The Medo-Persian Empire expanded its borders in three directions (“the ram pushing westward, and northward, and southward”), conquering three kingdoms: Lydia, Babylon and Egypt (“three ribs were in its mouth between its teeth”). The Persians were stronger and ruled longer than the Medes (“it was raised up on one side”; “the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other”). The silver symbolize richness, but also malleability or vulnerability; the Medo-Persian Empire conquered Babylon (the golden head) when the later was in decline. So, the richness of the Medo-Persians did not equal that of the Babylonians. The Medo-Persian Empire lasted only 200 years (at the end was only Persian), collapsing on October 2, 333 BC, when the army of Darius III was crushed at Gaugamela by the Greek-Macedonians.
In the third series of symbols the brass belly and thighs of the image are in connection with the features of the third beast, like a leopard with four wings and four heads. The nation depicted by this prophecy is Greece under Alexander the Great. Alexander expanded the borders of his empire from the Mediterranean Sea to India. Again, the wings represent the speed of the conquests and the extraordinary mobility of the army. The speed in this case is also suggested by the symbol of the leopard, an animal that is very fast and agile, but lacks brute force. Furthermore, in the third revelation the Medo-Persian Empire is represented by a ram, while the Greek-Macedonian Empire is represented by a goat. This last vision insists on the goat’s horn, a symbol for the military genius of the emperor. The Medo-Persian Empire collapsed due to the military campaigns of Alexander, as the ram was destroyed by the goat in Daniel’s prophecy. It is interesting that the Greek-Macedonian Empire expanded only eastward, having the appearance of a long strip on the world’s map. For the conquered people, Alexander and his army came from the west (sunset), exactly as Daniel describes: “a he-goat came from the west.” Nevertheless, the fast expansion led to an acute lack of centralization and administration of power. The Greek-Macedonian Empire was bound superficially. All the power of the goat relied in his horn, which meant that the fate of the empire depended on the fate of the emperor. Alexander’s genius was the source of power and stability of the empire (“the rough he-goat is the king of Greece: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king”). Accordingly, the destruction of the emperor entailed the destruction of the empire. At the height of power, Alexander died prematurely at the age of 32 due to debauchery. The lack of an heir and the impossibility to establish the will of Alexander regarding his successor led to an immediate struggle for power between his four generals. In this way the empire came to be divided into four kingdoms: the Seleucid Empire (formed of Mesopotamia and Persia), Macedonia, Egypt and the combined territories of Asia Minor (“And as for that which was broken, in the place whereof four stood up, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not with his power”; “the beast had also four heads”). The territories from India were reclaimed by the former dominions.
Starting from these facts, the early Christian scholars had the task of discovering which kingdom is symbolized by the iron legs of the image and the fourth beast, as well as the significance of the ten kingdoms and ten horns, and of the “stone cut out without hands” from the first vision and the “little horn” from the second vision. In the 3rd century Hippolytus of Rome offered a clear answer to these theological issues: ... (This text is incomplete. If you wish to read it in full, please purchase the book)
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