Remarks on Roman Emperors


The contemporary-historical approach often focuses on the relationship between the Asian churches and their situation. This means that the dating of Revelation is an important issue. The role of the Roman Emperors are therefore highly interesting.

The major views focus on either Nero (often presupposing an early date) or Domitian (presupposing a late date). Most scholars of the nineteenth century preferred the early date while the majority accept the Domitianic date in this century. An increasing number of scholars now argue that the Neronic date is the more likely (cf. General introduction).

However, Gaius may also be of some interest because of Philo’s De legatione ad Gaium (cf. Borgen’s contributions mentioned below).

Earlier in this century, it was assumed that there was a rather widespread persecution under Domitian, but recent studies have challenged this view (cf. persecutions and the imperial cult).

Nevertheless, Revelation does apparently describe a number of events that have the character of persecution, but there are few clear references to past and present events. Most concern imminent or future events.

An often overlooked issue is the distinction between what Revelation actually says about the situation of the churches, and what the Son of Man (Rev 2-3) says about the imminent or future events. The relationship between the present situation and the future events may not be as clear-cut as often assumed. The relationship could be one of association: The Son of Man’s paraenesis refers to their real life-experiences, which may or may not be (highly) influenced by the the imperial policy and local imperial officials.

Whether this also means that the future events are also of the same type, has apparently not yet been studied. The crucial issue is what the future events portrayed in Revelation are about (see Adamsen, Parousia).

The following works may be useful. (August 5th, 1999)


  • Borgen, P. “Emperor Worship and Persecution in Philo’s In Flaccum and De legatione ad Gaium and the Revelation of John.” In Frühes Christentum, 493-509. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1996.
  • See also Borgen, P. “Moses, Jesus, and the Roman Emperor: Observations in Philo’s Writings and the Revelation of John.” NovT 38 (1996) 145-59.


  • Jakob-Sonnabend, W. Untersuchungen zum Nero-Bild der Spätantike. Altertumswissenschaftliche Texte Und Studien, no. 18. Hildesheim: Olms — Weidmann, 1990.
  • Griffin, M. T. Nero: The End of a Dynasty. London: Batsford, 1984.


  • Botha, P. J. J. “The Historical Domitian: Illustrating Some Problems of Historiography.” Neot 23 (1989) 45-59.
  • Friesen, S. J. “Ephesus: Key to a Vision in Revelation.” BARev 19 (1993) 24-37.Jones, B. W. Domitian and the Senatorial Order: A Prosopographical Study of Domitian’s Relationship with the Senate, A.D. 81-96. Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1979.
  • Jones, B. W. The Emperor Domitian. 1992. Reprint. London: Routledge, 1993. (The standard work on Domitian)
  • Levick, B. “Domitian and the Provinces.” Latomus 42 (1982) 50-73.
  • Milburn, R. L. P. “The Persecution of Domitian.” CQR 139 (1945) 154-64.
  • Newman, B. “The Fallacy of the Domitian Hypothesis: Critique of the Irenaeus Source As a Witness for the Contemporary-Historical Approach to the Interpretation of the Apocalypse.” NTS 10 (1963-1964) 133-9.
  • Pöhlmann, W. “Die heidnische, jüdische und christliche Opposition gegen Domitian: Studien zur neutestamentliche Zeitgeschichte.” Dissertation, Erlangen, 1966.
  • Prigent, P. “Au temps de l’Apocalypse, I, Domitien.” RHPR 54 (1974) 455-583.
  • Riemer, U. Das Tier auf dem Kaiserthron? Eine Untersuchung zur Offenbarung des Johannes als historischer Quelle. Beiträge Zur Altertumskunde, no. 114. Stuttgart: Teubner, 1998.
  • Scherrer, S. J. “Revelation 13 As an Historical Source for the Imperial Cult Under Domitian.” Diss., Harvard University, 1979.
  • Schütz, R. Die Offenbarung des Johannes und Kaiser Domitian. Forschung Zur Religion Und Literatur Des Alten Und Neuen Testamentes, no. 50. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprect, 1933.
  • Southern, P. Domitian: Tragic Tyrant. London: Routledge, 1997?
  • Stewart, R. “Domitian and Roman Religion: Juvenal, Satires Two and Four.” TAPA 124 (1994) 309-32.
  • Thompson, L. A. “Domitian and the Jewish Tax.” Historia 31 (1982) 329-42.
  • Touilleuz, P. L’Apocalypse et les cultes de Domitien et Cybele. Paris: Paul Geuthner, 1935.
  • Ulrich, J. “Euseb, HistEccl III,14-20 und die Frage nach der Christenverfolgung unter Domitian.” ZNW 87 (1996) 269-89.
  • Waters, K. H. “Traianus Domitiani Continuator.” AJP 90 (1969) 385-405.
  • Williams, M. H. “Domitian, the Jews and the ‘Judaizers’ — a Simple Matter of Cupiditas and Maiestas?” Historia 39 (1990) 196-211.
  • Wilson, J. C. “The Problem of the Domitianic Date of Revelation.” NTS 39 (1993) 587-605.

1 comment

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *