Two Witnesses, a Woman, a Baby and a Dragon

The Sunday before last in my Sunday school class we talked about the two witnesses in Revelation 11.  I mentioned the fact that, some years ago, I was contacted by e-mail by someone insistent that I ought to share his view on this subject with readers of my blog. His view is that the “two witnesses” were John Lennon and Paul McCartney. So I shared his e-mail, but not because I recommended anyone adopt his approach!

We discussed some possible serious identifications. Had there not been the reference to “where their Lord was crucified” we might well have thought that Jesus was in view – and presumably he is, in the sense that the witnesses are patterned on him. If the city in question is Jerusalem, as would seem most likely, then James and Peter might be natural candidates. If one could stretch it to Rome, then Peter and Paul might seem more likely. Any proposed identification depends as well on whether the figures were past, present, or future from the author’s perspective.

The issue of chronology comes up again in chapter 12, where we encounter a woman and a child, the identities of which have been debated in similar fashion. The woman has sometimes been identified as Mary, but that seems to propose a level of development of Mariology otherwise unknown at this stage. She could be Eve, with Abel and other righteous descendants being traced to her, or she could be a symbol of the people of Israel. The dragon that represents the devil is particularly fascinating, since it closely resembles Tiamat (the Babylonian equivalent of the Greek Hydra), including the connection with water. And so there are deep mythological roots here.

If nothing else, chapter 12 indicates that the Book of Revelation simply cannot be treated as intended to depict a series of events in chronological order. There does not seem to be any possible identification of the child to whom the woman gives birth that would not be chronologically prior to the author’s time and to the events the book has already depicted as expected in the future.

The idea of the devil being cast down from heaven likewise raises interesting chronological questions. Has the devil been cast down and then restored more than once? Did the author view the devil as a fallen angel whose fall occurred prior to or soon after the creation of humanity? Did the author know of Jesus’ statement about having seen Satan fall like lightning from heaven, and if so did he consider it something that happened in Jesus’ time or as something yet to occur?

Chapter 12 also raises interesting questions for those who say that they interpret the text “literally.” Do they really think that the devil is a dragon that spews water? Do those who take that stance think that Mary (it must be a literal woman, right?) stood on the moon?

But these two chapters raise puzzles for the preterists and anyone who treats the text as related to the author’s own time, and considers the text to have been meant to be intelligible to its earliest readers, just as they present puzzles for other approaches to Revelation. Who were the witnesses, the woman, and the child? What would the earliest readers have understood these references to denote?

What, if anything, do readers of this blog understand these texts to be talking about?

  • Straw Man

    A standard historicist interpretation of Revelation 12 is that the woman is the church, finally ascendant in the Roman world, giving birth to Constantine, who in a sense is a child of the church (“in hoc signo vinces”), but is also in a sense a false messiah, who rules the (Roman) nations with a rod of iron on his own behalf, rather than submitting to God.

    The dragon in that framework is pagan Rome, realized in the form of Constantine’s rival generals Maxentius, Severus and Licinius.

    Within that framework, the church is interpreted as corrupting herself in the process of becoming the state religion–having slept her way to the top, the “virgin” the “bride of Christ” becomes a prostitute who herself persecutes. The woman hiding in the wilderness is then not the entire church with her crown of stars, etc., but the faithful (or the “remnant”) within it, which later becomes the target of persecution by the “Great Whore,” which constitutes the majority of the community represented by the woman in Revelation 12.

    For what it’s worth.

    • Susan Burns

      Holy misogyny!

      • Straw Man

        This is the Bible we’re talking about. The imagery of virgins, harlots, etc., is rife all over the place. If you really want to see some hard-core misogyny–and I mean “hard core” as in bestiality with donkeys–then have a look at Ezekiel 23.

        However you read Revelation, one of the underlying assumptions is a patriarchal family structure, with women marrying as virgins, and capital punishment for infidelity or prostitution hanging out there as one of the options.

        • Susan Burns

          The King of Babylon asks one of his wives to dance naked in front of a crowd and she refuses. He then kills her. The writers of the Bible call Babylon a “whore”. Sounds to me like they are a bunch of dickheads.

  • James Pate

    I was actually thinking a little about this morning. Could the two witnesses coincide with Jewish expectations about the return of Elijah before the end?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I have heard the suggestion that it would be Moses and Elijah or perhaps Enoch and Elijah – two individuals who supposedly did not die finally getting their chance to.

  • http://historical-jesus.info/ Bernard Muller

    The woman cannot be Mary (or Eve): she does not see her offspring snatched to heaven as a child, deal with the dragon, flee into the wilderness and get wings. 12:1 depicts a sign for the woman, not the woman herself.

    The child will become the conqueror and ruler of the Gentiles: “a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron” (12:5) => “He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron” (19:15)

    Christian interpolators will make that conqueror/ruler be the Lamb (17:14 “These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; …”; 19:16 “And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”)
    And the Lamb also becomes Jesus.

    The two witnesses do operate during the last 3.5 years before the end:
    11:3 “And I **will** give power to my two witnesses, and they **will** prophesy one
    thousand two hundred and sixty days [3.5 years], clothed in sackcloth.”
    right after:
    11:2 “But leave out the court [of the Gentiles]
    which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has
    been given to the Gentiles. And **they [the Romans]
    will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months [3.5 years only!].**

    So the end will come in 74 CE, when the Romans will be booted out of Jerusalem and elsewhere. And the witnesses cannot be Peter, James or Paul, most likely dead by then.

    For “our Lord was crucified”, directly from my website:
    11:8 And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the **great city** which
    spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt,
    [most likely refers to corrupted & (morally) decadent Rome. Egypt was known for its magic. In these days, magical acts were considered the devil's work, not
    entertainment]
    ` where also our Lord was crucified.
    [who is He? Jesus was not crucified in Rome (neither Sodom, nor
    Egypt). Most likely means God himself (figuratively).]
    Things become simple when we accept Revelation started to be entirely Jewish then was interpolated later by Christians.


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