The Martyrdom of Antipas and the Dating of Revelation

What do we know about the martyr Antipas, and does this affect our dating of Revelation?

Antipas , who is remembered on April 11th in the calendar of the Eastern churches, is spoken of as a faithful martyr in Revelation’s letter to the church at Pergamon in Asia (Rev 2:13).

The Ancient Sources

We thus read in Revelation:

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

This is what the one who has the sharp double-edged sword says: I know where you live, where the throne of Satan is. And you hold fast to my name and did not deny your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan lives.’

Rev 2:12-13, LEB

No independent information about Antipas is found in any of the earliest Christian sources. The only writer to mention him, Tertullian (c. 200), speaks of him “the most faithful martyr who died where Satan dwells” (Scorp. 12), but he was drawing directly from the text in Revelation for his information.

Andreas of Cappadocia (c. AD 600) did know know of an account of Antipas’ martyrdom that existed in his day, but it has not survived:

Antipas, whose name had become known as the bravest martyr in Pergamum, whose martyrdom I have read, the Evangelist now mentioned to point to both their patience and the cruelty of those who had been led astray.

Translation from Eugenia Constantinou, Andrew of Caesarea and the Apocalypse in the Ancient Church of the East, p. 36.
Pergamum: Source

Satan’s Throne

There are various suggestions about the exact meaning of “throne of Satan” mentioned in Rev 2:12, though it’s often identified with an altar to Zeus in the city:

If we are to think of an actual structure in which this hostile Satanic power had its dwelling, the most likely suggestion is the huge altar to Zeus in the castle at Pergamos.

Otto Schmitz, “Θρόνος,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 166.

Mare gives an overview of all the possibilities:

This statement alludes to the fact that Pergamum was a center for the worship of pagan gods with a temple p 430 honoring Emperor Augustus (dedicated in AD 29), an evidence of Caesar worship, an altar honoring the savior god Zeus (the altar of Zeus), and a sanctuary where the healing god Asclepius was worshiped. The altar of Zeus, among the many things excavated, is now reassembled and housed in a Berlin museum (cf. note on Revelation 2:12).

W. Harold Mare, New Testament Background Commentary: A New Dictionary of Words, Phrases and Situations in Bible Order (Ross-shire, UK: Mentor, 2004), 429–430.

There is, in any case, no evidence that the imperial cult strengthened during the reigns of Nero or Domitian:

The two periods in which scholars have tried to locate the composition of Revelation have not yet produced much evidence to suggest any great increase in imperial cult activities in Asia.

Steven J. Friesen, Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John: Reading Revelation in the Ruins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) 148.

The Red Hot Bull

The famous story of Antipas’ martyrdom by being burned alive in a brazen bull is first found (in extant sources) in the Menalogion of the Byzantine hagiographer Symeon Metaphrastes, which was probably written in the tenth century.

The Menalogian contained various stories and fabulous legends about saints and martyrs, perhaps the most well-known of which is that of how Luke the physician painted an icon of Christ and of Mary.

Symeon (source)

The Menalogian‘s entry for Antipas reads as follows:

April 11th

The contest of the holy hieromartyr Antipas, bishop of Pergamon.

Antipas, the adversary of demons, lived in the time of the holy apostles, when Domitian was king, and when faithful John was living on the island of Patmos. When he was bishop of Pergamon, being very old, he was seized by the idol worshippers, to whom the demons had appeared and said that they were not able to live in that place on account of Antipas.

For this reason, having been brought to the governor, he was ordered to deny Christ and sacrifice to the idols. But having not obeyed, and having (as an example) refuted the error of the Greeks, saying that the error was old but evil (for the governor had objected that the religious devotion of the Greeks was ancient, whereas that of the Christians was recent, and the saint answered that Cain was also ancient, who murdered his brother), he was thrown into a red hot bronze bull, and died.

Translated by the author from PG 117:397.

Antipas and the Date of Revelation

The Menalogian claims that Antipas was martyred in Domitian’s reign (81-96). This story is consequently sometimes cited in popular works as evidence for the late date of Revelation.

Thus, Hitchcock and Ice claim:

According to church history, Antipas was martyred during the reign of Domitian in either AD 83 or 92. Since the martyrdom of Antipas is in the past when Revelation was written, Revelation could not have been written before the reign of Domitian in AD 81.

Mark Hitchcock and Thomas Ice, Breaking the Apocalypse Code: Setting the Record State About the End Times (Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today, 2007), 208.

However, Symeon combined various sources into single narratives, and it is impossible to say how much of the account, if any, reflects the tradition found in the martyrology referred to by Andreas.

As Moses Stuart observed:

In the Acta Sanctorum (II, pp. 3, 4) is a martyrology of Antipas from a Greek MS.; but it is full of fable and fiction, which a later age had added to the original story.”

Moses Stuart, A Commentary on the Apocalypse (Edinburgh: MacClachlan, 1847), 475.

An Alternative Dating in Nero’s Reign

While the work of Metaphrastes is used in the Greek churches, the Russian Menea differs from it in relating that these things happened in the reign of Nero (r. 54-68). Unfortunately, I have not been able to ascertain the source of this claim.

Possibly the Russian Menea reflects knowledge of sources that drew from the martyrology with which Andreas was familiar, and which placed the martyrdom in Nero’s reign.

If so, this might have been “corrected” to Domitian’s reign by Metaphrastes on the basis of Eusebius’s dominant Domintianic dating of the exile, as such emendations are fairly common (cf. the editor who changed Tertullian’s text because it supported the Neronian dating of John’s exile).

Here is an excerpt from an English translation:

Source

For the full English translation, see here.

Conclusion

Metaphrastes’s medieval account claimed that Antipas was martyred in Domitian’s reign (r. 81-96), but this is clearly insufficient evidence for positing that earlier sources did so. Metaphrastes or his source (or even a later editor who amended Metaphrastes’ text) likely placed the martyrdom within the context of the persecution during which they believed the book of Revelation to have been written, based upon the accounts in Eusebius’s Church History.

Extant early sources do not provide any independent information concerning Antipas, and while a martyrology was known to have existed in the time of Andreas (c. 600), it has long since perished. Thus, we are forced to conclude with Swete: “There is little to be gleaned about this primitive martyr from post-canonical writings.”[1]

For further reading on the dating of John’s exile in early Christian sources, see: Patristic Evidence for the Early Dating of Revelation

For other articles discussing the date of Revelation, go to: https://deanfurlong.com/category/date-of-revelation/


Footnotes

[1] Henry B. Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John: The Greek Text with Introduction Notes and Indices (London: Macmillan, 1917), 35.

2 thoughts on “The Martyrdom of Antipas and the Dating of Revelation”

  1. The Red Hot Bull was part of the Serapion which wasn’t built till the second century. Also the kind of Persecution being alluded to in the letters to Smyrna and and Pergamon didn’t still til the reign of Trajan.

    Pergamon is the actual location of the Troy of Homer.

    Liked by 1 person

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