We now look at MH’s presentation of the external evidence for the dating; that is, the evidence from early Christian writers concerning when it was written. We shall begin with his discussion of Hegesippus (c. 150). His dissertation can be found here.
MH notes that most discussions begin with Irenaeus, and omit mention of the earlier second-century historian Hegesippus (p. 11).
There is of course a reason for that, namely that Hegesippus is not considered strong evidence for the late date by most scholars.
MH’s argument for enlisting Hegesippus on the late date side is as follows:
- Eusebius relies heavily upon Hegesippus’ Memoirs (p. 12).
- Hegesippus is mentioned in the same section of Eusebius’s book that John’s exile is mentioned (p. 12).
- After discussing Domitian’s persecution and the release of his exiles by the Senate after his death, Eusebius claims that according to an ancient Christian tradition, John was one of those released from exile at that time (p. 12).
However, it should be noted that after introducing the subject of the persecution of Domtian and John’s exile, Eusebius cited Irenaeus, Roman secular historians, Hegesippus, and Tertullian, in that order.
Furthermore, a few chapters later Eusebius goes on to repeat the claim that John was released from exile after Domitian’s death, adding that he can prove that John was still alive at the time by appealing to two witnesses, “who should be trustworthy,” Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria.
Thus, these are likely the source of his tradition (and neither of these unambiguously support the late date, as we shall discuss in a future post in the series).
Consider also the following:
- Hegesippus could not have been the source of the tradition that John returned from exile when the Senate annulled Domitian’s decrees after his death, for Hegesippus believed (as cited by Eusebius himself) that Domitian himself soon brought an end to the persecution of Christians and restored the exiles.
- If Eusebius had an unambiguous source at his disposal for John’s exile in Domitian’s reign, why does he only cite the ambiguous statement of Irenaeus that something or someone “was seen almost in our generation, at the end of Domitian’s reign”? If Hegesippus had placed John’s exile in Domitian’s reign, surely Eusebius would have cited him.
MH is actually elevating to near factual status what was a theory proposed by Hugh Lawlor. While it has some adherents (Robinson; Carricker; Charles Hill), it is by no means settled, and other scholars (Sellew; Leonard Thompson) think he is referring to Irenaeus, whom he goes on to quote.
MH goes on to summarize the arguments of Lawlor, resulting in some repetition, though he adds that since Hegesippus had been cited as the source of an “ancient Christian tradition” that heretics had brought accusations against the grandsons of Jude, that he must be the source of the ancient Christian tradition referred to here (p. 15).
MH adds that John Robinson, who held the early date, accepted that Hegesippus was “in all probability” the source. Robinson, however, simply cites Lawlor, and he does not appear to have examined the matter himself. MH also notes that F. F. Bruce claimed that the statement “may go back to Hegesippus” (p. 16). But a possibility is hardly a firm foundation for confidently claiming Hegesippus as “the earliest Christian witness to the late date of Revelation” (p. 16).
For an extensive discussion of the various early Christians traditions of John’s exile, see my Identity of John the Evangelist (Lanham: Fortress Academic, 2020)* (available here), or, for a free but less complete version, see my dissertation.