Hitchcock’s Dissertation on the Late Dating of Revelation: A Critique (Part 4): Statius’ Silvae

Evaluating Hitchcock’s Evidence for the Late Date

After discussing Hegesippus and Irenaeus, MH claims at the end of Chapter 2 of his dissertation (accessible here) that “There are numerous other strong witnesses from church history for the Domitianic date of Revelation” (p. 38). These alleged sources are the subject of Chapter 3 of his work.


Statius’ Silvae

The first source is the Silvae of the Roman poet Statius, which is believed to have been written in the year 92. This is not a source that is usually cited in such discussions. MH relies upon a dissertation by D. Woods that argues that the book of Revelation and Statius both reflect a common milieu of the emperor cult in Asia during the reign of Domitian.

However, even if this were true, Leszek Jańczuk answers that “Perhaps both made use of already-existing models, independent of each other” (“Dating the Book of Revelation in Light of Tradition,” Ruch Biblijny i Liturgiczny 71, p. 38).

While MH repeats Woods’ conclusions, he does not provide any evidence for them in his dissertation. Personally, it seems to me that Statius’ description of Domitian has common-place motifs which could be found in any other writer or period–the Aeneid, for example. I frankly fail to see any connection the two works at all. Perhaps this is why MH fails to cite even one example of these supposed shared motifs. .

Here are some examples, from Woods’ dissertation, of motifs said to be especially shared by the Silvae and Revelation: “The Adulation of the Ruler as Compared to and Identified with, a Great Deity”; “The Adulation of the Ruler as Potentate of Time”; “The adulation of the Ruler who is the Object of Worship,” and so on.

Thus, he argues that Domitian is lauded as a god, father, and sovereign ruler, and Christ is depicted as a God and sovereign Lord in Revelation. Unless I am missing something, such arguments constitute Woods’ case and they are of little use in determining the date of the composition of Revelation.

Further Study

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.

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