Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Domitian Games in Revelation ?

Anyone have evidence on this Domitian Games/Revelation theory? Tenuous? Probable?


From "Velvet Elvis-Repainting the Christian Faith:"

The first chapters of the book of Revelation follow a sequence of events of the Domitian games, held in honor of the caesar who was in power at the time Revelation was written. Domitian would address the leaders of the various provinces, then his choir of twenty-four would sing worship songs to him, and then there would be a horse race. John is
writing Revelation to people who had seen the Domitian games; they know exactly what he is referring to. He wants them to see that Domitian is a fake and Jesus is the real King.

The writers of the Bible are communicating in language their world will understand. They are using the symbols and pictures and images of the culture they are speaking to. That's why the Bible has authority-God has authority and is present in real space and time. The Bible is a collection of stories that teach us what it looks like when God is at work through actual people. The Bible has the authority it does only because it contains stories about people interacting with the God who has all authority.

The point in the book of Acts isn't the early church. The point is the God who is at work in and through the early church to change the world. When we take the Bible seriously, we are taking God seriously. We believe that the same God who was at work then is at work now. The same God in the same kinds of ways. The goal is not to be a "New Testament Church". That makes the New Testament church the authority. The authority is God who is acting in and through those people at that time and now these people at this time.

The point is to ask, what is God up to here, now?

From James Graves:

"Our passage has much to say about the human proneness to animal and angel escapism.
First, I need to say a word about the format. You should note, by now, a curious form in
the churches addressed. Not only do the various churches get to hear read other people’s
mail (don’t we all like that!), the churches are first praised before they are charged and
challenged. Some scholars believe that the address to the churches follows
closely the model of the way in which Domitian, a Roman Emperor,
addressed the various regions of his empire. During the Domitian games (clever
title) each region of the empire would be addressed: “To this city: you are hard working,
dedicated and loyal. But I have this against you. You do not pay all of your taxes, report
all your earnings, etc.” Churches would surely recognize this pattern as a reader unfolded
the scroll and read the first few chapters of Revelation. “To Ephesus, Smyrna,
Pergamum…and now, Thyatira.”
-Joshua Graves, link,
In order to read of him in the book of Revelation, we have to have the records of Josephus and other ancient, historical writings which speak of him.

The entire book of revelation is a depiction of the Olympic Games and every role, including the Emperor, is there playing the part. John changes the roles from the emperor to Jesus and from the athletes to the followers of Jesus. The 24 elders in Revelation were a heavenly depiction of the actual 24 elders of the emperor.

Those who read Revelation in the first century would have immediately recognized the correlation between John's eschatological, heavenly signs and people in contrast to the Olympic Games where the emperor is the god of the games and Jesus is the God of the universe.

Again, we won't know this unless we read the writings of antiquity which tell us the history behind the text.

For anyone interested in more information on this subject, please go to http://www.followtherabbi.com/Brix?pageID=5548

Be sure to listen to the audio file on the site listed above, which is a teaching by Ray Vander Laan.

-Johnny, link

Ray Van Der Laan audio


Domitian's greatest passions were the arts and the games. He implemented the Capitoline Games in 86. Like the Olympic Games, they were to be held every four years and included athletic displays, chariot races, but also oratory, music and acting competitions. The Emperor himself supported the travels of competitors from the whole empire and attributed the prizes. He was also very fond of gladiator shows and added important innovations like female and dwarf gladiator fights.



  1. I jump in with fear and trembling,
    I have always taught that the key to understanding Revelation is a thorough understanding of the Old Testament, I've read there are over two hundred references to the Old Testament in Revelation For example: the throne room scene in Revelation 4 comes right out of Ezekiel 1, 10.
    This idea that it copies the Olympic games is something I cannot find anywhere except in Bell and VanderLaan and Bell gets his from VanderLaan, I've asked VanderLaan for his source and I am convinced there is none
    You are much safer reading Revelation through the eyes of the Old Testament than through the eyes of the Olympic games.
    I really wish Bell were more careful in his research because he has such a positive influence.

  2. Thanks so much, Dan.

    As you may know, Ben Witherington on his blog provides great and friendly challenges to both Bell and Van Der Laan


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!