Question:

Love your web site. In reading your answer of 10/27/07, regarding things in the book of Revelation, I noticed at the end, you made reference to Nero and Domitian as some that persecuted (distressed) Christians (the church), Nero is found in the Bible and secular history as being quite guilty, but I fail to be convinced of Domitian. I can hardly find more than a couple places, Bible or secular, where he did much more than spank a couple Christians, let alone persecute them. I have evidence of many that did, but he is not one of them. Could this not be traditional error being taught? I can see that possibility easily as Revelation is hard to understand for most. Some questions are in order, and need answered:
1. Did Domitian persecute Christians?
2. Was Revelation given for all generations of Christians to understand?
3. Why is it not taught with full understanding, and do we deny Jesus' deity if we accept He was unable to give us that which we could understand, and at the same time make God the author of confusion.

The answers to most questions are obvious to any honest Bible student, but not Domitian, that there is no proof. I think he is getting a bum rap from preachers teaching tradition as fact, for whatever reasons, honest or dishonest.


Answer:

Domitian's reign is divided into two parts by historians because he started out as a good, though strict, ruler but turned cruel in his last years. In order to understand him, you must notice that he was a devote follower of the Roman religions. "The fires of 79 and 82 having caused much destruction and destitution, Domitian organized a program of public works to provide employment and distribute wealth. He, too, hoped to reanimate the old faith by beautifying or multiplying its shrines. He raised the Temple of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva once more, and spent $22,000,000 on its gold-plated doors and gilded roof; ..." [Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, p. 290]. Such emphasis on idolatry naturally put him at odds with both Jews and Christians who stated clearly that idols were nothing and idolatry was sinful.

But in his later age, he became worse. "The revolt of Saturninus was the turning point in Domitian's reign, the dividing line between his better and worse selves. He had always been coldly severe; now he slipped into cruelty. He was capable of good government, but only as an autocrat; the Senate rapidly lost power under him; and his tenacious authority as censor made that body at once subservient and vengeful. Vanity, which flourishes even in the humble, had no check in Domitian's status: he filled the Capitol with statues of himself, announced the divinity of his father, brother, wife, and sisters as well as his own, organized a new order of priests, the Flaviales, to tend the worship of these new deities and required officials to speak of him, in their documents, as Dominus et Deus Noster -- "Our Lord and God." He sat on a throne, encouraged visitors to embrace his knees, and established in his ornate place the etiquette of an Oriental court." [Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, p. 292]. His rulings lead to mass rebellions, not just among Jews and Christians, but also among the philosophers and other religions in the empire.

"In 93 Domitian executed some Christians for refusing to offer sacrifices before his image; according to tradition these included his nephew Flavius Clemens." [Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, p. 292]. In his last few years, he became exceedingly paranoid. "After Saturninus' revolt indictments and convictions rapidly increased; aristocrats were exiled or killed, suspected men were tortured, even by having 'fire inserted into their private parts.'" [Will Durant,Caesar and Christ, p. 292].

"Under Domitian, just a generation later, some sources indicate another persecution directed at Christians. Operating with the knowledge that Christians refused adhering to the Imperial Cult of Caesar worship, Domitian may have launched an investigation, sending a team to Galilee to discover the roots of Jesus. Though evidence is sketchy, it does indicate at least a general knowledge and adversarial relationship between the Emperor and the cult. Domitian has also been accused of mass executions of Christians, which is true, but it wasn't necessarily a purge targeted at that single group. Domitian ruled in an almost tyrannical reign of terror in which many perished, not just Christians. Political enemies, 'divisive' groups and individuals of all kinds met terrible fates. Though he too, may have used the excuse of Christianity to justify some murders, there is little evidence that he had a personal agenda against the cult" [UNRV History, "Christian Persecution"]

The problem is that Domitian set a precedence that was follow thereafter. Some less severely and some more severely against "divisive" groups, including Christians. The article "Christian Persecution" cited above, documents the policies.

Foxe's Book of Martyrs states, "The first persecution ceased under Vespasian who gave some rest to the poor Christians. After whose reign was moved, not long after, the second persecution, by the emperor Domitian, brother of Titus. He, first beginning mildly and modestly, afterward did so far outrage in pride intolerable, that he commanded himself to be worshipped as god, and that images of gold and silver in his honour should be set up in the capital." [page 13]

Did Domitian persecute Christians? The evidence is "yes," though he did not specifically target this one group. Rather, he made life difficult for those he termed as "atheists," that is those who refused to worship the Roman gods. In his later years he made himself out to be a god and persecuted just about anyone of whom he had the least suspicion. That Christians were seen as a seditious group can be seen in Pliny's letter to Tacitus and Tacitus's reply. Tacitus was the successor to Domitian, and the letters imply that there existed laws where worship of the emperor was a deciding factor in whether further action was taken against individuals. Tacitus mitigates the harsher policy of the former emperor without voiding the actual policy (an early "don't ask, don't tell" enforcement).

Yes, Revelation does speak to all Christians. The letters to the Corinthians were specifically for the church in Corinth, but they teach all Christians in all places and ages about handling problems within a congregation. Revelation is specifically about the Roman persecution of the church, but it teaches all Christians of all ages about overcoming.

Revelation is a deeper book and does require a detailed knowledge of both the Old and New Testament. The fact that it is a popular playground for false teachers doesn't imply that it can't be understood. The fact that some parts of the Bible take extra effort to understand doesn't imply that God is an author of confusion. "Therefore, beloved, seeing that you look for these things, be diligent to be found in peace, without blemish and blameless in his sight. Regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote to you; as also in all of his letters, speaking in them of these things. In those, there are some things that are hard understand, which the ignorant and unsettled twist, as they also do to the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing these things beforehand, beware, lest being carried away with the error of the wicked, you fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and forever. Amen." (II Peter 3:14-18)

Thank you so very much for your prompt reply to my question of
11/14/07, regarding Domitian persecution. Where or what evidence? The
main query of my question was, are we teaching as facts, things that are
not in evidence? Regarding Revelation, you state that it is a book
telling of the persecution of the church by the Romans, is it not
actually a persecution of the church by the Jews? God using the Roman
army to destroy Jerusalem while taking His vengeance on Israel. I
digress, back to Domitian and teaching as truth that which we can not
sustain. I observe by your efforts and answers that you are very sincere
and strive for truth, and would not do anything contrary to those, unless
unwittingly. I did, for over fourty years, believe it was fact that
Domitian greatly persecuted Christians because I was taught that by those
that I trusted to know, to later come to realize that I was being taught
tradition as fact. They presented as evidence, and quoted and referenced
some commentators opinions as fact, as did you to me. I know you were
trying to answer my question with material that you have come to believe,
just as I did for many years and at one time would have answered the same
as you. Would you please do a favor for me, some time ago, while trying
to establish the date of the writing of Revelation, I read an exchange
between Farrell Jenkins of Florida College and Arthur Ogden of Kentucky,
printed March 1999, regarding the alleged Domitian persecution. You may
have read it, if not, would you do so and share with me your view of this
discussion. I found Mr. Ogdens argument very persuasive and Mr. Jenkins
lacking. My concern, as yours, would be the answer to the question, can
we teach tradition as fact? If you dont have this exchange, it is
available on the internet or from Mr Jenkins, if needed, I will get it to
you.

Since I gave citations in my reply, but you treat them as non-existent, then I must conclude that it will not matter what information is presented. If it contradicts your current belief, then you ignore it. Such does not make for a profitable discussion.

One of the fallacies that you are falling into is assuming that people are claiming the persecutions mentioned in Revelation are solely limited to Domitian's reign. I don't know anyone claiming that. I and others said that the second wave of persecutions began with Domitian.

For some holes in brother Ogden's arguments, see: Dating the Book of Revelation.

I can't help but notice that while I have been providing documentation from some historians, you have done nothing more than ask questions and assert what you think without the evidence for your point of view you wish to demand of me. Again, this doesn't make for a profitable discussion.