Friday, May 30, 2008

The Mark of the Beast and Aniconic Jews

In the dissertation I'm currently reading by Deborah Taylor, she discusses the "mark of the beast" from Revelation 13. She recounts how Jews in Palestine had been provoked by "perceived idolatry of representations of the Roman emperor: by athletic trophies; by a golden eagle on a temple gate; by Pilate's brining 'the effigies of Caesar...' into Jerusalem." (Pg 105, citing Josephus Antiquities 15.8.1 and 17.6.2-3).

She goes on to give a brief history of the monetization of the East's economy and then talks about the mint that produced "virtually all" of Palestine's coinage, the mint at Tyre. Not only was the coinage produced at Tyre of a very high quality (Taylor states that it was about 96% silver - pg 108), but that it did not offend the aniconic Jews' sensibilities being that it bore the image of Melqart, the Phoenician Hercules.

However, during Nero's reign, both economic and political forces caused the Tyrian mint to be closed and later its currency to be removed from circulation (109). The closest mint was the Antiochene mint, which produced coinage bearing the image of Nero. Thus, as Taylor states, "[b]y the late 60s, aniconic Jews in Palestine would have compromised their principles with every major purchase."(109)

This isn't her entire argument (nor the focus of her argument, she simply uses this to help date the book of Revelation to the time of Nero's reign) - but I find it an interesting one. For the fact that there's incredible speculation about what the mark of the beast will be (I've heard everything from barcodes to credit cards to social security numbers), it's refreshing that someone has taken the book in its historical context and given an extremely compelling explanation of the mark.


Suzie said...

That's really useful. So often people forget about what was already around back then!

James Pate said...

Yeah, I guess people couldn't buy or sell without that.

Do you have thoughts on why Rev. 13mentions the mark on the right hand and the forehead?

Josh McManaway said...

I think the "mark" on the right hand is the exchange of coins (being that most people are right-handed - they would have to hold the coin in their hand).