Review for JSNT forthcoming 2009
Revelation 19 in Historical and Mythological Context
David Andrew Thomas
The Jewish background to the book of Revelation is well-attested, but David Thomas asserts that John also has the Greco-Roman world firmly in mind, creatively fusing elements from both traditions to construct images of great force for his Jewish and Gentile readers alike. Although usually interpreted in the light of the Divine Warrior myth from the Old Testament (Isa. 63), Thomas compellingly suggests that John’s description of the Rider on the White Horse from Rev. 19.11-21 also bears many of the hallmarks of a Roman triumphal procession. Highlighting the significance of the Nero redivivus myth, in which the dead emperor returns to Rome as the ‘great king’ (19.16) at the head of a Parthian invasion force, Thomas demonstrates how the Christological Rider on the White Horse offers a polemical counter-vision to this Neronian claim to immortal triumph.
The vision of the Rider on the White Horse is a key image within the book of Revelation, and David Thomas proves to be a sure guide to the Greco-Roman background of this crucial passage. Out of his exploration emerges a strong re-reading of the text, with John’s depiction of the Rider as Christus Triumphator offering a powerful counter-claim to the imperial divine pretensions of successive emperors. John’s characterisation of Christ as the triumphant Anti-Nero is seen to relativise the satanic aspirations of the imperial cult, whilst simultaneously anticipating the eschatological triumphal return of the one who was slain and yet still lives.