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A Consequence of Legitimacy by Kevin Rhodes

Monday, June 30th, 2008

It is no secret that a study of the book of Revelation introduces all sorts of perplexities. The work is couched in apocalyptic language decipherable only after long hours of careful consideration of the symbols John used. And then there is the historical background of the book. When was it written and what were the circumstances of the persecution that affected the seven churches of Asia? A consultation of the commentaries only leads to frustration. One will maintain that the book is set in Nero’s time before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Another will claim with just as much boldness that the visions John saw occurred later, during the reign of Domitian (A.D. 69-96).

The truth is that there is no simple answer to the question of Christian persecution in the first century Roman Empire. Internally, the book offers nothing more than inconclusive clues. Externally, the evidence is almost as cloudy. Much has been made about the negative appraisals of Domitian’s character given by Roman historians who lived near his time, but to accept their claims without examining them critically is to ignore the fact that many of the works of that era were tainted by political motives.

In A Consequence of Legitimacy, Kevin Rhodes has done the heavy lifting that is needed for a definitive answer to this problem. He states that “the evidence is conclusive that a persecution of Christians in Asia did indeed occur during the reign of Domitian” (156). However, he doesn’t base his entire case on the testimony of one prejudicial witness. For example, he concedes that the evidence does not support the early church historian Eusebius in his claim that Domitian was the second emperor who promoted a Christian persecution (153). Rhodes’s approach is panoramic, taking into account the intricate political tapestry of first century Rome. This approach includes Domitian’s struggle with the senate, along with efforts in provinces like Asia to show loyalty to the emperor through the imperial cult. These considerations lead Rhodes to the conclusion that the persecution of the Christians in the Asian province was not directly instigated by Domitian, but the policies he developed created an environment that allowed the enemies of Christianity to attempt to destroy it.

A Consequence of Legitimacy is a technical work that draws from primary historical sources. Therefore a background in Roman history is helpful to the reader. Otherwise he will want to have a good encyclopedia handy to fill in the gaps of his understanding of World History.

Rhodes has produced a helpful volume. Because of his contribution, we have a firm historical foundation on which we can base our study of the final book in the New Testament.

New Book

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

I just ordered my copy of A Consequence of Legitimacy by Kevin Rhodes. I’m very excited about its publication because, as far as I know, it is the only work of its kind.

A Consequence of Legitimacy takes a scholarly look at the reign of Emperor Domitian at the close of the first century. Students of the Bible, and especially of the book of Revelation, have long been in the shadows about Domitian and his relationship with the Christians. Those who believe Revelation was written before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 write off the reign of Domitian, saying history is silent on the subject. Those who date the book later in the first century (A.D. 95-96) believe that Domitian was a vicious ruler whose persecution serves as a backdrop for John’s Apocalypse. So far, the only sources for this debate have been commentaries. These volumes, regardless of their position, approach the dating of Revelation with two basic flaws. First, their arguments are exclusively internal. The second problem is related to the first. The commentaries are written by Bible scholars, not historians. This is why their arguments are strictly internal. The internal arguments are important, but we need external, historical evidence too. Kevin’s work is different because, in addition to his being a preacher, he is also a historian who has studied to the Master’s level.

I was privileged to get a look at A Consequence of Legitimacy before it was published, and was both enthused and relieved to find firm historical evidence on which to base my studies of Revelation. Kevin has done us a great service by laboring to finish this book.

Copies of A Consequence of Legitimacy are available in paperback and hardback from Xlibris. Since Xlibris prints their books upon order, it takes about a month to receive your copy. For this reason, it’s going to be awhile before I’m able to give Kevin’s book a proper review, but I plan to do so as soon as I can.