PMW 2020-002 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
As I open this phase of my study of Revelation’s “kings of the earth,” I will give note that to this point I have not proven that Rev in fact employs “kings of the earth” to refer to the religious leaders of Israel. Yet I have paved the road that travels in that direction. Of course, the true test of this thesis will come only through a careful consideration of Rev’s argumentative flow and contextual exegesis. But this is not the entire argument; let us move a little further in our consideration.
Let us now consider a key term: the Greek word gē.
To understand the identity of these “kings” we need to reflect on the two key components in their designation: they are “kings” who operate over “the earth.” In the first place I will note that John presents them: as kings of the earth. Then I will focus on their title as “kings.” The phrase “the ruler of the kings of the earth” is: ho archōn tōn basileōn tēs gēs. The two words meriting our attention are: basileōn (“kings”) and gēs (“earth”).
1. The Meaning of Gē
Gē in the OT. According BAGD (196) gē carries several connotations requiring different translations: (1) “Surface of the earth as the habitation of humanity, earth.” (2) “Inhabitants of the earth, people, humanity.” (3) “Portions or regions of the earth, region, country.” (4) “Dry land as opposed to sea, land.” (5) “Earth-like surface that forms the bottom of a body of water, ground, bottom.” (6) “Earth w. ref. to limited areas and the material that forms its surface,” including the translations: ground, soil, or earth.
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I believe that the proper connotation of the term in John’s phrase is the third one: “region, country.” NICNTT (1:517) notes of this use: “The meaning ‘land,’ as area controlled by a single state, emerged by analogy alongside these natural meanings.” That is, the foundational connotations of the term signify various aspects of the created realm or mankind itself, whereas this extended use is a socio-political construct that shifts with the fortunes of peoples and nations.
More particularly for our present purpose, I would note that the particular region in view is the holy land, the Land of Israel. This is significant in that the Hebraic character of Rev suggests quite readily this translation in that “the Holy Land is a central category in Judaism” (DJBP 323). Indeed, “it became central to their national identity that their place was in the land” (Sandy 2002: 46). According to TDNT (1:677): gē frequently appears in texts speaking of “the land promised to Abraham” (e.g., Ge 12:1; Ac 7:3; Heb 11:9).
In fact, regarding its OT usage AB (4:144, 145) observes that “in the majority of contexts, ‘land’ is identified as the land to which Israel has a claim” noting that it is often called an “inheritance” from God (Nu 34:2, 29; 36:2; Dt 3:28; 4:21; 15:4; 19:14; 25:19; 31:7; 1Sa 26:19; 2Sa 14:16; 1Ki 8:36; 1Ch 16:18; Ps 68:9; 79:1; 105:11; Jer 2:7; 3:18; cp. Ac 13:19) and that it also appears as the “land of possession” (Ex 6:8; Lev 14:34; Nu 33:53; Dt 1:21; 2:12; 4:22; Jos 1:6; 12:7; Eze 33:24; Am 2:10).
Thus, it represents “the land of Israel” (cf. 1Sa 13:19; Eze 40:2; 47:18; 1Ch 22:2; 2Ch 2:16; 34:7), “the Lord’s land” (Isa 14:2; Jos 22:19; Hos 9:3), “My land” (2Ch 7:20; Isa 14:25; Jer 2:7; Eze 36:5; 38:16; Jer 16:18; Joel 1:6; 3:2; 4:2), “His land” (Dt 32;43; Isa 36:18; Eze 36:20; Joel 2:18, the land the Lord swore to the fathers (Dt 1:8, 35; 6:10, 18, 23; 8:1; 10:11; 11:9; 19:8; 26:3; 30:20; 31:7, 23). In Zec 2:12 and 2 Macc 1:7 it is found in the phrase “holy land.” Elsewhere it is called “holy” (Ps 78:54; Is 57:13). Therefore, God grants it a special status requiring protective legislation (Lev 25:23ff).
This particularly abundant use of gē is significant in that the land promise to Israel is central to God’s covenant with her (e.g., Ge 12:1–7; Ex 3:7–18; 6:2–8). The Land is one of the three realia dominating her devotion: the Land, Jerusalem, and the temple. As NIDOTTE (1:522) puts it: “the land on which Israel lived forms one of the primary theological and ethnic foci of the faith of Israel and of the OT scriptures” (cp. ISBE2 3:71). When God establishes Israel as a nation, her founding documents elevate the Land as the first of these great hopes: “In terms of the Hexateuch there is probably no more important idea than that expressed in terms of the land promised and later granted by Yahweh.” In fact, “the motif of the Promised Land is a major pattern in the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua” (DBI 665), which record the historical foundations of Israel as a people, society, and nation. The Land is also “of central importance to all of the” writing prophets” (AB 4:149).
Indeed, “the prominence of the Land of Israel in the Bible is the result of deep religious conviction, pervading all sacred Jewish literature,” so that “it is hardly an exaggeration to assert that Zion is the central theme of the Bible. From the moment that God instructed Abraham ‘to go forth to the land which I will show you,’ the Holy Land became the subject along with the people of Israel” (Halkin 1961: 18). Indeed, “it became central to their national identity that their place was in the land” (Sandy 2002: 46). “The Jews’ very name (Ioudaioi) linked them to the land (Ioudaia) from which they could be thought to derive” (J. Barclay 1996: 422).
Because it is God’s gift to Israel the Bible speaks of it in glowing terms. It is called “an exceedingly good land” (Nu 14:7), “a pleasant land, / The most beautiful inheritance of the nations” (Jer 3:19), “a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you shall eat food without scarcity, in which you shall not lack anything; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper” (Dt 8:8–9). It is “a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year” (Dt 11:12). It is “his land, / With the choice things of heaven” (Dt 33:13).
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Amaru (1980–81: 202, 205) well observes:
“A perusal, let alone a close reading, of either the Masoretic or Septuagint texts of Torah and Prophets immediately reveals the prominence of land theology in classical Jewish thought…. In fact, the idea of covenanted land is so dominant therein that one might describe it as the major theme of the patriarchal introduction to the Biblical history of Israel.”
“Throughout the Biblical narrative of the patriarchal period the land is a central focus for promising and for describing God’s relationship to the forefathers and their descendants. . ; never… is the covenant presented without some reference to the land promise.”
In Hosea, for instance, the Hebrew equivalent (‘r ) occurs nineteen times, with ten of those meaning “‘land’ in the sense of a dwelling place for a single people,” so that “the meaning of ‘land’ is that area in which Israel lived” (Wolff 51).
Significantly, “the land theme is so ubiquitous that it may have greater claim to be the central motif in the OT than any other, including ‘covenant,’” for it is “the tangible token of God’s faithfulness, the concrete expression of the covenant relationship, and the goal of Israel’s wanderings where the people will find rest” (AB 4:146, 147). The hope of Israel was strongly tied to the Land (cf. Ex 20:12; Ps 25:13; 37:9, 11, 22, 29, 34; Isa 49:8; 57:13; 60:21; Eze 40; 45).
As a result, “one cannot exaggerate how important the image of land was to the OT mind and heart,” so that “next to God himself, the longing for land seems to dominate all others” being “a virtual obsessions with the patriarchs” (DBI 487). “Jewish life and experience centred on the territorial reality of the Land of Israel and Jerusalem its capital, on the Temple in its midst and the people living in the Land and in Jerusalem” (Safrai and Stern 1976: 1:186).
Consequently, in the extra-biblical sources the devout Jew deems Israel to be the “holy land” (Wis 12:3; 2Mac 1:7; 3Mac 3:735; 2 Bar 65:9, 10; 71:1; Philo, Embassy 30 §205; 42 §330; Heir 40 §293; Sib. Or. 3:266ff; 5:281; Wis 12:3). He also may refer to it as the “goodly land” (Tob. 14:4-5; Jub 13:2, 6; 1 En 89:4); “the great land of Judea” (Sib. Or. 5:328); “delightful Judea” which is “your [God’s] land” (Sib. Or. 5:263, 265); “the land most precious of all to you [God]” (Wisd 12:7).
Indeed, because of its centrality to Jewish hopes and aspirations “fully 30 percent of the Mishnah prescribes guidance which can only be practiced within the land” (Burge 2010:12). Two examples from rabbinic literature illustrate the Jewish emphasis on the land. According to m. Kel 1:6–9, there are “ten degrees of holiness” and “the land of Israel is holier than any other land.” R. Akiba expresses the deep devotion to the land: “he who is buried in lands other than the Holy Land is as though he were buried in Babylonia” (ARN 26). We could cite scores of such statements in ancient rabbinic literature.
Believe it or not, I have more to say on this important topic. But this will have to await my next installment.