The Way It Happened

Revelation 11:3-14, The Two Witnesses, IV of V

And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days … Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.  For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial.  The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth … At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed.  Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.

//So far, we’ve met Moses & Elijah, and Peter & Paul, as two pairs of candidates for the Two Witnesses of Revelation. But there are a few events in the story that just don’t add up. If later tradition is any indication, the early Christians may have considered Peter and Paul the two witnesses, but who was John really writing about?

A study of the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus provides either the answer or an eerie coincidence.  In The War of the Jews, published just before the book of Revelation, Josephus heaps praise upon two priests in Jerusalem, Ananus and Jesus the son of Gamala.  He narrates long, grand speeches for both men to their enemies:  Ananus to the Zealots and Jesus to the Idumeans.  This all occurs during the war, which lasted about three and a half years (1,260 days). Then the two priests are killed, and the Idumeans, standing upon their dead bodies, ridicule them.  Eventually they cast away the bodies without burial, the ultimate way to disgrace or shame someone.  “And this at last was the end of Ananus and Jesus,” Josephus wrote. Here’s how it happened.

As the Zealots of Jerusalem were fighting amongst themselves, a storm brewed and the earth rumbled.  Josephus describes a great earthquake like this:

During the night a terrific storm arose; the wind blew with tempestuous violence, and the rain fell in torrents; the lightnings flashed without intermission, accompanied by fearful peals of thunder, and the quaking earth resounded with mighty bellowings.  The universe, convulsed to its very base, appeared fraught with the destruction of mankind, and it was easy to conjecture that these were portents of no trivial calamity.

Taking advantage of the panic caused by the earthquake, the Idumeans, in league with the Zealots, succeeded in entering Jerusalem, and a massacre began.  Says Josephus, The outer court of the Temple was inundated with blood, and the day dawned upon eight thousand five hundred dead.  Close enough to Revelation’s number.

Curiously, just as Revelation says, this great earthquake did occur the “very hour” the Idumeans murdered, ridiculed, and left the two great priests, Ananus and Jesus, unburied in the streets of Jerusalem. Oops!  Now what should we believe about the identity of Revelation’s two witnesses? Can this possibly be a coincidence?


  1. Lee,

    These men weren’t witnesses for Jesus, they were unbelieving Jews. Doesn’t fit.

  2. Oh, it fits alright…far too closely to be considered coincidence. So what do we make of it? Maybe it’s we who need to expand our opinion of the two witnesses.

    For example, Revelation doesn’t say they were Christians, and Relevation does not betray the tension between Jew and Christian that other Bible books do.

    Whatever the explanation, the parallel is fascinating. As I was writing my book, I seriously considered the possibility that earlier Jewish writings had predicted two witnesses like this, and that both Revelation and Josephus were alluding to this expectation. But that seemed a bit far-fetched.

    • Unfortunately Josephus also records in “The Antiquities of the Jews” (20.9.1) that this same Ananus was a Sadducee who orchestrated the death of James the brother of Jesus along with some other Christians, which one would presume should make him an unlikely candidate for a Christian prophet of God.

      “Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned… “

  3. Glenda McLachlan

    These two men died, therefore they cannot die and resurrect again. Jesus died and resurrected.The two witnesses that come in revelation will die and be resurrected. Therefore they have to be persons who have not tasted death such as Moses or Elijah. Both these men were taken from the earth they did not die.
    Otherwise you are talking reincarnation. Cannot happen. These two are a type to show a similar situation. It however is impossible for them to die and then come and die again.


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