Revelation

Thanatos as a coded term of disgust for Titus

In an earlier blog post I identified the riders of the four horses of Revelation 6 as the Roman equites (knights) Vespasian and his son Titus. The author of Revelation has subdivided Vespasian into a white and a red horseman while the black and the greenish horsemen represent Titus.

This interpretation has an interesting side effect which I have not yet discussed. The greenish horseman is given a name, θἀνατος (ὄνομα αὐτῳ θἀνατος: ‘his name is thanatos’). The word θἀνατος is traditionally translated as ‘Death’, in line with a symbolic interpretation of the four horsemen and of Revelation in general. But if the greenish horseman has already been identified as Titus, something else may be going on. Then Revelation is suggesting that θἀνατος is a name for Titus. What kind of name could this be?

According to BDAG (p. 443) θἀνατος means not only ‘death’ but also ‘fatal illness, pestilence’ (the latter term is an obsolete word for ‘fatal epidemic disease’). Of course there is a clear link between Titus and death, but the composition of Revelation 6 points in another direction. In verses 5-7 the black horseman is associated with famine. Therefore, it would be plausible that the subsequent verses, which describe the greenish horseman, describe the phenomenon that always accompanies famine: epidemic. This also creates a symmetrical composition with verses 2-3 about Vespasian. So Titus is named after the second mortal effect of the siege: epidemic infectious disease. In other words, θἀνατος serves a dual purpose: together with ‘famine’ it describes the lethal effects of the siege and it is also a name for the man who led the siege.
In summary: θἀνατος is a term of disgust for Titus.

This interpretation of θἀνατος might also shed new light on 1 Corinthians 15. Referring to Isaiah and Hosea, 1 Cor 15:54b-55 says “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?”. Two verses further, 1 Cor 15:57, reads as follows: But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Θἀνατος/Titus in verse 54b/55 and Jesus Christ in verse 57 seem to be opponents in their claim to victory.
In verse 1 Cor 15:55 the word κεντρον, ‘sting’, is also used just like in Revelation 9:10 where it is used in the description of the siege of Jerusalem. In Revelation, κεντρον seems to depict the arrow of a Roman arrow-thrower called ‘scorpio’: They have tails like scorpions, and stings, and their power of hurting men for five months lies in their tails. As Titus was the Roman commander-in-chief during the siege, it is plausible to associate this sting with him. And if θἀνατος in 1 Cor 55 were to describe Titus, then the contexts for the use of κεντρον would be similar, describing Titus’s ability to wound or kill.

In Revelation, the Flavian father and son Vespasian and Titus (the four horsemen) are the opponents of Jesus (the two witnesses in chapter 11). Maybe the same kind of opposition is present in 1 Cor 15. Titus, who at first appears to have been victorious, is derided: Titus, where is your victory? Titus, where is your ability to wound and kill?

This fragment was probably written after Titus’s death, because the questions above become relevant only on final settlement of his life. In this interpretation, the 1 Corinthians fragment is not genuinely Pauline. It was written by a Christian author who interpolated Paul’s letter after Titus’s death in 81 CE.