Thursday, January 11, 2024

A Measuring Staff (11.1–2)


And a measuring rod like a staff was given to me, saying, ‘Rise and measure God’s temple and the altar and the worshipers in it, but exclude the courtyard outside the temple and do not measure it, because it has been given to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months.


The act of measuring here ensures the safety of the temple and its inhabitants. The ‘forty-two months’ is the first reference in the book to a time frame equaling three and a half years. This number, half of seven, indicates a time of imperfection and disorder. The concept ultimately goes back to the Book of Daniel, in which a series of authors attempted to predict the duration of the eschatological crisis before God would intervene for the final judgment. Their predictions each approximated three and a half years, but slowly increased the duration to accommodate for the previous predictions failing. Aside from the brief depiction of Jesus as the ‘one like a son of man’ in chapter 1, this is the beginning of the book’s attempts to offer a midrash on the prophecies from Daniel into a new context where the Roman Empire is the chief eschatological antagonist, as other contemporaries were also doing (cf. Mark 13; 4 Ezra; 2 Baruch).

This passage is one of a handful in the book which interpreters hinge their arguments for when the book was written. The author may have written his predictions before Jerusalem’s second temple was destroyed in 70 CE, such that he anticipated the temple would not fall despite the Roman siege of the city. Yet, other details later in the book make it essentially certain the author wrote in the early 90s CE. This leaves the possibilities that the author wrote after 70 CE and intended this ‘temple’ in a non-literal sense while using its historical destruction as a backdrop (e.g. the temple may represent the author’s religious community), or that the author wrote his book over a long range of time so that some predictions predated 70 CE and others postdated it, or that the author incorporated material from disparate sources or traditions, some likewise pre-70 and others post-70.



40.2, 3 a man was there […] with a linen cord and a measuring reed in his hand.


2.2 I looked up and saw a man with a measuring line in his hand. Then I asked, ‘Where are you going?’ He answered me, ‘To measure Jerusalem, to see what is its width and what is its length.’

Sibylline Oracles

1.387–396 Then when the Hebrews reap the bad harvest, a Roman king will ravage much gold and silver. Thereafter there will be other kingdoms continuously, as kingdoms perish, and they will afflict mortals. But there will be a great fall for those men when they launch on unjust haughtiness. But when the temple of Solomon falls in the illustrious land cast down by men of barbarian speech with bronze breastplates, the Hebrews will be driven from their land; wandering, being slaughtered, they will mix much darnel in their wheat.

3.665–666 for they will want to destroy the temple of the great God and most excellent men when they enter the land.

Psalms of Solomon

2.3 because the sons of Jerusalem had defiled the sanctuary of the Lord, had profaned the gifts of God with acts of lawlessness.

2 Baruch

6.9 For the time has arrived when Jerusalem will also be delivered up for a time, until the moment that it will be said that it will be restored for ever.


21.24 For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the times of the nations are fulfilled.

Greek Revelation of Ezra

2.22 And the prophet said, ‘Remember scripture, my father, who measured out Jerusalem and rebuilt her.’

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