Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Smyrna (2.8–11)


‘And write to the angel of the assembly in Smyrna:

The first and the last, who was dead and came to life, says this:

I know your tribulation and poverty—but you are rich—and the defamation of those who claim to be Judeans themselves and are not, but are a synagogue of the satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. See, the slanderer is about to throw some of you into prison so you can be tested, and you will have ten days of tribulation. Be faithful until death and I will give you the laurel of life.

Whoever has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the assemblies. Whoever conquers will not be injured by the second death.’


Jesus is identified to each assembly by attributes taken from chapter 1, generally in reverse order. Each selected attribute seems intended to tie into the message given to that particular assembly, though the meaning is not always clear. Jesus ‘was dead and came to life’. He promises a ‘laurel of life’ after suffering death, and protection from the ‘second death’. There is debate whether ιουδαιος should be translated into English as ‘Jew’ or ‘Judean’ (my preference is the latter for texts from this time period). There is also debate whether ‘those who claim to be Judeans’ indicates a criticism of gentiles assuming a Judean ethno-religious identity, or a rejection of non-Christian Jews as not being ‘real’ Jews (i.e. a No True Scotsman), or some other possibility. The same accusation is repeated in chapter 3. I am inclined to think the second interpretation is more likely. These are the only references to apparently-false Judeans, and they are accompanied by the only references to ‘synagogues’, which are slurred as being satanic. The phrasing ‘the second death’ is found in biblical translation-paraphrases and extrabiblical texts to describe sinners being wiped from existence, but its meaning here is ambiguous.



41.4 Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, Yhwh, am first, and will be with the last.

44.6 I am the first and I am the last

48.12 I am he; I am the first, and I am the last.

Sibylline Oracles

2.37–38, 45–47 For then he will show from heaven a crown to men who strive in contest. […] For the holy Anointed One will make just awards to these and crown the worthy. But to martyrs he will give an immortal treasure, to those who pursue the contest even to death.

7.132, 134–135 But they will endure extreme toil […] who putting on the shaggy hides of sheep will falsely claim to be Hebrews, which is not their race.


1.12 ‘Please test your servants for ten days.’

Dead Sea Scrolls

CD 1 And he made known to the latter generations that which God had done to the latter generation, the congregation of traitors, to those who departed from the way.

1QS 5 They shall separate from the congregation of the men of injustice

1QH 2 For I have understood that it is you who establishes the path of whomsoever you choose; you hedge him in with true discernment that he may not sin against you, and that his humility may bear fruit through your chastisement. You purify his heart in your trials.

1QH 10 For they, an assembly of deceit, and a congregation of Belial, know not that my stand is maintained by you, and that in your mercy you will save my soul since my steps proceed from you.

Targum Pseudo-Jonathan

Deut 33.6 Let Reuben live in this world, and not die the second death which the wicked die in the world to come.

Isa 22.14 The prophet said, with my ears I heard when this was decreed from before the Lord of armies, that this iniquity of yours shall not be forgiven until you die the second death, said the Lord, the god, the god of armies.

Isa 65.6, 15 I will recompense to them the wages for their sins, and deliver their bodies to the second death. […] And you shall leave your name for a curse to my chosen, for the Lord God shall slay you with the second death, and call his righteous servants by another name.

Testament of Isaac

6.35 ‘He is the first and the last, as the prophets have said.’


4.9 And he said, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’


13.16 ‘But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.’


1.12 Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

1 Peter

5.4 And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away.

2 Baruch

15.8 For this world is to them a struggle and an effort with much trouble. And that accordingly which will come, a crown with great glory.

1 Timothy

2.5 And in the case of an athlete, no one is crowned without competing according to the rules.

Revelation of Ezra

6.17 ‘Give me that deposit which I entrusted to you. The crown is readied for you.’

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