Notes on the Eagle Vision of 4 Ezra

These notes come from some handwritten scribblings of 27-28 July 2002, when I dove headfirst into investigating the Eagle Vision. I was completely non-plussed by the statement of Stone that we must “ascribe to the author more detailed knowledge of this period than is available today” (Fourth Ezra, 365). I was ready to visit a classical historian for input! But this is hardly necessary in light of DiTommaso’s article of 1999, in which he deals with Stone’s objections and quite evenhandedly presents a scheme which coheres well with the history of the Severan period, a match which is too close to be dismissed.

DiTommaso, Lorenzo. “Dating the Eagle Vision of 4 Ezra: A New Look at an Old Theory” JSP 20 (1999) 3-38
Stone, Michael. Fourth Ezra. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990.

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12 wings
3 heads, middle one biggest
8 small wings

Identifications from DiTommaso:
Wing 1: Julius Caesar consul first in 59 BC, 48 BC defeats Pompey, 46 BC dictator, 44 BC killed
Wing 2: Rules more than twice as long as all successors. Augustus 44/23-14
Wing 3: Tiberius 14-37
Wing 4: Caligula 37-41
Wing 5: Claudius 41-54
Wing 6: Nero 54-68 | Nerva 96-98
Wing 7: Galba 68-69 | Trajan 98-117
Wing 8: Otho 69 | Hadrian 117-138
Wing 9: Vitellius 69 | Antoninus Pius 138-161
Wing 10: Vespasian 69-79 | Lucius Verus 161-169
Wing 11: Titus 79-81 | Marcus Aurelius 161-180
Wing 12: Domitian 81-96 | Commodus 176-180

Small Wing 1: Galba? These two related to “middle” of the time of the kingdom
Small Wing 2: Otho? according to 12.21 (DiTommaso, 33)
2 Small Wings move to under Right Head
Four remaining Small Wings:
1st: disappears quickly: P. Helvius Pertinax Jan 1-March 28, 193: 87 days
2nd: disappears more quickly: M. Didius Severus Julianus, died June 1, 193: 66 days
3rd: C. Pescennius Niger Plan to rule. Suddenly eaten by Big Middle head with other two heads
4th: Decimus Clodius Septimius Albinus
Middle Head: greater than all the wings: Septimius Severus 193-211
Two other heads together: Geta (209-211, 211-212) and Caracalla (198-211, 211-217)
Right Head, after eating Left Head: Caracalla 211-217
Two Small Wings under Right Head: M. Opellius Macrinus 217-218 and his son Diadumenianus 218
Body of Eagle burned.

I suspect that, if as seems likely the Severan interpretation of the Eagle Vision is correct, the original vision, dating to Domitian’s time, consisted of simply a twelve-winged eagle (no 8 little wings, only one head), as Domitian is the twelfth Emperor in any normal reckoning. Retaining 3 heads as Flavians and counting the twelve wings in pairs would cover from Caesar to Nero and Vespasian to Domitian, but neglect Galba, Otho and Vitellius, which is unacceptable. Roughly, the additions of small wings and three heads materials are recognized as blocks:

11.1: “…and three heads” [Aren’t multiple heads usually mentioned first in apocalyptic series?]
11.3-4: full verses. small wings and heads at rest
[another point: if the small wings are attached to the twelve wings, as per 11.3, etc, then once the 12 were gone, so would they be. Not a well-thought out description!]
11.9: full verse. heads are last
11.10: “head” altered to “heads”
11.11: full verse. little wings
11.20-35: all verses. details of vision of small wings and three heads
11.45: “…and your most evil little wings, and your malicious heads…” [note repetition of “your most evil” with talons]
12.17: “his head” to “his heads”
12.19-21: all verses. 6 of the 8 little wings
12.22-28: all verses. the 3 heads
12.29-30: all verses. the last 2 of the 8 little wings

As it stands, the details in the heads and little wings do seem to clearly describe the Severan period as opposed to the Flavian. This scheme would retain the description of the eagle’s voice as coming from the body, and the interpretaion of it as trouble at the time of the middle of the kingdom.

The thing that doesn’t satisfy in DiTommaso’s article is the 2 little wings of the middle of the kingdom being generally pegged as during the Neronian troubles (DiTommaso, 33). In this redaction of the vision, one option for the lack of specificity and difficulty in determining who the two individuals are might be due to the simply reflexive insertion of two wings for the indication of problems in a period of troubles, based on the recent experiences of the redactor: trouble = some wings, at least. If, however, the twelve were originally Caesar through Domitian, the sixth (the middle) would be Nero, and the seventh Galba. The redactor will, of course, have been able to realize the identities of these twelve, having demonstrated an excellent understanding of Roman history in his additions to the twelve wings. So, with the redactor aware of the identity of that original middle of the kingdom’s time, the Neronian period is described as troubled and nearly failing (12.18). Two fitting suggestions for the first two small wings, who never obtained rulership but were definitely major figures at the time are: rebellion in March 68 of Gaius Julius Vindex, governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, and in May 68 the revolt of Lucius Clodius Macer, legate of III Legio Augusta in Africa, who cut off the grain supply to Rome. Vindex was killed during Nero’s reign, while Macer was executed by Galba. Note that the timing of the first two of the small wings is not specified, but is included some time within the twelve wings (11.22) in the vision, and is specifically placed in the “middle of its time” in the interpretation (12.21), in a section which is part of additions to the original text, according to my understanding. So, it seems that the redactor intended to partially preserve the original identity of the twelve wings with the Julio-Claudian Emperors through this tactic of utilizing the additions and specifically through the mention of the middle as a troubled time, with the two small wings appearing then. Notably, those two rebels, Vindex and Macer, are the only two of the period not to have actually attained the Principate. Galba, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian all managed to attain the purple. Perhaps, in keeping with the detailed presentation of small wings regarding Antonine/Severan personalities, the redactor felt the need to enhance the twelve wings with the addition of the two small wings at Nero and Galba’s time.

So here is my plan:

Wing 1: Julius Caesar 59/48/46-44
Wing 2: Augustus 44/23-14
Wing 3: Tiberius 14-37
Wing 4: Caligula 37-41
Wing 5: Claudius 41-54
Wing 6: Nero 54-68
Small Wing 1: Vindex 68 (rebellion, no rule) [these two small wings are placed
Small Wing 2: Macer 68 (rebellion, no rule) here according to 12.21]
Wing 7: Galba 68-69
Wing 8: Otho 69
Wing 9: Vitellius 69
Wing 10: Vespasian 69-79
Wing 11: Titus 79-81
Wing 12: Domitian and Commodus 81-96
(Overlapping metaphor)
Small Wing 3: Pertinax Jan 1-Mar 28, 193 87 days
Small Wing 4: Didius Julianus Mar 28-June 1, 193 66 days
Small Wing 5: Pescennius 193-194 (rebellion, no rule)
Small Wing 6: Albinus 193-197 (rebellion, no rule)
(Big) Head 1: Septimius Severus 193-211 (Feb 1)
Heads 2 & 3: Caracalla and
killed in late December
Head 3: Caracalla 211-217
Small Wings 7
& 8:
Macrinus and Diadumenianus 217-218

The dual identity of the twelfth wing (Domitian/Commodus) is necessitated by the Severan edition of the Eagle Vision, with the various clearly identifiable small wings and heads personages following immediately on the twelfth wing. Perhaps this can be explained through a kind of type/antitype understanding of the two characters of Domitian and Commodus, both of whom were not viewed well by the majority of the their contemporaries. The relation of the two through their characters is probably what the redactor considered the link between the two: two horrible emperors, the second much worse than the first. In any case, the twelfth needs to be seen as Commodus, as the immediately following series of small wings describe his successors.

Refining the idea some more, I’m certain the 12 wings/kings is the original. Look at 12.14, which mentions only the twelve kings, rather than whatever number actually ruled. I find this a clear indicator that the further wings and the extra heads are all additions. Removing the additions leads to a much more coherent and clearcut vision and interpretation with only two parts: the twelve wings and the lion. See here for the text of such a reconstruction, easily made with the removal of the proposed blocks of addition. In addition to the above listing of additions, I now also consider all the “voice from the midst of the eagle” matter to be part of the blocks of added material:

11.1: “and three heads”
11.45: “and your most evil little wings, and your malicious heads”
12.2 (all except for the first two words of the verse: “and behold” which belong with “And I looked” in v.1)
12.3a “And I looked, and behold, they also disappeared, and”

Thus, with only a few judicious insertions, a redactor was able to extend the eagle vision from the twelve wings/twelve Julio-Claudian-Flavian emperors down to his own time, incorporating the end of period after Commodus, undoubtedly his own time.

We’d also have to consider the use of “middle” in 12.18, 21 as referring to the series of twelve rather than the actual chronological years. The calculation of the midpoint between 44 BC and 218 AD yields 87 AD. The midpoint between 23 BC and 218 AD is in 98 AD. Placing the middle as a time of “great struggles” and “in danger of failing” fits neither of those dates, but does fit 68 AD very well, right there at the 6th and 7th wings, Nero and Galba, the middle of the twelve wings/kings. Incidentally, the middle of the small wings also works in a description of a time when the kingdom was in danger of failing, especially the outright purchase of the Principate by Didius Julianus. But these are already designated as Small Wings 3 (Pertinax) and 4 (Didius Julianus). Interesting, though. Even 4 & 5 (Pescennius). With the “middle” being understood as the middle of the twelve wings, and the two small wings fitting so precisely well there as Vindex and Macer, I find that this supports my proposition that the original vision contained only the twelve wings.

In my opinion, evidence for the twelve wings being the original vision can be seen in the following points:

1.) The small wing and three heads materials are intermingled in contiguous blocks, separately from the twelve wings materials.
2.) 12.14 indicates twelve kings, not a further number, with further kings then later mentioned in the additional material.
3.) The troubled middle of the kingdom’s time, when it was in danger of failing, if taken as the middle of the twelve wings (the 6th and 7th wings) fits precisely the identification of those wings as Nero and Galba, and the troubles as those of 68 AD, and the two little wings as Vindex and Macer.
4.) Reuse of the adjectival “most evil” in the description of the little wings in 11.45, taken from the description of the talons in the same verse.
5.) The identification of the second wing as Augustus is quite agreed. Following the progression of emperors, from Caesar to Domitian, as the twelve wings, is the most logical approach, and the universal approach of the best Roman historians (Suetonius, Dio Cassius, et al.).
6.) With Domitian as the twelfth wing, and no further wings or heads to interpret, the dating of the original version of the eagle vision and first edition of the book during the reign of Domitian is supported.
7.) With the second edition of the eagle vision set at 218 AD, there is ample time still for dissemination of the new edition of the book before even the first of any translations are made of biblical books into Ethiopic, Armenian, and Georgian.
8.) Within the blocks of material I’ve specified as belonging to the second edition of the eagle vision, I see no evidence of a Hebrew original noted in Stone, Myers or Box. The versional translation errors/differences can all be accounted for with a Greek original for these sections.