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Revelation 19.16's Inscribed Thigh: An Allusion to Gen 49.10b*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 March 2014

Sheree Lear*
School of Divinity, University of St Andrews, South Street, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9JU, UK. email:


The inscribed thigh of the rider on the white horse in Rev 19.16 is an allusion to an MT – like Gen 49.10b text. The phrase ‘inscribed on his thigh’ was a legitimate translation of the words found in Gen 49.10b at the time of the composition of Revelation.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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Formal research on this article was completed at the University of Pretoria.


1 Nearly all the elements of the description of the rider have been traced back to the Old Testament (Greek or Hebrew) or to previous passages within Revelation itself. For example, in Rev 19.11: Ezek 1.1 (see Vanhoye, A., ‘L'utilisation du livre d'Ézéchiel dans l'Apocalypse’, Bib 43 (1962) 450)Google Scholar, Jer 42.5 MT/49.5 LXX (see Brownlee, W. H., ‘Messianic Motifs of Qumran and the New Testament’, NTS 3 (1956–57) 195210)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Isa 11.4 (see Bauckham, R., The Climax of Prophecy: Studies in the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1993) 323Google Scholar; Giesen, H., Die Offenbarung des Johannes: Übersetzt und erklärt (Regensburger Neues Testament; Regensburg: Pustet, 1997) 421)Google Scholar and Zech 9.9 (see J. Roloff, Die Offenbarung des Johannes (Zürcher Bibelkommentare NT 18; Zürich: Theologischer, 1984) 185)Google Scholar; in Rev 19.12: Dan 7.9, 10.6 (see Swete, H. B., The Apocalypse of St. John: The Greek Text with Introduction, Notes and Indices (London: Macmillan and Co., 1911) 1617Google Scholar), Rev 12.3, 13.1 (see Caird, G. B., A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine [London: Adam and Charles Black, 1966) 241–2)Google Scholar, Isa 62.2, 65.15b (see Fekkes, J., Isaiah and Prophetic Traditions in the Book of Revelation: Visionary Antecedents and Their Development (JSNTSS 93; Sheffield: JSOT, 1994) 128)Google Scholar; in Rev 19.13: Isa 63.1–6 (see Fekkes, Isaiah and Prophetic Traditions, 197. Lohmeyer, E., Die Offenbarung des Johannes (Handbuch zum Neuen Testament 6; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1953) 159Google Scholar; Caird, Revelation of St. John, 242), Rev 1.2, 9; 6.9; 20.4 (cf. Boyarin, D., ‘The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John’, HTR 94/3 (2001) 243–84)Google Scholar; in Rev 19.15: Isa 11.4, 49.2 (see Fekkes, Isaiah and Prophetic Traditions, 121), Psa 2.9 (see Witherington, B. III, Revelation (New Cambridge Bible Commentary; Cambridge University Press, 2003) 244CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bauckham, Climax, 323), Isa 63.1–6 (see Fekkes, Isaiah and Prophetic Traditions, 197; E. Lohmeyer, Offenbarung, 159; Caird, Revelation of St. John, 242); in Rev 19.16: Dan 4.37 (LXX) (see Beale, G. K., ‘The Origin of the Title “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” in Revelation 17.14’, NTS 31 (1985) 618CrossRefGoogle Scholar. By ‘LXX’ it appears Beale meant OG Daniel 4.34. Cf. J. Ziegler, Susanna, Daniel, Bel Et Draco xvi, 2 (Vetus Testamentum Graecum; Auctoritate Academiae Scientiarum Gottingensis Editum 294; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1999)).

2 Beasley-Murray, G. R., The Book of Revelation (New Century Bible; London: Oliphants, 1974) 281.Google Scholar

3 Lupieri, E. F., A Commentary on the Apocalypse of John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 306–7Google Scholar. See also Holtz, T., Die Offenbarung des Johannes: Übersetzt und erklärt (Das Neue Testament Deutsch; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008) 126CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Aune details: ‘There are examples in Greco-Roman literature of inscriptions on the thighs of statues. Pausanias (5.27.12) refers to an elegiac couplet written on the thigh of a statue . . . For two other examples of inscriptions on the thighs of statues, see Cicero Verrine Orations 4.43 and Justin 15.4.5, 9’ (Aune, D. E., Revelation 17–22 (Word Biblical Commentary 52C; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998)Google Scholar 1062). Further agreeing with Aune, see Thomas, D. A., Revelation 19 in Historical and Mythological Context (Studies in Biblical Literature 118; New York: Peter Lang, 2008) 140.Google Scholar

4 “Mais notre cavalier n'a rien d'une statue!” (Prigent, P., L'Apocalypse de Saint Jean (Commentaire du Nouveau Testament 14; Genève: Labor et Fides, 2000) 422).Google Scholar

5 Beale, G. K. and McDonough, S. M., ‘Revelation’, in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (ed. Beale, G. K. and Carson, D. A.; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007) 1144.Google Scholar

6 Charles, R. H., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John: With Introduction, Notes and Indices. Also the Greek Text and English Translation (International Critical Commentary 1; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1920) 137.Google Scholar

7 Charles, Revelation of St. John, 137.

8 Beasley-Murray cites a few other options: ‘Attempts have been made to show . . . that the name was not on the thigh but on the place where the robe covers the thigh (Swete), or on a sword which normally is worn on the thigh (Grotius), or that the thigh stands for the sword (Caird) . . .’ (Beasley-Murray, Revelation, 281). Barker, positing that the book of Revelation was originally written in Aramaic, suggests that this passage originally contained the Aramaic word for ‘banner’ – דגל instead of thigh. Owing to the similarity between the dalet and ‘the resh’, upon translation דגל ‘banner’ was read as רגל ‘leg or foot’. Barker further explains that ‘the original [Aramaic version] probably described an embroidered robe and a standard with the motto King of Kings and Lord of Lords . . .’ (Barker, M., Revelation of Jesus Christ: Which God Gave to Him to Show to His Servants What Must Soon Take Place: Revelation i.i (London: T & T Clark, 2000) 306Google Scholar. Roloff suggests: ‘Möglicherweise steht Jes. 11,5 im Hintergrund [of the inscribed thigh], wo es vom Messias heißt: “Gerechtigkeit wird der Gürtel seiner Lenden und Treue der Gurt seiner Hüften sein”’ (Roloff, Die Offenbarung, 186). Smalley claims three of the above options all at once (statue, thigh-sword and thigh-oath) (Smalley, S. S., The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse (London: SPCK, 2005) 495).Google Scholar

9 By ‘John’ I am making no claim to authorship. I am simply using the name as shorthand for ‘author(s)’ of Revelation.

10 Skinner, J., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis (International Critical Commentary; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1956) 518Google Scholar; Sarna, N. M., Genesis בראשית: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation (JPS Torah Commentary; Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989) 336Google Scholar; Speiser, E. A., Genesis: Introduction, Translation and Notes (Anchor Bible; Garden City: Doubleday & Co., 1964) 362, 365.Google Scholar

11 Grossfeld notes that ‘the Targumim understood מחקק in the same sense as it is understood in Dt. 33.21, where all of them render this word by the term ספרא. Since מחקק is linguistically related to חק “statute”, “law”, they interpret it as “Lawgiver” or “instructor in the Law”, i.e., “teacher”’ (Grossfeld, B., Targum Neofiti 1: An Exegetical Commentary to Genesis: Including Full Rabbinic Parallels (ed. L. H. Schiffman; New York: Sepher-Hermon, 2000) 297.Google Scholar

12 See for example Ezek 4.1, Prov 8.29.

13 Translation by Freedman, H. and Simon, M., The Midrash Rabbah: Translated into English with Notes, Glossary and Indices: Volume 1, Genesis (New York: Soncino, 1977) 626Google Scholar. Italics mine.

14 See also Isa 22.16, 49.16; Ezek 4.1, 23.14; and Prov 8.15 for similar translations of חקק.

15 The opinions as to which text type(s) John used vary greatly and only recently has this question started to be fully explored. In the past, Parker and Swete argued that John used the LXX (Parker, H., ‘The Scripture of the Author of the Revelation of John’, Iliff Review 37/1 (1980) 3551Google Scholar; Swete, Apocalypse, clv). Charles and Fekkes (more recently followed by Witherington) believe Revelation's OT allusions stemmed from a Hebrew text (Charles, Revelation of St. John, lxviii; Fekkes, Isaiah and Prophetic Traditions, 17; Witherington III, Revelation, 11), but recent research has realised that the question of text types used by the author of Revelation is much more complex. As Witetschek argued, ‘Johannes besaß wohl keine Textausgabe des Alten Testaments im heutigen Sinn, sondern die einzelnen alttestamentlichen Schriften jeweils auf eigenen Schriftrollen. Wenn seine Verwendung der Psalmen eine griechische Vorlage vermuten lässt, dann ist es durchaus vorstellbar, dass Johannes z.B. eine hebräische Ezechiel-Rolle und eine griechische Psalmen-Rolle zur Verfügung hatte’ (Witetschek, S., ‘Der Lieblingspsalm des Sehers: Die Verwendung von Ps 2 in der Johannesapokalypse’, in Septuagint and Messianism (ed. Knibb, M. A.; Leuven: Leuven University, 2006) 490)Google Scholar. Beale also argues that ‘[t]he likelihood is that John draws from both Semitic and Greek biblical sources . . .’ (Beale, G., John's Use of the Old Testament in Revelation (JSNTSS 166; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1998) 62)Google Scholar. Karrer researched this question with regard to the reception of Ezekiel in Revelation and concluded: ‘Der Apk-Autor kannte das Ezechielbuch auf griechisch und mutmaßlich zusätzlich hebräisch’ (Karrer, M., ‘Von der Apokalypse zu Ezechiel: Der Ezechieltext der Apokalypse’, in Das Ezechielbuch in der Johannesoffenbarung: Mit Beiträgen von Michael Bachmann, Beate Ego, Thomas Hieke und Martin Karrer (ed. Sänger, D.; Biblisch-Theologische Studien 76; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 2004) 84-120Google Scholar, quotation from 118). If Karrer's suggestion is correct, although it tells us nothing about which text type of Genesis John was using, it does affirm that the question of text type is complicated, and that John at least had the capability to read a Hebrew text.

16 Bauckham, Climax, 32–4.

17 See n. 1 above.

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