I would like to ask some tough questions about the understanding of the Roman Empire as it was taught to us by Herbert Armstrong. I do not have many answers, but I do have some questions. I was reviewing a post I wrote a while ago and found it to be incomplete. I would like to revisit this subject once more.
Could it be the description of Rome as the fourth beast of Daniel 7 (the seventh head of Rev. 13) was incorrect? Could it be that we were taught to WATCH intensely in one direction, but that direction isn’t the right one? (If we were staring off in the wrong direction, were we really watching?) Could it be that history doesn’t agree with the traditional COG interpretation of the prophetic beasts – and therefore we need to study our Bibles again on a subject we thought we already knew?
Let’s review some quotes from a booklet entitled “Who Is the BEAST?” by Herbert W. Armstrong (1960 edition).
“The text says one of his HEADS was wounded to death.”
Yes, ONE of his heads was wounded, NOT the entire beast! If the head was merely wounded, then why did the Western Roman Empire fall in its entirety? Think of that in terms of Greece. We know Greece had four divisions. If Greece is the third beast, and historically two of its four heads (Cassander and Lysimachus) were absorbed by a third (Seleucus) and the fourth (Ptolemy) was in constant battle with the third, then why didn’t the entire Greek beast die when TWO of its heads were lopped off and the other two fought bitterly? But we are to believe that the one head of the fourth beast is wounded, and that equals the downfall of Rome – the entire fourth Beast from Daniel’s perspective? Remember, we’re just talking about one head here. And why did the Eastern Empire remain in tact? Can half of a head die? Can half a beast die?
“The BEAST INCLUDED THE SEVEN HEADS and the TEN HORNS.”
Notice this as well, all ten horns are part of the Roman beast.
“John sees the beast living in the days of its seventh head, the Roman Empire. And when that HEAD of the beast had its deadly wound, HIS -- the beast's -- deadly wound was healed. The horns now reign, one by one.”
OK, note closely what is said here… the head gets a wound, and AFTER the wound is healed the ten horns begin to reign. This will also be turned around in the next paragraph.
“The Roman empire in Northern Africa was overrun by the Vandals, who sacked Rome in 455.”
But the Vandals were neither Roman, nor part of the Roman Empire, so they don’t count. They stole some territory but never took down the Western Empire. So they don't count. “Overrun” is a bit of an exaggeration, I’d say. This fact overruns what HWA just got done saying! The Vandals, who were not Roman, nor conquered Western Rome, both wounded the Roman Beast and were part of a Roman beast? I think not!
They, as the "first horn", weren’t the first to invade, either. The Visigoths (meaning Western Goths - not to be confused with the Vandals) invaded in 408-410. These Goths went on to remove Britain, Spain, and France from Roman control by 423. This is years before the Vandal invasion in 455. And this is completely ignored! In fact, it was the Visigoths that drove the Vandals down through Spain, out of Europe, and into North Africa in the first place. The Vandals then worked their way across Northern Africa and up onto the Italian peninsula. Why then aren’t the Visigoths counted as a horn? They did an awful lot more than the Vandals did. All of this is ignored. What else is ignored? Where is mention of the Angles, Saxons, Franks, Lombards, and Bergundians? Missing!
Also ignored is the fact that the capital of the Western Empire at that time was Revenna, not Rome. So capturing Rome didn’t mean as much as it would have. Capturing Rome would be like capturing Philadelphia and declaring the capital of America has fallen. The Vandals then quickly withdrew from Italy, keeping only the island of Sicily. Horn plucks up itself?
“Then in 476 Odoacer set up his government at Rome, called the HERULI.”
This is incorrect. Odoacer (aka. Odovacar, aka Otto) of the Heruli set up his government at Ravenna, not Rome. The date 476 is generally accepted as the fall of the Western Roman Empire. If head = Western Rome, then head = dead. As a side note, he drove the Visigoths from Sicily. Horn plucks up horn?
“But it did not heal the deadly wound, for this was a government IN Rome. It was not a ROMAN government, but one of foreign barbarians.”
I hope you caught that. By his own criteria if you are not a Roman government then you are not a horn. His logic is overrun!
Now pay close attention. Odoacer voluntarily renounced any title of Emperor that he gained by defeating the West and made peace with Eastern Rome by recognizing the rule of Emperor Zeno. Odoacer submitted to Zeno to prevent trouble from the East. Zeno then made him Patrician of the Western Empire - in other words, Odoacer was an official of the Eastern Roman government. Thus HWA was again incorrect.
“Then there was the kingdom of the Ostrogoths, 493-554, another outside foreign people who ruled in the territory. But they were driven out of Italy and disappeared.”
How do we categorize Theodoric the Great, King of the Ostrogoths? He grew up in Constantinople, the capitol of the Eastern Roman Empire, he was favored by Emperors, was made master of their soldiers, and even rose to the rank of Consul. This was a Byzantine Roman indeed! But at age 31 he returned to his people and was made King. So, was he Roman or Barbarian? Here we have another group who were (uncomfortably) allied to Eastern Rome, and led by what was practically a Roman, now ruling in Italy.
In 493, Theodoric of the Ostrogoths (an ally of Constantinople) fought Odoacer of the Heruli (a viceroy of Constantinople) to a stalemate. They declared co-regency and held a banquet to celebrate. At that banquet, Theodoric killed Odoacer with his own hands and became sole ruler. Horn plucks up horn again?
“These three kingdoms, sweeping into the Roman territory, filled the period known in history as the ‘transition age.’ (See Myers' Ancient History, page 571.) That is, a TRANSITION between the wound and the healing.”
They are part of what Myers calls “The Transition Age”, but they do not by any means fill that period. Myers lists the “Transition Age” as being from 476 - 800 AD! The Vandals came in 455 A.D. That is 99 years before the start of the “Transition Age”. They weren’t even in Italy at the start of this age. The Ostrogoths were conquered in 554 A.D. That is 246 years before the end of this age. That is longer than the time the United States has been a nation!
It was NOT a “transition” from wound to healing. This isn’t even remotely accurate. HWA actually misrepresents what Myers said! Why? Maybe it was because the word “transition” was too tempting to leave off. He figured none of us simpletons would check anyhow.
To my shame I did NOT check. No. Rather I had PRIDE in my own ignorance! A prideful fool! I condemned others for not holding to this “truth”! And I am ashamed.
In HWA’s mind, the Vandals, Heruli, and Ostrogoths were not Roman. But does that really matter? Allow me to remind you that the prophecy states the head was wounded, not the horns, and not BY the horns! One might reply "the head is the horns." But that's not what HWA says. Remember, “And when that HEAD of the beast had its deadly wound, HIS -- the beast's -- deadly wound was healed. The horns now reign, one by one.” Also, these “horns” ruled before HWA understood the wound to be healed. Since this is the case, according to HWA’s own qualifiers, they cannot count among his 10 horns of Rome!!
What’s more is HWA completely ignores the fact that the city of Rome was not the Roman capital at that time, Ravenna was. The capital was moved by Emperor Honorius in 402.
And he completely ignores that both Odoacer of the Heruli and Theodoric of the Ostrogoths were working for Eastern Rome.
The explanation - because it doesn’t fit the theory. Facts? BAH! This information does not fit the theory proposed by Alexander Hislop, so it is overlooked. Can we trust the historical interpretations of men who ignore such critical history as this?
“Now Daniel saw a ‘little horn’ coming up AMONG these ten, before whom these first three were ‘plucked up by the roots.’”
Let’s define two terms according to Herbert Armstrong’s understanding. “Little Horn” = the Pope. “First three” = Vandals, Heruli, & Ostrogoths.
With those definitions in mind, two things here are incredibly important. First, the little horn [Pope] comes up among the other 10 (not the first three only). The Pope as the Bishop of Rome preceded these people by a couple hundred years officially, and over two thousand years according to Alexander Hyslop’s teachings which HWA promoted as gospel. The Pope didn’t come up among the groups here mentioned, so he cannot be the little horn. Secondly The Vandals, Heruli, and Ostrogoths COULD NOT BE THE FIRST THREE HORNS!!! They aren’t horns to be plucked up! They don’t count!!
“That leaves 7 horns to come.”
NO!! It leaves 11 horns to come!! The little horn has not been identified, nor have his 10 companions.
“And of the little horn, Daniel 7 says ‘his look was more stout than his fellows.’ The papacy dominated completely all the horns to follow.”
No, it didn’t! Neither Odoacer the Arian, or Theodoric the Arian and supposed persecutor of Catholics, or Justinian – maker of Popes, nor Napoleon - who crowned himself, nor Hitler’s Third Reich (or, if you would like, Mussolini’s Italy) were dominated by the Pope.
Besides this fact, did anyone consider it WASN’T the papacy who plucked up the Vandals, the Herulii, or the Ostrogoths? But actually the Vandals plucked themselves up, the Herulii were plucked up by the Ostrogoths upon request by the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno, and the Ostrogoths were plucked up by Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian – NOT THE POPE!!! The Pope wasn’t in the slightest bit involved!!! Besides, prophetically the little horn is not the Pope, it is in fact one of the horns – the 11th horn!
“The Deadly Wound HEALED
It was the fourth kingdom (symbolized by the fourth horn),”
But this is contrary to everything he said previous to this point!! According to what was said at the start, we can’t start counting off horns until after the wound is healed. So at best this is the first horn!
“succeeding the fall of the Empire in 476, which really HEALED the deadly wound, and restored the EMPIRE.”
Let’s ask… who felled the empire in 476? Why, it was none other than Odoacer of the Heruli, Byzantine Patrician in the West. Didn't that both fell and restore the empire? (I'm not arguing with historians, just asking questions.) He was the second horn and not the first. What was the qualification of the first horn then? Odoacer was followed by Theodoric, ally of the East, the third horn. What nonsense statement is that quote, then? Why was Emperor Justinian, the fourth horn, the healer of the Head and not these two men who worked on behalf of his empire? Yes, the Western Empire fell in 476 (not by the first horn), and yes another Roman Empire did come after that, but as stated that sentence makes no real sense. What did Justinian do that these two men did not do? And let’s not even get into the fact that Italy was conquered by the Lombards (yet another Germanic barbarian tribe) three short years after Justinian’s death. So the healing was not very well healed after all.
This brings us back to the wounding of the head. Why is the Byzantine Empire ignored by HWA? Is the West the fourth beast/seventh head, or is the East? How can only HALF of a head die? How can only half of a beast die? Why aren’t there TWO heads for the Roman beast? There are two emperors, and two separate but connected empires. They were linked through a common history before 395AD, but separate from one another after 395AD. But the East was clearly the greater. Why is only the West the beast? These are questions I don’t have the answer to. Except to say that looking at Rome for the Beast is most likely not correct at all.
“In A.D. 554, Justinian, Emperor of the East, from Constantinople, set up his government through an Imperial Legate at Ravenna, Italy, and brought about what is known in history as the "Imperial Restoration" of the Empire.”
It may have been an “imperial restoration”, but think about this detail – if the Western Roman Empire is the beast in question here then it is now not healed but conquered completely by the Eastern Roman Empire. Justinian ruled from Constantinople, not Rome. Legate or no, it was a vassal in no real way different than Odoacer or Theodoric. The western beast isn’t healed, the western beast is DEAD!
How did the beast move from Greece to Rome in the first place? Rome absorbed Greece. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that the beast is now in the East (and had been since Odoacer’s time)? And according to one of his earliest statements, THIS is where the ten horns should BEGIN to reign one by one, “And when that HEAD of the beast had its deadly wound, HIS -- the beast's -- deadly wound was healed. The horns now reign, one by one.” So why do we look to the Holy Roman Empire as a continuation of the Beast? Why not to the Byzantine Empire?
That the Holy Roman Empire is the ten toes seems very unlikely. It doesn’t fit the pattern of the Bible. Justinian “restored the Roman Empire” in 554. However, the Holy Roman Empire (it’s full name is the Holy Roman Empire of the Germanic Nation) was not begun until four centuries later in 962 by Otto I. What happened in the mean time? The Germanic empires, some very small and rather insignificant to the world, were neither Roman, nor a continuation of Rome, nor significant to the area of Judea. The Bible focuses on that area mainly. Focusing on the Hapsburg dynasty isn’t typical. Similar to that would be focusing on the Mongol invasion of Europe. It doesn’t add up.
There were more than just seven “restorations” of the Holy Roman Empire. There were dozens, perhaps even hundreds of restorations. It was always a difficult point to make that a highly select group of five or seven or ten of these “empires” were the right ones. And not a single one of those entities remains today. The Holy Roman Empire ended in 1806. There is no prophecy of the horns or toes being “wounded”. If the Head of the Beast was “wounded” in it’s downfall of less than 100 years, then what of the horns who have been wiped from the Earth now for multiple generations of men?
What complicated this even further is that we have seen there aren’t merely seven horns left in HWA’s reckoning, there are ten, and one little horn, totaling eleven, and a restored head, which brings the count up to 12 entities. Many things have to be overlooked in order to fit this in, and that just isn’t right. I’m not even going to get into the details of how HWA proclaimed that Mussolini was the Beast in 1930’s, only to drop that story and claim Hitler was the Beast, only to drop that story and claim Hitler was not killed but was hiding out and waiting to restore his kingdom in the 1950’s.
If you really REALLY want to complicate matters, read Daniel 2. In the statue dream, all ten toes exist at the same time and they are all smashed by the returning Christ. Jesus didn’t return at the end of each restoration of the Roman Empire. Now read Revelation 13: 11-14, and Revelation 17: 9-13, & 16-17 -- this clearly states the final beast (which is the little horn and the King of the North) and the ten horns all exist contemporaneously. This matches Daniel 7: 24 which states the little horn will come up while the other ten are there. Speaking of Daniel 7, verses 11-12 states the fourth beast was destroyed, but the other three remained for a season and a time. Put those together and we cannot have a little horn coming up separate from and thousands of years before the other ten.
I believe that Herbert Armstrong’s interpretation of the beasts was flawed by a very charismatic interpretation of the Bible found in Alexander Hislop’s The Two Babylons. I believe that HWA was sincere in wanting to understand. The fact of the matter is that it simply wasn’t time for God to reveal the meanings of the prophecies back then. Never the less, HWA’s description simply does not fit the account of the fourth beast of Dan. 7, or the beast of Rev. 13. The area of the Western Roman Empire may yet be the area of the fourth beast of Dan. 7 and the seventh head of Rev. 13. But maybe it isn’t! Has anyone checked to see if other nations or empires fit better? THEN WE HAVE NOT WATCHED! We have not PROVED! We have speculated and theorized, observed and opined, overlooked and rearranged, debated and accepted – but like a politician, we are long on words and short on real action. How can this please God?
I don’t have all the answers, my only viable alternative is more speculation about how the nature of the Beast closely resembles the plans of the certain Muslim nations. Even the United States from time to time looks like it could fit. But there’s no denying the traditional description is flawed. And I believe it to be fatally flawed because WE tried to fit history to the theory put forth in the book The Two Babylons when WE should have been fitting our beliefs to the Bible.