- Dear Frank McCoy,
The following dictum was drummed into me very early in my career: VERIFY
So, when I came across the following in a famous commentary on the
Apocalypse, I went into verification mode.
'Patmos was one of the Sporades, a barren rocky island about ten miles
long and five miles wide. It is first mentioned by Thucydides, iii.33,
and later by Strabo, x.5.13, and Pliny, H.N. iv.12.23, the last of whom
(ie Pliny) states that it was used as a penal settlement by the Romans,
as were other islands ) (R H Charles, A Critical and Exegetical
Commentary on the Revelation of St John, T & T Clark, 1920, p. 21)
Here is what Pliny wrote. 'After these no regular order can be kept, so
the remaining islands shall be given in a group: Scyro; Nio, 18 miles
from Naxos, venerable as the burying place of Homer, 22 miles long,
previously called Phoenice Telos, noted for its unguent, and called by
Callimachus Agathusa; Donusa; Patmos 30 miles in circumference; the
Corossiae, Lebitha, Lero, Zinari ' (Natural History IV.12.23)
I then went and checked out all the references usually given by
commentators to Patmos being a place for political exiles.
Tacitus Annals 3.68; 4.30; 15.71.
Strabo Geography 10.5.13
Thucydides Peloponnesian War 3.33.3
And lo and behold! There is not one mention of Patmos as a site for
Indeed, I went searching through the whole TLG data base of literature
and found not one mention of Patmos as a prison for political exiles.
Even the claim that John was ever exiled on this island is based on an
interpretation of what John said about being on the island 'on account
of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.' (Rev. 1:9 RSV) You can
check out the evidence trail for yourself.
So, Frank McCoy. You are in rather august company. I am still amazed at
the amount of second-hand referencing that occurs in so many scholarly
Ross Saunders from DownUnder