In this revised Cambridge University PhD thesis, Sarah Dixon contributes an important and comprehensive analysis of the enigmatic phrase “the testimony of Jesus” in the book of Revelation. She observes that while most scholars take “the testimony of Jesus” in Rev 1:2 as a reference to the message of the Apocalypse, many interpret the phrase differently in 1:9 and elsewhere. She demonstrates a strong grasp of current scholarship in English, German, and French, and she makes a strong argument for the minority position that “the testimony of Jesus” (μαρτυρία Ἰησοῦ) refers to the Apocalypse itself in all six occurrences in the book.
Chapter 1 introduces the study’s principal research questions and text-focused methodology and surveys how thirty scholars interpret “the testimony of Jesus” in Revelation. Dixon acknowledges that most scholars do not read “the testimony of Jesus” consistently as a reference to the Apocalypse itself, since characters within the book of Revelation are said to “have” this testimony in 12:17 and 19:10.
Chapter 2 addresses this challenge by considering internal self-references in Daniel and 1 Enoch to these books’ message or written form as a relevant backdrop for Revelation’s intratextual references to “the testimony of Jesus.” Dixon presupposes that the book of Daniel is pseudonymous, citing Collins (pp. 41–42), and follows Nickelsburg’s reconstruction of the composition and development of 1 Enoch (pp. 43–46). Dixon plausibly concludes that Revelation, Daniel, and 1 Enoch “in some way depict their own messages going out and being used by future recipients” (p. 69). Perhaps the most interesting contribution of ch. 2 is Dixon’s argument that the scroll opened by the Lamb (5:1–8:1) and eaten by John (10:1–10) should be identified as the Apocalypse itself (pp. 62–63).
Chapters 3–6 analyze the meaning of “the testimony of Jesus” in Rev. 1:9; 12:17; 19:10; and 20:4. Surprisingly, Dixon devotes only four pages in the Introduction to “the testimony of Jesus” in 1:2, rather than offering a chapter-length exegesis of this foundational passage. In ch. 3, Dixon challenges the conventional interpretation that John was on the island of Patmos because of persecution. She draws extensively on the recent study by Ian Boxall (Patmos in the Reception History of the Apocalypse [Oxford: OUP, 2013]), citing Boxall’s work in 20 of the 45 footnotes in ch. 3. She claims that there is scant evidence for the tradition of John’s exile. Rather, Revelation is silent on why John traveled to the island, and the seer reflecting back on his experience presents his reception of the vision from Christ as the true divinely-ordained reason (pp. 82–83). She claims that John’s self-description as a sharer in tribulation (θλῖψις) in 1:9 refers generally to various troubles experienced by all believers and does not support the persecution hypothesis (pp. 73–75). While Dixon’s argument should receive careful consideration, I am more persuaded by Craig Koester’s explanation that John “was relegated to Patmos by the provincial authorities” (Revelation, AB 38A [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014], 243; see my review in Them 40.1: 124–26). In my judgment, Dixon’s exegesis is most convincing in ch. 5, which considers the two references to “the testimony of Jesus” in Rev. 19:10.
Chapter 7 considers “the testimony of Jesus” alongside the cognate terms μαρτυρία, μάρτυς, and μαρτυρέω, as well as references to “the word of God” and Revelation as a “book of prophecy.” Dixon argues that while “the testimony of Jesus” consistently refers to the Apocalypse, the related expressions “the testimony which they had” (6:9) and “the word of their testimony” (12:11) are general references to “faithful living” (p. 130; cf. p. 127). She concludes that in 1:2 and 1:9 “the word of God” and “the testimony of Jesus” are mutually explanatory designations for the book of Revelation, but she posits that “the word of God” in 6:9 and 20:4 retains its “original” meaning as divine revelation via the prophets (pp. 141–42). In my judgment, Dixon’s inconsistent treatment of “the word of God” and “testimony” weakens her overall case for a consistent reading of “the testimony of Jesus” as an internal self-reference for the Apocalypse.
Chapter 8 concludes the study by summarizing the key findings and asserting that a consistent interpretation of “the testimony of Jesus” as a reference to the Apocalypse itself serves John’s rhetorical aim of instructing and encouraging readers to heed the book’s trustworthy message in light of their coming vindication. Dixon’s monograph is a welcome contribution to Revelation studies and should prompt fruitful discussion over the book’s self-presentation as the testimony of Jesus and true word of God.