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Notes on Revelation

'...I saw under the altar the souls of them
that were slain for the word of God...'

"This odd image should be understood in the light of rabbinic literature. According to a work attributed to the second century Rabbi Natan HaBavli, 'Hakadosh [the Holy One], blessed be he, took the soul of Moses and stored it under the Throne of Glory...Not only the soul of Moses is stored under the Throne of Glory, but the souls of the righteous are also stored there.'"

(Jewish New Testament Commentary, David Stern)

The Talmud [states] "Whoever is buried in the land of Israel, is as if he were buried under the altar" (Ber. Rabba.)...[T]he desire of the fathers [was] to be buried within the sacred soil...[because] those who lay there were to be the first "to walk before the Lord in the land of the living" (Psa 116:9), the first to rise from the dead and to enjoy the days of the Messiah.

(Sketches of Jewish Social Life, Alfred Edersheim)

And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

The Jewish schools dispose of the souls of Jews under a threefold phrase, I can hardly say under a threefold state:--

I. In the garden of Eden, or Paradise. Amongst those many instances that might be alleged, even to nauseousness, let us take one wherein this very Abraham is named:

"'He shall be as a tree planted by the rivers of waters.' This is Abraham, whom God took and planted in the land of Israel; or, whom God took and planted in Paradise." Take one instance more of one of equal fame and piety, and that was Moses: "When our master Moses departed into Paradise, he said unto Joshua, 'If thou hast any doubt upon thee about any thing, inquire now of me concerning it.'"

II. Under the throne of glory. We have a long story in Avoth R. Nathan of the angel of death being sent by God to take away the soul of Moses; which when he could not do, "God taketh hold of him himself, and treasureth him up under the throne of glory." And a little after; "Nor is Moses' soul only placed under the throne of glory; but the souls of other just persons also are reposited under the throne of glory."

Moses, in the words quoted before, is in Paradise; in these words, he is under the throne of glory. In another place, "he is in heaven ministering before God." So that under different phrases is the same thing expressed; and this, however, is made evident, that there the garden of Eden was not to be understood of an earthly, but a heavenly paradise. That in Revelation 6:9, of 'souls crying under the altar,' comes pretty near this phrase, of being placed under the throne of glory. For the Jews conceived of the altar as the throne of the Divine Majesty; and for that reason the court of the Sanhedrim was placed so near the altar, that they might be filled with the reverence of the Divine Majesty so near them, while they were giving judgment. Only, whereas there is mention of the souls of the martyrs that had poured out their blood for God, it is an allusion to the blood of the sacrifices that were wont to be poured out at the foot of the altar.

III. In Abraham's bosom:

(A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, John Lightfoot)


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