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John 20:28: Jesus or Domitian is Lord and God? Part 1

“[The] origins [of Thomas’ words] are most likely to be found in the political arena and the address “Our Lord and God” may reflect the edict of Domitian, who insisted that he be called Dominus et Deus Noster (“Our Lord and God”).”[1]

“The Roman emperor Domitian (a.d. 81–96) in particular, during whose tenure the Fourth Gospel most likely was written, wished to be addressed as dominus et deus noster, “our Lord and God” (Suetonius, Domitian 13.2). Hence, the present reference may on a secondary level be designed to counter Roman emperor worship”[2]

The purpose of this post will be to merely start raising a few questions around the relevance of references to Domitian when assessing Thomas’ words “My Lord and my God”. My focus in this post will be only on the Jewish background, and not on how they were interpreted at the time of Domitian.

Broadly speaking, two approaches that must be considered when referencing Domitian in discussions of John 20:28:

1. Thomas’ words as recorded in the Bible were spoken by him. The primary interpretive focus ought therefore to be on what they meant to Thomas and his immediate audience. The reason for recording them in the Gospel of John is also important, as is the way they were understood by John’s audience but these are secondary considerations.

2. Thomas’ words as recorded in the Bible were attributed to Thomas by a later author whether John or a Johannine community/redactor. This was in an attempt to counter references to Domitian with similar words.