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The date of the Apostle John's death seems to typically be put at around AD 100. However, the accounts I've found only attribute this to 'tradition'.

For example, this article How did the apostle John die? says

"tradition gives us a few theories [...] He died as an old man sometime after AD 98[.]"

This article references Foxe's Book of Martyrs. However, that book only says

"Domitian afterwards banished him to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation. Nerva, the successor of Domitian, recalled him."

It seems the date of AD 98 given in the first article depends upon the idea that John was banished by Domitian and recalled by Nerva (who died in AD 98), which simply kicks the question down the line - how do we know those claims are true?

So, what are the original sources for the belief that the Apostle John died around AD 100?

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The early testimony of Irenaeus

Irenaeus of Lyons explicitly tells us that John was still living at the time of Emperor Trajan's accession (AD 98):

[T]he Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles. (Against Heresies 3.3.4)

And he [John] remained among them up to the times of Trajan (Against Heresies 2.22.5)

Irenaeus was a pupil of Polycarp who was a disciple of John. Furthermore, Irenaeus grew up in early 2nd century Asia Minor, in a world saturated with John’s influence. He also studied the works of Papias (another disciple of John). Irenaeus is in an extraordinarily good position to know what he's talking about here.

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Other writers

Ignatius. Ignatius gives us a useful upper bound. Writing in approx. AD 107 he addressed the Ephesians and made no reference to John (his mentor!), even though he did make specific reference to other less-prominent leaders in his epistles. This is inconceivable if John is still there.

Clement of Alexandria speaks of John's return from Exile after the death of the tyrant who banished him (the tyrant is unnamed but has often been understood to be Domitian (died AD 96) based on the later writings of Eusebius and others (see What Rich Man can be Saved?).

Eusebius puts John in Ephesus during the reign of Nerva (AD 96-98)

  1. But after Domitian had reigned fifteen years, and Nerva had succeeded to the empire, the Roman Senate, according to the writers that record the history of those days, voted that Domitian's honors should be cancelled, and that those who had been unjustly banished should return to their homes and have their property restored to them.

  2. It was at this time that the apostle John returned from his banishment in the island and took up his abode at Ephesus, according to an ancient Christian tradition. (HE 3.20.10-11)

Jerome puts John's death during Trajan's reign (AD 98-117):

But Domitian having been put to death and his acts, on account of his excessive cruelty, having been annulled by the senate, he [John] returned to Ephesus under Pertinax and continuing there until the time of the Emperor Trajan, founded and built churches throughout all Asia, and, worn out by old age, died in the sixty-eighth year after our Lord's passion and was buried near the same city. (De Viris Illustribus ch. ix)

The 68th year after the Lord's passion is insufficiently precise to determine an exact year (inclusive vs. exclusive counting, crucifixion in 30 vs. 33 vs. another year), but it does get us to the late 90's or early 100's.

Papias. Some have attributed to Papias the idea that John died a martyr's death around the same time as his brother James (died ~AD 42-44). This argument is untenable. Although the writings of Papias have been lost, Irenaeus had read Papias and Irenaeus clearly knew that John did not die in the 40s. Furthermore, Papias knew John personally (see Irenaeus Against Heresies 5.33.4), and Papias wasn't born until years after the death of James.

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History or tradition

The OP made reference to tradition, and I believe it would be helpful to share an observation I've made many times in the study of Greco-Roman history. When a well-documented non-Christian historian recorded something from this period, it's usually called history. When a well-documented Christian historian recorded something from this period, it's usually called tradition. This inconsistent nomenclature in academia is both misleading and unhelpful.

Men like Papias, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Eusebius were theologians yes, but historians as well. Some are uncomfortable granting them "historian" status because they make supernatural claims. Here again an inconsistency among modern historians is laid bare: with the exception of Thucydides all of the major Greco-Roman historians make supernatural claims.

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Death or translation

Over the years many have held the view that John never died. My own faith teaches this view. This is one of the common interpretations of John 21:22-23.

It is noteworthy that our most important source, Irenaeus, in fact says nothing about John's death, but merely speaks of him staying with the saints of Ephesus until a certain time.

It is possible to read everything in this post and assume that John died around AD 100; it is also possible to read everything in this post and assume that John's public ministry closed around AD 100 but that he did not die.

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Conclusion

We do not need to appeal to symbolic interpretation of Revelation to adduce the year AD 98; Irenaeus gives us the information explicitly. There are indeed many who have interpreted the kings/rulers/kingdoms of Revelation to indicate that Domitian was the present-day ruler when Revelation was written...but others have had no difficulty interpreting Revelation to say that Nero or Vespasian was emperor at the time, not Domitian.

Neither need we appeal to anonymous tradition--we have a very well-placed source in Irenaeus, who indicates John was still living in AD 98. This statement by Irenaeus is corroborated repeatedly by other historians.

We are not given the year 100 explicitly; it is a useful number to round to. John's ministry ended between AD 98 (Trajan's accession) and the writing of the epistles of Ignatius (~AD 107).

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    Given the dates of the writers, my guess is that the evidence relies on Irenaeus here, but who knows if there was some other source(s) now lost. Re John never dying, does that view also use Matthew 16:28 ("Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.") in support of the idea John is still alive? – One God the Father Jun 28 at 5:02
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    @OneGodtheFather agree that writers as late as Jerome are just repeating what earlier writers had said, and Eusebius is quoting Irenaeus + somebody else (maybe Hegesippus?). Clement's info is likely independent of Irenaeus. It's nice when Irenaeus and Clement - contemporaries at opposite sides of the empire - agree on something, that's pretty good historical attestation. But what's left of Clement's writings is a touch vague on this topic. – Hold To The Rod Jun 28 at 6:12
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    @OneGodtheFather yes, I've often seen Matt 16:28 and the parallel passages interpreted as references to John never dying. It's a straightforward (and controversial!) non-Preterist interpretation. I would have to acknowledge that from the New Testament alone this interpretation is viable but not obvious. The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine & Covenants are both explicit that John didn't die, which naturally inclines me to this particular interpretation of Matt 16:28. – Hold To The Rod Jun 28 at 6:20
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    "Clement's info is likely independent of Irenaeus. It's nice when Irenaeus and Clement - contemporaries at opposite sides of the empire" Why do you think they are likely independent - just geography? Although technically contemporaries, they were staggered - Against Heresies in 180, Clement's major works 15-20+ years later. – One God the Father Jun 28 at 14:23
  • "Some have attributed to Papias the idea that John died a martyr's death around the same time as his brother James" Are you referring to an interpretation of a fragment of Papias' writing still extant, or a reference to something Papias wrote we no longer have a copy of? If the latter, do you know who was referencing it? – One God the Father Jun 28 at 17:29
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The Book of Revelation, whose very text explicitly states that it was written or dictated by John (1:1, 1:4, 1:9, 22:6, 22:8), and which, despite various doubts concerning its authorship, became very popular in early Christianity, only to be later added or accepted (in)to the Christian New Testament canon, makes mention, in its seventeenth chapter, of seven kings, and of ten kings, both groups being easily identifiable as the first ten Roman Emperors, when counting from Caesar (as opposed to Augustus), and taking into account the year of the four emperors. However, please note the ambiguity inherent in the double reckoning, both counting and excluding the three short-lived ones, mentioned earlier. Now, the tenth Roman Emperor not including the latter trio is either Nerva (whose reign ended in AD 98) or Trajan (whose reign started in the same year), depending on whether one's reckoning starts either with Caesar or Augustus, as previously mentioned. This fits in quite well with the Apostle's alleged longevity, alluded to in the Gospel attributed to him (John 21:23).

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    Titus, who laid waste to Jerusalem and its Temple, is the tenth when including the three, and the seventh when excluding them. – Lucian Jun 24 at 0:29
  • Can you say more about the reasoning for or against not including the latter trio in the counting? – One God the Father Jun 24 at 4:27
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    @OneGodtheFather: See the above-linked answer's lengthy comment section. – Lucian Jun 24 at 6:58

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