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Rev. xii. 11: ‘They loved not their life unto death.'
The deaths by martyrdom of the Apostles Peter and Paul at Rome towards the close of Nero's reign are among the facts of first-century Christian history which may in these days be regarded as practically outside controversy. The evidence of the letter of the Church of Rome to the Church of Corinth written by Clement,300300Clement, 1 Cor. v. 6; supra, p. 47. a first-century document of the most authentic character, even if it stood alone, could not seriously be challenged. ‘Let us take the noble examples of our own days. Through jealousy and envy the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the Church] were persecuted and contended unto death. Let us take before our eyes the good Apostles. Peter, who through unjust jealousy endured not one, or two, but many toils, and having thus borne witness went to the place of glory that was his due. Through jealousy and strife Paul showed [how to obtain] the prize of endurance. . . . To these men of holy life was gathered together a great multitude of the elect, who having through jealousy suffered many insults and tortures became very splendid examples amongst us.' The instances mentioned here, Peter, Paul, and the great multitude, cannot be separated. If language means anything, it means here that these several examples of brave and patient witness unto death took place ‘amongst us,' i.e. recently and at Rome.
That the Church of Corinth to whom it was addressed thus interpreted the passage in the latter half of the second century appears from the letter of Dionysius bishop of Corinth to Soter bishop of Rome written before 1174 A.D., in which the statement appears ‘Both alike [Peter and Paul], having taught together in Italy, suffered martyrdom about the same time.' And when we learn from this same Dionysius that it had been the custom at Corinth to read Clement's Epistle in the Church on the Lord's Day from the earliest times, it may be assumed that the tradition of events, which, at the date when Clement's epistle was first received at Corinth, must still have been fresh in men's memories, had been handed down continuously.301301Eus. Hist. Eccl. ii. 25; iv. 23: ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ τὴν Ἰταλίαν ὁμόσε ειδάξαντες, ἐμαρτύρησαν κατὰ τὸν αὐτὸν καιρόν.
Both these passages have been preserved by Eusebius and in the same chapter of his ‘Ecclesiastical History' in which the first Dionysian extract is found, Caius, a Roman presbyter, who lived in the days of Pope Zephyrinus (198–217), is quoted as saying ‘I can show you the trophies—i.e. the Memoriae or chapel-tombs—of the Apostles. For if you will go to the Vatican or to the Ostian Way, you will find there the trophies of those who founded the Church'—the apostles throughout this chapter being Peter and Paul. Irenaeus, an Oriental by birth, in his youth the disciple of Polycarp, in later life bishop of Lyons, spent some time in Rome about 170 A.D.; he was thus in a special way a representative man both of Eastern and Western Christianity, and he speaks of the ‘Church at Rome, founded and established by the two most glorious Apostles Peter and Paul, as being the greatest, the most ancient and well known to all.'302302Irenaeus, adv. Haer. iii. 3. 2: ‘Sed quoniam valde longum est in hoc tali volumine omnium Ecclesiarum numerare successiones, maximae et antiquissimae et omnibus cognitae, a gloriosissimis duobus apostolis Petro et Paulo Romae fundatae et constitutae Ecclesiae, eam quam habet ab apostolis traditionem et annuntiatam hominibus fidem, per successiones episcoporum pervenientem usque ad nos indicantes, confundimus omnes eos, qui quoquo mode, vel per sibi placenta, vel per vanam gloriam, vel per caecitatem et malam sententiam praeter quam oportet, colligunt.' And again ‘to this Church, on account of its more especial eminence, all other Churches must gather,' and he only spoke the truth, for as a recent writer (Rev. C. H. Turner) quoting this passage has stated, ‘in the next generation' i.e. after the Apostles—‘we might say all the Churches of the Empire “made rendezvous” at Rome.'303303C. H. Turner, Studies in Early Church History, p. 222. And why? Not because it was the political capital, but because Peter and Paul there gained the crown of martyrdom, and because at Rome their hallowed remains at the Vatican and on the Ostian Way were piously preserved and held in reverence. The authority of the Church of Rome during the early centuries of Christianity obtained a general recognition accorded to no other Church, not because Rome contained the palace of the Caesars, who persecuted the faith, but because it was acknowledged everywhere and always that the Church of Rome had the distinction of having been founded by St. Peter and St. Paul and that it guarded the tombs of these ‘two most glorious Apostles.'304304Iren. adv. Haer. ‘Ad hanc enim Ecclesiam propter potiorem principalitatem necesse est omnem convenire ecclesiam, hoc est, eos qui sunt undique fideles, in qua semper ab his, qui sunt undique, conservata est ea, quae est ab apostolis traditio.' On the universal acceptance by all Churches of the martyrdom of the Apostles Peter and Paul at Rome, see P. Martin, Revue des Questions historiques, xiii. pp. 31 ff.
Many legends gathered round the deaths of the two Apostles, but the ‘Acts' in which they have been preserved are of late date and mainly pure fiction,305305Richard A. Lipsius, Die Apokryphen Apostelgeschichten and Apostellegenden, 2er Band, 1e Hälfte. except in their topographical references, which the archaeological researches of De Rossi, Lanciani, Marucchi and others in recent years have shown to be generally correct. In one important point the tradition embodied in these Acts, that the martyrdom of Peter and Paul took place on the same day, i.e. June 29, 67 A.D.—a tradition which for centuries was universally accepted as historical—is almost certainly wrong. Considerable obscurity must always surround the actual date and manner of their death, but the only contemporary evidence we possess seems to testify clearly to an interval of time separating the two martyrdoms.
The passage of St. Clement (already quoted) mentions the examples of St. Peter
and St. Paul in two distinct paragraphs, without any hint that they suffered together;
indeed the words about St. Paul—‘when he had borne his witness before
the rulers, so he departed out of this world' —by the use of the singular ‘he'
imply that the witness-bearer—the martyr—stood alone.306306A. Harnack, Altchristl. Lit. 2er Theil, 1er Band, pp. 549–60. See Chase's admirable
article on St. Peter in Hastings's Dict. of the Bible; 1 Clem. v: καὶ μαρτυρήσαςm ἐπὶ
τῶν ἡγουμένων οὕτως ἀπηλλάγη τοῦ κόσμου. To this may be added the
silence of the Second Epistle to Timothy as to the presence of St. Peter at Rome
during the time of St. Paul's last imprisonment and trial. The evidence from silence
is always a very treacherous argument to rely upon, but in this case it would indeed
be strange, if St. Peter had been tried and condemned simultaneously with St. Paul,
that the latter should not have referred in any way to his brother Apostle's presence.
As to the manner of their death Tertullian (A.D. 200) writes: ‘We read in the
lives of the Caesars that Nero was the first who stained with blood the rising faith.
Then is Peter girt by another, when he is made fast to the Cross. Then does Paul
obtain his birthright of Roman citizenship, when in Rome he is born again ennobled
by martyrdom.' The language of the African Father here shows plainly that he is
referring to the undoubted first-century testimony to St. Peter's death by crucifixion
from the last chapter of the Fourth Gospel.307307Tert. Scorp. 15. See also Praescript. 36: ‘Ista quam felix ecclesia . . .
ubi Petrus passioni dominicae adaequatur'; Adv. Marc. iv. 5; John xxi. 18, 19:
‘Verily, verily I say unto thee, when thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself,
and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old thou shalt stretch
forth thy hands and another shall gird thee and carry thee whither thou wouldest
not. Now this he spake signifying by what manner of death he should glorify God.'
Comp. xiii. 36. Seneca (Cons. ad Marciam, 20) writes of those crucified ‘brachia
patibulo explicuerunt.' The tradition that St. Peter at his own request was crucified
head-downwards was first mentioned by Origen, ἀνεσκολοπίσθη κατὰ κεφαλῆς (Op.
ii. 24 de la Rue), in his Commentary on Genesis to which Eusebius refers (Hist.
Eccl. iii. 1). This shows that the tradition was known early in the third century,
and the letter of Seneca quoted above is evidence that such a method of execution
was not unknown in Rome, for he writes: ‘Video istic cruces non unius quidem generis,
sed aliter ab aliis fabricatas; capite quidem conversos in terrain suspendere.'
It is impossible to say whether this tradition of the mode of St. Peter's death
be true, on the whole it is improbable. Dionysius of Corinth,
as we have seen, merely states that both Apostles suffered about the
same time. The very early Judaeo-Christian Apocalypse, ‘The Ascension of Isaiah'308308Ascension of Isaiah, Charles, pp. 25 and 95, iv. 2, 3: ‘A lawless king, the
slayer of his mother: who himself, even this king, will persecute the plant which
the Twelve Apostles of the Beloved have planted. Of the Twelve one will be delivered
into his hands.' Comp. τὴν φυτείαν ἢν φυτεύσουσιν
οἱ δώδεκα ἀπόστολοι and
the words of the letter of Dionysius of Corinth, τὴν ἀπὸ Πέτρου καὶ Παύλου φυτείαν
γενηθεῖσαν Ῥωμαίων τε καὶ Κορινθίων. Eus. Hist. Eccl. ii. 25. In the Ascension
of Isaiah St. Paul is not reckoned among the Twelve.
(79–80 A.D.), seems to have a clear reference to St. Peter's death at the hands
of Nero, but no allusion to that of St. Paul. The Liberian Catalogue, 354 A.D.,
is the first document in which the death of the Apostles on the same day is mentioned,
and from the Liberian Catalogue the ‘Liber Pontificalis' adopted it, and June 29
was henceforth regarded as the common anniversary of the martyrdom of the two Apostles.
The origin of this mistake is however revealed by certain entries in authentic lists
of the feasts of martyrs annually celebrated in the Church belonging to the second
half of the fourth century, from which it appears that in the year 258 A.D., owing
to the outbreak of the Valerian persecution, the relics of the two Apostles were
taken from their resting-places at the Vatican and on the Ostian Way and deposited
for safety in a cemetery on the Appian Way known as the Catacombs. The translation
took place on June 29, and when afterwards the relics were again restored to their
original tombs, a hymn of St. Ambrose tells us that henceforth on that clay there
were three feasts kept at Rome: one at the Vatican, a second on the Ostian Way,
a third at the Catacombs.309309 On the Liberian Catalogue, its sources and its relation to the Liber Pontificalis,
see Duchesne's great edition of the Liber Pontificalis; Light-foot's excursus on
the early Roman succession in his Apostolic Fathers (St. Clement of Rome), part
I. vol. i. 201–345; Harnack, Chron. der Altchristl. Literatur, vol. i: ‘Die ältesten
Bischofslisten,' 79–230; also the chapter ‘The Western Church' in Turner's Studies
in Early Church History, 1912. The burial and tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul
and the translation of their bodies for a time to the Catacombs are the subject
of a special Note, Note E, Appendix. The fact of the date of the translation and
of the triple feast being on June 29 will be found in Duchesne, pp. civ–cvii; also
in Barnes, St. Peter in Rome, pp. 107 ff. In the Hieronymian Martyrology (in a
Codex discovered by De Rossi at Berne) the following entry occurs: ‘III Kal. iul.
Romae, natale sanctorum Petri et Pauli: Petri in Vaticano, via Aurelia; Pauli
vero in via Ostensi; utriusque in Catacumbas; passi sub Nerone, Basso et Tusco
Consulibus.' The words passi sub Nerone must be regarded as in a parenthesis, the
date of the consulship of Bassus and Tuscus is 258 A.D. A somewhat earlier and more
abbreviated entry is found in the so-called Feriale Philocalianum (335–354 A.D.,
Duchesne). The title of the document is Depositio Martyrum, and we find ‘III. Kal.
iul. Petri in Catacumbas et Pauli Ostense Basso et Tusco Consulibus.' A hymn attributed
to St. Ambrose (Daniel, Thesaurus hymnologicus, Halle, 1841, No. 71) has this verse:
‘Tantae per urbis ambitum
Stipata tendunt agmina,
Trinis celebrator viis
Festum sacrorum Martyrum.
This hymn was written for the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul on June 29. The ‘trinis viis' signifies the Aurelian, the Ostian, and the Appian Ways. From the beginning of the fourth century then the belief that the Apostles suffered together in 67 A.D. on the same day became general, though a passage in one of the poems of Prudentius written quite early in that century is a proof that with the acceptance of June 29 as the anniversary of both Apostles, a tradition remained of their martyrdoms having taken place in different years. Prudentius says310310 Prudentius, Περιστεφανων, hymn xii. ‘Prima Petrum rapuit sententia legibus Neronis, Pendere iussum praeminente ligno.
* * * * * * * * Ut teres orbis iter flexi rota percucurrit anni Diemque eundem sol reduxit ortus, Evomit in iugulum Pauli Nero fervidum furorem, Iubet feriri gentium magistrum.'
St. Augustine (Sermons, 296–7) held a similar opinion. that St. Peter died exactly a year before St. Paul. It was the influence of St. Jerome more than any other cause that led to the universal adoption in the Western Church of the fourteenth year of Nero as the date of St. Peter's death, his account of that Apostle in the ‘De Viris Illustribus ‘being the basis of the notice of St. Peter which appears in the ‘Liber Pontificalis.'311311 Duchesne, Lib. Pont. vol. i. p. 119: ‘Ce d'but, de même que plusieurs autres parties de la notice, étant emprunté au De Viris de Saint-Jérôme.' C. H. Turner in his chapter on St. Cyprian's correspondence in Studies in Early Church History, p. 101, writes; ‘The older critics, following St. Jerome's statement (De Viris, lxvii.) that Cyprian suffered ‘eodem die quo Romae Cornelius sed non eodem anno,” naturally placed Cornelius with Cyprian on September 14. But we know from the Liberian Catalogue that Cornelius died at Centumcellae, and September 14 was perhaps the day of the translation of his remains to Rome.' Hence it appears how easily these confusions of dates may have arisen through the commemoration of a depositio. The passages of St. Jerome bearing upon the date are:
(1) ‘Simon Petrus . . . Romam pergit, ibique viginti quinque annis cathedram sacerdotalem tenuit usque ad ultimum Neronis annum, id est, quartum decimum' (c. i.).
(2) ‘Paulus Apostolus . . . quarto decimo anno Neronis eodem die quo Petrus, Romae pro Christo capite truncatur . . . anno post passionem Domini XXXVII' (c. v.).
(3) ‘Hic [Lucius Annaeus Seneca] ante biennium quam Petrus et Paulus martyrio coronarentur, a Nerone interfectus est' (c. xii.). Seneca was put to death end of April, 65. A.D.
The internal evidence of St. Peter's first Epistle shows that he survived the Vatican fete and that the extension of the persecution to the provinces was the chief cause of his writing. It follows therefore that he must have been in concealment during the climax of the Neronian attack upon the Roman Christians. Now among the legends which have grown up around the death of St. Peter there is a very beautiful one, which may possibly have an historical foundation, I mean the well-known Quo Vadis? story. His friends, so runs the story, had entreated the Apostle to save his life by leaving the city. Peter at last consented, but on condition that he should go away alone. ‘But when he wished to pass the gate of the city, he saw Christ meeting him. Falling down in adoration he says to Him “Lord, whither goest Thou?” And Christ replied to him “I am coming to Rome to be again crucified.” And Peter says to Him “Lord, wilt Thou again be crucified?” And the Lord said to him “Even so, I will again be crucified.” Peter said to Him “Lord, I will return and will follow Thee.” And with these words the Lord ascended into Heaven . . . And Peter, afterwards corning to himself, understood that it was of his own passion that it had been spoken, because that in it the Lord would suffer.' The Apostle then returned with joy to meet the death which the Lord had signified that he should die. Now the mere existence of this ancient tradition would indicate that the crucifixion of Peter took place while the persecution was still active, i.e. some time in the summer of 65 A.D.312312Lipsius, Die Apokryphen Apostelgeschichten.and Apostellegenden, 2er Band, 1e Hälfte, p. 318. The following extract is from the Passio Petri by pseudo-Linus: ‘Ut autem portam civitatis voluit egredi, vidit sibi Christum occurrere. Et adorans eum ait: “Domine, quo vadis?” Respondit ei Christus: “Romam venio iterum crucifigi.” Et ait ad eum Petrus: “Domine, iterum crucifigeris?” Et dixit ad eum dominus: “Etiam, iterum crucifigar.” Petrus autem dixit: “Domine, revertar et sequar te.” Et his dictis dominus ascendit in coelum . . . Et [Petrus] post haec rediens in se ipsum, intellexit de sua dictum passione.' Compare St. John, xiii. 36, 37: ‘Dicit ei Simon Petrus: Domine, quo vadis? Respondit Iesus: Quo ego vado, non potes me mode sequi: sequeris autem postea. Dicit ei Petrus: Quare non possum te sequi modo? animam meam pro te ponam.' Wordsworth's edition of the Vulgate.
That it contains a story that is authentic in the sense of being based on events that really occurred is not improbable. The Peter described here is the Peter of the Gospels—brave, loving, but in critical moments irresolute. The persuasions of friends may have induced him to seek safety in flight, but no sooner is he on his way than his conscience reproves him. He who had just written to the persecuted disciples in Asia ‘if any man suffer as a Christian let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf,'3133131 Pet. iv. 16; also see ii. 19-21, iii. 14-18. must have felt that he was again denying his Master, and, as in the High Priest's palace, once more did the Lord look upon Peter. The vision came to him now, as in former days the vision on the roof of the tanner's house at Joppa, as perhaps overwrought with fatigue he had flung himself on the ground to rest. There is a passage in St. John's Gospel which seems to me to support the historicity of the Quo Vadis? tradition.314314If, on the other hand, the Quo Vadis? story were a pure invention of a later age, then the original romancer must have based it on the two passages St. John, xiii. 36, 37, and Hebrews, vi. 6, taken with St. John, xxi. 15-23. It was after the Supper on the last night of the Lord's earthly life, when (according to St. John) ‘Simon Peter said unto Him, Lord, whither goest Thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now, but thou shalt follow Me afterwards. Peter saith unto Him, Lord, why cannot I follow Thee now? I will lay down my life for Thy sake.' Two questions at once come into the mind: (1) Was the echo of those words haunting Peter's memory when he saw the vision? (2) Did his knowledge of the cause of Peter's voluntary return to death move the Fourth Evangelist to insert those verses in his narrative? Possibly both should be answered in the affirmative.
Before leaving the subject of the Quo Vadis? tradition I should like to point out that the remarkable language of Hebrews vi. 6, if it were possible to regard it as suggested by the words of the Lord to Peter, I am coming to Rome to be crucified again, acquires a living force and becomes full of meaning as a reference to an event fresh in the minds of the readers. The writer of Hebrews was acquainted with 1st Peter, and if, as I venture for the moment to assume, this Epistle was addressed to the Jewish Christians in Rome about a year or a year and a half after St. Peter's death then the solemn words in which those who in times of persecution shall fall away were warned that it was impossible to renew them again to repentance—‘seeing that (by such an act of apostasy) they crucify the Son of God afresh and put him to an open shame'—recalling, as they did, the very words which had caused Peter to turn back and welcome martyrdom, would strike home to the hearts and consciences of any waverers that heard them. For the Quo Vadis? story, if in any sense historical, must have been widely known from the first.
Having made this reference to the Epistle to the Hebrews let us now turn to the consideration of the problems that it presents.
The internal evidence tells us that this epistle was sent to a Church containing a considerable body of Jewish Christians, who though they spoke Greek and used the LXX. version, were accustomed to style themselves ‘Hebrews.' They had been exposed to a severe persecution, ‘having endured a great conflict of sufferings, being made a gazing-stock both by reproaches and afflictions'—a conflict in which certain persons had apostatised.315315Heb. x. 32, 33, comp. vi. 6, x. 39, 15-25. Further it would appear that persecution had not ceased, but that some were still in bonds.316316Heb. xiii. 3. Among those who had suffered were leaders, who had set an example to be followed.317317Heb. xiii. 7. The place of martyrdom is plainly indicated as lying outside the city walls.318318Heb. xiii. 12, 13. Those who would be the readers of the Epistle had not yet themselves resisted unto blood, but they needed encouragement to persevere, and as a deterrent to the weak-kneed and faint-hearted the terrible judgments of God against apostasy are painted in the sternest colours.319319Heb. xii., the whole chapter. Now all this applies to the Judaeo-Christian community of Rome in the year 66 A.D.
That there was such a body of Judaeo-Christians at Rome and that the writer of this Epistle should address them as Hebrews, there is a sufficiency of evidence, apart from that furnished by the document itself. In the Epistle to the Philippians, which was written at Rome some four years before the Epistle to the Hebrews, St. Paul makes mention of a party among the Christians there, who ‘preach Christ of envy and strife, of contention and not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds.' And in this same epistle he warns the Philippians ‘Beware of dogs, beware of the concision, for we are the circumcision which worship God in the spirit,' and then proceeds ‘if any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more. Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, an Hebrew of the Hebrews.' We may gather from this that the party who tried to add affliction to the Apostle's bonds ‘of envy, strife, and contention,' were the party that held that circumcision was binding on Christians, and who styled themselves Hebrews.320320Phil. i. 13, 14, iii. 2-5. The very words St. Paul uses of these opponents at Rome, διὰ φθόνον καὶ ἔριν, are the words used by Clement of the causes which led to St. Peter's death, διὰ ζῆλος καὶ φθόνον, and to St. Paul's διὰ ζῆλος καὶ ἔριν. Of this extreme Jewish party, who were Jews first and Christians afterwards, some under the stress of persecution seem to have apostatised, probably by reverting to Judaism and seeking protection under its privilege. Moreover in an extant inscription one of the Jewish congregations at Rome is described as the synagogue of the Hebrews.321321Corp. Inscr. Graec. 9909, see Garrucci's Cimitero degli antichi Ebrei, p. 39. This synagogue doubtless belonged to a small isolated settlement of Jews, which had only one place of worship; it therefore had no distinctive name, but was known simply as the synagogue of the Hebrews. And Professor Lanciani writes ‘the whole district outside the Porta Portese has retained its connexion with the Ghetto of Ancient Rome up to our own days, being called Ortaccio degli Ebrei, just as in bygone times it bore the name of Campus Iudaeorum or Contrata Hebreorum.322322Lanciani, New Tales of Old Rome, p. 248. The love of the Hellenist Jews of the Dispersion, living as strangers and sojourners in a foreign land, for the name of Hebrews was probably due to the desire to emphasise the fact that they were the heirs of the promises made to Abraham who ‘by faith sojourned in the land of promise as a stranger' (Heb. xi. 9). Corp. Inscr. Graec. 9922 is a striking proof that the Roman Jews called themselves ‘Hebrews': Ἀλῦπις Τιβεριεὺς καὶ οἱ αὐτοῦ, Ἰοῦστος καὶ Ἀλῦπις, Ἐβρẽοι, μετὰ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῶν ὧδε κῖντε.
The external evidence that the Epistle to the Hebrews was addressed to Roman Christians is circumstantially strong and convincing. It was so familiar to Clement of Rome that in his own epistle to the Church of Corinth he incorporates its phrases and its ideas freely, but without mentioning the writer's name. This proves that Hebrews was well known in Rome during the last half of the first century and that it had for Clement an attraction which may reasonably be attributed to an acquaintance with and respect for the author. The extent of Clement's indebtedness may be gathered from the fact that at a later time the actual authorship of Hebrews, despite the great dissimilarity of style, was ascribed at him.323323Origen, Hom. in Hebr. quoted by Eus. Hist. Eccl. vi. 25; Philastrius, de Haeres. 89; Jerome, de Viris Illustribus, 15. Others suggest that Clement was the translator into Greek of an Epistle of Paul written in Hebrew. Eus. Hist. Eccl. iii. 37. Euthalius, Migne, P.G. lxxv. 776. Again the frequency with which the anchor appears as the emblem of Christian hope, in the most ancient inscriptions found in the Catacombs, may be regarded as a testimony to a very early and wide-spread knowledge of the Epistle to the Hebrews among Roman Christians.324324Marucchi, Arch. Chrét. ii. 173. Into the whole question of patristic evidence of a later date I cannot enter here, space forbids it, but it may be stated broadly that in the middle of the second century Hebrews was accepted at Alexandria by Pantaenus and his school as an epistle of St. Paul's; that the great Alexandrian Fathers, Clement and Origen, both quote Hebrews frequently as St. Paul's, though Clement expressed doubts whether it was actually written by St. Paul, and Origen goes further and declares that the name of the writer was absolutely unknown. The same indecision and indefiniteness of opinion appear in Eusebius' ‘Ecclesiastical History' in a number of passages, and he may be taken as reflecting the general attitude of the Alexandrian and Eastern Churches at the beginning of the fourth century.325325Eus. Hist. Eccl. vi. 14, 25, 41. Origen believed the thoughts to be those of St. Paul, the actual language and argument those of a disciple. As to the authorship however he declares—τίς δὲ ὁγράψας τὴν ἐπιστολὴν τὸ μὲν ἀληθὲς θεὸς οἶδεν. Later the opinion at Alexandria that Paul himself was the author became dominant and at last accepted by all. Very different was the attitude of the Roman or Western Church during the same period. There never seems to have been the smallest doubt in Rome and the West at any time that the epistle was not Paul's. Not until the middle of the fourth century does any Western writer cite any passage from Hebrews as Pauline. Indeed, in the course of the second century a distinct line of division between canonical and uncanonical writings began to be drawn, and there seems to have been no hesitation in the Western Church in placing the Epistle to the Hebrews among the uncanonical. Irenaeus in all his works never appears to have cited the epistle, though in his ‘Treatise against Heresies' many passages would have been effective. He may be regarded as a representative man of the last quarter of the second century. Tertullian and Hippolytus, the one at the beginning, the other in the second quarter of the third century, both deny the Pauline authorship. Later still in that century neither Novatian at Rome nor Cyprian at Carthage, in their controversy about ‘the Lapsed,' ever brings forward the passage from Hebrews vi. 2-6 which bears directly upon it, nor do they make any quotations from this epistle in their writings. This affords conclusive evidence that Rome and the West, unlike Alexandria and the East, were not in two minds about this epistle: it was not Paul's and therefore not authoritative. But there is evidence to show that their knowledge was not merely negative. They were sure it was not Paul's because they were acquainted with the name of the actual writer.
Tertullian in his treatise ‘De Pudicitia' makes the following statement:326326Tertullian, De Pudicitia, 20: ‘Volo tamen ex redundantia alicuius etiam comitis apostolorum testimonium superinducere, idoneum confirmandi de proximo iure disciplinam magistrorum. Extat enim et Barnabae titulus ad Hebraeos, adeo satis auctoritatis viri, utquem Paulus iuxta se constituerit in abstinentiae tenore (1 Cor. ix. 6). Et utique receptior apud ecclesias epistola Barmabae illo apocrypho pastore moechorum.' Another and a much later witness, that in the Western Church the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews was assigned to Barnabas, is to be found in the Index Claromontanus, D. 2, a MS. of the sixth century. In the stichometrical catalogue of the books of the Old and New Testaments at the end of this codex there is no mention of the Epistle to the Hebrews. After Jude, however, and before the Apocalypse comes ‘the epistle of Barnabas,' the length of which is set down as 850 stichoi or lines, the Apocalypse as 1200. This corresponds to the length of the Epistle to the Hebrews and not to that of the epistle of the pseudo-Barnabas, which the stichometry of Nicephorus, 850 A.D., shows to be practically the same as the Apocalypse, i.e. pseudo-Barnabas, 1360 stichoi; Apocalypse, 1400. The position of the epistle in the Codex Claromontanus and the length assigned are well-nigh positive proof that the Epistle of Barnabas here signifies the Epistle to the Hebrews. ‘for there is extant [a testimony] of Barnabas with the title “To the Hebrews”—a man moreover sufficiently accredited, as one whom Paul had placed next to himself in the observance of abstinence. . . . And at any rate the Epistle of Barnabas is more received among the Churches than that apocryphal “Shepherd” of adulterers.' Then, after quoting the passage at the opening of the sixth Chapter of Hebrews, Tertullian adds ‘He who learnt this from Apostles, and taught it with Apostles, never knew of any second repentance promised to the adulterer and fornicator.' Now here it will be noticed that the great African Father is not attempting to reckon the Epistle to the Hebrews as authoritative, or to place it among the Apostolical Scriptures; he quotes the epistle as the work of a man whose credentials are simply that he was a companion and fellow-worker with Apostles. But on the question of authorship there is not a sign that he was making an assertion about which there was any doubt. He assumes that his readers were aware of it and would admit it. In fact as he is inveighing, as a Montanist, against what he regarded as ‘the lax discipline of the Church of Rome,' he would not be likely to have quoted this passage in support of his argument as written by Barnabas, unless he knew that his opponents would not impugn his assertion. It is clear then from this that the tradition of the Barnabas authorship was held without dispute not only in Provincial Africa but in the Church of Rome itself in the time of Tertullian. But if so, does not the existence of such an accepted tradition in a Church where no counter-tradition existed, except that the author of Hebrews was not St. Paul, virtually postulate its truth?
Now it is needless for me to dilate on the fact here that Barnabas was peculiarly qualified to be the writer of such a hortatory homily or dissertation as the Epistle to the Hebrews. He was at once a Cypriote Jew, brought up in close contact with Alexandrian influences and modes of thought, and a Levite by descent, who had relatives living at Jerusalem. The writer himself styles his epistle a ‘Word of Exhortation'—λόγος παρακλήσεως—a technical expression for those expositions or interpretations of Scripture which it was customary to deliver in the synagogues, and Barnabas' very name in its Greek form, υἱὸς παρακλήσεως, signifies a man gifted with powers of such exhortation. The addresses of St. Stephen to the Sanhedrin or of St. Paul at Antioch are specimens of such hortatory expositions of Scripture, and it has been noted how closely the Epistle to the Hebrews follows in many places the lines of St. Stephen's speech. The influence of St. Stephen is particularly observable in the eleventh chapter. The whole character of this Epistle is moreover exactly in accordance with what we should expect from the man who in the Acts of the Apostles is brought before us as the mediator between the two schools of Judaistic and Pauline conceptions of Christianity. His epistle, possibly written at Paul's wish and with his full approval, was sent to Rome as an eirenicon, with the aim of drawing nearer together the Hebrews and the Gentiles—the party of the circumcision and those converts who were followers of St. Paul's doctrines. His object is to show that Christianity is the historical outcome of Judaism, and that, so far from being in any way opposed, the Law, the Temple, and all the characteristic Jewish rites and ceremonies were but types and shadows of the more perfect dispensation that was to come; and that they all found their spiritual fulfilment in Christ.
It only remains to point out that the personal references in the epistle support the hypothesis of a Barnabas author-ship. The tone of authority is marked,327327Renan, L'Antéchrist, xvi–xvii: ‘I1 (l'auteur) n'en tenait pas moins un rang élevé dans l'Eglise; il parle avec autorité; il est très-respecté des frètres auxquels il écit; Timothée paraît lui être subordonné. Le seul fait d'adresser une épitre à une grande Eglise indique un homme important, un des personnages qui figurent dans 1'histoire apostolique et dont le nom est célèbre . . . L'attribution à Barnabé est la plus vraisemblable.' and has led some commentators on this ground to hold that, even if St. Paul was not the actual writer, the epistle was sent to its destination in his name. But there was one man who could write with an authority second only to that of the chief Apostles, Barnabas, and, if the destination of the epistle were Rome, from what has already been said of the connexion of Barnabas with the Roman Church328328Supra, pp. 80–2. it is certain that after St. Peter's death the words of no other leader would carry so much weight with the Judaeo-Christians there as his. From one passage we gather that the writer had not been a personal hearer of the Lord, and from the Acts it would appear that Barnabas did not become a Christian until some short time after the Great Day of Pentecost.3293292 Acts, iv. 36–7. Lastly, the writer, who had himself been in bonds, sends the news that Timothy had been released,330330Heb. x. 32, xiii. 23. and that he was hoping that he would shortly be able to pay a visit to his readers with Timothy as his companion. But according to the First Epistle to Timothy, that disciple had at Ephesus ‘confessed a good confession before many witnesses'3313311 Tim. vi. 12 and i. 3. ; this city, then, it may be safely inferred, had been the scene of Timothy's imprisonment and release. But it will be remembered that in the last lecture some reasons were given for believing that Barnabas and Timothy were the joint bearers from Rome of the Epistle to the Philippians, and that from Philippi they went on to Asia Minor.332332Supra, p. 121. If then Barnabas were the author of Hebrews, nothing would be more natural than that they should be in 66 A.D. the one in Ephesus, the other in some neighbouring town, and that Barnabas should be planning in company with Timothy to journey once again to Rome. The words ‘they of Italy salute you' are a fitting greeting, if sent to Rome by a man well known to the Christian congregations in Italy, and to whom Italian Christians sojourning in the province of Asia would resort as a proved friend and teacher: conditions which, unless tradition be altogether untrustworthy, apply pre-eminently to Barnabas and to no one else,
At the close of the year 66 A.D. or the beginning of 67 A.D. we find St. Paul again at Rome. In the interval that had elapsed since his release in the year 62 A.D., he seems first to have carried out his intention of making a missionary journey to Spain and then to have revisited the scenes of his former labours in Asia Minor and Greece. Clement in his Epistle to the Corinthians speaks of his having reached ‘the farthest bounds of the West,'333333Clement, 1 Cor. v.: ἐπὶ τὸ τέρμα τῆς δύσεως ἐλθών. In the year 66 A.D., according to Philostratus, Apollonius of Tyana being banished from Rome ‘turned westwards to the land which they say is bounded by the Pillars. He intended to see Gades and the tides of the ocean, for he heard some report of the philosophy of the men in those parts and their proficiency in religion.' In 68 or 69 A.D. he was once more in Greece. See Phillimore's Philostratus, ii. 48, 63 ff. and the Muratorian fragment on the Canon speaks of ‘the departure of Paul from the city on his journey to Spain.'334334‘Profectione Pauli ab urbe ad Spaniā proficiscentis.' The Muratorian fragment is generally supposed to be of the age of Hippolytus, if not his work. Lightfoot (Apostolic Fathers, part i. vol. ii. 405 ff) places its date towards the close of the second century. Also Zahn and Harnack. The authorities for his later travels are the Pastoral Epistles. With those travels, or with the authenticity of the Pastoral Epistles as a whole, these lectures have no necessary concern. It is enough that the autobiographical sections of the Second Epistle to Timothy should be recognised as derived from a genuine Pauline source, and this recognition is generally conceded even by some who most strenuously deny that the entire epistle as we possess it was written by Paul,335335Salmon (Int. to N.T. p. 511) writes: ‘As for the general Pauline character of these letters there cannot be a better witness than Renan, who, while continuing to assert them not to be genuine, every now and then seems staggered by the proofs of authenticity that strike him. He says in one place “Some passages of these letters are so beautiful that we cannot help asking if the forger had not in his hands some authentic notes of Paul which he has incorporated in his apocryphal composition' (L'Eglise Chrétienne, p. 95).' Of those who reject the Epistle (2 Tim.) Hausrath, Pfleiderer and Ewald recognise the sections i. 15-18, iv. 9-22 as fragments of a genuine Pauline letter. Salmon, p. 303. for it is these sections only which deal with the second imprisonment of the Apostle in Rome. At the same time I should like at this point to record my complete agreement with the conclusion of Sir William Ramsay that ‘it is far more difficult to frame any rational theory how these letters came into existence, if they are not the work of Paul, than it is to understand them as composed by him, and as completing our conception of his character'; and again, ‘regarded in the proper perspective, they [the Pastorals] are historically perhaps the most illuminative of all the Pauline epistles; and this is the best and the one sufficient proof that they are authentic compositions.'336336Ramsay, ‘Hist. Commentary on 1st Epist. to Timothy,' Expositor, Ser. vii. 7, June 1909, p. 488, and Ser. vii. 8, p. 1. Prof. Vernon Bartlett (Expositor, Ser. viii. 25, Jan. 1913, p. 29) writes: ‘When one approaches these Epistles fresh front the few pages on them in Hort's Lectures on Judaistic Christianity, and in The Christian Ecclesia, and from Sir W. M. Ramsay's recent “Historical Commentary on the Epistles to Timothy” in the Expositor, one feels the subject has been lifted to a new level of reality and that much criticism between Baur and Jülicher is simply out of date and irrelevant.'
In the Second Epistle to Timothy we find Paul at Rome in prison awaiting inevitable death in the calm consciousness of having fought the good fight and finished his course.3373372 Tim. iv. 6-8. Of what befell him on his arrival at Rome we know nothing. But his previous captivity of two years and trial would make him well known as a Christian leader, and the swarms of informers338338Henderson's Principate of Nero, p. 392. would lose no time in denouncing him to the authorities as suspect. Possibly he may have been arrested under the edict of 66 A.D. forbidding philosophers to reside in Rome, which had sent Apollonius into banishment. Clement tells us he was brought ‘before the governors,'339339Clement, 1 Cor. v.: μαρτυρήσας ἐπὶ τῶν ἡγουμένων. which, in the absence of Nero in Greece accompanied by Tigellinus, may be taken to mean the freedman Helius, to whom the government had been entrusted, and Nymphidius Sabinus, the Pretorian Prefect.340340Dion Cassius, lxiii. 12: οὕτω μὲν δὴ τότε ἡ τῶν Ῥωμαίων ἀρχὴ δύο αὐτοκράτορσιν ἅμα ἐδούλευσε, Νέρωνι καὶ Ἡλίῳ· οὐδὲ ἔχω εἰπεῖν ὁπότερος αὐτῶν χείρων ἦν. In any case, whatever the original cause of his arrest, it was as a malefactor (κακοῦργος) that he was—at the time he was writing—suffering hardship even unto bonds; in other words, he was being charged with the crimes imputed to those who bore the name of Christian.341341Comp. 1 Pet. ii. 12, iii. 16, iv. 13, 16, 19. Already he had been once before the tribunal, and bitterly does he complain that he could find no one to stand by his side and aid him in his defence, but by God's help he had been able fully to proclaim his message so that all the Gentiles might hear, and he had for the time been delivered ‘from the mouth of the lion'3423422 Tim. iv. 17: Helius—probably. and escaped immediate condemnation. But he was still in prison, his enemies were busy, and he does not anticipate any issue but death. In his captivity, however, he is feeling lonely and deserted. Of his personal friends and disciples some like Demas had openly forsaken him, others were engaged on various missions, Prisca and Aquila probably in consequence of the persecution had left Rome and were once more at Ephesus. Only the faithful Luke was with him.3433432 Tim. iv. 10-13, 19, 20. For some reason or other the Apostle appears in these last months of his life to have been under a cloud. Sadly he recalls to Timothy—‘this thou knowest, that all that are in Asia turned away from me,'3443442 Tim. i. 15. and the whole tone of the Epistle shows that the Roman Christians as a body were, if not unfriendly, at least unsympathetic. There were of course exceptions, such as Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, and Claudia, who send their salutations by him to Timothy, and well-authenticated tradition points to two of these, Pudens and Linus, as being among the foremost leaders of the Roman Church at the close of the seventh decade of our era.3453452 Tim. iv. 21. Linus is no doubt the man who appears in the episcopal lists as the first bishop of Rome after Peter. Pudens was a man of senatorial rank, who according to tradition played a considerable part in the early history of the Church in Rome. See Appendix, Note C. The whole soul of Paul however is filled with a longing desire to see once more his own beloved son Timothy before the end, and twice does he earnestly in the course of the concluding verses of this most touching and noble letter beseech him—‘do thy diligence to come shortly unto me'—‘do thy diligence to come to me before winter.'3463462 Tim. iv. 9, 21. And then the veil falls. Whether Timothy arrived in time to comfort the Apostle in the final hours of his life we shall never know. We trust it was so. All tradition says that St. Paul, as became his status as a Roman citizen, suffered martyrdom by decapitation, being led out of the city to the third milestone upon the Ostian Road, at the spot known as Aquae Salviae. The site of his tomb is now covered by the basilica which bears his name.347347See Appendix, Note E, The Tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul.
A document now claims our attention which has a closer relation to Rome and throws more light upon the feelings with which first-century Christianity regarded the World- Empire of the Caesars than any other book of the New Testament. I mean the apocalypse of St. John. The Apocalypse is full of references to historical events of which the author had quite recently been himself an eyewitness at Rome, or which were fresh in the memories of the Roman Christians with whom he had been associating, and it can be dated with great exactitude from internal evidence as having been written at the beginning of the year 70 A.D. The witness of the contents of the book itself, as will be shown, amply justifies such an assertion. There is how-ever a certain amount of external evidence, which has had much more weight than it deserves, apparently supporting a later date. I think it best to deal with this first, with the object of tracing to its source the error on which I believe it rests. The witness of Irenaeus, 180 A.D., is no doubt important, especially on the question of the authorship of the Apocalypse, for he had himself in Asia been instructed by Polycarp, who was a personal disciple of St. John. Now Irenaeus several times states that John the disciple of the Lord, whom he identifies with the author of the fourth Gospel, was the writer.348348For the question of the identity of John the Apostle the son of Zebedee, John the disciple of the Lord, who reclined on His Breast at Supper, John the author of the Epistles and the Fourth Gospel, and John the Presbyter—see the convincing arguments of Dom John Chapman, O.S.B., in his John the Presbyter and the Fourth Gospel: Clarendon Press, 1911. The vexed question of this identity only concerns us now in as far as it throws light on the passage of Irenaeus bearing upon the date, which I proceed to quote. It is commonly rendered as follows: ‘We are not bold enough to speak confidently of the name of Antichrist. For if it were necessary that his name should be declared clearly at the present time, it would have been announced by him who saw the revelation. For it was seen no such long time ago, but almost in our generation toward the end of the reign of Domitian.' But surely this rendering is wrong. It should be ‘for he [St. John the writer] was seen . . . almost in our generation toward the end of the reign of Domitian.'349349Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. v. 30. 1–3; Eus. Hist. Eccl. iii. 18 and v. 8: τοὔνομα αὐτοῦ δἰ ἐκείνου ἂν ἐρρέθη, τοῦ καὶ τὴν ἀποκάλυψιν ἑωρακότος· οὐδὲ γὰρ πρὸ πολλοῦ χρόνου ἑωράθη, ἀλλὰ σχεδὸν ἐπὶ τῆς ἡμετέρας γενεᾶς, πρὸς τῷ τέλειτῆς Δομετιανοῦ ἀρχῆς. That John is the subject before ἑωράθη seems to follow necessarily from the words which precede in the same passage—μαρτυρούντων αὐτῶν ἐκείνων τῶν κατ᾽ ὔψιν Ἰωάννην ἑωρακότων. . . . It is of the Seer and his ability to declare the name of Antichrist that Irenaeus is speaking. The misunderstanding about the meaning of the passage is largely due to Eusebius, who after a reference to Domitian's persecution proceeds ‘in this [persecution] report affirms that the Apostle and Evangelist John, who was still living, in consequence of his testimony to the divine word was condemned to dwell on the island of Patmos,' and then he quotes Irenaeus in support of his statement. Now Eusebius was very familiar with the works of Origen, and more particularly his commentaries, and it seems to me that in making this statement he had in his mind the following comment by Origen upon St. Matthew xx. 22: ‘And the sons of Zebedee were baptised with the baptism, since Herod killed James the [brother] of John with the sword, while the king of the Romans, as tradition teaches, condemned John bearing testimony through the word of truth unto the island Patmos. And John speaks of the things concerning his testimony, not saying who condemned him . . . and he seems to have beheld the Apocalypse in the island.'350350ὁ δὲ Ῥωμαίων βασιλείς, ὡς ἡ παράδοσις διδάσκει, κατεδίκασε τὸν Ἰωάννην μαρτυροῦντα διὰ τὸν τῆς ἀληθείας λόγον εἰς Πάτμον τὴν νῆσον· διδάσκει δὲ τὰ περὶ τοῦ μαρτυρίου αὐτοῦ Ἰωάννης, μὴ λέγων τίς αὐτὸν κατεδίκασε. Origen does not give the name of the Roman king, since, as he says, John does not tell us who condemned him. He certainly does not say that the Roman king was Domitian, indeed he is but repeating what Irenaeus had said before, who after discussing the meaning of ‘the number of the Beast' declares himself in doubt, ‘for if it were necessary that his name should be declared clearly at the present time, it would have been announced by him who saw the vision.' But the enigma, which Irenaeus and Origen both left unsolved, is no longer sealed to us. In his ‘Life and Principate of the Emperor Nero' Mr. Henderson writes ‘The number of the Beast is now fairly generally admitted to be' Nero Caesar.351351Henderson, Life of Nero, p. 440. See infra, p. 173. Eusebius, again, after speaking of Trajan succeeding Nerva in the Empire writes: ‘About this time also, John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, at once Apostle and Evangelist, still surviving in Asia, supervised the Churches there, having returned from his banishment to the island after the death of Domitian.' He then refers to Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus as his authorities. With Irenaeus we have already dealt. The words of Clement are: ‘For when the tyrant was dead he (John) departed from the island of Patmos to Ephesus; he also, when called upon, went to the neighbouring districts of the Gentiles, in some appointing bishops, in some organising entire Churches.'352352Eus. Hist. Eccl. 23. But Clement does not say ‘the tyrant' was Domitian, the name might with even greater propriety be applied to Nero.
The evidence of Victorinus and of Jerome next calls for notice. Victorinus, who suffered martyrdom in 303 A.D., is a pre-Eusebian witness to the tradition. In his commentary on the Apocalypse, which is the earliest extant, he writes ‘When John saw these things, he was in the island Patmos, condemned to the mines by Domitian Caesar. There it was therefore that he saw the Apocalypse; and when already the Elder had thought that he through his passion would receive acceptance, Domitian having been slain all his sentences were quashed and John, freed from the mines, then afterwards published this same Apocalypse, which he had received from God.'353353Migne, P.L. v. 1665. Jerome is still more explicit: ‘In his fourteenth year when Domitian was stirring up the second persecution after Nero, John having been banished into the island Patmos wrote the Apocalypse . . . but when Domitian had been slain and his acts on account of their excessive cruelty repealed by the Senate in the reign of Nerva he returned to Ephesus.'354354De Viris Illust. 9.
Now the first comment I make on all these passages is, that one and all of these early Christian writers that I have quoted had no doubt that the author of the Apocalypse was John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee; rightly or wrongly that was their belief, yet he is at the close of Domitian's reign condemned to exile in a lonely island as a criminal (to work in the mines according to Victorinus), and after his release by Nerva he returns to Ephesus, and as Clement of Alexandria (quoted by Eusebius) tells us—‘he also when called upon went to the neighbouring districts of the Gentiles, in some appointing bishops, in others organising Churches &c. . . .' But John, son of Zebedee, must in the year 96 A.D. have been well-nigh a centenarian; is it seriously contended that he at such an age could have survived the hardships of such an exile, even without the mines, or that he would have been able physically, had he survived, to have taken in hand in the reign of Nerva the organisation over a large area of the Churches in Asia and the neighbouring districts? It is on the face of it absurd. The evidence for this late date is moreover, when critically examined, decidedly weak. It is extremely doubtful whether any of the three earliest authorities which refer to the exile at Patmos support it. Eusebius, as we have seen, read his own interpretation of the words of Irenaeus into the passages from Origen and Clement, neither of whom here names Domitian. Of the other two witnesses, however, Victorinus certainly did not write under the influence of Eusebius, and the similarity of his version of the tradition to that of Jerome seems to point to their common derivation from some documentary source, which connected the condemnation to Patmos and the subsequent release with the names of Domitian and Nerva. But, as I shall now proceed to show, a condemnation by Domitian and a release by Nerva is not merely not inconsistent with but is strongly confirmatory of the fact, attested so strongly by the internal evidence of the book, that the Apocalypse was written in the early part of the year 70 A.D.
Let us examine that portion of the internal evidence which chiefly concerns us in this lecture, the portion which reflects the events of contemporary history in the city of Rome.
In the seventeenth chapter of the Revelation ‘the great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth' is brought before us under the likeness of a woman seated un a scarlet-coloured beast with seven heads, which are explained to be seven hills, and on her forehead is written her name of Mystery—Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and the Abominations of the Earth. On this woman drunken with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus355355Rev. xvii. 3-7, 9. judgment is pronounced. Again in the following chapter the Seer repeats this last indictment: ‘And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all that were slain upon the earth.'356356Rev. xviii. 24. Compare vi. 9-11, 14, xiii. 15, xvi. 5-7. There are other passages of similar import, but these two are sufficient to make it clear that the writer is referring to the Neronian persecution with its multitude of victims, and not to that of Domitian, which was not a general persecution at all, but a series of isolated acts directed chiefly against a few influential persons, including members of his own family.
Again both in chapter xiv. 8, and chapter xviii. 2, an angel is represented as crying with a mighty voice ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great,' and the lurid picture which is given of that fall is no mere effort of ecstatic imagination, it is the picture of a real event, fresh in the memory. As we read of the kings of the earth and the merchants of the earth standing afar off and weeping and lamenting for her, as they see the smoke of her burning, and crying out ‘Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city; for in one hour is thy judgment come,' and as we read again—‘of the winepress of the wrath of God being trodden without the city and blood came out of the winepress even to the horses' bridles'—there is but one occasion in the whole of the first century to which such a description could be applied: the writer had seen it with his own eyes—the storming and burning of the Capitol by the foreign mercenaries of Vitellius, and the subsequent capture and sacking of the city by the infuriated Flavian army under Mucianus and Antonius Primus on December 19 to 21, 69 A.D. At no other time, certainly not in the end of Domitian's reign, was it possible to speak of Rome as fallen, or for the Seer to have raised his triumphant cry ‘Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her' (Rev. xviii. 20).
The following passages from the ‘Histories' of Tacitus, if read side by side with the passages telling of the fall of Babylon the Great in the Apocalypse, will carry conviction that both writers are describing one and the same unique event. Of the burning of the Capitol Tacitus writes ‘The fire extended itself to the porticoes adjoining the temples; soon the eagles that supported the cupola caught fire, and as the timber was old they fed the flame. Thus the Capitol . . . was burned to the ground. . . . From the foundation of the city to that hour the Roman republic had felt no calamity so deplorable, so shocking as that.' And again of the capture of the city by the Flavian troops: ‘The city exhibited one entire scene of ferocity and abomination. . . . Rivers of blood and heaps of bodies at the same time; and by the side of them harlots, and women that differed not from harlots—all that unbridled passion can suggest in the wantonness of peace—all the enormities that are committed when a city is sacked by its relentless foes—so that you could positively suppose that Rome was at one and the same time frantic with rage and dissolved in sensuality. . . . lamentation was heard from every quarter, and Rome was filled with cries of despair and the horrors of a city taken by storm.'357357Tac. Hist. iii. 72, 83, iv. 1. Rev. xiv. 8, 17-20, xvii. 16, xviii. passim. Well might they who stood afar off as they saw the smoke of her burning and the terror of her torment exclaim ‘Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city; for in one hour is thy judgment come.'358358Rev. xviii. 10. Even the description—‘mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth'—what a realistic intensity and force it gains, as the utterance of one who had seen with his own eyes the scenes in the streets of Rome on those terrible December days.
In the course of eighteen months four emperors had perished and Italy had been the scene of continuous and savage civil war. In consequence of the events just described Vespasian became emperor, but at the opening of the year 70 A.D. both he and his elder son Titus were abroad. Vespasian in Egypt, Titus in Judaea. Domitian was the sole representative of his family in Rome, and he was at once presented to the people by the victorious Flavian general, Mucianus, was saluted as Caesar, and made praetor. His father and brother were appointed consuls, but as they were absent, Domitian was invested with full consular authority—imperio consulari. For six months he in conjunction with Mucianus acted as regent, administered public affairs, restored order and distributed offices. His name, says Tacitus,359359Tac. Hist. iv. 3, 44–47, 51, 68; Josephus, Bell. Iud. iv. 11. 4. was placed at the head of all despatches and edicts. Though but a boy of eighteen his head became filled with ambitious ideas, and he began, says Suetonius,360360Suetonius, Domitian, 1. to use his power in so arbitrary a manner as to give proof of what he was to become later. To such an extent was this the case that Dion Cassius361361Dion Cassius, lxv. 22, lxvi. 1–3. tells us that Vespasian wrote to him from Alexandria ‘I am much obliged to you, my son, for letting me still be emperor, and for not having as yet deposed me.'
Such incendiary language as we find in the Apocalypse, if used publicly, would at such a time soon bring down upon the offenders the repressive arm of those charged with the maintenance of order in the capital after the terrible experiences of the year 69 A.D. Tradition says that John narrowly escaped martyrdom362362Tertullian (Praescrip. 36), after speaking of the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul, relates that John was cast into burning oil but escaped unhurt. Jerome in his commentary on Matt. xx. 23 refers to the same tradition. Whatever the grounds of the tradition, there can be no question that the writer of the Apocalypse speaks of himself ‘as a partaker in the tribulation.' ; however this may be, there is a high probability that his deportation to Patmos took place very early in the year 70 A.D. (in January or February) through a sentence passed in Domitian's name. In the month of June of that year Domitian and Mucianus left Rome to take part in a campaign in Gaul, and a little later Vespasian arrived in Rome and at once assumed the direction of affairs.363363Gsell, Règne de 1'Enapéreur Domilien, pp. 13–14. Suetonius informs us that from the beginning he was anxious to conduct himself with great moderation and clemency.364364Suetonius, Vespasian, 8, 10. One of his first cares was to take in hand the administration of justice, which had been sadly interrupted by the civil wars, and to examine into the accumulation of law-suits which had arisen, and to provide for the restitution of what had been seized by violence in the disorders of the time. Now Vespasian associated Titus with himself in the government in the course of the year 71 A.D. and was very jealous during the whole of his reign of allowing authority to be vested in any but members of his own family. But Vespasian took as his colleague in the consulship in 71 A.D. M. Cocceius Nerva. Now Nerva—the future emperor—was the representative of a family distinguished for three generations as jurists, and no doubt his appointment at this particular time was due to Vespasian's desire to have a skilled lawyer at his side for dealing with the mass of sentences of exile and of confiscation which were the legacy of the successive revolutions. Nerva held office during the first nundinum of 71 A.D., and it is permissible to believe that in accordance with tradition one of the sentences quashed by him was that which sent John to Patmos. If by an order of Nerva he were now released, his exile would have lasted almost exactly one year.365365Gsell, 17–18. C.I.L. vi. 1984. In the ten years from 70 to 79, Vespasian filled the office of [ordinary] consul nine times, Titus seven times, Domitian once. Domitian was consul suffectus five times during the same period. In 80 Titus and Domitian were consuls. For complete list see Bouche-Leclerc, Institutions Rornaines, p. 603. For Nerva and his father and grandfather, see Profumo, Le fonte ed i tempi dello Incendio Neroniano, p. 511 ff. Pauly, Real-Encyclopädie, under Cocceius.
The external evidence, which was supposed to be adverse to the acceptance of the early date for the writing of the Apocalypse, having thus been transformed into an argument in its favour, we will now proceed by a further examination of certain crucial passages of the book to make assurance on this matter doubly sure.
The opening verses of chapter xi. imply that the Temple of Jerusalem was still standing, and that there was no expectation of the destruction of the Shrine itself. But the outer court was to be given to the nations, who for a period represented by 42 months would trample it under foot.366366Rev. xi. 1, 2. See Daniel, vii. 25, three and a half years or 42 months. It is the time of the duration of the Fourth Kingdom or Roman Empire. This statement must have been made at the time when the legions of Titus were already closing round Jerusalem and its doom was sealed, but before it was known that the desperate character of the defence would carry with it the entire destruction of the city and its world-famous sanctuary. That Jerusalem was not destroyed when the words (xi. 8) were written—‘their dead bodies lie in the street of the Great City, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified'—is evident. In 95 A.D. the city was in ruins.
The central theme of the Apocalypse is the struggle between Christ and Antichrist,
between Christianity and the Imperial World-Power of Rome. To St. John the Roman
World-Power is Antichrist and both of them are personified by Nero. The baleful
figure of Nero dominates the entire picture of the struggle between the forces of
good and evil.
The wild beast,367367Rev. xiii. 1. At a short distance from Patmos the island of Thera or ‘the
Wild Beast‘ rises out of the sea. coming up out of the sea with its seven heads and
ten horns, and the imagery connected with it, was suggested to the Seer by the apocalyptic
visions of Daniel vii., the fourth kingdom of Daniel being identified by him with
the Roman Empire. The name of the beast368368Rev. xiii. 18. Irenaeus, cont. Haer. v. 30. C. 11 gives the reading 616. In Philostratus,
Apollonius of Tyana, Apollonius is represented as saying on his arrival at Rome—‘In my travels,
which have been wider than ever man yet accomplished, I have seen
many, many wild beasts of Arabia and India; but this beast, which is commonly called
a Tyrant, I know not how many heads it has, nor if it be crooked of claw, and armed
with horrible fangs. However they say it is a civil beast and inhabits the midst
of cities; but to this extent it is more savage than the beasts of mountain and
of forest, that whereas lions and panthers can sometimes by flattery be tarried
and change their disposition, stroking and petting this beast does but instigate
it to surpass itself in ferocity and devour at large. And of wild beasts you cannot
say that they were ever known to eat their own mothers, but Nero has gorged himself
on this diet.'—Phillimore's tr. vol. ii. p. 38. is expressed by a
number—‘the number of a man'—and the number is Six Hundred and Sixty-Six.
Irenaeus discusses the meaning of this number which concealed the name of
Antichrist, and already when he wrote his treatise ‘Against Heresies' in 180 A.D. the key had been lost. And he is puzzled
by the fact that he found in some MSS. the number 616 instead of 666—one such MS.
exists still—and he supposes it due to the error of copyists. But there is a solution
now generally accepted, and whose correctness this very variant reading actually
confirms. For if the Greek spelling of Nero Caesar be transliterated into Hebrew
and the numerical values of the Hebrew letters added together they make 666. If
however the Latin spelling be treated in the same way, the total comes to 616. Nero
then was Antichrist, and the interpretation of the seven heads, the ten horns and
the other symbolic imagery of this portion of the Apocalypse must be approached
from the point of view that they all belong to the Neronian period. St. John was
not an historian, his mind was stored with the language and ideas of Daniel and
Ezekiel and other Apocalyptic writers,
who had preceded him; and his own Apocalypse was but one out of a
number of Jewish or Judaeo-Christian Apocalypses of the first century, with some
of which he shows himself to be acquainted. Nevertheless in all that he writes there
is a distinctive historical background, and it is limited to what he himself knew
of the actual contact of Christianity with the Imperial power at Rome: a contact
which began in the days of Claudius and which had issued in the reign of Nero in
a conflict for life and death, which was still undecided. Indeed I may go further
and say that it is only when the Apocalypse is treated historically as a Neronian
document that any satisfactory interpretation can be found for the imagery of certain
difficult passages. For example, nothing is more remarkable in the years which followed
Nero's death than the belief that gained firm possession of the popular imagination,
that the Emperor was not really dead, but that he had fled to the East and would
speedily reappear and once more possess himself of power. In 69 A.D. a false Nero
was put to death in the island of Cythnus, and twenty years later another Nero pretender
raised a revolt in Asia.369369Henderson's Life and Principate of Nero, p. 440. Tac. Hist. ii. 8: ‘vario
super exitu eius rumore eoque pluribus vivere eum fingentibus credentibusque.'
Sueton. Nero, 57: ‘edicta quasi viventis et brevi magno inimicorum malo reversuri.'
The pretender of 69 A.D., driven by stress of weather to the island of Cythnus,
was taken by Calpurnius Asprenas, Governor of Galatia, and put to death. Tac. Hist.
ii. 8, 9. Dion Cassius, lxiv. 9; also Tac. Hist. i. 2: ‘mota prope etiam Parthorum
arma falsi Neronis ludibrio.' The Christian Sibylline Oracles are evidence as to the
character and prevalence of this Nero legend in the reign of Vespasian,370370 Sibylline Oracles, v. 143–147, 361–373. This portion of the Sibylline Oracles
was written 71–74 A.D.: so Bousset, Zahn and Charles.
Φεύξεται ἐκ Βαβυλῶνος [Rome] ἄναξ φοβερὸς καὶ ἀναιδής
ὃν πάντες στυγέουσι βροτοὶ καὶ φῶτες ἄριστοι·
ὤλεσε γὰρ πολλοὺς καὶ γαστέρι χεῖρας ἐφῆκεν. 143–5.
* * * * * * * * ἥξει δ᾽ ἐκ περάτων γαίης μητροκτόνος ἀνήρ ὃς πᾶσαν γαῖαν καθελεῖ καὶ πάντα κρατήσει. 363–4.
See also iv. 119–122, 137–139; this part of the Sibylline Oracles is dated about 80 A.D. See also Ascension of Isaiah, iv. 2–4. It is of importance to notice, says Dr. Charles in his note on this passage, that the persecution under Nero is the only one known to the writer (p. 25). and the references to it in the Apocalypse are a proof of the strong impression which it had made upon the writer. In the thirteenth chapter, after describing the beast with its seven heads and ten horns, St. John proceeds: ‘and I saw one of his heads as though it had been smitten unto death; and his death-stroke was healed'; and in chapter xvii. verses 7, 8, he writes ‘I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and the ten horns. The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and is about to come up out of the abyss, and goeth into perdition.' Then a few verses further on comes the passage which has caused so much trouble to commentators, in no small measure because they allow themselves to wander out of a strictly limited field of investigation—i.e. the Neronian cycle. St. John says (verses 9-12) 'The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth: and they are seven kings; the five are fallen, the one is, the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a little while. And the beast that was, and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is of the seven; and he goeth into perdition.' Now the key to this passage is found as soon as it is recognised that it deals with no other period of Roman history than that which I have called ‘the Neronian cycle'—the period during which the Church and the Empire, Christ and Antichrist, were first brought face to face as forces irreconcilably opposed. For note that throughout Nero is not merely one of the seven heads, he is identified with the Beast itself.371371Rev. xi. 7: ‘And when they shall have finished their testimony the beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and overcome them, and kill them.' Dr. Charles in the Introduction to the Ascension of Isaiah (p. lxiv) makes the following comment on this passage: ‘The antichrist in this instance makes his advent in Jerusalem (see v. 8), therefore before 70 A.D.' In one passage (xiii. 3) he is the head that ‘was smitten unto death and his wound was healed,' in another (xiii. 14) ‘the beast that had the wound of a sword and did live,' and again (xvii. 8) the beast ‘that was, and is not, and yet is.' Now the words ‘five are fallen' (ἔπεσαν) imply that in each of these five cases there was a violent death Augustus and Tiberius could not be described as ‘fallen,' even had their reigns come within the Seer's purview. The five are Claudius, who adopted Nero as his son and heir, Nero himself, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius. ‘The one who is' signifies the man for the moment invested with imperial power, Domitian, the acting Emperor, who banished the writer. ‘The one not yet come' is the real Emperor Vespasian, who had not yet arrived at Rome to take into his hands the reins of government, and ‘he will continue only a short while,' for Nero—‘the beast that was, and is not, who is also an eighth, and is of the seven'—will quickly return from the East whither he had fled, and once more seat himself on the throne. And ‘his end is perdition,' for after his return will immediately follow the great struggle between Christ and Antichrist, when the latter will be overthrown and cast alive into the lake of fire.372372Rev. xix. 20. Again ‘the ten horns with ten diadems,' of chapter xiii. verse 1, are generally considered to be the governors of the chief provinces of the Empire, and this is borne out by the reference to them in chapter xvii. verses 12-13: ‘And the ten horns that thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority as kings, with the beast, for one hour'; and then a few verses lower ‘and the ten horns that thou sawest, and the beast, these shall hate the harlot, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her utterly with fire.' Is there not a direct reference here to the events of the two preceding years? The revolt of Vindex was the signal for the overthrow of Nero. The armies of Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian in succession occupied Rome, and the imperial city was held in subjection by foreign troops, sacked, and its most sacred edifices burnt. All these five men were governors of provinces.
Lastly it seems to me impossible to dissociate the gathering together of the nations to battle at Armageddon, ‘the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war, the number of whom is as the sand of the sea,'373373Rev. xvi. 14-16, xx. 8. from the actual gathering of the nations in those battles near Bedriacum which had taken place in the year 69. Gog and Magog had come to signify in the Apocalyptic literature the uncivilised tribes of the earth, and surely if ever Armageddon was realised in the history of the world it was in that second battle of Bedriacum ending in the sack of Cremona in which the armies of Vitellius and Vespasian contended for the mastery. On the one side were troops from Italy, Spain and Portugal, Gaul, the German Rhine frontier, even from far distant Batavia and Britain; on the other, legions from the Danube frontier, and behind these the armies of Syria, Judaea and Egypt, with auxiliaries from the furthermost East, from the borderlands of the Euphrates and Tigris.374374Henderson, Civil War in the Roman Empire, pp. 21–35, 128–144. The Seer is not describing these battles, but he saw the medley of troops from every nation under heaven actually fighting in the streets of Rome, and the scenes he witnessed still so freshly imprinted in his mind are vividly reflected in the imagery of his vision.
Renan375375Renan, L'Antéchrist, pp. 327–329. has pointed out in his well-known work ‘L'Antéchrist' that the portents, scourges, and convulsions of nature which in the Apocalypse follow upon the opening of the seals, the blowing of the trumpets, and the emptying of the vials were far from being merely imaginative. The years that preceded 70 A.D. were years marked by every kind of disaster and catastrophe. Earthquakes were frequent and violent, especially in that part of Asia to which John addressed his seven letters.376376Tac. Ann. xiv. 13, 27; Suet. Nero, 20; Philostratus, Apollonius, vi. 38, 41; Seneca, Quaest. Nat. vi. 1: ‘Mundus ipse concutitur . . . consternatio omnium'; Sibyll. orac. iii. 471 ff. The great pestilence at Rome in 65 A.D. was followed by a wild hurricane, which laid waste the Campagna.377377Tac. Ann. xvi. 13; Suet. Nero, 39. All sorts of portents were said to have foreshadowed the death of Nero in 68 A.D. and the succession of political convulsions that followed.378378Tac. Ann. xv. 47; Hist. i. 18, 86; Dion Cassius, lxiii. 26. This same year 68 was marked by a famine at Rome,379379Suet. Nero, 45; Sibyll. Orac. iii. 475 ff. the year 69 by a very disastrous inundation of the Tiber.380380Tac. Hist. i. 86; Plutarch, Otho, 4. It was no wonder that a visionary mystic like St. John should have perceived the signs of the consummation of all things in such a series of catastrophes, political and physical. Surely there could not be a more convincing piece of circumstantial evidence for fixing the date of the book.
Moveover as the Seer in the island of Patmos sat brooding over and recording his visions, before his very eyes there was a spectacle which has left its traces upon his language. The volcano in the neighbouring island of Thera was in violent activity during the greater part of the first century, after which it had a long period of quiescence until 726 A.D. No one can read a number of passages in the Apocalypse381381Rev. vi. 12-17, viii. 5-9, xvi. 3, 18, 20, 21. without feeling that the writer must have been the witness of a volcanic eruption on a grand scale, and there are other passages which point to familiarity with such scenes. Now the very remarkable fact stands recorded, that on two separate occasions, in 196 B.C. and in 46 A.D., so extraordinary was the violence of the eruptive forces in the very neighbourhood of this island that new islands came into existence, whose modern names still recall the character of their origin. A vivid description is given by Strabo of the eruption of 196 B.C.: ‘Midway between Thera and Therasia flames rushed forth from the sea, causing the whole of it to boil and be on fire, and afterwards an island, twelve stadia in circumference, composed of the burning mass was thrown up as if raised by machinery.'382382See Pauly, Real-Encyclopädie under ‘Thera.' The name of the island described by Strabo as thrown up was Hiera, now Nea Kaumeni; that thrown up in 46 A.D. Theia, now Mikra Kaumeni. Seneca, Nat. Quaest. vi. 21; Dion Cassius, lx. 29; Orosius, vii. 6. The modern name of Thera is Santorin (a corruption of St. Irene), see Encyclopaedia Britannica (ed. 1911) under ‘Santorini' Compare with this the language of Rev. viii. 8, 9: ‘and the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; and the third part of the creatures that were in the sea and had life died, and the third part of the ships were destroyed.' All these graphic touches are such as we should expect from a writer who had actually resided in a group of islands where such catastrophic convulsions had recently taken place. There was an eruption in Thera in 6o A.D., and the following decade was marked by continued seismic and volcanic disturbances.
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