A Baptist Goofs His Reading of Tacitus and Suetonius • Richard Carrier
C. Suetonius Tranquillus Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars .. was exposed for sale Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, .. 4 Indeed there is no kind of relationship that he did not violate in his career of crime. Published around AD/CE, this passage is one of two in Suetonius's works held up as "evidence" of Jesus of Nazareth's existence as a "historical" personage. It still adds no probability to the historicity of Jesus, as it evinces no Suetonius mentions no connection between Nero, Christians, and the.
And up until this very day the tribe of Christians named after him has not died out. Well what does it tell us? Extracting out those portions, those three portions that are very unlikely to go back to Josephus, we think the citation very much does take the outline of what remains. Namely, that there was a recognition that Jesus was a teacher of wisdom, that he was a doer of unusual deeds that got him attention, that he produced in his wake followers from the Jews and the Gentiles, that Pilot and the leading Jews were responsible for his crucifixion, and finally that Christianity and those who are called Christians emerged from his presence in the world as a result.
Tacitus But the Jewish testimony to this idea is not the only citation that we have. We also have a citation from Tacitus.
Tacitus wrote in a work called The Annals the following description of Christians and in the midst of it eludes to Jesus. They [that is the Christians] got their name from Christ who was executed by sentence of the procreator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius.
That checked the pernicious superstition for a short time but it broke out afresh not only in Judea where the plague first arose but in Rome itself where all horrible and shameful things in the world collect and find a home. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Christianity or that which Jesus was responsible for founding. He calls Christianity a pernicious superstition. He talks about it being a plague, he talks about Rome being the, how can I say this, the host of all kinds of horrible and shameful things.
But in the midst of it all is the note that Christ was executed by the sentence of Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius.
Suetonius on Christians
This is exactly where the New Testament has Jesus as well. So this is part of a large discussion about Christians and particularly the great fire of Rome which Nero blamed on the Christians. Suetonius The third piece of evidence that we have comes from Suetonius. I always liked the way the great pastor W. Criswell pronounced the name of this historian.
Suetonius also was a Roman historian of the early second-century. This citation is also controversial. And so the question is has Suetonius erroneously referred to Christ by messing up his name or is this someone else? And so that is discussed among classical scholars.
Although many classical scholars do accept that this testimony does talk about Jesus. He expelled the Jews from Rome on account of the riots in which they were constantly indulging at the instigation of Crestus. Now this is a very indirect allusion. It actually tells us nothing about the life of Jesus if it goes back to him.
So those are our three citations. Why Accept the Entire Josephus Citation? I want to come back to the Josephus citation because it is an important text and mention one reason why some people do think this is an authentic text as opposed to being a total insertion into the Antiquities.
The point is that Josephus alludes to James and then he talks about the brother of the so-called or alleged Christ. Now this is further on down and the argument is that the allusion to the so-called Christ seems to presuppose a previous discussion where the issue of the Christ was raised in one way or another.
And people think that in the earlier citation in the one discussing Jesus rather than Josephus saying something like he was the Christ as we have it now he probably said, alluded, to the fact that Jesus claimed to be the Christ or that people believed that he was the Christ, something like that. He commonly appointed consuls for a period of six months. When one of them died just before the Kalends of January, he appointed no one in his place, expressing his disapproval of the old-time case of Caninius Rebilus, the twenty-four hour consul.
As regards the speeches which he sent to the senate on various matters, he passed over the quaestors, whose duty it was to read them, 43 and usually had them presented by one of the consuls. He had also planned to extend the walls as far as Ostia and to bring the sea from there to Rome by a canal.
He put an end to the diversions of the chariot drivers, who from immunity of long standing claimed the right of ranging at large and amusing themselves by cheating and robbing the people.
The pantomimic actors and their partisans were banished from the city.
Suetonius on the Christians
For as he was making the round of the temples and had sat down in the shrine of Vesta, first the fringe of his garment caught when he attempted to get up, and then such darkness overspread his eyes that he could see nothing. For he used to lie upon his back and hold a leaden plate on his chest, purge himself by the syringe and by vomiting, and deny himself fruits and all foods injurious to the voice.
Finally encouraged by his progress, although his voice was weak and husky, he began to long to appear on the stage, and every now and then in the presence of his intimate friends he would quote a Greek proverb meaning "Hidden music counts for nothing. Even when he took a short time to rest his voice, he could not keep out of sight but went to the theatre after bathing and dined in the orchestra with the people all about him, promising them in Greek, that when he had wetted his whistle a bit, he would ring out something good and loud.
Not content with that, he selected some young men of the order of knights and more than five thousand sturdy young commoners, to be divided into groups and learn the Alexandrian styles of applause they called them "the bees," "the roof-tiles," and "the bricks"57 and to ply them vigorously whenever he sang. These men were noticeable for their thick hair and fine apparel; their left hands were bare and without rings, and the leaders were paid four hundred thousand sesterces each.
But since even that seemed too long to wait, he did not cease to appear in public from time to time. At the beginning of his reign he used to play every day with ivory chariots on a board, and he came from the country to all the games, even the most insignificant, at first secretly, and then so openly that no one doubted that he would be in Rome on that particular day.
He soon longed to drive a chariot himself and even to show himself frequently to the public; so after a trial exhibition in his gardens before his slaves and the dregs of the populace, he gave all an opportunity of seeing him in the Circus Maximus, one of his freedmen dropping the napkin 63 from the place usually occupied by the magistrates. The cities in which it was the custom to hold contests in music had adopted the rule of sending all the lyric prizes to him.
These he received with the greatest delight, not only giving audience before all others to the envoys who brought them, but even inviting them to his private table. When some of them begged him to sing after dinner and greeted his performance with extravagant applause, he declared that "the Greeks were the only ones who had an ear for music and that they alone were worthy of his efforts.
To avoid being distracted or hindered in any way while busy with these contests, he replied to his freedman Helius, who reminded him that the affairs of the city required his presence, in these words: And so it is said that some women gave birth to children there, while many who were worn out with listening and applauding, secretly leaped from the wall, 66 since the gates at the entrance 67 were closed, or feigned death and were carried out as if for burial.
The trepidation and anxiety with which he took part in the contests, his keen rivalry of his opponents and his awe of the judges, can hardly be credited. As if his rivals were of quite the same station as himself, he used to show respect to them and try to gain their favour, while he slandered them behind their backs, sometimes assailed them with abuse when he met them, and even bribed those who were especially proficient. When they bade him take heart, he withdrew with greater confidence, but not even then without anxiety, interpreting the silence and modesty of some as sullenness and ill-nature, and declaring that he had his suspicions of them.
When the victory was won, he made the announcement himself; and for that reason he always took part in the contests of the heralds. But after he had been thrown from the car and put back in it, he was unable to hold out and gave up before the end of the course; but he received the crown just the same.
Suetonius - RationalWiki
These favours he announced in person on the day of the Isthmian Games, standing in the middle of the stadium. His car was followed by his claque 74 as by the escort of a triumphal procession, who shouted that they were the attendants of Augustus and the soldiers of his triumph. All along the route victims were slain, the streets were sprinkled from time to time with perfume, while birds, 76 ribbons, and sweetmeats were showered upon him.
He placed the sacred crowns in his bed-chambers around the couches, as well as statues representing him in the guise of a lyre-player; and he had a coin too struck with the same device. To many men he offered his friendship or announced his hostility, according as they had applauded him lavishly or grudgingly. No sooner was twilight over than he would catch up a cap or a wig and go to the taverns or range about the streets playing pranks, which however were very far from harmless; for he used to beat men as they came home from dinner, stabbing any who resisted him and throwing them into the sewers.
He would even break into shops and rob them, setting up a market 78 in the Palace, where he divided the booty which he took, sold it at auction, and then squandered the proceeds.
Warned by this, he never afterwards ventured to appear in public at that hour without having tribunes follow him at a distance and unobserved. Sometimes too he closed the inlets and banqueted in public in the great tank, 82 in the Campus Martius, or in the Circus Maximus, waited on by harlots and dancing girls from all over the city.
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He also levied dinners on his friends, one of whom spent four million sesterces for a banquet at which turbans were distributed, and another a considerably larger sum for a rose dinner.
The freedwoman Acte he all but made his lawful wife, after bribing some ex-consuls to perjure themselves by swearing that she was of royal birth. He castrated the boy Sporus and actually tried to make a woman of him; and he married him with all the usual ceremonies, including a dowry and a bridal veil, took him to his house attended by a great throng, and treated him as his wife.
That he even desired illicit relations with his own mother, and was kept from it by her enemies, who feared that such a help might give the reckless and insolent woman too great influence, was notorious, especially after he added to his concubines a courtesan who was said to look very like Agrippina. Even before that, so they say, whenever he rode in a litter with his mother, he had incestuous relations with her, which were betrayed by the stains on his clothing.
Nothing in his uncle Gaius so excited his envy and admiration as the fact that he had in so short a time run through the vast wealth which Tiberius had left him. He gave the lyre-player Menecrates and the gladiator Spiculus properties and residences equal to those of men who had celebrated triumphs. He enriched the monkey-faced usurer Paneros with estates in the country and in the city and had him buried with almost regal splendour.
He played at dice for four hundred thousand sesterces a point. Suetonius describes Galba as being of noble birth, and born into a noble patrician family. Suetonius also includes a brief list of omens regarding Galba and his assassination. Most of this book describes Galba's ascension to the throne and his assassination, along with the usual side notes regarding his appearance and related omens.
Suetonius does not spend much time describing either any accomplishments nor any failures of his reign. According to Suetonius, Galba was killed by Otho's loyalists.
About this time, Suetonius has exhausted all his imperial archival sources. Otho's reign was only a few months.
Therefore, the book on Otho is short, much as the book on Galba had been. Suetonius used a similar method to describe the life of Otho as he had used to describe the life of Galba. Suetonius describes Otho's family, and their history and nobility.
And just as Suetonius had done with prior caesars, he includes a list of omens regarding Otho's reign and assassination. Suetonius spends most of the book describing the ascension of Otho, his assassination, and the other usual topics.
Suetonius suggests that as soon as Otho ascended the throne, he started defending himself against competing claims to the throne.
According to Suetonius, Otho suffered a fate similar to the fate Galba had suffered. It was the loyalists of another aspiring emperor in this case, the next emperor Vitellius who wanted to kill him. Suetonius claims that one night Otho realized that he would soon be murdered. He contemplated suicide, but decided to sleep one more night before carrying out a suicide. That night he went to bed, with a dagger under his pillow. The next morning he woke up, and stabbed himself to death.
Bust of Vitellius In the book of the last of the short-lived emperors, Suetonius briefly describes the reign of Vitellius. Suetonius says that Otho killed himself while Vitellius was marching to Rome. This book gives an unfavorable picture of Vitellius; however it should be remembered that Suetonius' father was an army officer who had fought for Otho and against Vitellius at the first Battle of Bedriacumand that Vespasian basically controlled history when he ascended to the throne.
Anything written about Vitellius during the Flavian dynasty would have to paint him in a bad light. Suetonius includes a brief description of the family history of Vitellius, and related omens.
Suetonius finally describes the assassination of Vitellius. According to Suetonius, Vitellius was dragged naked by Roman subjects, tied to a post, and had animal waste thrown at him before he was killed. However, unlike the prior two emperors, it was not the next emperor who killed Vitellius. The next emperor and his followers had been waging a war against the Jews in Judaea at the time.
The death of Vitellius and subsequent ascendance of his successor ended the worst year of the early principate. Vespasian[ edit ] Suetonius begins by describing the humble antecedents of the founder of the Flavian dynasty and follows with a brief summary of his military and political career under Aulus PlautiusClaudius and Nero and his suppression of the uprising in Judaea. Suetonius documents an early reputation for honesty but also a tendency toward avariciousness.
A detailed recounting of the omens and consultations with oracles follows which Suetonius suggests furthered Vespasian 's imperial pretensions. Suetonius then briefly recounts the escalating military support for Vespasian and even more briefly the events in Italy and Egypt that culminated in his accession.