saying, mysteriously, ‘I deserved it.’ Outrage in the army over Corbulo’s miserable fate led directly to the military revolts of 68 and 69. 12
With the partial exception of Domitian (81 to 96) all the Roman Emperors from 69 to 180 were popular and able. This era ended with the accession of Commodus (180 to 192) whose antics recalled those of Nero. 13
The tradition of St. John’s ‘martyrdom’ in Rome is preserved by Tertullian: ‘How glorious was that church ... where Peter was matched to the Lord’s passion, where Paul was crowned with John’s (the Baptist’s) manner of death, where the Apostle John, after being plunged into boiling oil, suffered nothing and was banished to an island’. (Ista quam felix ecclesia... ubi Petrus passioni Dominicae adaequatur, ubi Paulus Ioannis exitu coronatur, ubi apostolus Ioannes, posteaquam in oleum igneum demersus, nihil passus est, in insulam relegatur.) This is cited by St. Jerome: ‘Refert autem Tertullianus quod Romae (most manuscripts here have ‘a Nerone’: by Nero) missus in ferventis olei dolium purior et vegetior exiverit.’ (‘Tertullian tells that at Rome after being thrown by Nero into a cauldron of boiling oil he came forth cleaner and livelier.’) The church of St. John at the Latin Gate was erected in Rome by Pope St. Damasus (366 - 384) to commemorate this event. The volcano on the island of Thera (near Patmos) erupted violently in 196 BC and again in 46 AD. The ‘air pollution’ created by the latter eruption could well have contributed to continuing the eastern famines of 44 and 45 into 46 and 47. This volcano remained violently active for the rest of the first century, and along with the burnings of Rome in 69, no doubt helped fuel St. John’s visions in 70 on nearby Patmos. After the first century it was quiescent until it exploded again in 726. 17
Only a few sources directly support an early dating for St. John’s work. The Muratorian Canon and the apocryphal Acts of John place the writing of Apocalypse in the reign of Nero. These are supported by St. Epiphanius who says that St. John ‘published his prophecy when living on the island of Patmos during the reign of Claudius Caesar’. Nero’s full name was Nero Claudius Caesar. Also by the process called gematria - the addition of the numerical values of the letters of a name - the name Nero Caesar in Hebrew (nrwn qsr) gives 666. (Apoc. 13: 18) St. Irenaeus was puzzled by the fact that he found in some copies the number 616 instead of 666 - one such manuscript exists still. 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. Apocalypse 17:10 refers to ‘seven kings; of these five have fallen already; one is reigning now; the last has not come yet, but his reign will be short.’ This too fits with Nero who as the sixth Emperor (after Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius) was to be followed by Galba who reigned from June 68 till January 69. This part therefore of Apocalypse was written late in the reign of Nero. One objection to the earlier dating of Apocalypse arises from the fact that Laodicaea, almost totally destroyed by an earthquake in about 61, is addressed as a rich church (3:14,17). But Tacitus (Annales, 14:27) tells us that this city had taken great pride in having rebuilt itself without needing to wait for help from imperial funds. Finally the persecution by Domitian in no way remotely rivals that by Nero for cruelty and numbers slain. The origin of this persecution by Domitian was not so much religious as fiscal. In his search for new sources of income, Domitian had begun to insist upon the stricter exaction of the Didrachma tax (formerly paid by Jews for maintaining the Temple) not merely from practising Jews but from all who ‘lived in the Jewish manner,’ i.e. Christians.
Published on Nov 29, 2011
Published on Nov 29, 2011
This survey of how the New Testament came to be written is also a chronicle of the first 40 years of the history of the Christian Church. It...