Friday, June 19, 2009

Ab excessu divi Augusti

"Following the death of divine Augustus."
This is the supposed title of the book, Annals, of Roman senator/historian, Tacitus, as he outlines the reign of four Roman emperors that followed Caesar Augustus. I was reading through C.K. Barrett's The New Testament Background: Selected Documents and read an interesting portion of Tacitus' work:

BookXV (regarding the Great Fire of Rome in AD64)
"...But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed."

I just found it fascinating that even from a secular writer, there seems to be a hint of compassion and sympathy for what happened to the early Christians regardless of the way he feels about their "superstition."


Brian LePort said...

I think this is partially because Tacitus disliked Nero. He may not have been as pro-weirdo-Christ-movement as anti-Nero. I could be wrong about that.

Mike S. said...

Interesting... I never thought about it that way. Are there any biography or history books that speaks to this issue?

Brian LePort said...

I am trying to remember where I read about Tacitus. It has been a while and therefore I am cloudy about my source. If it comes to mind I will let you know.