The Nero redivivus legend to Nero the anti-Christ & beyond

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The Nero redivivus legend to Nero the anti-Christ & beyond

Post by MrMacSon » Mon Jun 26, 2017 2:21 am

This thread will outline what is known about the legend/s of Nero and how they may have contributed to the evolution of the notion that Nero persecuted Christians and how that notion may was not recorded in many, if any, early Christian texts.

(One also wonders if the Nero Redivivus Legend was [also] a Christ legend or part of one)

After Nero's death in 68 AD, there was a widespread belief, especially in the eastern provinces, that he was not dead and somehow would return.[174] This belief came to be known as the Nero Redivivus Legend. It may have been facilitated by Otho and Vitellius as the general populace was "loyal to the end and beyond, so both thought it worthwhile to appeal to their nostalgia."[164] The lower-class, slaves, frequenters of the arena and the theater, and "those who were supported by the famous excesses of Nero", were upset with the news of Nero's death, so were ripe for manipulation.[160]

Eastern sources, namely Philostratus II and Apollonius of Tyana, mention that Nero's death was mourned as he "restored the liberties of Hellas with a wisdom and moderation quite alien to his character"[162] and that he "held our liberties in his hand and respected them."[163]


The legend of Nero's return lasted for hundreds of years after Nero's death.
  • Augustine of Hippo wrote in 422 AD/CE of the legend as a popular belief.[175]
At least three Nero imposters emerged leading rebellions in the first century AD/CE. The first, who sang and played the cithara or lyre and whose face was similar to that of the dead emperor, appeared in 69 during the reign of Vitellius.[176] After persuading some to recognize him, he was captured and executed.[176] Sometime during the reign of Titus (79–81), another impostor appeared in Asia and sang to the accompaniment of the lyre and looked like Nero but he, too, was killed.[177] Twenty years after Nero's death, during the reign of Domitian, there was a third pretender. He was supported by the Parthians, who only reluctantly gave him up,[178] and the matter almost came to war.[111]

As popular belief in Nero's actual return began to fade, he no longer was regarded as an historic figure but an eschatological one.

Some of the Sibylline Oracles, a collection of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic verses written in the late 1st or early 2nd century, & attributed to the prophecies of the ancient Sibyl, speak of Nero returning and bringing destruction.[209][210] Within Christian communities, these writings, along with others,[211] fuelled the belief that Nero would return as the Antichrist.
  • The Sybyl is identified as a native of Babylon (III.786; also Lactantius, Divine Institutes, I.6) and a daughter (or daughter-in-law) of Noah (III.808ff).

In Oracle V Nero has become a resurrected and demonic power symbolic of Rome, itself.
  • "One who has fifty as an initial [the Hebrew letter "N"] will be commander, a terrible snake [the serpent or dragon], breathing out grievous war....But even when he disappears he will be destructive. Then he will return declaring himself equal to God" (V.28ff).

The Sibyl presents Nero both as king of Rome (Oracle V, 138ff) and the means of God's retribution in destroying it (365). A matricide and megalomaniac, who presumed to cut through the isthmus of Corinth and was perceived as responsible for the destruction of the Jewish Temple in AD 70, Nero "will come from the ends of the earth" (363) as a champion of the East and an instrument of God's punishment. He will overthrow tyrants and "raise up those who were crouched in fear" (370) before falling in a final battle against the West. Then there will be peace and "no longer will anyone fight with swords or iron or with weapons at all" (382ff). In this expectation, as in Oracle IV (119ff, 1137ff) and Oracle VIII (70ff, 153ff), one perceives the hope raised by the False Neros among the oppressed provinces of the East.

Nero's manifestation as the Antichrist aligns with II Thessalonians II.3-4: -"that man of sin [lawlessness]...who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God...shewing himself that he is God".

In 310, Lactantius wrote that Nero "suddenly disappeared, and even the burial place of that noxious wild beast was nowhere to be seen. This has led some persons of extravagant imagination to suppose that, having been conveyed to a distant region, he is still reserved alive; and to him they apply the Sibylline verses".[199][203]:20–

In 422, Augustine of Hippo wrote about 2 Thessalonians 2:1–11, where he believed Paul mentioned the coming of the Antichrist. Though he rejects the theory, Augustine mentions that many Christians believed that Nero was 'the Antichrist' or would return as 'the Antichrist'. He wrote, "so that in saying, 'For the mystery of iniquity doth already work,'[212] he alluded to Nero, whose deeds already seemed to be as the deeds of Antichrist."[175]


In ancient Greek and Hebrew, letters also represented numerals (as in Latin), their values assigned according to the order of the alphabet, alpha and aelph, for example, having the numerical value of 1. By adding these values, words could be represented as the sum of their numbers. This literation of numbers and numeration of letters was known as isopsephia by the Greeks and gematria by the Jews (which, in cabalistic practice, has been used to interpret Hebrew scripture). Suetonius relates an example of isopsephia when he records that graffiti appeared in both Greek and Latin lampooning Nero after he had his mother killed: "A calculation new. Nero his mother slew" (Life of Nero, XXXIX.2). In Greek, both "Nero" and "killed his own mother" have the same numerical value (1005).

If the Greek spelling of Nero Caesar (Neron Kaisar) is transliterated into Hebrew (nrwn qsr; נרוקס קסר), the numerical equivalent is 666—although it should be remembered that this number was not represented as a figure but as letters of the alphabet or written in full. In other words, the "number of the beast" was not expressed as "666" (indeed, discrete Arabic numerals would not be invented for another five hundred years) but by the phrase hexakosioi hexekonta hex or the numerical values of the Greek letters themselves, chi (600), xi (60), and stigma (6).

But what is curious is not so much that 666 can be decoded to signify Nero but that the name is encoded in this particular number, especially since it could have been represented as readily in other ways. It only is when the words are transliterated from Greek into Hebrew and then calculated that the numeration adds up to 666 (nrwn qsr, 50 + 200 + 6 + 50 + 100 + 60 + 200). Even so, this is an alternate spelling, a letter being transliterated in "Neron" (nrwn instead of nrw) but not in "Caesar" (qsr instead of qysr). Although these forms do appear in the Talmud and an Aramaic scroll from Qumran, they no doubt complicated the solution to the puzzle...

In the apocalyptic Revelation [of John], Nero is the second beast who, through miracles and the threat of death, compels the worship of the first beast. Moreover, the second beast marks everyone with its own mark, without which "no man might buy or sell" (Rev 13:17). "Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six" (Rev 13:18). The riddle seems to have been forgotten almost as soon as it was written and not solved until 1835, seemingly because the number was assumed to be in Greek or Latin—and not Hebrew. And, to be sure, it is intriguing that 666 encodes the name of Nero in such a way when Revelation, itself, was written in Greek. ... /nero.html


The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah, one of the apocalyptic pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament dates to the end of the first century AD. In the so-called Testament of Hezekiah, Isaiah prophesies the end of the world, when Beliar (Belial) the Antichrist will manifest himself.
  • "And after it [the world] has been brought to completion, Beliar will descend, the great angel, the king of this world, which he has ruled ever since it existed. He will descend from his firmament in the form of a man, a king of iniquity, a murderer of his mother—this is the king of the world—and will persecute the plant which the twelve apostles of the Beloved will have planted; some of the twelve will be given into his hand. This angel, Beliar, will come in the form of that king, and with him will come all the powers of this world, and they will obey him in every wish....And he will do everything he wishes in the world; he will act and speak like the Beloved, and will say, 'I am the Lord, and before me there was no one.' And all men in the world will believe in him" (IV.1-8).
Beliar will perform miracles and seduce the followers of Christ until, at the Second Coming,
  • "the Lord will come with his angels and with the hosts of the saints from the seventh heaven, and will drag Beliar, and his hosts also, into Gehenna [the figurative equivalent of hell]."
In the Christian version of the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah, Nero is the anti-Christ ushering in the end of the world.


Seutonius contributed to Nero being besmirched (see next post). Tacitus narrated a false Nero in Histories 2.

Nero’s reputation as the first persecutor of Christians emerged in this atmosphere ...

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the Nero redivivus legend to Nero the anti-Christ & beyond

Post by MrMacSon » Mon Jun 26, 2017 2:24 am

via ... -part.html

Suetonius is hostile to Nero in Nero 38, but clearly knows nothing about any blame for the fire falling on Christians, much less a persecution that allegedly claimed “multitudes”. Suetonius embraces the accusation that Nero was responsible for the conflagration but there is a difference even there. Even Tacitus has doubts about Nero’s culpability.

In Suetonius' [Nero] 16, Christians are mentioned alongside Nero’s banishment of other troublemakers, such as chariot drivers, actors and their partisans. From this we could infer only that Christians might have been included in a general clean-up of the city, ridding it of those who are guilty of disorderly conduct... in In any event, “punishments” handed out generally are hardly the stuff of a persecution of a specific group...

Not only Suetonius is silent about a relationship between the fire and Christians; Dio Cassius also fails to mention it.

Irenaeus makes no mention of any persecution under Nero.

Tertullian makes no mention of Christians setting Rome on fire, so we can deduce that, when he wrote, it had not yet been added to Annals 15. He does say “consult your sources; you will find that Nero was the first to assailed with the sword the Christian sect.”[18]

But T.D. Barnes shows that Tertullian’s account is modelled on that of Melito, who is also cited by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History (EH 4.26), so Tertullian cannot stand as an independent witness.[19]

Origen, writing in the third century, has little to say about any persecutions, saying only that “a few, whose number could be easily enumerated, have died occasionally for the sake of the Christian religion”[20] ...

In other words, the silence from the early Christian sources is deafening.

The first source to bring up the connection is Sulpicius Severus [who's account Arthur Drews thinks was the basis for Annals 15.44; or, perhaps they were 'developed' together]

Frend draws attention to the fact that Annals 15.44 replicates motifs and language from Livy’s account of the Bacchanal conspiracy. For instance, “immense multitude” is also found in Livy.[22]

Central to Christian self-understanding is the myth of persecution: that there was a distinctive new religion created by Jesus and his followers which was immediately persecuted by the Jews, so naturally enough, the Jews are really to blame, and we see the same thing from Paul Keresztes, who asserts that “on the basis of ancient Christian sources (e.g., 1 Clem 5; 6), … modern writers –i.e., Allard (1903), Canfield (1913), Klette (1907), Bacchus (1908), and Frend (1965)– feel certain that the Christians were finally persecuted as a result of Jewish intrigues.”[24]

But this assessment is without foundation outside of the mythology Christianity has surrounded itself with.

3. The Real Culprits

...What needs to be considered is that the fire’s origin was in fact correctly divined by the imperial authorities, and that it was through the actions of messianic terrorists that the conflagration was started.

Suetonius, whose testimony fuels the case against Nero, tells us that “he set fire to the city, so openly indeed that some ex-consuls, when they came upon his servants equipped with kindling and torches on their property, did not stop them.”

But as we have seen, the accounts we have all derive from a common, anti-Neronian source that insisted with dogmatic certainly the guilt of Nero. As Gregory Daugherty has noted, Tacitus alone “succeeded in filtering out most of the bias, fortunately for us since he alone preserves the view that Nero might not have started the fire.”

Unfortunately, attention has focused upon the image of a Nero 'fiddling' while Rome burned, and the accounts embedded in the testimony of Suetonius, Tacitus and Dio are colored by Suetonius’ malicious and politically motivated insinuations.

What this “kindling with torches” in fact represents is not the deliberate attempt of Nero to further the conflagration, but the attempts of the city’s watch to combat the blaze.[28]

In this period the only way in which a fire could be combated was through the use of “controlled demolition” and counter-fire. The city’s watch, or Vigiles -seven cohorts of about 500 men each positioned throughout the fourteen quarters of the city- could be supplemented at need by the Urban Cohorts or the Praetorian Guard. This was apparently what happened in 64 when Tigellinus, the Praetorian Prefect, took charge of the fire suppression efforts. The Vigiles were as well equipped as any fire brigade up until the mid-19th century, but even so their equipment was woefully inadequate: vinegar, buckets, pikes, ladders, brooms, blankets and a siphon, or pump, as well as ballistas, which were used to demolish buildings. The fixtures of a modern city, fire hydrants and hoses and thus the ready application of large quantities of water were unknown.[29]

Thus Suetonius misinterprets the legitimate fire-fighting efforts of the Watch as being the actions of a mad emperor determined to destroy a city in order to build himself a nice big house.

The suggestion that messianic agents had set the fire; that blame had correctly attached itself to them, and that they were duly punished, is scarcely as incredible as Suetonius’ account, which provides the basis for the Christian myth of a Neronian persecution.

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Re: The Nero redivivus legend to Nero the anti-Christ & beyond

Post by MrMacSon » Fri Jul 14, 2017 6:53 pm

The 'Acts of Pseudo-Linus' ('Martyrdom of the Blessed Apostle Peter'; which appears to be based on the Acts of Peter; known primarily via a Latin version (the so-called Actus Vercellenses) has several references to Nero as the AntiChrist - Peter is narrated as interacting with the AntiChrist Nero at the beginning; and the end, as a vision. There are two versions on-line -

Commentary about Linus at CCEL, including some brief commentary about these Acts-
... Under the name of Linus are extant two tracts purporting to contain the account of the martyrdom of SS. Peter and of Paul. These were first printed in 1517 by Faber Stapulensis as an appendix to his Comm. on Saint Paul's Epistles. These Acts of Linus have so many features common with the Leucian Acts that the question arises whether we have not in Linus either a translation of a portion of the collection described by Photius or at least a work for which that collection supplied materials...

... The stories of the martyrdom of the two apostles are quite distinct, there being no mention of Paul in the first nor of Peter in the second. The apostles' deaths are immediately brought about, not by Nero himself, but by his prefect Agrippa, a name, we may well believe, transferred by a chronological blunder from the reign of Augustus. This name, as well as some others mentioned by pseudo-Linus, occur also in the orthodox Acts of Peter and Paul published by Tischendorf and by Thilo. The alleged cause of Agrippa's animosity exhibits strongly the Encratite character common to Linus and the Leucian Acts. St. Peter, we are told, by his preaching of chastity had caused a number of matrons to leave the marriage bed of their husbands, who were thus infuriated against the apostle.

... Linus tells of the arrest of Peter, and lays the scene of the crucifixion at the Naumachia near Nero's obelisk on the mountain. St. Peter requests to be crucified head downwards, desiring out of humility not to suffer in the same way as his Master. A further reason is given: that in this way his disciples will be better able to hear his words spoken on the cross, and a mystical explanation is given of the inverted position which bears a very Gnostic character.

An alleged saying of our Lord is quoted which strongly resembles a passage from the Gospel according to the Egyptians, cited by Julius Cassianus (Clem. Al. Strom. iii. 13, p. 553 see also Clem. Rom. ii. 12*), "Unless ye make the right as the left, the left as the right, the top as the bottom, and the front as the backward, ye shall not know the kingdom of God."
  • * "All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law" (NSRV)
Linus relates how during Peter's crucifixion God, at the request of the apostle, opened the eyes of his sorrowing disciples, and so turned their grief into joy. For they saw the apostle standing upright at the top of his cross, crowned by angels with roses and lilies, and receiving from our Lord a book, out of which he reads to his disciples.

This story has a good deal of affinity with that told by Leucius of a vision of our Lord during His crucifixion, seen by St. John on the Mount of Olives.

The story of Peter's crucifixion head downwards was in the Acts known to Origen, who refers to it in his Comm. on Gen. (Eus. H. E. iii. 1).

Linus relates that Marcellus took Peter's body from the cross, bathed it in milk and wine, and embalmed it with precious spices; but the same night, as he was watching the grave, the apostle appeared to him, and bid him let the dead bury their dead and himself preach the kingdom of God.

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