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. 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." 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.
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" and that he "held our liberties in his hand and respected them."
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.
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. Within Christian communities, these writings, along with others, 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".: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,' he alluded to Nero, whose deeds already seemed to be as the deeds of Antichrist."
NUMBER OF THE BEAST
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.
http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/enc ... /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).
- "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]."
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 ...