Did the “Christians” Burn Rome?

History has blamed Nero for the disaster, implying that he started the fire so that he could bypass the senate and rebuild Rome to his liking. Much of what is known about the great fire of Rome comes from the aristocrat and historian Tacitus, who claimed that Nero watched Rome burn while merrily playing his fiddle. Gangs of thugs prevented citizens from fighting the fire with threats of torture, Tacitus wrote. There is some support for the theory that Nero leveled the city on purpose: the Domus Aurea, Nero’s majestic series of villas and pavilions set upon a landscaped park and a man-made lake, was built in the wake of the fire.  Certainly, it’s hard to know whether to trust the allegations in the writings of Tacitus.

What about the explanation offered by Nero, that the Christians were to blame? At least one scholar believes Nero was on the mark. Professor Gerhard Baudy of the University of Konstanz in Germany has spent 15 years studying ancient apocalyptic prophecies. He has learned that in the poor districts of Rome, Christians were circulating vengeful texts predicting that a raging inferno would reduce the city to ashes. “In all of these oracles, the destruction of Rome by fire is prophesied,” Baudy explains. “That is the constant theme: Rome must burn. This was the long-desired objective of all the people who felt subjugated by Rome.” (Secrets of the Dead)

At the Palais des Nations in Geneva on September 2, 1983, Yasir Arafat espoused a unique interpretation of the life of the Apostle Peter:

“We were under Roman imperialism. We sent a Palestinian fisherman, called St. Peter, to Rome. He not only occupied Rome, but also won the hearts of the people. We know how to resist imperialism and occupation. Jesus Christ was the first Palestinian fedayin who carried his sword along the path on which the Palestinians today carry their Cross.”  (“Yasir’s Terrorist Jesus”)

Muslim traditions are very comfortable with a militant zealots like Jesus and Peter. They preserve Eastern Christian traditions about Jesus and his less than peaceful apostles (many of whom belonged to the party of the Zealots or to the more radical Sicarrii).   

The Gospel of Peter reads like a rap sheet:

“And I and my companions were grieved; and being wounded in mind we hid ourselves: for we were being sought for by them as malefactors, and as wishing to set fire to the temple.”

As portrayed by the Gospel writer, Peter and his companion were suspected arsonists. This is in addition to lopping off the ear of the high priest’s servant Malchus (John 18:10-11), a rather unique attribute for the number one follower of the prince of peace.  Simon Bar Jonah is not the son of a dove (“Bar Yonah”) as Matthew 16:22-23 portrays him.  The name is a corruption for the Hebrew word for Zealot or Bandit, that is “Baryonim.”

But, didin his Histories leaves it open as to whether Nero or the “Christians” (Jewish and Gentile varieties included) did it.

What about the explanation offered by Nero, that the Christians were to blame? At least one scholar believes Nero was right. Professor Gerhard Baudy of the University of Konstanz in Germany has spent 15 years studying ancient apocalyptic prophecies. He has claimed that in the poor districts of Rome, Christians were circulating vengeful texts predicting that a raging inferno would reduce the city to ashes. In all the oracles, especially the book of Revelation and similar apocalyptic writings, Rome burns.

 The Whore of Babylon, the source of this evil according to Revelations, is described as having seven heads. “The seven heads are seven mountains,” Revelations says. Rome, of course, is famously known as the city of seven hills.

 An ancient Egyptian prophecy would have been well known in the Christian quarters of Rome. It foretold the fall of the great evil city on the day that the dog star, Sirius, rises. In 64 A.D., Sirius rose on July 19, the very day the fire of Rome started. Baudy and other scholars believe that, some of the Christians (especially Jews), maltreated and embittered, may have done it, — or at least lit additional fires, adding fuel in hopes of fulfilling their prophecies.  This led directly to the First Jewish Revolt against Rome, as we shall see in a future article.

Bibliography:

PBS Film Secrets of the Dead:  The Great Fire of Rome

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/previous_seasons/case_rome/clues.html

“Yasser’s Terrorist Jesus” : David G. Littman FrontPageMagazine.com, November 15, 2004
http://www.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=10582

For Further Reading:

Bibliography:

Christianity in Talmud and Midrash, Herford, R. Travers. Ktav Publishing House, New York, 1975, reprint of 1903 edition.

Jesus and the Zealots, SGF Brandon. Scribners, New York, 1967.

The Jewish Time Line Encyclopedia, Kantor, Mattis. Jason Aronson, Inc., Northvale, NJ, 1992.

Josephus, the Jewish War, Trans. G. A. Williamson, Penguin, 1959.

The Illustrated History of the Jewish People, ed. Nicholas Lange. Key Porter Books, 1997. “The Making of the Diaspora, Oded Irshai.

The Bible translation used is the King James.

Laupot, Eric. Tacitus’ Fragment 2: The Anti-Roman Movement of the Christiani and the Nazoreans. Vigiliae Christianae 54, no. 3 (2000) 233-47

The Lost Books of the Bible, Crown Publishers, New York, 1979

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