Non-Christian Literary Witnesses to the Historicity of Early Christians

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
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Leucius Charinus
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Re: Non-Christian Literary Witnesses to the Historicity of Early Christians

Post by Leucius Charinus »

Is Tacitus' "Annals" 15:44 Authentic or Corrupt?

Recent threads in this forum indicate a mixed opinion on the authenticity of the Christian reference in Tacitus' "Annals" 15:44. IMO it represents an interpolation undertaken as late as the 14th/15th/16th century.

The chief fact supporting this provisional conclusion is that not one author cites Tacitus for this reference until the "discovery" of the manuscript in the archives of the 16th century church. The arguments against its authenticity put forward by Arthur Drews (see link below) I find reasonable.


Is Tacitus' "Annals" 15:44 Authentic or Corrupt?
Summary of sources


Ancient Sources____________________________________
115 - Tacitus, "Annals" 15:44
122 - Suetonius, "Lives", Nero, 16:
192 - Tertullian, "Apology" 5:
324 - Eusebius of Caesarea, "Historia Ecclesiastica" 2.25
325 - Lactantius, "On the Manner in which the Persecutors Died"", Chapter 2
4th - Seneca to Paul, Letter 12: "Dear Paul, How goeth the church industry? Your good buddy, Seneca"
403 - Sulpicius Severus, "Chronicle" 2.29.1-4a: "phrases and even sentences from many classical authors are interwoven here and there"
??? - Jerome, Orosius, Sidonius Apollinaris, and Cassiodorus.

Middle Age Sources____________________________________
1071 - Oldest manuscript (Annals 15:44) dated palaeographically: Second Medicean manuscript, Benedictine abbey, Monte Cassino, using the Beneventan script
1513 - John de Medici (Pope Leo X) increases the price of rewards to persons who procured new MS. copies of ancient Greek and Roman works
1514 - Angelo Arcomboldi, Pope Leo X's "Thesaurum Quaestor Pontificius" ("steward", "receiver", or "collector") discovers the manuscripts of Annals 1-6
1515 - Publication of Annals 1-6 by Beroaldus in Rome
1559 - Index Librorum Prohibitorum
16th - Last known exemplars authored using the Beneventan script

Modern Sources____________________________________
1878 - John Wilson Ross, "Tacitus and Bracciolini: The Annals Forged in the 15th Century" (Ross disputes the Annals in its entirety but accepts the History)
1885 - Polydore Hochart "Études au sujet de la persécution des Chrétiens sous Néron"
1890 - Polydore Hochart "De l'authenticité des Annales et des Histoires de Tacite" (Hochart questions both the Annals and the History)
1902 - Georg Andresen commented on the "Chrestians"
1910 - W.B. Smith's "The Silence of Josephus and Tacitus", largely duplicated in "Ecce Deus"
1912 - Arthur Drews, "The Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus" summarising Hochart: middle age forgery
1913 - W.B. Smith's "Ecce Deus" (Smith questions only the genuineness of the passage in the Annals about "Christus" and "Christians")
1947 - Arnaldo Momigliano, "The First Political Commentary on Tacitus"
2014 - Richard Carrier "The Prospect of a Christian Interpolation in Tacitus, Annals 15.44"

The detail sources (and links) behind the above summaries are listed and discussed:
http://mountainman.com.au/essenes/author_Tacitus.htm
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Leucius Charinus
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Re: Non-Christian Literary Witnesses to the Historicity of Early Christians

Post by Leucius Charinus »

Is the Pliny/Trajan letter exchange (Letters 10.96; 10.97) authentic or corrupt?

My position at the moment is that this letter exchange is a further instance of forgery by the church and is inauthentic. Out of many, the best arguments for inauthenticity IMO are outlined in articles written Professor Darrell Doughty and Enrico Tuccinardi (links below)

Timeline

Ancient Sources____________________________________

111 - Pliny Trajan "Letter Exchange": Pliny, Letters 10.96; Trajan in Pliny, Letters 10.97
192 - Tertullian of Carthage: "Apology for the Christians", Chapter 2
324 - Eusebius, "Church History", Book 3, Chapter XXXIII — Trajan forbids the Christians to be sought after.
390 - Jerome, "Interpret. Chron. Eus." Ann. 2121
417 - Paulus Orosius, "Historiae Adversus Paganos" 7.12
484 - Sidonius Apollinaris finds a nine-book manuscript; knew nothing of the correspondence between Pliny and Trajan.


Middle Age Sources____________________________________
1498 - Father Giovanni Giocondo published (in Italian) Pliny's Epistles in Bologna
1499 - Father Giovanni Giocondo of Verona discovered a minuscule manuscript [P] and made a copy (I) of the ten books of Pliny's Letters.
1508 - Aldus Manutius, the publisher, uses copy (I) for his edition of the Letters.
1508 - No trace of P has ever come to light since the publication of the edition of Aldus. It was "lost".


Modern Sources____________________________________
1955 - The Basis of the Text in Book X of Pliny's Letters; S. E. Stout
1958 - The Origin of the Ten-Book Family of Pliny Manuscripts; S. E. Stout
2005 - Notes on Pliny-Trajan letters, Professor Darrell Doughty

Details for the above can be located here:
http://mountainman.com.au/essenes/autho ... Trajan.htm

Additionally there is another relevant article as follows:

An application of a profile-based method for authorship verification: Investigating the authenticity of Pliny the Younger's letter to Trajan concerning the Christians

by Enrico Tuccinardi

ABSTRACT

Pliny the Younger's letter to Trajan regarding the Christians is a crucial subject for the studies on early Christianity. A serious quarrel among scholars concerning its genuineness arose between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th; per contra, Plinian authorship has not been seriously questioned in the last few decades. After analysing various kinds of internal and external evidence in favour of and against the authenticity of the letter, a modern stylometric method is applied in order to examine whether internal linguistic evidence allows one to definitely settle the debate.The findings of this analysis tend to contradict received opinion among modern scholars, affirming the authenticity of Pliny’s letter, and suggest instead the presence of large amounts of interpolation inside the text of the letter, since its stylistic behaviour appears highly different from that of the rest of Book X.

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GakuseiDon
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Re: Non-Christian Literary Witnesses to the Historicity of Early Christians

Post by GakuseiDon »

Leucius Charinus wrote: Tue Sep 20, 2022 8:36 pm Is Tacitus' "Annals" 15:44 Authentic or Corrupt?

Recent threads in this forum indicate a mixed opinion on the authenticity of the Christian reference in Tacitus' "Annals" 15:44. IMO it represents an interpolation undertaken as late as the 14th/15th/16th century.

The chief fact supporting this provisional conclusion is that not one author cites Tacitus for this reference until the "discovery" of the manuscript in the archives of the 16th century church.
There is a hint in Tertullian's First Apology:
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/t ... ian01.html

Consult your histories; you will there find that Nero was the first who assailed with the imperial sword the Christian sect, making profess then especially at Rome...

Tertullian is probably referring to either the works of Tacitus or Suetonius or both when he asks the pagans to "consult your histories". Since he refers to the works of Tacitus a couple of times in the same apology (e.g. "in the fifth book of his [Tacitus'] histories"), arguably he might well be aware of Tacitus's passage on Nero persecuting Christians (if it existed at that time).

If you believe that Eusebius or any other 4th C author was the author of Tertullian's work, what do you think the author meant by asking pagans to "consult your histories" with respect to Nero persecuting the Christians?
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Leucius Charinus
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Re: Non-Christian Literary Witnesses to the Historicity of Early Christians

Post by Leucius Charinus »

GakuseiDon wrote: Thu Sep 22, 2022 9:44 pm
Leucius Charinus wrote: Tue Sep 20, 2022 8:36 pm Is Tacitus' "Annals" 15:44 Authentic or Corrupt?

Recent threads in this forum indicate a mixed opinion on the authenticity of the Christian reference in Tacitus' "Annals" 15:44. IMO it represents an interpolation undertaken as late as the 14th/15th/16th century.

The chief fact supporting this provisional conclusion is that not one author cites Tacitus for this reference until the "discovery" of the manuscript in the archives of the 16th century church.
There is a hint in Tertullian's First Apology:
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/t ... ian01.html

Consult your histories; you will there find that Nero was the first who assailed with the imperial sword the Christian sect, making profess then especially at Rome...
Eusebius cites Tertullian in Historia Ecclesiastica 2.25:

The Persecution under Nero in which Paul and Peter were honored at Rome with Martyrdom in Behalf of Religion.:

When the government of Nero was now firmly established, he began to plunge into unholy pursuits, and armed himself even against the religion of the God of the universe. To describe the greatness of his depravity does not lie within the plan of the present work. As there are many indeed that have recorded his history in most accurate narratives, every one may at his pleasure learn from them the coarseness of the man’s extraordinary madness, under the influence of which, after he had accomplished the destruction of so many myriads without any reason, he ran into such blood-guiltiness that he did not spare even his nearest relatives and dearest friends, but destroyed his mother and his brothers and his wife, with very many others of his own family as he would private and public enemies, with various kinds of deaths. But with all these things this particular in the catalogue of his crimes was still wanting, that he was the first of the emperors who showed himself an enemy of the divine religion.

The Roman Tertullian is likewise a witness of this. He writes [Tertullian, Apol. V.] as follows:
  • “Examine your records. There you will find that Nero was the first that persecuted this doctrine, particularly then when after subduing all the east, he exercised his cruelty against all at Rome. We glory in having such a man the leader in our punishment. For whoever knows him can understand that nothing was condemned by Nero unless it was something of great excellence.”
Thus publicly announcing himself as the first among God’s chief enemies, he was led on to the slaughter of the apostles. It is, therefore, recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified under Nero. This account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day. It is confirmed likewise by Caius, a member of the Church, who arose under Zephyrinus, bishop of Rome. He, in a published disputation with Proclus, the leader of the Phrygian heresy, speaks as follows concerning the places where the sacred corpses of the aforesaid apostles are laid: “But I can show the trophies of the apostles. For if you will go to the Vatican or to the Ostian way, you will find the trophies of those who laid the foundations of this church.” And that they both suffered martyrdom at the same time is stated by Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, in his epistle to the Romans, in the following words: “You have thus by such an admonition bound together the planting of Peter and of Paul at Rome and Corinth. For both of them planted and likewise taught us in our Corinth. And they taught together in like manner in Italy, and suffered martyrdom at the same time. I have quoted these things in order that the truth of the history might be still more confirmed.”

From this it seems clear to me atm (also see comments below) that both Tertullian and Eusebius were not referring to any general persecution of the Christians by Nero but rather the death of the chief apostles Peter and Paul in Rome.

This is IMO very important to understand because there is no mention of the death of Peter and Paul in the NT canonical literature.
Tertullian is probably referring to either the works of Tacitus or Suetonius or both when he asks the pagans to "consult your histories". Since he refers to the works of Tacitus a couple of times in the same apology (e.g. "in the fifth book of his [Tacitus'] histories"), arguably he might well be aware of Tacitus's passage on Nero persecuting Christians (if it existed at that time).
I find the following from WB Smith substantiates the idea that Tertullian is not referring to the history of Tacitus but rather the "history" of the deaths of Peter and Paul.

W.B. Smith's "Ecce Deus": STUDIES OF PRIMITIVE CHRISTIANITY
http://mountainman.com.au/essenes/autho ... s.htm#1006

(Smith questions only the genuineness of the passage in the Annals about "Christus" and "Christians")

THE SILENCE OF TACITUS p.243

But even Tertullian reveals no notion of such a Neronian persecution as we read of in Tacitus. Yet he was acquainted with this historian, whose Histories he cites at length, on whose name he puns, whom he cordially hates for defaming the Jews. Had he read of Nero's burning the Christians alive, would he have used such vague and commonplace imagery as "raged with Caesarean sword" and "through Nero's cruelty they sowed Christian blood"? Remember that Tertullian was a rhetorician to his fingertips. Would he have neglected such an exceptional opportunity for the display of his thrice-favourite art? It seems needless to discuss still later testimony, as that of Lactantius (De mort, persec, 2), of Origen (Eus., H. E,, ni, i), of Eusebius {H. E., H, 25), and of Jerome.

These late writers have at last learned, after two centuries or more of ignorance, that Peter and Paul fell victims to Neronian fury ; but they still have no idea that Nero falsely accused the Christians of setting the city on fire, nor do they hint that a "vast multitude" lit up the Roman night with the flames of their burning bodies. Not until the fourth century, in Ep. 12 of the forged correspondence of Paul and Seneca, do we read that " Christians and Jews, as if contrivers of (a) conflagration, when put to death are wont to be burned." But even here the allusion, if there be any, to the Neronian persecution is extremely vague."

If you believe that Eusebius or any other 4th C author was the author of Tertullian's work, what do you think the author meant by asking pagans to "consult your histories" with respect to Nero persecuting the Christians?
Let's approach my answer to these two questions in the opposite order.

(1) what do you think the author meant by asking pagans to "consult your histories" with respect to Nero persecuting the Christians?

Irrespective of any involvement with Eusebius ...

I think (as does W.B. Smith above) that this refers to "The Acts of Peter" (and other NT apocryphal texts) which provide information on the death of Peter and Paul in Rome during the rule of Nero. The big problem with this is that nobody really knows who wrote the Acts of Peter and WHEN it was written. If we were to consult our "histories" we would find that it is Tertullian (this time it is not Irenaeus) who is used to provide a terminus ad quem for the author of the Acts of Paul, and consequently then, by association, a chronological marker for the same author of the Acts of Peter .

Biblical scholarship seems to be comfortable with the fact that The Acts of John, The Acts of Peter, The Acts of Paul, The Acts of Andrew, The Acts of Thomas (and possibly others as well) were authored by the one author. This author eventually named "Leucius" in the 4th and 5th centuries and finally (via Photius) named "Leucius Charinus" in the 9th century. The original reference in Tertullian provides no name for the author. Here is what Glenn Davis writes about the Acts of Paul:

The Acts of Paul (Asia Minor, 185-195 CE) is a romance that makes arbitrary use of the canonical Acts and the Pauline Epistles. Many manuscripts have survived, there is an English translation in [Schneemelcher] v. 2 pp. 237-265, but there is not yet a critical edition. The canon list in the 6th century codex Claromontanus includes it with an indication that it contains 3560 lines, somewhat longer than the canonical Acts with 2600 lines. The author, so Tertullian tells us, was a cleric who lived in the Roman province of Asia in the western part of Asia Minor, and who composed the book about 170 CE with the avowed intent of doing honor to the Apostle Paul. Although well-intentioned, the author was brought up for trial by his peers and, being convicted of falsifying the facts, was dismissed from his office. But his book, though condemned by ecclesiastical leaders, achieved considerable popularity among the laity. Certain episodes in the Acts of Paul, such as the 'Journeys of Paul and Thecla', exist in a number of Greek manuscripts and in half a dozen ancient versions. Thecla was a noble-born virgin from Iconium and an enthusiastic follower of the Apostle; she preached like a missionary and administered baptism. It was the administration of baptism by a woman that scandalized Tertullian and led him to condemn the entire book.

http://www.ntcanon.org/Acts_of_Paul.shtml

So if the same author wrote all these "Leucian Acts" (a proposition considered to be true by mainstream scholarship) then these non canonical "Acts of the Various Apostles" were all written about the same time - later 2nd century. This is the mainstream PARADIGM.

So to now return to the other question:

(2) If you believe that Eusebius or any other 4th C author was the author of Tertullian's work ...

You'll note that all of the above reflects the mainstream paradigm as to when the Acts of Peter containing the first surviving narratives of the death of Peter in Rome by Nero began to circulate. The mainstream later 2nd century chronology of all the "Leucian Acts" is dependent upon an assertion in the writings of Tertullian, the Bishop of Carthage.

My opinion as to whether "Eusebius or any other 4th C author was the author of Tertullian's work" need not have any relevance to any of the above. If you are interested in it however I am happy to provide it.
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