The Emperor Who Must Not Be Named

A repost from the sci-fi blog… with the sci-fi stuff removed.

A bit of a scholastic discussion on whenever the Book of Revelation was written before or after the fall of the Jewish temple points to He Who Must Not Be Named.

The statement from Clement that is deemed useful is found in his Quis Salvus Dives (i.e., Who is the Rich Man that shall be Saved?), Section 42.

“And to give you confidence, when you have thus truly repented, that there remains for you a trustworthy hope of salvation, hear a story that is no mere story, but a true account of John the apostle that has been handed down and preserved in memory. When after the death of the tyrant he removed from the island of’ Patmos to Ephesus, he used to journey by request to the neighboring districts of the Gentiles, in some places to appoint bishops, in others to regulate whole churches, in others to set among the clergy some one man, it may be, of those indicated by the Spirit.[1]

The critical phrase here is “after the death of the tyrant he removed from the island of Patmos to Ephesus.” The Greek of that phrase is: ἐπειδὴ γὰρ τοῦ τυράννου τελευτήσαντος ἀπὸ τῆς Πάτμου τῆς νήσου μετῆλθεν ἐπὶ τὴν Ἔφεσον.


[1] G. W. Butterworth, Clement of Alexandria (London: Heinemann, 1919), pp. 356ff.

Kenneth L. Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell

The question is, who is the unnamed tyrant?

It is true that “the absence of a name in both Clement and Origen certainly does not prove that no name was known to them. But the coincidence is curious, and on the whole suggests that the Alexandria tradition assigned the stay in Patmos to banishment by an emperor, but did not name the emperor.”[1]


[1] F. J. A. Hort, The Apocalypse of St. John: I-III (London: Macmillan, 1908), p. xv.

[Sci-fi stuff snipped]

And now, on to He Who Must Not Be Named:

The Universal Fear of Nero

First, even outside Christian circles Nero’s infamous evil was greatly feared. Pliny the Elder (a contemporary of Nero who died in the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79) described Nero as “the destroyer of the human race,“ “the poison of the world.”[1] A full quotation from Pliny is here given:

“Marcus Agrippa is said to have been born in this manner [i.e., breech position], almost the solitary instance of a successful career among all those so born – although he too is deemed to have paid the penalty which his irregular birth foretold, by a youth made unhappy by lameness, a lifetime passed amidst warfare and ever exposed to the approach of death, by the misfortune caused to the world by his whole progeny but especially due to his two daughters who became the mothers of the emperors Gaius Caligula and Domitius Nero, the two firebrands of mankind…. Nero also, who was emperor shortly before and whose entire rule showed him the enemy of mankind.”[2]

Apollonius of Tyana (b. 4 B.C.) says that Nero was “commonly called a Tyrant”: “In my travels, which have been wider than ever man yet accomplished, I have seen many, many wild beasts of Arabia and India; but this beast, that is commonly called a Tyrant, I know not how many heads it has, nor if it be crooked of claw, and armed with horrible fangs…. And of wild beasts you cannot say that they were ever known to eat their own mothers, but Nero has gorged himself on this diet.”[3]


[1] Pliny, Natural History 7:45; 22:92, trans. found in Miriam T. Griffin, Nero: The End

of a Dynasty (New Haven: Yale, 1984), p. 15.

[2] Pliny, Natural History 7:45.

[3] Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 438. Citedin John A. T Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976), p. 235, from J. S. Phillimore (Oxford, 1912) 2:38.

An Emperor who was a beast driven by appetite, not ideology: not Joseph Stalin, but Lavrentiy Beria. Stalin himself would not leave his daughter alone with the man… for excellent reasons!

Thus, biblical scholar Merrill C. Tenney speaks scathingly of the notorious evil of Nero: “Having exhausted the imperial treasury by his heedless expenditures, he looked for some method of replenishing it. Heavy taxation of the estates of childless couples, false accusations followed by confiscation of wealth, and outright murder of the aristocracy or else invitation to suicide made life unbearable. Wealthy men lived in dread of the emperor’s displeasure, and so great was the terror that the senatorial class endured unimaginable insults and mistreatment as the price of staying alive. Men betrayed their best friends, perjured themselves, and stooped to any infamy to aver the emperor’s hatred or cupidity.”[1]


[1] Merrill C. Tenney, New Testament Times (Chicago: Moody, 1965, p. 289).

[Sci-fi stuff snipped]

The Fear of Nero’s Return

Second, Nero was so dreaded by many that after his death there began circulating haunting rumors of his destructive return. In fact, “very soon after Nero’s death, there grew up a curious legend which remains well-nigh unique in history, the legend that Nero would return to earth again to reign.”[1] The rumors can be found in the writings of Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio Cassius, Zonara, Dion Chrysostom, Augustine, and other ancient writers.[2]

In the corpus of the Sibylline Oracles Nero appears as a constant threat to the world. Sibylline scholar J. J. Collins notes in this regard that “there is the prominence of Nero as an eschatological adversary throughout the Sibylline corpus.”[3] Let us take a few pages to demonstrate the pervasiveness of Nero in these alleged prophecies of folklore quality. In the Jewish Sibylline Oracles (written “sometime after A.D. 70”)[4] there is a veiled reference to Nero[5] that equates him with the dreaded Beliar:

“Then Beliar will come from the Sebastenoi [i.e., the line of Augustus]

and he will raise up the height of mountains, he will raise up the sea,

the great fiery sun and shining moon,and he will raise up the dead. . . .

But he will, indeed, also lead men astray, and he will lead astray

many faithful, chosen Hebrews, and also other

lawlessmen who have not yet listened to the word of God.”[6]

Another passage found in Sibylline Oracles 4:115-124 teaches that Nero had fled Rome to Parthia, from whence he would come to terrify Rome.

Two impostors claiming to be Nero are mentioned in profane history, one, in A.D. 69 and the other twenty years later.[7] Their attempts to deceive and to gain power required the pervasive belief in Nero’s being alive and in hiding.


[1] Henderson, Nero, p. 419.

[2] Tacitus, Histories 1:78; 2:6; Suetonius, Nero 57; Dio Cassius Xiphilinus 65:9;Zonara, Annals 11:15-18; Dio Chrysostom, Orations 21:9,10; Augustine, The City of God 20:19-3. See also Sibylline Oracles, 4:119-124, 137-139; 5:331Z, 104-107, 139-154, 214-220, 361-370; Ascension of Isaiah 42-4.

[3] J. J. Collins, “Sibylline Oracles,” in James H. Charlesworth, ed., Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols(Garden City, NY Doubleday, 1983) 1:360.

[4] Ibid., p.360

[5] Ibid., p. 360, note j.

[6] Sibylline Oracles 3:63-70; OTP 1:363

[7] Tacitus, Histories 2:8,9; Dio Cassius, Roman History 649; Suetonius, Nero 57.

Nero was such a terror that people dreaded his return even after he was dead.

Even now, about 2000 years after his death, many Christians still dread the return of a future Antichrist.

Really, preachers should stop building up fear in their congregation, and give them the good news that the Antichrist died in AD 68, long, long ago.

Martial and Statius the poets hurl at Nero’s head their choicest and most abusive epithets. Domitian could in later years be loaded with no greater reproach than that of being a second Nero, a “bald-headed Nero.”

“A bald-headed Nero”? Ha!

Emperor Domitian was an unpleasant man, but not some Neronic psychopath with unfettered power at his fingertips. An authoritarian soldier who disliked Christians – and strongly favoured the Imperial Cult, for obvious reasons – but hardly some dedicated persecutor.

1 thought on “The Emperor Who Must Not Be Named

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.