Excerpts from Sulpicius Severus' Sacred History

The Persecution of Christians and the Destruction of Jerusalem

Bk. II Chapter XXVII.


Then Herod, a foreigner, the son of Antipater of Askelon, asked and received the sovereignty of Judaea from the senate and people of Rome. Under him, the Jews began for the first time to have a foreigner as king. For as now the advent of Christ was at hand, it was necessary, according to the predictions of the prophets, that they should be deprived of their own rulers, that they might not look for anything beyond Christ. Under this Herod, in the thirty-third year of his reign, Christ was born on the twenty-fifth of December in the consulship of Sabinus and Rufinus. But we do not venture to touch on these things which are contained in the Gospels, and subsequently in the Acts of the Apostles, lest the character of our condensed work should, in any measure, detract from the dignity of the events; and I shall proceed to what remains. Herod reigned four years after the birth of the Lord; for the whole period of his reign comprised thirty-seven years. After him, came Archelaus the tetrarch, for eight years, and Herod for twenty-four years. Under him, in the eighteenth year of his reign, the Lord was crucified, Fufius Geminus and Rubellius Geminus being consuls; from which date up to the consulship of Stilico, there have elapsed three hundred and seventy-two years.

Chapter XXVIII.

Luke made known the doings of the apostles up to the time when Paul was brought to Rome under the emperor Nero. As to Nero, I shall not say that he was the worst of kings, but that he was worthily held the basest of all men, and even of wild beasts. It was he who first began a persecution; and I am not sure but hew will be the last also to carry it on, if, indeed, we admit, as many are inclined to believe, that he will yet appear immediately before the coming of Antichrist. Our subject would induce me to set forth his vices at some length, if it were not inconsistent with the purpose of this work to enter upon so vast a topic. I content myself with the remark, that he showed himself in every way most abominable and cruel, and at length even went so far as to be the murderer of his own mother. After this, he also married a certain Pythagoras in the style of solemn alliances, the bridal veil being put upon the emperor, while the usual dowry, and the marriage couch, and wedding torches, and, in short, all the other observances were forthcoming-things which even in the ease of women, are not looked upon without some feeling of modesty. But as to his other actions, I doubt whether the description of them would excite greater shame or sorrow.  He first attempted to abolish the name of Christian, in accordance with the fact that vices are always inimical to virtues, and that all good men are ever regarded by the wicked as casting reproach upon them. For, at that time, our divine religion had obtained a wide prevalence in the city. Peter was there executing the office of bishop, and Paul, too, after he had been brought to Rome, on appealing to Caesar from the unjust judgment of the governor. Multitudes then came together to hear Paul, and these, influenced by the truth which they were given to know, and by the miracles of the apostles, which they then so frequently performed, turned to the worship of God. For then took place the well-known and celebrated encounter of Peter and Paul with Simon. He, after he had flown up into the air by his magical arts, and supported by two demons (with the view of proving that he was a god), the demons being put to flight by the prayers of the apostles, fell to the earth in the sight of all the people, and was dashed to pieces.

Chapter XXIX.

Is the meantime, the number of the Christians being now very large, it happened that Rome was destroyed by fire, while Nero was stationed at Antium. But the opinion of all cast the odium of causing the fire upon the emperor, and he was believed in this way to have sought for the glory of building a new city. And in fact, Nero could not by any means he tried escape from the charge that the fire had been caused by his orders. He therefore turned the accusation against the Christians, and the most cruel tortures were accordingly inflicted upon the innocent. Nay, even new kinds of death were invented, so that, being covered in the skins of wild beasts, they perished by being devoured by dogs, while many were crucified or slain by fire, and not a few were set apart for this purpose, that, when the day came to a close, they should be consumed to serve for light during the night. In this way, cruelty tint began to be manifested against the Christians. Afterwards, too, their religion was prohibited by laws which were enacted; and by edicts openly set forth it was proclaimed unlawful to be a Christian. At that time Paul and Peter were condemned to death, the former being beheaded with a sword, while Peter suffered crucifixion. And while these things went on at Rome, the Jews, not able to endure the injuries they suffered under the rule of Festus Florus, began to rebel. Vespasian, being sent by Nero against them, with proconsular power, defeated them in numerous important battles, and compelled them to flee within the walls of Jerusalem. In the meanwhile Nero, now hateful even to himself from a consciousness of his crimes, disappears from among men, leaving it uncertain whether or not he had laid violent hands upon himself: certainly his body was never found. It was accordingly believed that, even if he did put an end to himself with a sword, his wound was cured, and his life preserved, according to that which was written regarding him,-"And his mortal wound was healed," -to be sent forth again near the end of the world, in order that he may practice the mystery of iniquity.

Chapter XXX.

So then, after the departure of Nero, Galba seized the government; and ere long, on Galba being slain, Otho secured it. Then Vitellius from Gaul, trusting to the armies which he commanded, entered the city, and having killed Otho, assumed the sovereignty. This afterwards passed to Vespasian, and although that was accomplished by evil means, yet it had the good effect of rescuing the state from the hands of the wicked. While Vespasian was besieging Jerusalem, he took possession of the imperial power; and as the fashion is, he was saluted as emperor by the army, with a diadem placed upon his head. He made his son Titus, Caesar; and assigned him a portion of the forces, along with the task of continuing the siege of Jerusalem. Vespasian set out for Rome, and was received with the greatest favor by the senate and people; and Vitellius having killed himself, his hold of the sovereign power was fully confirmed. The Jews, meanwhile, being closely besieged, as no chance either of peace or surrender was allowed them, were at length perishing from famine, and the streets began everywhere to be filled with dead bodies, for the duty of burying them could no longer be performed. Moreover, they ventured on eating all things of the most abominable nature, and did not even abstain from human bodies, except those which putrefaction had already laid hold of and thus excluded from use as food. The Romans, accordingly, rushed in upon the exhausted defenders of the city. And it so happened that the whole multitude from the country, and from other towns of Judaea, had then assembled for the day of the Passover: doubtless, because it pleased God that the impious race should be given over to destruction at the very time of the year at which they had crucified the Lord. The Pharisees for a time maintained their ground most boldly in defense of the temple, and at length, with minds Obstinately bent on death, they, of their own accord, committed themselves to the flames. The number of those who suffered death is related to have been eleven hundred thousand, and one hundred thousand were taken captive and sold. Titus is said, after calling a council, to have first deliberated whether he should destroy the temple, a structure of such extraordinary work. For it seemed good to some that a sacred edifice, distinguished above all human achievements, ought not to be destroyed, inasmuch as, if preserved, it would furnish an evidence of Roman moderation, but, if destroyed, would serve for a perpetual proof of Roman cruelty. But on the opposite side, others and Titus himself thought that the temple ought specially to be overthrown, in order that the religion of the Jews and of the Christians might more thoroughly be subverted; for that these religions, although contrary to each other, had nevertheless proceeded from the same authors; that the Christians had sprung up from among the Jews; and that, if the root were extirpated, the offshoot would speedily perish. Thus, according to the divine will, the minds of all being inflamed, the temple was destroyed, three hundred and thirty-one years ago. And this last overthrow of the temple, and final captivity of the Jews, by which, being exiles from their native land, they are beheld scattered through the whole world, furnish a daily demonstration to the world, that they have been punished on no other account than for the impious hands which they laid upon Christ. For though on other occasions they were often given over to captivity on account of their sins, yet they never paid the penalty of slavery beyond a period of seventy years.

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