Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Eusebius, EH.3.17-20: Domitian, Persecution, and the Grand-Nephews of Jesus

Image: Closeup of marble bust of Domitian (AD 51-96), Louvre Museum, Paris

New episode posted to the series on Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 3, chapters 17-20. Listen here.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters cover various developments in early Christianity during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian (or Domitianus, 51-96; emperor, 81-96).

Chapter 17: Eusebius notes Domitian’s great cruelty against his fellow Romans. He was “the successor to Nero’s campaign of hostility to God” and, following after Nero, was the second to promote persecution of Christians.

Chapter 18: John the Apostle and Evangelist was exiled to Patmos at this time. Note: Eusebius assumes John the Apostle is the author of Revelation. He also cites Irenaeus as saying John wrote Revelation during Domitian’s reign.

He notes that in the 15th year of Domitian’s reign, Flavia Domitilla, niece of the Romans consul Flavius Clemens and other Christians were banished to the island of Pontia. If true, this shows the spread of Christianity to high social circles in Rome.

Chapters 19-20: Eusebius relays a tradition from Hegesippus that the grandsons of Jesus’s brother Judas [Jesus’s grand-nephews] were threatened by Domitian, since they came from the family of David. They are described as relatively poor laborers [farmers? See Richard J. Bauckham] and small landholders [39 plethra; Lake suggests that a plethron was about one fourth of an acre; so, 39 plethra would be less than 10 acres]. They were released by Domitian and became leaders in the church.

He cites Tertullian’s statement that Domitian was “a Nero in cruelty.”

Domitian was succeeded by Nerva.

Eusebius closes by noting that after his banishment John settled in Ephesus.


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