Book 2

(Compiled by me from the works of Clement, Tertullian, Josephus, and Philo)

TIBERIUS TO NERO: THE WORK OF THE APOSTLES FROM THE CHOICE OF MATTHIAS TO THE DEATHS OF PAUL AND PETER

Those facts about the story of the Church that needed to be explained by way of preface – the divinity of the saving Word, the early history of our teaching, the antiquity of the Christian way of life in accordance with the gospel, and especially the details of Christ’s recent advent, the events before His Passion, and the choice of the apostles – I discussed in the previous book, outlining the arguments. Let us now in the present book inquire into the events following His Ascension, drawing on Holy Writ for some, and deriving others from outside sources which I shall name as occasion demands.

How the apostles lived after the Ascension

1. The first, then, to be chosen by lot for the apostleship in place of the traitor Judas was Matthias,1 who, as has been mentioned, had been one of the Lord’s disciples. By prayer and the laying-on of the apostles’ hands there were appointed to the diaconate for the service of the community men of proved worth to the number of seven.2These were headed by Stephen, who was the first after the Lord – almost as soon as he was ordained, as if this was the real purpose of his advancement – to be put to death, stoned by the Lord’s murderers.3 Thus he was the first to win the crown called by the same name as he,4 and reserved for Christ’s worthily victorious martyrs.

Then there was James, who was known as the brother of the Lord; for he, too, was called Joseph’s son, and Joseph Christ’s father, though in fact the Virgin was his betrothed, and before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Ghost, as the inspired gospel narrative tells us.1 This James, whom the early Christians surnamed the Righteous because of his outstanding virtue, was the first, as the records tell us, to be elected to the episcopal throne of the Jerusalem church. Clement, in OutlinesBook VI, puts it thus:

Peter, James, and John, after the Ascension of the Saviour, did not claim pre-eminence because the Saviour had specially honoured them, but chose James the Righteous as Bishop of Jerusalem.

In Book VIII of the same work the writer makes this further statement about him:

James the Righteous, John, and Peter were entrusted by the Lord after his resurrection with the higher knowledge. They imparted it to the other apostles, and the other apostles to the Seventy, one of whom was Barnabas. There were two Jameses, one the Righteous, who was thrown down from the parapet and beaten to death with a fuller’s club, the other the James who was beheaded.2

James the Righteous is also mentioned by Paul when he writes:

Of the other apostles I saw no one except James the Lord’s brother.3

It was at this time that our Saviour’s promise to the king of the Osrhoenes was receiving its fulfilment. Thomas was moved by inspiration to send Thaddaeus to Edessa as preacher and evangelist of the teaching about Christ, as I showed a little way back from the document found there. When he arrived in the country Thaddaeus restored Abgar to health by the word of Christ, and amazed all the inhabitants by his wonderful miracles. By his actions he exerted such an influence on them that he led them to reverence the power of Christ, and made disciples of the saving doctrine. From that day to this the whole city of Edessa has been devoted to the name of Christ, providing most convincing proof of our Saviour’s goodness to them also.

After this excursion into early history let us return once more to the inspired record.

Stephen’s martyrdom was followed by the first and greatest persecution by the Jews themselves of the Jerusalem church. All the disciples except the Twelve alone were dispersed about Judaea and Samaria.1 Some, as the inspired record says, travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch; but they could not yet venture to share the message of the Faith with Gentiles, and proclaimed it to Jews alone.2 At that time also Paul was still raging against the Church, entering the houses of the faithful, dragging off men and women, and handing them over for imprisonment.3 But Philip, one of the men already ordained with Stephen to the diaconate, was among the dispersed. He went down into Samaria, and filled with divine power was the first to preach the word there. So great was the divine grace working with him that even Simon the Magus with very many others was won over by his words. Such a name had Simon obtained at that time by the sorceries with which he got his dupes into his power that he was believed to be the Great Power of God, but now even he was struck dumb by the miracles that Philip performed by divine power, and slipped in: he actually received baptism, in his hypocritical pretence of belief in Christ. It is an astonishing fact that this is still the practice of those who to the present day belong to his disgusting sect. Following in their progenitor’s footsteps they slip into the Church like a pestilential and scabby disease, and do the utmost damage to all whom they succeed in smearing with the horrible, deadly poison concealed on them. By now, however, most of these have been expelled – just as Simon himself, when his real character had been exposed by Peter, paid the appropriate penalty.4

While every day the saving message spread farther afield, some providence brought from Ethiopia, a country traditionally ruled by a woman, one of the queen’s principal officers. The first Gentile to receive from Philip by revelation the mysteries of the divine word, and the first-fruits of the faithful throughout the world, he is believed to have been the first to go back to his native land and preach the gospel of the knowledge of the God of the universe and the life-giving sojourn of our Saviour among men. Through him came the actual fulfilment of the prophecy:

Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand to God.1

The next stage began when Paul, the chosen vessel – neither from men nor through men, but through revelation of Jesus Christ Himself and God the Father who raised Him from the dead – was appointed an apostle, receiving his call through a vision and the heavenly voice that accompanied the revelation.2

Tiberius’s reaction on learning Christ’s story, which soon sped to every part of the world

2. Our Saviour’s marvellous resurrection and ascension into heaven were by now everywhere famous, and it had long been customary for provincial governors to report to the holder of the imperial office any change in the local situation, so that he might be aware of all that was going on. The story of the resurrection from the dead of our Saviour Jesus, already the subject of general discussion all over Palestine, was accordingly communicated by Pilate to the Emperor Tiberius. For Pilate knew all about Christ’s supernatural deeds, and especially how after death He had risen from the dead and was now generally believed to be a god. It is said that Tiberius referred the report to the senate, which rejected it. The apparent reason was that they had not gone into the matter before, for the old law still held good that no one could be regarded by the Romans as a god unless by vote and decree of the senate; the real reason was that no human decision or commendation was required for the saving teaching of the divine message. In this way the Roman council rejected the report sent to it about our Saviour, but Tiberius made no change in his attitude and formed no evil designs against the teaching of Christ.

These facts were noted by Tertullian, an expert in Roman law and famous on other grounds – in fact one of the most brilliant men in Rome. In his Defence of the Christians, written in Latin and translated into Greek, he has this to say:

To go back to the origin of such laws, there was an old decree that no one should be consecrated a god by an emperor till he had been approved by the senate. Marcus Aemilius followed this procedure in the case of a false god, Alburnus. This reinforces my argument that among you godhead is conferred by human approval. If a god does not satisfy man, he does not become a god; so according to this it is for man to show favour to God. Tiberius then, in whose time the name of Christian came into the world, when a report of this doctrine reached him from Palestine where it originated, communicated it to the senate, making it clear to them that he favoured the doctrine. The senate however, because they had not examined the doctrine for themselves, rejected it; but Tiberius stuck to his own view, and threatened to execute any who accused the Christians.1

Heavenly providence had purposefully put this in the emperor’s mind, in order that the gospel message should get off to a good start and speed to every part of the world.

3. Thus with the powerful cooperation of Heaven the whole world was suddenly lit by the sunshine of the saving word. At once, in accordance with the Holy Scriptures, the voice of its inspired evangelists and apostles went forth into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.2 In every town and village, like a well-filled threshing-floor, churches shot up bursting with eager members. Men who through the error they had inherited from generations of ancestors were in the grip of the old spiritual sickness of idol-worship, by the power of Christ and through the teaching of His followers and the miracles they wrought were freed, as it were, from cruel masters and found release from galling fetters. They turned their backs on devilish polytheism in all its forms, and acknowledged that there was one God only, the Fashioner of all things. Him they honoured with the ordinances of true religion through that divine, reasonable worship of which our Saviour sowed the seed in the life of men.

The divine grace was now being poured on the other nations too. First, at Palestinian Caesarea Cornelius with his entire household, through divine revelation and the agency of Peter, embraced the Christian faith.1 He was followed by many other Gentiles at Antioch, who had heard the preaching of those dispersed by the persecution of Stephen’s time. The Antioch church was now flourishing and growing rapidly, and a large number of the prophets from Jerusalem were there, accompanied by Barnabas and Paul and another group of brethren as well. It was at that time and in that city that the name of Christian first appeared, as if from a copious and life-giving fountain. Agabus again, one of the prophets staying with them, foretold the coming famine, and Paul and Barnabas were sent to do everything possible for the relief of the brethren.2

Agrippa appointed king and Herod banished: sufferings of the Jews: suicide of Pilate

4. After a reign of about twenty-two years Tiberius died, and the principate passed to Gaius,3 who at once had Agrippa crowned ruler of the Jews. He made him king of the tetrarchies of Philip and Lysanias, to which a little later he added the tetrarchy of Herod, having sentenced that monarch – the Herod of our Saviour’s Passion – to banishment for life, along with his wife Herodias, because of a long list of offences. The details will be found injosephus.4

In Gaius’ reign Philo became widely known as one of the greatest scholars, not only among our own people but also among those brought up as pagans. By descent a Hebrew, he could hold his own with any of the eminent occupants of official positions in Alexandria. The constant and conscientious labour that he bestowed on theological and traditional studies is plain for all to see, while of his proficiency in the philosophical and liberal thought of the pagan world there is no need to speak, since it is on record that in his enthusiasm for the systems of Plato and Pythagoras he surpassed all his contemporaries.

5. What happened to the Jews in Gaius’ reign Philo has related in five books. In these he describes the emperor’s insanity and how he proclaimed himself a god and over and over again abused his position; the sufferings of the Jews in his time; the mission to Rome that Philo undertook on behalf of his compatriots in Alexandria; his appearance before Gaius, when his defence of their ancestral laws met with nothing but derisive laughter and well nigh cost him his life.

These facts are mentioned also by Josephus, who in Antiquities Book XVIII writes as follows:

When a clash took place in Alexandria between the Jewish colony and the Greeks, three men were chosen by each faction to represent them before Gaius. One of the Alexandrian representatives was Apion, who brought many damaging accusations against the Jews, alleging in particular that they neglected the honours due to Caesar – all the subjects of the Roman government raised altars and temples to Gaius, and in every other respect accepted him as they did the gods: the Jews alone thought it improper to honour him with statues and swear by his name. When Apion had brought many serious charges, by which he hoped with good reason that Gaius would be roused, Philo, the leading Jewish representative, rose to reply. A man highly esteemed on every ground, brother of Alexander the alabarch, and a skilled philosopher, he was quite capable of rebutting the charges; but he was cut short by Gaius, who ordered him to clear out, being so infuriated that he was obviously on the point of taking drastic action against them. Out went Philo, grossly insulted, and told his Jewish colleagues they need have no fear: Gaius might be furious with them, but in reality he was already taking the field against God.1

So much we learn from Josephus. Philo himself, in his historical work The Mission, gives us a detailed and precise account of his actions at that time. I shall omit the greater part, quoting only those points that will make abundantly clear to my readers the calamities which befell the Jews so promptly and after so short an interval, in consequence of their crimes against Christ. In the first place he relates that in Tiberius’s reign, at Rome, Sejanus, then most influential at the emperor’s court, took energetic steps to exterminate the entire race. Meanwhile, in Judaea, Pilate, in whose period of office the crime against our Saviour was committed, made an attempt on the temple (then still standing) at Jerusalem in defiance of Jewish privileges, goading the people to absolute frenzy.

6. After the death of Tiberius, he continues, Gaius ascended the throne, and among the many victims of his numerous outrages the whole Jewish race suffered to a peculiar and extreme degree. This we may learn in brief from his own words, which I reproduce exactly as written:

So incalculable was the behaviour of Gaius towards everyone, especially the Jewish race. He hated them so bitterly that in city after city, beginning with Alexandria, he seized the synagogues and filled them with images and statues of himself – for as he gave permission for them to be erected, it was really he who put them there – and in the Holy City he tried to change the sanctuary, which was still untouched and regarded as inviolable, and transform it into a temple of his own, to be called the Temple of Jupiter the Glorious, the Younger Gaius.1

Countless other atrocities that beggar description, inflicted on the Jews at Alexandria in the same reign, are related by Philo in a second short work, entitled The Virtues. His statements are confirmed by Josephus, who similarly points out that the calamities which overtook the whole nation began with the time of Pilate and the crimes against the Saviour. Listen to what he has to say in The Jewish WarBook II. Here are his actual words:

As procurator of Judaea Tiberius sent Pilate, who during the night, secretly and under cover, conveyed to Jerusalem the images of Caesar known as signa. When day dawned this put the Jews into a frenzy; for those who were near were amazed at the sight, which meant that their laws had been trampled on – they do not permit any portrait-image to be set up in the city.2

If you compare this with the gospel account, you will see that it was not long before they paid the penalty for the cry they uttered before Pilate himself, when they shouted that they had no other king than Caesar alone.1 Josephus goes on to relate a second calamity that overtook them soon after:

After this he stirred up further trouble by expending the sacred treasure known as Corban2 on an aqueduct thirty-five miles long. This roused the populace to fury, and when Pilate visited Jerusalem they surrounded the tribunal and shouted him down. But he had foreseen this disturbance, and had made the soldiers mix with the mob, wearing civilian clothing over their armour, and with orders not to draw their swords but to use clubs on the obstreperous. He now gave the signal from the tribunal and the Jews were cudgelled, so that many died from the blows, and many as they fled were trampled to death by their friends. The fate of those who perished horrified the crowd into silence.3

Besides this, the same writer shows that in Jerusalem itself a great many other revolts broke out, making it clear that from then on the city and all Judaea were in the grip of faction, war, and an endless succession of criminal plots, until the final hour overtook them – the siege under Vespasian. Such was the penalty laid upon the Jews by divine justice for their crimes against Christ.

7. It is worthy of note that, as the records show, in the reign of Gaius, whose times I am describing, Pilate himself, the governor of our Saviour’s day, was involved in such calamities that he was forced to become his own executioner and to punish himself with his own hand: divine justice, it seems, was not slow to overtake him. The facts are recorded by those Greeks who have chronicled the Olympiads4 together with the events occurring in each.

The famine in Claudius’ time: martyrdom of James: punishment of Agrippa

8. The reign of Gaius had not yet lasted four years when he was succeeded as emperor by Claudius. In his time famine descended on the whole world, a fact which writers whose point of view is very different from ours have recorded in their histories.1 Thus, the prediction of Agabus in the Acts of the Apostles about the famine that was to occur all over the world received its fulfilment. The famine in Claudius’ time is indicated in the Acts by Luke, who relates how by Paul and Barnabas the Christians in Antioch, each according to his means, sent help to those in Judaea.2 He continues:

9. At that time [obviously that of Claudius] King Herod made a deter mined attack on certain members of the Church, killing James the brother of John with the sword.

Referring to this James, Clement in Outlines Book VII tells an interesting story, on the strength of an authentic tradition. It appears that the man who brought him into court was so moved when he saw him testify that he confessed that he, too, was a Christian:

So they were both taken away together, and on the way he asked James to forgive him. James thought for a moment; then he said,’I wish you peace’, and kissed him. So both were beheaded at the same time.

Then as we read in the sacred record, Herod, seeing that his action in putting James to death had given satisfaction to the Jews, laid hands on Peter as well, clapped him in prison, and was on the very point of perpetrating his murder too, but for divine intervention: in the night an angel stood by him, and he was miraculously released from his fetters and set free for the ministry of preaching. It was in this way that Peter’s life was ordained by heaven.3

10. The king’s attempt on the apostles brought swift retribution: the avenging minister of divine justice overtook him at once, immediately after his action against the apostles, as the narrative of the Acts records. He had set out for Caesarea, and there on an important feast day, adorned with magnificent royal robes, he mounted on a dais, and standing in front of his throne delivered a harangue which the entire audience received with thunderous applause, as the utterance of a god, not a man; and the inspired record tells us that instantly he was struck by an angel of the Lord, was eaten by worms, and expired.1 It is remarkable how in the case of this miracle also the sacred record is borne out by the account in Josephus, who clearly testifies to the truth in Antiquities Book XIX, where he tells us the amazing story in these words:

He had reached the end of his third year as king of all Judaea; and he came to the city of Caesarea, formerly known as Strato’s Tower. There he was celebrating public games in Caesar’s honour, knowing that this was a festival for his safety. It was attended by a great number of provincial officials and other leading men. On the second day of the games he put on a robe made entirely of silver, remarkable in texture, and at daybreak entered the theatre. There the silver was lit up by the first glint of the sun’s rays, and shone dazzlingly, glittering in such a way that those who gazed at it trembled with fear. At once his flatterers shouted aloud from every side – little good did it do him – and hailed him as a god, adding: ‘Be gracious! Hitherto we have reverenced you as a man; henceforth we acknowledge you as of more than mortal nature.’ The king did not rebuke these people or repudiate their blasphemous flattery.

A moment later he looked up, and sitting over his head he saw an angel. This, as he at once realized, was the bringer of evil, as he had once been of good. He felt a pang in his breast, and all at once a violent pain gripped his belly, agonizing from the start. So looking hard at his friends, he murmured: ‘I, your god, am now commanded to depart this life, for fate has instantly disproved the lies you have just told about me. You called me immortal, and now I am being taken away to die. I must bow to destiny, as God has willed it. Anyway my life has not been a poor one, but has reached the length that people envy.’

As he said this, the severity of his pain got the better of him; so no time was lost in carrying him into the palace, and soon the news reached all ears that he was bound to die in a matter of hours. By ancestral custom the crowd at once sat down, women and children as well, on sackcloth, and began to supplicate God for the king, and wailing and lamentation resounded everywhere. Lying in a top-floor room and looking down at them as they fell on their faces, the king could not restrain his own tears. For five days without intermission he was tortured by the pain in his belly; then he passed away in the fifty-fourth year of his life and the seventh of his reign. He had reigned four years in the time of Gaius Caesar, ruling Philip’s tetrarchy for three years, and in the fourth receiving Herod’s too, and three more while Claudius Caesar was emperor.1

On these and other matters Josephus confirms the truth of Holy Scripture in a way that surprises me. If regarding the king’s name some consider that there is a discrepancy, the answer is that the date and the facts prove that he is the same: either the name has been changed by a copyist’s error, or else, like many others, the same man had two names.

Theudas the impostor: Queen Helen of Adiabene

11. In the Acts, again, Luke introduces Gamaliel as saying at the examination of the apostles that at the time referred to Theudas rose in revolt, claiming to be somebody, and that he was killed and his entire following dispersed.2 Well now, let us compare this with what Josephus writes about him. Here is his account, quoted verbatim from the work just referred to:

When Fadus was procurator of Judaea, an impostor called Theudas persuaded a vast crowd to take their belongings and follow him to the River Jordan; for he claimed to be a prophet, and promised to divide the river by his command and provide them with an easy crossing. A great many people were deceived by this talk. Fadus however did not allow them to enjoy their folly, but sent a troop of cavalry against them. These attacked them without warning, killed many, and took many alive, capturing Theudas himself, whose head they cut off and conveyed to Jerusalem.

Immediately after this he mentions the famine that took place in Claudius’ time:

12. It was just after this that the great famine took place in Judaea, in which Queen Helen at great expense bought corn from Egypt and distributed it among those in want.

You will find that this too agrees with the account in the Acts of the Apostles, which tells how the disciples at Antioch, each in proportion to his means, resolved to send relief to those living in Judaea. This they did, sending to the presbyters by Barnabas and Paul.1 To this day splendid monuments of the Helen referred to by the historian are pointed out in the suburbs of what is now called Aelia. She was said to have been Queen of Adiabene.

Simon the Magus and Peter at Rome

13. As faith in our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ was now spreading in all directions, the enemy of man’s salvation, in a wily attempt to capture the imperial city in time, brought there Simon who was mentioned earlier, and by lending his own weight to the man’s artful impostures took possession of many people in Rome and led them astray. This we learn from Justin, an ornament of our Faith soon after the apostles’ time. I shall state the essential facts about him in due course. In his first Defence of our doctrines to Antoninus he writes:

After the Lord was taken up into heaven the demons put forward a number of men who claimed to be gods. These not only escaped being persecuted by you, but were actually the objects of worship – for example Simon, a Samaritan from a village called Gittho, who in Claudius Caesar’s time, thanks to the art of the demons who possessed him, worked wonders of magic, and in your imperial city of Rome was regarded as a god, and like a god was honoured by you with a statue in the River Tiber between the two bridges. It bears this inscription in Latin, SIMONI DEO SANCTO.2 Almost all Samaritans, and a few from other nations too, acknowledge him as their principal god, and worship him. And a woman named Helen, who travelled around with him at that time and had previously lived in a brothel, they call the First Emanation from him.3

This is Justin’s version, and it is supported by Irenaeus, who in Book I of his Against Heresies gives a brief account of the man and his unholy, sordid teaching. To reproduce the latter in the present work would be superfluous: those who wish can learn all about the origins and lives of the heresiarchs who followed him, the bases of their false doctrines and the practices they introduced, for they are most carefully described in the work of Irenaeus mentioned above.

Simon, we are given to understand, was the prime author of every heresy. From his time to our own those who follow his lead, while pretending to accept that sober Christian philosophy which through purity of life won universal fame, are as devoted as ever to the idolatrous superstition from which they seemed to have escaped: they prostrate themselves before pictures and images of Simon himself and his companion, the Helen already mentioned, and give themselves to worshipping them with incense, sacrifices, and libations. Their more secret rites, which they claim will so amaze a man when he first hears them that, in their official jargon, he will be wonderstruck, are indeed something to wonder at, brim-full of frenzy and lunacy, and of such a kind that not only can they not be put down in writing; they involve such appalling degradation, such unspeakable conduct, that no decent man would let a mention of them pass his lips. For whatever could be imagined more disgusting than the foulest crime known has been outstripped by the utterly revolting heresy of these men, who make sport of wretched women, burdened indeed with vices of every kind.1

14. Of such vices was Simon the father and contriver, raised up at that time by the evil power which hates all that is good and plots against the salvation of mankind, to be a great opponent of great men, our Saviour’s inspired apostles. Nevertheless, divine and celestial grace worked with its ministers, by their advent and presence speedily extinguishing the flames of the Evil One before they could spread, and through them humbling and pulling down every lofty barrier raised against the knowledge of God.2Consequently, neither Simon nor any of his contemporaries managed to form an organized body in those apostolic days, for every attempt was defeated and overpowered by the light of the truth and by the divine Word Himself who had so recently shone from God on men, active in the world and immanent in His own apostles.

The impostor of whom we have been speaking, as though his mind’s eye had been struck by a divine miraculous flash of light when earlier, in Judaea, his mischievous practices had been exposed by the apostle Peter,1 promptly undertook a very long journey overseas from east to west, and fled precipitately, thinking that only so could he live according to his inclinations. He arrived in Rome, where he was greatly helped by the power that awaited its opportunity there, and in a short time his efforts met with such success that the citizens actually set up a statue of him and honoured him as a god. However, this success of his was shortlived. Close on his heels, in the same reign of Claudius, the all-gracious and kindly providence of the universe brought to Rome to deal with this terrible threat to the world, the strong and great apostle, chosen for his merits to be spokesman for all the others, Peter himself. Clad in the divine armour,2 like a noble captain of God, he brought the precious merchandise of the spiritual light from the East to those in the West, preaching the good news of light itself and the soul-saving word, the proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven. 15. Thus, when the divine word had made its home among them, Simon’s power was extinguished and destroyed at once with the man himself.

So brightly shone the light of true religion on the minds of Peter’s hearers that, not satisfied with a single hearing or with the oral teaching of the divine message, they resorted to appeals of every kind to induce Mark (whose gospel we have), as he was a follower of Peter, to leave them in writing a summary of the instruction they had received by word of mouth, nor did they let him go till they had persuaded him, and thus became responsible for the writing of what is known as the Gospel according to Mark. It is said that, on learning by revelation of the spirit what had happened, the apostle was delighted at their enthusiasm and authorized the reading of the book in the churches. Clement quotes the story in Outlines Book VI, and his statement is confirmed by Bishop Papias of Hierapolis, who also points out that Mark is mentioned by Peter in his first epistle, which he is said to have composed in Rome itself, as he himself indicates when he speaks of the city figuratively as Babylon:

The church in Babylon, chosen like yourselves, sends you greeting, and so does my son Mark.1

16. Mark is said to have been the first man to set out for Egypt and preach there the gospel which he had himself written down, and the first to establish churches in Alexandria itself. So large was the body of believers, men and women alike, built up there at the first attempt, with an extremely severe rule of life, that Philo decided that he must record in writing their activities, gatherings, meals, and everything else about their way of living.

Philo’s account of the Egyptian ascetics

17. It is also recorded that under Claudius Philo came to Rome to have conversations with Peter, then preaching to the people there. This would not be improbable, as the short work to which I am referring, and which he produced at a considerably later date, clearly contains the rules of the Church still observed in our own day. And again, when he describes the life of our ascetics with the greatest precision, it is plain enough that he not only knew but welcomed with whole-hearted approval the apostolic men of his day, who it seems were of Hebrew stock and therefore, in the Jewish manner, still retained most of their ancient customs. In the work that he entitled The Contemplative Life, or The Suppliants, he first assures us that he will add nothing that goes beyond the truth, nothing of his own invention, to the account he is about to give. Then he says that they are called Therapeutae and their womenfolk Therapeutrides, and goes on to explain this title. It was conferred either because like doctors they rid the souls of those who come to them from moral sickness and so cure and heal2 them, or in view of their pure and sincere service3 and worship of God. Whether he invented this designation and applied it to them, fitting a suitable name to their mode of life, or whether they were actually called this from the very start, because the title Christian was not yet in general use, need not be discussed now.

This much is certain. He lays special emphasis on their renunciation of property, saying that when they embark on the philosophic life they hand over their possessions to their relations, then, having renounced all worldly interests, they go outside the walls and make their homes on lonely farms and plantations well aware that association with men of different ideas is unprofitable and harmful. That, apparently, was the practice of the Christians of that time, who with eager and ardent faith disciplined themselves to emulate the prophetic way of life. Similarly, in the canonical Acts of the Apostles it is stated that all the disciples of the apostles sold their possessions and belongings and shared them out among the others in accordance with individual needs, so that no one was in want among them; all who were owners of land or houses, Scripture tells us, sold them and brought the price they fetched and laid it at the apostles’ feet, so that it was distributed to everyone in accordance with individual needs.1 Having testified to practices very similar to these, Philo goes on:

The community is to be found in many parts of the world, for it was right that what is perfectly good should be shared by both Greek and foreign lands. It is very strong in Egypt in each of the nomes, and especially in the Alexandrian area. The best men in each region set out as colonists for a highly suitable spot, regarding it as the homeland of the Therapeutae. It is situated above Lake Mareotis2 on a low hill, very convenient in view of its security and the mildness of the climate.

Next, after describing the character of their dwellings, he has this to say about the churches in the area:

In every house there is a holy chamber called a sanctuary or ‘monastery’, where they celebrate in seclusion3 the mysteries of the sanctified life, bringing in nothing – drink, food, or anything else required for bodily needs – but laws and inspired oracles spoken by prophets, hymns, and everything else by which knowledge and true religion are increased and perfected… The whole period from dawn to dusk is given up to spiritual discipline.4 They read the sacred scriptures, and study their ancestral wisdom philosophically, allegorizing it, since they regard the literal sense as symbolic of a hidden reality revealed in figures. They possess also short works by early writers, the founders of their sect, who left many specimens of the allegorical method, which they take as their models, following the system on which their predecessors worked.

It seems likely that Philo wrote this after listening to their exposition of the Holy Scriptures, and it is very probable that what he calls short works by their early writers were the gospels, the apostolic writings, and in all probability passages interpreting the old prophets, such as are contained in the Epistle to the Hebrews and several others of Paul’s epistles. He then goes on to write this about their composing new psalms:

Thus they not only practise contemplation but also compose songs and hymns to God in all kinds of metres and melodies, setting them, as might be expected, to solemn measures.

A great many other points relevant to our subject are discussed in the same book, but it seemed necessary to pick out those in which the characteristics of Church life are displayed. If anyone does not agree that what has been described is peculiar to the gospel way of life but thinks it applicable to other people too, he will surely be convinced by Philo’s next paragraph, in which, if he is reasonable, he will find the evidence on this point beyond dispute:

Having first laid down self-control as a foundation for the soul, they build the other virtues on it. None of them would take food or drink before sundown, as they hold that philosophy deserves daylight but darkness is good enough for bodily needs. So to the one they assign the day, to the others a small part of the night. Some think of food only once in three days – those in whom a greater passion for knowledge is rooted; others so delight and luxuriate as they feast on the wisdom that richly and ungrudgingly supplies their doctrines that they hold out even for twice that time, and scarcely taste necessary food once in six days, having accustomed themselves to this.

These statements of Philo seem to me to refer plainly and unquestionably to members of our Church. But, if after this someone insists on denying it, he will surely abandon his scepticism and be convinced by still clearer evidences which cannot be found anywhere but in the religious practices of Christians who follow the gospel. For Philo states that among the people in question there are women also, most of them elderly spinsters

who have remained single, not of necessity, like some priestesses of pagan cults, but of their own free will, through their passionate craving for wisdom, with which they were so eager to live that they scorned bodily pleasures, and set their hearts not on mortal children but on immortal, which only the soul that loves God can bring into the world.

A little farther on he adds this, in his vivid way:

Their explanations of the sacred scriptures are expressed figuratively in allegories. For the whole Law seems to them to resemble a living being, which for body has the literal precepts, for soul the meaning that is hidden in the words out of sight. This community was the first to make such meaning the object of special investigation, the words providing a mirror in which thoughts of extraordinary beauty are revealed.

Need I add to this an account of their meetings, or of the segregation of men and women living in the same place, or of the regular spiritual discipline still practised among us, especially during the commemoration of our Saviour’s Passion, when it is our habit to abstain from food, spend whole nights in prayer, and devote ourselves to the word of God? All this is described, in precise accordance with the practice observed by us and us alone to this day, in Philo’s own writings. He describes the all-night vigils of the great festival, the spiritual discipline in which they are spent, the hymns that we always recite, and how while one man sings in regular rhythm the others listen silently and join in singing the refrains of the hymns; how on the appointed days they lie on straw mattresses on the ground and – as he expressly writes – absolutely refuse to touch wine or any flesh food, drinking nothing but water and seasoning their bread with salt and hyssop. He further writes about the comparative status of those entrusted with the ministries of the Church, from the diaconate to the highest and most important office, the episcopate. Anyone who is anxious to gain precise knowledge of these things can learn them from Philo’s account: anyone can see that when he wrote it he had in mind the first preachers of the gospel teaching and the customs handed down by the apostles from the beginning.

Philo’s extant works

18. A copious writer and a thinker of wide range, studying Holy Writ from a lofty and elevated viewpoint, Philo expounded the sacred books from many different angles. At one stage he carried out his detailed examination of Genesis in systematic order, in the books which he entitled Allegories of the Sacred Laws. At another he carefully arranged under chapter headings the difficulties in the Scriptures, stating them and offering his solutions in the books to which he gave the titles of Questions and Answers in Genesis and Questions and Answers in Exodus. In addition to these, there are authoritative works by him on special problems, e.g. two on Farming, two on Drunkenness, and others with various appropriate titles such as What the Sober Mind Desires and Detests; The Confounding of Tongues; Flight and Discovery; Study Groups; Who Inherits the Treasures of God? or The Division into Equivalents and Opposites; and again, The Three Cardinal Virtues Propounded by Moses. In addition to these, there is his New Names and Why They were Given, in which he states that he also composed Covenants Books I and II. There arc also works of his on Emigration; Life of a Wise Man Perfected in Righteousness, or Unwritten Laws; Giants, or The Immutability of the Godhead; and The Mosaic Conviction that Dreams are Sent from God, Books I–V.

These are the books that have come into my hands dealing with Genesis. On Exodus I am acquainted with Questions and Answers Books I–V; The Tabernacle; The Ten Commandments; Laws Classified under the Appropriate Headings of the Decalogue Books I-IV; Sacrificial Animals and Varieties of Sacrifice; and How the Law Rewards Virtue and Punishes and Denounces Vice. His extant writings also include single volumes, e.g. The Statesman; the essay on Providence; and another work, The Jews; also Alexander, or Rational Behaviour in Irrational Animals. Nor must we forget Every Bad Man is a Slave, followed by Every Good Man is Free. Then came The Contemplative Life, or Suppliants, from which I have quoted passages describing life in the apostolic community. Interpretations of Hebrew Names in the Law and the Prophets is also said to be his work.

In Gaius’ time he came to Rome and wrote an account of that monarch’s revolting conduct, with characteristic irony entitling it Virtue. It is stated that when Claudius came to the throne Philo read this work from end to end at a full meeting of the Roman senate, and that his writings were so greatly admired that they were honoured with a place in libraries.

At this time, while Paul was completing his journey from Jerusalem by a roundabout route as far as Illyricum,1 Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome, and Aquila and Priscilla with the other Jews left Rome and sailed to Asia Minor, where they stayed with Paul the Apostle, who was busy strengthening the foundations of the churches, foundations laid by himself not long before. Our source of information is the inspired narrative of the Acts.2

Disaster in Jerusalem at the Passover, and events there in Nero’s reign

19. While Claudius was still on the throne, during the Passover Feast so riotous a tumult broke out in Jerusalem that of those Jews alone who were forcibly crushed together round the temple exits 30,000 trampled each other to death.3 Thus the Feast ended in distress to the whole nation and bereavement to every household. Josephus goes on to say that Claudius made Agrippa the son of Agrippa king of the Jews, and sent Felix as procurator of the whole country, including Samaria, Galilee, and the district known as Peraea in addition. He himself, having ruled the empire for thirteen years and eight months, died, leaving his throne to Nero.4

20. In Nero’s reign, when Felix was procurator of Judaea, Josephus relates the quarrel between the priests, writing as follows in Antiquities Book XX:

A quarrel broke out between the chief priests on the one side and the priests and leaders of the Jerusalem populace on the other. Each of them recruited a band of the most reckless revolutionaries and put himself at their head, and when collisions occurred they greeted each other with abuse and stone-throwing. There was not a single person to reprimand them; the scandal went on with impunity, as though in a city without a government. Such impudence and audacity possessed the chief priests that they actually sent slaves to the threshing-floors to seize the tithes that were the priests’ by right, so that destitute priests could be seen perishing of want. So completely was justice obliterated by the violence of the warring parties.1

Josephus also records that at the same period a type of bandits sprang up in Jerusalem. These, he says, in broad daylight and in the middle of the city murdered those who met them. Their favourite trick was to mingle with festival crowds, concealing under their garments small daggers with which they stabbed their opponents. When their victims fell the assassins melted into the indignant crowd, and through their plausibility entirely defied detection. First to have his throat cut by them was Jonathan the high priest, and after him many were murdered every day. More terrible than the crimes themselves was the fear they aroused, every man, as in war, hourly expecting death.2

21. A little later he goes on:

A greater blow than this was inflicted on the Jews by the Egyptian false prophet. Arriving in the country this man, a fraud who posed as a seer, collected about 30,000 dupes, led them round by the wild country to the Mount of Olives, and from there was ready to force an entry into Jerusalem, overwhelm the Roman garrison, and seize supreme power, with his fellow-raiders as bodyguard. But Felix anticipated his attempt by meeting him with the Roman heavy infantry, the whole population rallying to the defence, so that when the clash occurred the Egyptian fled with a handful of men and most of his followers were killed or captured.3

This passage comes from Book II of the Histories. It is worth while to note what is stated about the Egyptian there and in the Acts of the Apostles, where in the time of Felix the military tribune at Jerusalem said to Paul, when the Jewish mob was rioting against him: ‘Then you’re not the Egyptian who a little while back started a revolt and led the 4,000 sicarii out in the wilds?’1

Paul sent as a prisoner to Rome and there acquitted

22. As successor to Felix, Nero sent Festus. It was in his time that Paul was put on trial, and then conveyed in fetters to Rome.2 With him went Aristarchus, to whom somewhere in the epistles he naturally refers as a fellow-prisoner.3 And Luke, who committed to writing the Acts of the Apostles, ended his story at this point, after informing us that Paul spent two complete years at Rome under no restraint and preached the word of God without hindrance. There is evidence that, having then been brought to trial, the apostle again set out on the ministry of preaching, and having appeared a second time in the same city found fulfilment in his martyrdom. In the course of this imprisonment he composed the second Epistle to Timothy, referring both to his earlier trial and to his impending fulfilment. Listen to his testimony on this point:

At my first trial nobody supported me: they all left me to my fate – may God forgive them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, that through me the message might be fully proclaimed in the hearing of the whole pagan world. Thus I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth.4

This passage proves beyond question that on the first occasion, in order that the message proclaimed through him might be fully preached, he was rescued out of the lion’s mouth, the reference being apparently to Nero, because of his bestial cruelty. He does not go on to add anything like ‘he will rescue me out of the lion’s mouth’, for he saw by the Spirit that his death was imminent. And so after the words ‘and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth’ he goes on to say ‘The Lord will rescue me from every evil attempt and keep me safe for His heavenly kingdom’,1 indicating his forthcoming martyrdom. This he foretells more clearly still in the same letter, when he says: ‘For I am already being offered as a sacrifice, and the time for my departure has come.’2 In this second Epistle to Timothy he remarks that only Luke is with him as he writes, and at his first trial not even he: presumably that is why Luke concluded the Acts of the Apostles at that point, having traced the course of events throughout the time he was with Paul. I have said this to show that it was not during the stay in Rome described by Luke that Paul’s martyrdom was accomplished. The probability is that since at first Nero’s disposition was milder, it was easier for Paul’s defence of the Faith to be received, but that when he had gone on to commit abominable crimes, above all else he launched his attack on the apostles.

The martyrdom of James ‘the Lord’s brother’

23. When Paul appealed to Caesar and was sent to Rome by Festus, the Jews were disappointed of the hope in which they had devised their plot against him and turned their attention to James the Lord’s brother, who had been elected by the apostles to the episcopal throne at Jerusalem. This is the crime that they committed against him. They brought him into their midst and in the presence of the whole populace demanded a denial of his belief in Christ. But when, contrary to all expectation, he spoke as he liked and showed undreamt-of fearlessness in the face of the enormous throng, declaring that our Saviour and Lord, Jesus, was the Son of God, they could not endure his testimony any longer, since he was universally regarded as the most righteous of men because of the heights of philosophy and religion which he scaled in his life. So they killed him, seizing the opportunity for getting their own way provided by the absence of a government, for at that very time Festus had died in Judaea, leaving the province without governor or procurator. How James died has already been shown by the words quoted from Clement, who tells us that he was thrown from the parapet and clubbed to death. But the most detailed account of him is given by Hegesippus, who belonged to the first generation after the apostles. In his fifth book he writes:

Control of the Church passed to the apostles, together with the Lord’s brother James, whom everyone from the Lord’s time till our own has called the Righteous, for there were many Jameses, but this one was holy from his birth; he drank no wine or intoxicating liquor and ate no animal food; no razor came near his head;1 he did not smear himself with oil, and took no baths. He alone was permitted to enter the Holy Place, for his garments were not of wool but of linen. He used to enter the Sanctuary alone, and was often found on his knees beseeching forgiveness for the people, so that his knees grew hard like a camel’s from his continually bending them in worship of God and beseeching forgiveness for the people. Because of his unsurpassable righteousness he was called the Righteous and Oblias2 in our own language ‘Bulwark of the People, and Righteousness’ – fulfilling the declarations of the prophets regarding him.3

Representatives of the seven popular sects already described by me asked him what was meant by ‘the door of Jesus’, and he replied that Jesus was the Saviour.4 Some of them came to believe that Jesus was the Christ: the sects mentioned above did not believe either in a resurrection or in One who is coming to give every man what his deeds deserve,5 but those who did come to believe did so because of James. Since therefore many even of the ruling class believed,6 there was an uproar among the Jews and Scribes and Pharisees, who said there was a danger that the entire people would expect Jesus as the Christ. So they collected and said to James: ‘Be good enough to restrain the people, for they have gone astray after Jesus in the belief that he is the Christ. Be good enough to make the facts about Jesus clear to all who come for the Passover Day. We all accept what you say: we can vouch for it, and so can all the people, that you are a righteous man and take no one at his face value. So make it clear to the crowd that they must not go astray as regards Jesus: the whole people and all of us accept what you say. So take your stand on the Temple parapet, so that from that height you may be easily seen, and your words audible to the whole people. For because of the Passover all the tribes have forgathered, and the Gentiles too.’

So the Scribes and Pharisees made James stand on the Sanctuary parapet and shouted to him: ‘Righteous one, whose word we are all obliged to accept, the people are going astray after Jesus who was crucified; so tell us what is meant by “the door of Jesus”.’ He replied as loudly as he could: ‘Why do you question me about the Son of Man? I tell you, He is sitting in heaven at the right hand of the Great Power, and He will come on the clouds of heaven.’1 Many were convinced, and gloried in James’s testimony, crying: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ Then again the Scribes and Pharisees said to each other: ‘We made a bad mistake in affording such testimony to Jesus. We had better go up and throw him down, so that they will be frightened and not believe him.’ ‘Ho, ho!’ they called out, ‘even the Righteous one has gone astray! – fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah:

Let us remove the Righteous one, for he is unprofitable to us.

Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their works,2

So they went up and threw down the Righteous one. Then they said to each other ‘Let us stone James the Righteous’, and began to stone him, as in spite of his fall he was still alive. But he turned and knelt, uttering the words: ‘I beseech Thee, Lord God and Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.’3 While they pelted him with stones, one of the descendants of Rechab the son of Rachabim – the priestly family to which Jeremiah the Prophet bore witness,4 called out: ‘Stop! what are you doing? the Righteous one is praying for you.’ Then one of them, a fuller, took the club which he used to beat out the clothes, and brought it down on the head of the Righteous one. Such was his martyrdom. He was buried on the spot, by the Sanctuary, and his headstone is still there by the Sanctuary. He has proved a true witness to Jews and Gentiles alike that Jesus is the Christ.

Immediately after this Vespasian began to besiege them.

This is the full account which, in agreement with Clement, is given by Hegesippus. So remarkable a person must James have been, so universally esteemed for righteousness, that even the more intelligent Jews felt that this was why his martyrdom was immediately followed by the siege of Jerusalem, which happened to them for no other reason than the wicked crime of which he had been the victim. And indeed Josephus did not hesitate to write this down in so many words:

These things happened to the Jews in requital for James the Righteous, who was a brother of Jesus known as Christ, for though he was the most righteous of men, the Jews put him to death.

Josephus has also recounted his death in Antiquities Book XX:

Caesar sent Albinus to Judaea as procurator, when he was informed of the death of Festus. But the younger Ananus, who as I said had received the high priesthood, was headstrong in character and audacious in the extreme. He belonged to the sect of the Sadducees, who in judging offenders are cruel beyond any of the Jews, as I have already made clear. Being a man of this kind, Ananus thought that he had a convenient opportunity, as Festus was dead and Albinus still on the way. So he assembled a council of judges and brought before it James, the brother of Jesus, known as Christ, and several others, on a charge of breaking the law, and handed them over to be stoned. But those who were considered the most fair-minded people in the City, and strict in their observance of the Law, were most indignant at this, and sent secretly to the king imploring him to write to Ananus to stop behaving in this way: his conduct had been wrong from the first. Some of them, too, waylaid Albinus on the road from Alexandria, and explained that it was illegal for Ananus to assemble a council without his authority. Convinced by their arguments, Albinus wrote an angry letter to Ananus, threatening to punish him; in consequence King Agrippa deprived him of the high priesthood, which he had held for three months only, and appointed Jeshua son of Dammaeus.1

Such is the story of James, to whom is attributed the first of the ‘general’ epistles. Admittedly its authenticity is doubted, since few early writers refer to it, any more than to ‘Jude’s’, which is also one of the seven called general. But the fact remains that these two, like the others, have been regularly used in very many churches.

24. In the eighth year of Nero’s reign Annianus was the first after Mark the evangelist to take charge of the see of Alexandria.

The Neronian persecution, in which Paul and Peter died

25. When Nero’s power was now firmly established he gave himself up to unholy practices and took up arms against the God of the universe. To describe the monster of depravity that he became lies outside the scope of the present work. Many writers have recorded the facts about him in minute detail, enabling anyone who wishes to get a complete picture of his perverse and extraordinary madness, which led him to the senseless destruction of innumerable lives, and drove him in the end to such a lust for blood that he did not spare even his nearest and dearest but employed a variety of methods to do away with mother, broth ers, and wife alike, to say nothing of countless other members of his family, as if they were personal and public enemies. All this left one crime still to be added to his account – he was the first of the emperors to be the declared enemy of the worship of Almighty God. To this the Roman Tertullian refers in the following terms:

Study your records: there you will find that Nero was the first to persecute this teaching when, after subjugating the entire East, in Rome especially he treated everyone with savagery. That such a man was author of our chastisement fills us with pride. For anyone who knows him can understand that anything not supremely good would never have been condemned by Nero.1

So it came about that this man, the first to be heralded as a conspicuous fighter against God, was led on to murder the apostles. It is recorded that in his reign Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified, and the record is confirmed by the fact that the cemeteries there are still called by the names of Peter and Paul, and equally so by a churchman named Gaius, who was living while Zephyrinus was Bishop of Rome. In his published Dialogue with Proclus, the leader of the Phrygian heretics, Gaius has this to say about the places where the mortal remains of the two apostles have been reverently laid:

I can point out the monuments of the victorious apostles. If you will go as far as the Vatican or the Ostian Way, you will find the monuments of those who founded this church.

That they were both martyred at the same time Bishop Dionysius of Corinth informs us in a letter written to the Romans:

In this way by your impressive admonition you have bound together all that has grown from the seed which Peter and Paul sowed in Romans and Corinthians alike. For both of them sowed in our Corinth1 and taught us jointly: in Italy too they taught jointly in the same city, and were martyred at the same time.

These evidences make the truth of my account still more certain.

Beginning of the last Jewish war against Rome

26. In the course of his very long account of the catastrophe that overwhelmed the entire Jewish nation Josephus expressly states that, in addition to very many others, innumerable Jews in high positions were flogged with scourges and crucified in Jerusalem itself by Florus,2 and that he was procurator of Judaea at the time when the beginning of the war blazed up in the twelfth year of Nero’s reign.3 Then he says that throughout Palestine the revolt of the Jews was followed by hopeless confusion, and that on every side the members of the nation were mercilessly destroyed, as if they were enemies, by the inhabitants of the various cities:

The cities could be seen full of unburied corpses, the dead bodies of the aged flung down alongside those of infants, women without a rag to conceal their nakedness, and the whole province full of indescribable horrors. Even worse than the atrocities continually committed were the threats of terrors to come.1

Such is the account of Josephus, and such was the plight of the Jews.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!