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Peter in Rome: Ignatius’s Appeal to the Roman Christians

Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch who was nicknamed theophoros or “God-bearer,” was sent as a prisoner to Rome where he would be executed. Nevertheless, he was able to instruct his fellow believers and write his letters while on route there. The fourth-century church historian Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3.36) places Ignatius, along with the bishops Polycarp of Smyrna and Papias of Hierapolis, during the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan (ca. 98-117 CE). Older scholarship dated Ignatius’s death near the tenth year of Trajan based on the notice about it after the 221st Olympiad (107 CE) in Eusebius’s Chronicon, but such precision may not be possible. Several epistles have been ascribed to Ignatius and transmitted down through history in variant forms, but the general consensus is that seven of the epistles are authentic (To the Smyrnaeans, To the Philadelphians, To the Romans, To the Trallians, To the Magnesians, To the Ephesians, To Polycarp). The text critical issues are very technical, so I will provide further resources and a bibliography in the next post.

In Ignatius’s Epistle to the Romans, he urges his audience to not interfere with his wishes to die as a glorious martyr, torn apart by the wild beasts in the coliseum. However, he realizes that he does not have the same authority as Peter and Paul did to command them to respect his wishes (Rom 4.3). This is another piece of evidence for the social memory that Peter and Paul were among those who laid the foundation of the Christ movement in the capital. However, it is striking that he does not go into any detail about the deaths of the apostles in Rome, especially as he contrasts their freedom with his own bonds as a convict.



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