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Peter in Rome: Gaius on the Memorial Site for Peter

Gaius of Rome is our next source of information about Peter in Rome, but we need to first look at what we can know about him. There are conflicting traditions about him that span over centuries, which is why we have competing reconstructions about what his aims actually were. For example:

  • The fourth century church historian Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 2.25.6) described him as a “learned churchman” (ekklēsiastikos anēr) who lived during the episcopacy of Zephyrinus (199-217 CE) and wrote a treatise entitled Dialogue with Proclus against a hyper-charismatic, eschatological movement spreading from Asia Minor (i.e. the “New Prophecy”). In his efforts to repudiate literalist expectations of the imminent coming of a millennial kingdom ruled over by Christ, Gaius may have went so far as trying to discredit the book of Revelation as a forgery by a maligned heretic named Cerinthus (3.28.2). Gaius also doubted that the epistle to the Hebrews should be attributed to the Apostle Paul (6.20.3).
  • Photios I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (858-867, 877-886 CE), identified Gaius as a “bishop of the nations” due to a scribal note in the margins of one of the texts that he summarized (Bibliotheca 48).
  • Dionysius bar Salibi, the twelfth century bishop of Amid, turned the “heretic” Gaius into the mouthpiece for criticisms of the Gospel and Revelation of John, both of which are attributed to Cerinthus (see the fragments in the Commentary on the Apocalypse and the Commentary on the Four Gospels). There are parallels, as well as differences, with the kinds of criticisms made against the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation that were documented in the fourth century by the heresiologist Epiphanius of Salamis (Panarion 51).

As I have tried to work through the scholarship of Joseph Daniel Smith Jr, R. Alan CulpepperAllen Brent, Charles E. Hill, T. Scott Manor, and Francis Watson, it seems to me that the earliest textual evidence has Gaius as a text critic interested in questions about the Christian canon and opposed to apocalyptic enthusiasm. For this reason, he may have denounced the book of Revelation, while his criticisms were eventually extended by others to cover the whole of the Johannine Corpus. Nevertheless, he was still a respected Christian scholar in the earliest Christian sources about him. According to Eusebius, Gaius also proclaimed that it was the pride of the Christians in Rome to be able to locate the tropaia (trophies, monuments) of Peter and Paul, who laid the foundation of the church in Rome, over at the Vatican Hill and Ostian Way (see Ecclesiastical History 2.25.7). For more information about what Gaius may have meant in referring to these memorial sites for the two famous apostles and about the burial traditions about Peter in Rome, check out the helpful popular article by Nicola Denzey Lewis entitled “The Apostle Peter in Rome” for the website Bible History Daily (however I do disagree with her statement that this letter from Gaius of Rome constitutes “the earliest testimony” based on my previous posts in this series).

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