I realize that I have not been able to cover all of the texts and traditions on Peter’s ministry and martyrdom in Rome. Thus, I would recommend David L. Eastman’s The Ancient Martyrdom Accounts of Peter and Paul (Atlanta: SBL, 2015). This collects all the key source texts, including ancient martyrdom accounts that have been translated into English for the first time. The table of contents and the introductory chapter have been made available by SBL Press here. There are reviews of this monograph at Bryn Mawr Classical Review and the Catholic Biblical Review.
The late second-century, apocryphal Acts of Peter has mostly survived in a Latin translation in a codex from the sixth/seventh century CE found at Vercelli, Italy. In chapter 35, we have a powerful scene where Peter has been persuaded to flee from the local persecution of Christians in Rome under the emperor Nero. However, he encounters the Lord entering the city and asks “Lord, where are you going?” (Domine, quo vadis). Jesus replied that he was going to Rome to be crucified again and then Peter saw Jesus ascend into heaven. From this point on, Peter resolved to meet his fate in Rome and the text goes on to recount his arrest, his crucifixion with his head facing downward, and his dying testament. The upside-down cross symbolized the fallen state of the world brought about by the first human. If you do not want to read the text, you can listed to this portion of the text online at “Acts of Peter 7/8” (chapter 35 starts at the 7.10 minute mark) and “Acts of Peter 8/8.” The Quo Vadis story has become a much beloved legend about Peter, inspiring the church on Appian Way, the famous painting by Annibail Carracci, and the 1951 Best Picture nominated movie.
In the last post, I mentioned Professor Nicola Denzey Lewis’s article “The Apostle Peter in Rome.” She was one of the contributors to the CNN program Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery and one of the episodes tackled what we can know about the historical Peter. Therefore, readers may be interested in the review of this episode by Professor Paul N. Anderson entitled “A Few Bones to Pick: Peter and his Significance” over at the website Bible and Interpretation. Anderson reviews how the episode handles the New Testament data and sheds more light on the claim advanced by the Vatican that they may have discovered the very bones of the Apostle 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 Culpepper, Allen 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).
Otto Zwierlein is the author of two major monographs in German (see my bibliography) outlining his theory about when, and why, legends about Peter in Rome were invented. His thesis is that the traditions about Peter in Rome emerged as a response to the traditions from Justin Martyr onward that Simon Magus was in Rome, for the leading Apostle Peter had to defend Christian orthodoxy against the arch-heretic Simon near the origins of Christianity in Rome, but some of Zwierlein’s arguments include dating some texts later than conventional (e.g. the Ignatian Epistles) or reinterpreting some of the earlier data (e.g. “Babylon” in 1 Peter 5:13 or Peter’s suffering in 1 Clement 5:4). He describes the impetus for his research and its implications here and there are English reviews of his first monograph by Pieter W. van der Horst in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review and James Dunn in the Review of Biblical Literature. An edited volume in German was also written in rebuttal against Zwierlein’s views and you can read an English review of this response volume here.
One of the great villains of church history, at least according to his Christian detractors, is a shadowy figure referred to as Simon the magos (“magician”). Many readers may be familiar with his portrayal in the book of Acts where he is identified as a Samaritan who was adept in the practice of magic, is acclaimed by the crowds as the embodiment of a Great Power, is converted to the Jesus movement by Philip the Evangelist, and is rebuked by Peter when he tried to bribe Peter to attain his charismatic abilities (see Acts 8:9-24). Incidentally, this created the term “simony,” denoting the purchase of ecclesiastical power or offices. It may be surprising to turn to the heresiologists where Simon and his consort Helena of Tyre was remembered as the father of the so-called “gnostic” sects in all their diversity, or to the apocryphal Acts of Peter where Simon Peter and Simon Magus engage in a magical contest in Rome to see whose message was divinely authorized, or the Jewish Christian Pseudo-Clementines literature where the polemic targeting Simon Magus might also include the Apostle Paul in its sights (e.g. its criticisms of Simon’s visionary experiences or Peter’s letter about his “enemy” spreading lawless teachings among the Gentiles). The ancient texts about Simon Magus in the Church Fathers have been helpfully collected in this essay by G. R. S. Mead, though the scholarly commentary in the second half is outdated as it was written in the late nineteenth century and served an ideological purpose in transforming Simon into a proponent of Mead’s own religious philosophy of Theosophy. The Catholic scholar and apologist Taylor Marshall’s post “Simon Magus vs Simon Peter in Rome” explores the historicity of these traditions.
When we strip away the apocryphal legends about Simon’s magical abilities (e.g. flight!), the typical polemical insults used in antiquity to slander an opponent, and the representation of Simon’s thought as a crude parody of Christian doctrine (e.g. did Simon identify himself as the persons of the Trinity or attempt a resurrection miracle after being buried alive?), is there anything left about Simon’s person or message that is historically reliable? Was he some kind of ritual specialist who was believed to be possessed by a divine spirit and did he found a movement that was a serious rival to the apostles in Jerusalem? Can elements of the myth attributed to him – the supreme power, the first thought (the feminine Greek noun ennoia) that conceived other angelic beings, or the gnostic savior that delivered ennoia from the material world that the angelic powers had created to imprison her – be traced back to Simon? There is an extensive scholarly bibliography about Simon for those interested in pursuing such questions, but the main concern of this post is to discover how Peter ended up confronted the magician not only in Samaria but also in Rome itself.
The Christian philosopher Justin Martyr, who addressed his First Apology to the emperor Antonius Pius (ruled 138-161 CE) and his son Verisimmus, provides the crucial piece of evidence for the development of the tradition about Simon. A date between 150-154 CE for this apologetic work is supported by the reference to the prefecture of Felix in Egypt (ca. 148-154) in 1 Apology 39.3-4 and to Christ’s birth approximately 150 years ago in 1 Apology 46.1 (cf. P. Lorraine Buck, “Justin Martyr’s Apologies,” 55, 55n.45). 1 Apology 26 (cf. 56) recounts that Simon had spread his heresy in Rome and uses the existence of a statue between two bridges on the river Tiber as supporting evidence. He read the inscription as “to Simon the holy god” (simoni sancto deo), but a statue dedicated to the deity Semo Sancus was unearthed in 1574 with the inscription semoni sanco deo fidio sacrum (“to Semo Sancus Dius Fidius”). Was this the statue that Justin saw and misinterpreted in reference to Simon Magus? If so, this may have sparked the later legends of Simon Magus’s activities in the capital. Given the social memories of Peter in the capital as well, it is not surprising that we then encounter stories of the two old foes meeting again in Rome with the orthodox Apostle triumphing over the Arch-heretic near the foundations of the Roman church.
Here are some resources to learn more about Simon Magus:
- Ferreiro, Alberto. Simon Magus in Patristic, Medieval and Early Modern Traditions. Leiden: Brill, 2005.
- Haar, Stephen. Simon Magus: The First Gnostic? Berlin: De Gruyter, 2003.
- Meeks, Wayne A. “Simon Magus in Recent Research.” Religious Studies Review 3 (1977): 137-142.
According to church traditions about the Gospel of Mark, the evangelist Mark recorded Peter’s preaching about the words or deeds of Jesus for the benefit of the Christ believers in Rome. If you are interested in how these traditions developed over time, you can check out my book The Gospel on the Margins: The Reception of Mark in the Second Century and my shorter article “Why Did the Gospel of Mark Survive?” for the website Bible and Interpretation. You can also see my own introductory notes on the authorship, date, and audience of the Gospel of Mark at this blog post.
In this post, I want to take a brief look at the relevance of the tradition about Mark’s Gospel to the topic we have been exploring over the past month about Peter’s ministry and death in Rome.
- Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis, records the tradition that the evangelist Mark served as Peter’s “interpreter” or “translator” who put Peter’s preaching into writing (in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15). Papias is silent about where Peter’s preaching activity or Mark’s writing activity took place, but Eusebius tells us that Papias was familiar with 1 Peter (in Ecclesiastical History 2.15.2; 3.39.17). The question is whether Papias thus presumed that Mark and Peter were in “Babylon” (i.e. Rome)?
- Irenaeus, a bishop, theologian, and heresiologist in Lyon, puts the tradition about all four Gospel evangelists into writing (Against Heresies 3.1.1). He primarily elaborates on Papias in two ways: he includes the tradition from another source about Peter’s (and Paul’s) evangelistic efforts in Rome and he dates the publication or dissemination of Mark’s Gospel after Peter’s “departure” or death. While this helps to date Mark’s Gospel, Irenaeus is not explicit about whether or not Mark composed the Gospel in Rome.
- Clement, an Alexandrian Christian scholar and teacher, gives much more detail about the circumstances that lead Mark to publish the Gospel (in Ecclesiastical History 6.14.6-7; see also 2.15-1-2). Peter’s hearers in Rome entreated a reluctant Mark to publish his notes about Peter’s preaching without the apostle’s initial awareness. Clement explicitly ties this in with his interpretation of 1 Peter 5:13 and, in his commentary on this verse elsewhere, he identifies Mark’s aristocratic audience as “Caesar’s equestrians.”
My view is that the external church tradition on the provenance of Mark’s Gospel in Rome is inextricably tied to the tradition about the authorship of the Gospel and the (originally separate?) tradition about Peter’s presence in Rome. Inasmuch as I have argued that these traditions were attached to legitimate the Gospel for second century Christians, I am more inclined to locate the actual text of Mark in the eastern part of the Empire, perhaps in Syria-Palestine.
Check out the websites Early Christian Writings, Text Excavation, and Rear View Mirror for a quick review of the manuscript evidence for the epistles of Ignatius and the three main “recensions” in which the epistles were transmitted down the centuries. The bibliography below provides more information on the discoveries of manuscripts, the consensus established by Zahn and Lightfoot on the authenticity of the “middle recension” as opposed to the additions in the “longer recension” from the fourth century and the condensed version of three epistles in the Syriac “shorter recension,” and the challenges to the consensus (Joly, Hübner, Lechner). The best place to get an introduction to the issues would be in the overviews by Paul Foster, William Schoedel, and Allen Brent listed below.
- Barnes, Timothy D. “The Date of Ignatius.” The Expository Times 120 (2008): 119-130.
- Brent, A. Ignatius of Antioch: A Martyr Bishop and the Origin of Episcopacy. New York: Continuum and T&T Clark, 2007.
- Cureton, William. The Ancient Syriac Version of Saint Ignatius. London: Rivington, 1845.
- Edwards, M. “Ignatius and the Second Century: An Answer to R. Hübner.” Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum 2 (1998): 214–26.
- Foster, P. “The Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch (Part 1).” The Expository Times 117 (2006): 487-495.
- Harnack, A. Die Zeit des Ignatius und die Chronologie der antiochenischen Bischöfe bis Tyrannus nach Julius Africanus und den späteren Historikern.
- Hübner, R. M. “Thesen zur Echtheit und Datierung der sieben Briefe des Ignatius von Antiochien.” Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum (1997): 44-72.
- Joly, R. Le Dossier d’Ignace d’Antioch. Bruxelles: Editions de l’universitie de Bruxelles, 1979.
- Lechner, T. Ignatius adversus Valentinianos? Chronologische und theologiegeschichtliche Studien zu Briefen des Ignatius von Antiochen. Leiden: Brill, 1999.
- Lightfoot, J.B. The Apostolic Fathers: Part 2 Ignatius and Polycarp, Volumes 1-3. London: Macmillian, 1889-1890.
- Lindemann, A. “Antwort auf die ‘Thesen zur Echtheit und Datierung der sieben Briefe des Ignatius von Antiochien.'” Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum 1.2 (1997): 185-194.
- Ruis-Camps, J. The Four Authentic Letters of Ignatius, the Martyr. Rome: Pontificium Institutum Orientalium Studorium, 1980.
- Schoedel, W. R. “Are the Letters of Ignatius Authentic?” Religious Studies Review 6 (1980): 196-201.
- Schoedel, W. R. Ignatius of Antioch: A Commentary on the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985.
- Schöllgen, Georg. “Die Ignatianen als pseudepigraphisches Briefcorpus: Anmerkung zu den Thesen von Reinhard M. Hübner.” Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum 2.1 (1998): 16–25.
- Ussher, J. Polycarpi et Ignatii Epistolae. Oxon: Lichfield, 1644.
- Vogt, Hermann Josef. “Bemerkungen zur Echtheit der Ignatiusbriefe.”
Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum 3.1 (1999): 50–63.
- Voss, Isaac. Epistulae genuinae S. Ignatii Martyris. Amsterdam: J. Blaeu, 1646.
- Zahn, T. Ignatius von Antiochien. Gotha: Perthes, 1873.
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.
The epistle First Clement has been traditionally ascribed to the bishop Clement of Rome near the end of Domitian’s reign (96 CE), or shortly thereafter, and was addressing a schism in the churches in Corinth. In one section of the epistle, the author rebukes the younger Corinthian Christ followers for envying their elderly Christian leaders and expounds on the harmful consequences of jealousy. Thus, Abel was murdered due to Cain’s jealousy, Jacob fled for his life due to Esau’s jealousy, Joseph was enslaved due to his brothers’ jealousy, Moses faced rebellion due to various individuals’ jealousy, and David was hunted due to king Saul’s jealousy (1 Clem 4). Turning from scriptural to contemporary examples, the author highlights how jealousy was responsible for the suffering of the Apostles Peter and Paul and the myriad of Christians who were tortured and executed by the emperor Nero in Rome (1 Clem 5-6:2).
The first question is whether all of the examples in chapters 5 and 6 were victims of Nero’s local pogrom against Christians in the city of Rome. Alternatively, Morton Smith (“The Report about Peter in I Clement V.4” New Testament Studies 7 : 86-88), Michael Goulder (“Did Peter Ever Go to Rome?” Scottish Journal of Theology 57.4 : 377-396), and Otto Zwierlein, Petrus in Rom [and New York: De Gruyter, 2009]) have argued that 1 Clement 5:4 was literarily dependent on Peter’s trials in Acts 4:1-23, 5:21-40, and 12:3-6. After all, the verse makes room for at least three labours that Peter endured, which may have occurred chronologically before Paul began his missionary activity in verses 5 to 7. Paul’s journey to the farthest ends of the West in verse 7 may also imply that Paul had reached Spain (cf. Romans 15:24) before he was eventually martyred.
On the other hand, the evidence that the writer of 1 Clement knew the book of Acts is fairly weak. It is ruled out in the most careful study of the use of Luke-Acts among second century Christian writers, Andrew Gregory’s The Reception of Luke and Acts in the Period Before Irenaeus, though this monograph leans towards more minimalistic results. However, there may have been oral traditions of the trials that Peter suffered in Rome. More specifically, Markus Bockmuehl (“Peter’s Death in Rome? Back to Front and Upside Down” Scottish Journal of Theology 60.1 : 1-23) has responded that Peter’s departure to his own place of glory is a euphemism for Peter’s martyrdom, though the author was politically shrewd in not specifying the mode of Peter’s execution by the Romans. As the early correspondence of a Roman bishop, 1 Clement may be the best piece of evidence in favour of the historicity of Peter’s death in Rome.