Exonerating the Emperor Nero of Capital Crimes Against Jewish
Christians During the First Great Revolt
The Good Actions of Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus
During the Destruction
Born on December 15, A.D. 36, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, on 13 October A.D.54, became the future Nero, the sixth emperor of the early Roman Empire. He would reign until the day of his suicide 13 years later, on July 9, A.D.68. What Christians believe and think about Nero is grim and consists of all kinds of presuppositions, hostility, and prejudices; it is no mistake to call this one emperor "the boogeyman of Bible prophecy." Because in A.D.64 (two years before the outbreak of the dangerous Jewish sedition in Jerusalem and Judaea) Nero is alleged to have set fire to major parts of Rome, watched it burn while playing his fiddle and, at last, blaming, tarring and burning Christians as street lamps in the wake of it: it was the very first Roman persecution against the Christians. And because of this and the timing of the Jewish revolt two years later, Nero has borne the infamy of being the Man of Sin of Paul's 2 Thessalonian prophecies, or the Sea Beast or the Son of Perdition of the Book of Revelation. Charges that the Roman Empire (under Nero), attacked Christians and forced them to acquiesce and succumb to imperial worship (on pain of death) make Nero a "persona non grata" in a lot of eyes. What evidence has been offered that this is so and what evidence do we have that the claims, accusations, and traditions of Nero being central to the Book of Revelation story are utterly and demonstrably false and not the case at all?
Nero Blames Christians for Arson
As we noted above, Nero is infamous for the fires that burned a good part of Rome and for burning Christians as scapegoats to hide his crime. As we said, that was two years before the mysterious and sinister events in Revelation chapter 13 broke out. But in order to prove that Nero is the person intended in Revelation 13, though, it needs to be shown that Nero's career spanned from the start of the Jewish Revolt in A.D.66 to the conclusion of it in the autumn of A.D.70. And, it must also be explained how it was possible for the Jerusalem Church (in Revelation 12:6 and 14) to be afforded a place of succor at Pella for not part, but the entire duration of the war? In addition, how could other Jewish Christians be persecuted by Nero in Revelation 13, which is probably covering the selfsame period? In other words, it makes no sense that the Romans are protecting Christians for one thousand two hundred and sixty days in Revelation 12:6 and 13, but persecuting them in Revelation 13:7. Such an interpretive narrative is bizarre and disjointed!
In order to make this popularly accepted description work, it must also be shown that Nero's armies (the Roman armies) ROSE VICTORIOUSLY (Revelation 13:4) at the beginning of the Jewish war and then FELL IGNOMIOUSLY at the end of it in A.D.70. Will any available history support that? We know of none! Instead, the report Josephus gives us of the start and progress of the war, we discover that the Jews (not the Romans) experienced four initial victories.
The first of these happened when a party of Jews made a successful assault on Masada in the year A.D.66. We read,
"And at this time it was that some of those who principally excited the people to go to war, made an assault upon a certain fortress called Masada. They took it by treachery and slew the Romans that were there, and put others of their own party to keep it. At the same time Eleazar, the son of Ananias the high priest, a very bold youth, who was at that time governor of the Temple, persuaded those that officiated in the divine service to receive no gift or sacrifice for any foreigner. AND THIS WAS THE TRUE BEGINNING OF OUR WAR WITH THE ROMANS; FOR THEY REJECTED THE SACRIFICE OF CAESAR ON THIS ACCOUNT; and when many of the high priests and principal men besought them not to omit the sacrifice which it was customary for them to offer for their princes, they would not be prevailed upon. THESE RELIED MUCH UPON THEIR MULTITUDE, FOR THE MOST FLOURISHING PART OF THE INNOVATORS ASSISTED THEM, BUT THEY HAD CHIEF REGARD TO ELEAZAR, THE GOVERNOR OF THE TEMPLE."1
After overcoming the Romans at Masada (which was on the fourteenth of the month) the Sicarii crowded into Jerusalem and burnt down the public archives of debts. The following day they made an assault on the Tower of Antonia and slew the Romans there over a forty-eight hour period. Then they set the tower itself on fire.2 Then, at this very time, Menahem, a grandson of Judas of Galilee,
". . .broke open king Herod's armory, and gave arms not only to his own people, but to other robbers also. These he made use of for a guard, and returned IN THE STATE OF A KING TO JERUSALEM; HE BECAME THE LEADER OF THE SEDITION, AND GAVE ORDERS FOR CONTINUING THE SIEGE."3
The next Jewish victory came during the Feast of Tabernacles of that same year. We read that Cestius sent Gallus, the commander of the Roman Twelfth Legion, into Galilee, with enough forces to subdue the nation. He was received with joy at Sepphoris, however, two thousand Jews were killed in fighting around a mountain in Galilee called Asamon. Meanwhile, Cestius took his whole army and came to Antipatris and then to Lydda where he found the city empty of its inhabitants (for the whole multitude had gone to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles). From there, ascending by the Beth Horon pass, he pitched his camp at Gabao, about six miles (9 kilometers) from Jerusalem.
"But as for the Jews, when they saw the war approaching their metropolis, they left the feast, and betook themselves to their arms: and taking courage greatly from their multitude, went in a sudden and disorderly manner to the fight, and without any consideration had of the rest of the seventh day, although the Sabbath day was the day on which they had the greatest regard; but the rage which made them forget the religious observation [of the Sabbath], MADE THEM TOO HARD FOR THEIR ENEMIES IN THE FIGHT; WITH SUCH VIOLENCE, THEREFORE, DID THEY FALL UPON THE ROMANS AS TO BREAK INTO THEIR RANKS AND MARCH THROUGH THE MIDST OF THEM, MAKING A GREAT SLAUGHTER AS THEY WENT. . ."4
Five hundred and fifteen Romans were slain and the worst was yet to come!
At this point, Simon Bar Giora (who would eventually become the leader of the Jewish revolt three years later) fell upon the back of the Romans as they were ascending Beth Horon. He put the hindmost part of the Roman troops into disorder. King Herod Agrippa II, seeing the Roman's affairs were in danger, sent certain ones to meet the seditious with terms, promising them total forgiveness if they would but throw away their arms. However, when the leaders of the Jewish sedition realized this would abort everything they had long hoped for, they killed the ambassador (Phebus) before he ever said a word! At this, Cestius pursued the Jews to Jerusalem and pitched his camp on Mount Scopus. This was on the 30th day of Tishri, A.D.66.
[Cestius] put his army in array, he brought [the army] into the city. Now for the people, they were kept under by the seditious; but the seditious themselves were greatly affrighted by the Romans, AND RETIRED FROM THE SUBURBS, AND RETREATED INTO THE INNER PART OF THE CITY, AND INTO THE TEMPLE.5
For the next five or six days the fortune of the Romans seemed to reappear, whilst that of the Jews stood in the balance. Those Jews who desired peace with the Romans were thwarted in their designs by anti-Roman Jewish forces surrounding them. Now the moderate pro-Roman Jews could not prevail, and the Romans (finally) seemed to have the upper hand; the seditious fretted, thinking the worst (the capture of Jerusalem) was about to unfold. And then, just when the seditious gave up and ran out of the city, those for peace ran to open the gates to Cestius—then, out of the blue—Cestius retired from the city without any reason in the world!6. From this retreat, the Jewish nationalists took sudden hope and sudden resolve and dogged the Romans, badgering them all the way back to and through the Beth Horon pass—killing almost six thousand Roman soldiers on the eighth day of Marchesvan (November 15) A.D.66. This was the biggest Roman loss of all from any memory, and, in a deadly string of ill fortunes. Therefore, nobody can stand up in any court or in any debate and seriously say that the Romans entered in the theater of war as undisputed winners: that distinction belonged only to the Jews!
We will discuss how the First Jewish war ended, but first, we want to know what the Jewish war was about.
What Was the War About?
In the past three decades, I have heard so many odd and unsubstantiated Preterist stories about who Nero was and what he supposedly did that it makes one wonder where in the world these tales come from? To hear some tell it, Nero, twelve years into his reign; the most powerful man on earth; a man who wanted nothing and Judaea was ALREADY his, basically woke up one day and decided, out of the blue to attack Jerusalem; demand his name, image, mark, and number be put on everybody and basically went completely crazy, leading the Jews in a war against Rome itself, blaspheming both God and Christians and the saints of heaven! It is an amazing and stunning piece of falsehood and misinformation—a bizarre fable without foundation in either Jewish or Roman chronicles. So what was the war about? To prove Nero acted out the role described in Revelation 13, it must also be demonstrated that Nero and the Roman army's involvement in Judaea and their interest in the region was to secure a deadly oath of loyalty both to Nero, Caesar worship, and the empire—and that the Zealots, Sicarii, and the Idumeans were 100% behind him on this. In this last item, it must be explained how Jewish rebels, confined to the outer and inner courts of the Temple, could be such odd bedfellows in cahoots with Nero in such an unlikely and treasonous conspiracy? It must also be asked how the Romans could possibly be against the Jews if the Jews were so interested in shifting their religious loyalties to Roman idolatry?
How do any of these conventional assumptions make sense!?
Nero's Reputation as Proof of His Guilt
Emperor Nero has a horrible reputation for brutality—to his wife, to those closest to him and to officials or anyone else who went against him. His crimes and perversions are legendary and we will spare the reader any further details. However, the historical record we have of Nero does not support his involvement as a ringleader or instigator of the Jewish revolt at all. Instead, the Jewish revolt was fomented by ANTI-ROMAN, ANTI-NERONIAN Jews. Hateful ultra-nationalist elements in Judaea and the Diaspora were categorically hostile to ALL things Roman. To these control of Jerusalem, and Judaea and the Galilee were lost to Nero as a direct result of these nationalists throwing down the gauntlet of war and rebellion in the summer and autumn of A.D. 66.
And so, in light of this, it is needful to take a good second look to see if Nero really is a key person, if he is the leading figure in the middle of the action in any of the circumstances described in the Book of Revelation. Only if he was the leader of the Jewish revolt could he make Jewish Christians duty-bound to worship his image or take his name, or receive his mark or his number in their right hands or foreheads! Existing evidence in the Book of Revelation narrative and in historical antiquities will NOT support the claim that the central figures of the Jewish war was Nero or any Roman!
Nero in the Balkans When the First Great War Broke Out
Since antiquity Christians have suspected Nero to figure (somehow) into the prophecies of the Book of Revelation; when he put his hands on the saints and burnt them for crimes he probably committed, he marked himself forever as public enemy number one in the minds of Christians for ages to come. Even after he had committed suicide, a rumor quickly spread that he would rise again like an evil spirit that would not go away. But what are the real facts about Nero? His reputation, for many, is bigger than life, but the truth about Nero is far different than the mythos of Nero would suggest.
One of the first things we learn about the man is that he was an actor and an artist and enjoyed musicals and entertaining audiences all over the Roman Empire (for this many of his political colleagues were embarrassed). Josephus writes,
"When Nero was informed of the Romans' ill success in Judea, a concealed consternation and terror, as is usual in such cases fell upon him; although he openly looked very big, and very angry, and said, that what had happened was rather owing to the negligence of the commander than to any valor of the enemy: and as he thought it fit for him who bare the burden of the whole empire to despise such misfortunes he now pretended so to do, and to have a soul superior to all such sad accidents whatsoever. YET DID THE DISTURBANCE THAT WAS IN HIS SOUL PLAINLY APPEAR BY THE SOLICITUDE HE WAS IN [HOW TO RECOVER HIS AFFAIRS AGAIN].7
Josephus tells us that Nero was far away from Judea when he was informed of the outbreak of the war. According to Josephus Nero was upset about those developments and pretended to have a soul superior to the circumstances now facing him, but nowhere does Josephus say or imply that Nero was orchestrating a revolt in Judea against himself!
Nero Sent Titus STOP the Sedition
Instead of being in Rome plotting a coup or in Jerusalem carrying one out, Nero was, in fact in Achaia when the unexpected news of the brutal Jewish revolt reached him. Josephus writes,
"And as he was deliberating to whom he should commit the care of the east, now it was in so great a commotion, AND WHO MIGHT BE BEST ABLE TO PUNISH THE JEWS FOR THEIR REBELLION, AND MIGHT PREVENT THE SAME DISTEMPER FROM SEIZING UPON THE NEIGHBORING NATIONS ALSO,--HE FOUND NO ONE BUT VESPASIAN EQUAL TO THE TASK, AND ABLE TO UNDERGO THE GREAT BURDEN OF SO MIGHTY A WAR . . .upon the whole he sent this man to take upon him the command of the armies that were in Syria; but this not without great encomiums and flattering compellations, such as necessity required, and such as might mollify him into compliance. SO VESPASIAN SENT HIS SON TITUS FROM ACHAIA, WHERE HE HAD BEEN WITH NERO. . ."8
Below, we will discover that there is not a shred of historical proof that Nero (or anyone under his charge) sought to persuade the Jewish people or their nationalist warriors to do anything to violate either their Temple or their legal standing as an approved religion in the Roman Empire.
Nero Made No Demands that Violated the Jews' Religio Lecita
Nowhere in Josephus do we see any evidence or hear any accusations that the Romans changed their religious policy towards the Jews during the Jewish civil war and sedition; and, in fact, the Jews had a longstanding exemption from being compelled to worship in any way that violated their ancestral code of law: religio lecita. Of this standing for the Jews and Judaism we read,
"Religio licita ("permitted religion," also translated as "approved religion") is a phrase used in the Apologeticum of Tertullian to describe the special status of Judaism under Roman Imperial rule. It is not an official term in Roman law."9
Furthermore, we learn that the Jewish Christians had the SAME rights as all other Jews (they only lost it in A.D.136 when the Romans finally realized the Church was a truly separate religion from Judaism).
". . .it must be remembered that everyone—Jews, Christians, and Romans—still looked upon Christianity as a sect of Judaism."10
And so, from what we have seen so far, the theory (any theory) that says Nero was at the center of Revelation's apocalyptic wars, its end-time war, sorely needs him to be IN the Holy Land; however, Nero NEVER went to Judaea—not even once. But there is more!
Nero Never Came Near the Temple of God
In order for Nero to fulfill the Pauline prophecies of the man of sin sitting in the Temple of God, that would necessarily mean that he would have had to have taken residence in the Temple, but Nero NEVER set foot in the Temple to take a seat there (let alone the Holy of Holies!). As one can easily see, the case for Nero is almost solely based on rumors, wishful thinking, and pure fabrications. The whole thing is founded on how he treated his family and those closest to him, but nothing at all substantive ACTUALLY puts him in the proper relationship with the Jewish War—it would have to have been his war, and the Jews would have had to be fighting FOR Nero, and Nero would have had to be sitting high in the inner court of the Temple—none of this corresponds to actual historical realities surrounding the Jewish revolt, the destruction of the Second Temple and the ruin of the city!
The Romans Not Actually Responsible for the Destruction of Jerusalem
Even though it is commonly said that the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, the real truth is this: Not a SINGLE Roman was in the metropolis for the forty-two months period of trampling of the holy city underfoot. Of this Josephus spoke the real truth when he said,
"But as for John, when he could no longer plunder the people, he betook himself to SACRILEGE and melted down many of the sacred utensils, which had been given to the Temple; as also many of those vessels which were necessary for such as ministered about the holy things, the caldrons, the dishes, and the tables; nay, he did not abstain from the pouring vessels . . he emptied the vessels of that sacred wine and oil, which the priests kept to be poured on the burnt offerings, AND WHICH LAY IN THE INNER COURT OF THE TEMPLE. and distributed it among the multitude, who, in their anointing themselves and drinking, used [each of them] above an hin of them. . ."11
Josephus here describes an abomination of desolation never before seen in all Jewish history! But the invasion and abuse of the sacred effects in the Temple was not the only thing that turned the city upside down:
"And who is there that does not know what the writings of the ancient prophets contain in them,--particularly that oracle which is just now going to be fulfilled upon this miserable city--for they foretold that this city should then be taken when somebody shall begin the slaughter of his own countrymen! AND ARE NOT BOTH THE CITY AND THE ENTIRE TEMPLE NOW FULL OF DEAD BODIES OF YOUR COUNTRYMEN? It is GOD therefore, IT IS GOD HIMSELF WHO IS BRINGING ON THIS FIRE, TO PURGE THE CITY AND THE TEMPLE BY MEANS OF THE ROMANS, and is going to pluck up this city WHICH IS FULL OF YOUR POLLUTIONS."12
It was during that SAME forty-two months that the Jews and Idumeans ravaged their own holy city. And so it was true. . .
". . .there was a certain ancient oracle of those men, that the city should then be taken and the sanctuary burnt, by right of war, when a sedition should invade the Jews, AND THEIR OWN HANDS SHOULD POLLUTE THE TEMPLE OF GOD. Now, while these zealots did not quite disbelieve these predictions, THEY MADE THEMSELVES THE INSTRUMENTS OF THEIR FULFILLMENT."13
What Josephus writes about Jewish misconduct in Jerusalem completely agrees with what the Apostle John envisioned in Revelation 11. Revelation 11:1-2 announces the impending defilement of the city:
"And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months."
Relevant history tells us Jewish factions abused the unhappy city and Temple from November 15, A.D.66 and for the next entire forty-two months! And in that span of time, there was not a single Roman in the city of Jerusalem!
Furthermore, on the same day the Romans vacated the city; so did the Jerusalem Church—as Revelation 12:6 and 14 announces the sudden flight of the Jerusalem Church. That flight to safety was "on wings of an eagle" (perhaps a Roman military escort?). It was while the church was at Pella that the Romans had to send reports to Nero, who in turn, responded by sending in Vespasian and Titus to subdue the rebellion, but, alas!—23 months into the war Nero took his own life! In doing this he did not live long enough to be "the Son of Perdition" questionable theories need him to be. Instead, Simon Bar Gioras—an evil and brutal figure elected by the Jewish priests and Idumeans—took command of the city when it stood on the very brink of disaster.14
Finally, it should be noted (and not forgotten) that the Jews ALREADY had a wound on their right hands when their revolt commenced, and this wound was in reference, not to the Romans or Nero, but to one of their own Jewish generals, probably Simon Bar Giora (Wars 3.8.6:386). And so from all the evidence in Josephus' Wars, we see that the Jews (not the Romans, or Nero) were responsible for their own destruction, desolation, and ruin.
Additionally, Nero also was exceptional because, according to the eminent historian, Doron Mendels, in his book, The Rise and Fall of Jewish Nationalism, Nero declined any privileges to any divine honors:—
"The emperor was worshiped as a god after 29 B.C.E. Still some emperors REFUSED divine honors (Tiberius in 15 C.E., and see Sherk, Roman Empire, p. 57; and NERO about 55 C.E., and see Sherk, ibid., p. 103), BUT THEY WERE EXCEPTIONS."15
This last note is a death knell against accusations made against Nero. There is nothing in any serious research that would in any way suggest anything coming close to a Neronian anti-Christ or promulgator of a Jewish war in the A.D.66-70 debacle.
Above we discussed the start of the Jewish war and who was behind it. We saw that it was Jewish nationalists who were desperately hoping for freedom from Roman rule. These nationalists began and prosecuted a series of successful stratagems against Roman rule in Judaea. Nevertheless, in the course of the war, it is clear from Josephus (as it is in the Book of Revelation) that the designs of the Jews, their leaders, and their messianic pretenders, was destined to surprisingly succeed and then utterly fail in a very spectacular way. As it was, in the beginning of the war the Jews won and the Romans lost.
Conversely, by the end of the war, after almost four years of bitter internecine fighting, the Jews lost while the Romans were the undisputed winners. About three and a half years after audaciously picking a fight with the Roman; after spending most of that time degrading and defiling their own holy places, and after committing mass suicides and mass murder in staggering numbers, Jews, by the thousands, still flocked to Jerusalem and got trapped there (that one last time) in the Spring of A.D.70.
"Now this vast multitude is indeed collected out of remote places, BUT THE ENTIRE NATION WAS NOW SHUT UP BY FATE AS IN A PRISON, AND THE ROMAN ARMY COMPASSED THE CITY WHEN IT WAS CROWDED WITH INHABITANTS. Accordingly, the multitude of those that therein perished EXCEEDED ALL THE DESTRUCTIONS THAT EITHER MEN OR GOD EVER BROUGHT UPON THE WORLD.16
Now, if Revelation chapters 17 and 18 and 19 describe and celebrate the Roman conquest of defiant Jerusalem, this cannot mean that what happens in Revelation 19:17-21 could possibly be a reference to the fortunes of the Romans! For these and so many other reasons, we believe, it is impossible to reconcile any of the relevant facts to fit the conventional belief that the Book of Revelation portrays the victory of the Church over the Romans or any imperial adversities. We believe it will be impossible to show how Nero could possibly help the Jerusalem church on one hand and then, turn around and demand Christians worship him, on the other hand.
Nero did mistreat those closest to him; he did falsely accuse and murder many Roman Christians; he did pin on them the blame for arson (a criminal act he probably orchestrated) but there is no evidence in Roman antiquity or in Josephus' wars account to support the idea that Emperor Nero stood for or served any sinister purpose for which Christians have traditionally and steadfastly believed. What is believed is merely rumor and innuendo with no basis in actual facts or reality and the Bible admonishes us not to bear false witness (Matthew 19:18) and exhorts us to "lie not to one another" (Ephesians 4:25 cf. Colossians 3:9). No lie is of the truth (1 John 2:21) and building a structure around Nero to prove Jesus came back already, instead of lending credibility and clarity, subtracts from it. We just need to stick with the facts!
Since there is no evidence that Nero or his government committed the alleged outrages and atrocities against the Jews or Jewish Christian people during the First Great Revolt and the real evidence points to Jewish radicals themselves, it is time for us to raise the bar and up the ante and provoke one another to take a serious second look at some things we have said and held to be true for the better part of two thousand years.
The conclusions that we have reached convince us that certain claims (far from promoting the truth of a Realized Eschatology founded on truth, facts and integrity) is liable to be seen through as an attempt at subterfuge and grounds for rejecting, out of hand, any notion that the fulfillment of Bible prophecy in antiquity is important and should be taken seriously by concerned and interested Christians. We do not want any false evidence to confuse people who may now disagree with the notion that Book of Revelation was definitively fulfilled in Semitic antiquity. We pray and hope to persuade them otherwise with the best available evidence.
1 Wars of the Jews 2.17.2:408-410
2 Wars 2.17.6:425-7:430.
3 Wars 2.17.8:433-434.
4 Wars 2.19.1:513-519.
5 Wars 2.19.4:527-529.
7 Wars 3.1.1:1-3.
8 Wars 3.1.2:3-4-3:7-8.
10 A History of the Jews, Solomon Grayzel, p. 172.
11 Wars 5.13.6:562-565.
12 Wars 6.2.1:109-110.
13 Wars 4.6.3:388.
14 Wars 4.9.11:572-12:577.
15 The Rise and Fall of Jewish Nationalism, p. 205.
16 Wars 6.9.4:427-429.
Caption of the Emperor Nero by Daniel Voshart. Source: Google.
*James Stuart Russell, in his book "The Parousia" argues that Gessius Florus was the second beast (the False Prophet) in Revelation 13. Our essay "Litotes in Realized Prophecy: Was All Bible Prophecy Really Fulfilled by A.D.70? (Part One) deals with this claim, head on. Each Atavist dissertation is a part of a larger systematic theology and goes hand in hand with The Dating of the Book of Revelation