Rome

The Madness of Nero

Many Christians have heard tell that the Emperor Nero was a very bad man. Well, curious Christians need look no further than the Roman writer Suetonius, whose work The Twelve Caesars (ca. 96 A.D.) includes an account of Neros’ life. In this excerpt, we behold a taste of Neros’ debauchery and madness.1

28. Besides the abuse of free-born lads, and the debauch of married women, he committed a rape upon Rubria, a Vestal Virgin. He was upon the point of marrying Acte, his freedwoman, having suborned some men of consular rank to swear that she was of royal descent.

He gelded the boy Sporus, and endeavoured to transform him into a woman. He even went so far as to marry him, with all the usual formalities of a marriage settlement, the rose-coloured nuptial veil, and a numerous company at the wedding. When the ceremony was over, he had him conducted like a bride to his own house, and treated him as his wife. It was jocularly observed by some person, “that it would have been well for mankind, had such a wife fallen to the lot of his father Domitius.”

This Sporus he carried about with him in a litter round the solemn assemblies and fairs of Greece, and afterwards at Rome through the Sigillaria, dressed in the rich attire of an empress; kissing him from time to time as they rode together.

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Review: Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament

Reprinted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com.

All the events in the NT occurred against the historic background of the Roman Empire. Throughout the NT, we find and feel the presence, sometimes center stage, sometimes more peripheral, of Rome, its agents and its influence. At least four Roman Emperors are mentioned in the Gospels and Acts, three by name (Augustus, Tiberius, and Claudius). One issues a decree that is unwittingly crucial in fulfilling a Hebrew prophecy made seven centuries earlier (Micah 5:2; see Luke 2:1). One orders Jews out of Rome (Claudius) and one is the Caesar to whom Paul appealed his criminal case (Nero), and about whom history records that he began the systematic persecution of Christians and who, tradition has it, executed both Paul and Peter.

Roman governors rule in Judea (Quirinius, Pilate, Felix, Festus), and elsewhere. Jesus, who had instructed His listeners to “render to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” was condemned by to death by a Roman governor, beaten, then crucified by Roman soldiers, who also guarded His tomb in hopes of preventing His departure from the grave. Roman soldiers are found in Judea, and in Galilee, some being converts of John the Baptist, and others respectful and appreciative acquaintances of Jesus. A Roman centurion was among the early converts in Acts; Roman soldiers rescued Paul from the Jerusalem mob, and escorted him safely to Caesarea. Another spared his life after the shipwreck on Malta. Some of Caesar’s own palace guards became converts in Rome. Paul’s (and Silas’) Roman citizen plays an important part in the narrative in Acts. Something over 20 Latin words are borrowed into the Greek NT, nearly all being words associated with government and rule. Everywhere in the NT, there is Roman government, Roman law, Roman commerce, Roman coins, Roman culture and custom.

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