2022-01-15

Nero – the Followup: Reviews of Barrett’s Discussion of the Neronian Persecution

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by Neil Godfrey

So what do reviewers have to say about Anthony Barrett’s chapter-length discussion of the Neronian persecution of the Christians that we find in the Annals of Tacitus?

Here’s one take. It’s by Simon Malloch of the University of Nottingham. The full review is published in Literary Review: Did He Really Fiddle? (link is to academia.edu site).

Barrett subjects Tacitus’s claims about Nero’s scapegoating of Christians to hyper-suspicious analysis. Tacitus, he notes, was the only writer to link Christian persecution with the fire until the early fifth century, when the Christian Sulpicius Severus drew on his account to make a similar connection. It seems incredible, Barrett claims, that Christian authors would have ignored this persecution if they had read Tacitus or, at least, if the episode had been in the version of the Annals that they read. Barrett comes perilously close to endorsing the extreme idea that all mention of the Christians was somehow interpolated into the ‘original’ text of the Annals by a third party before the time of Sulpicius. It would be unfortunate if the attention he lavishes on this theory were to encourage readers to take it seriously: it is simply not possible to make a convincing case for the interpolation into the Annals of a passage so thoroughly Tacitean in language and content and to explain (which Barrett does not) how the interpolation was achieved. Tacitus’s narrative remains the most reliable account of a fire the course, impact and notoriety of which Barrett elucidates so well.

(All bolded highlighting is my own.)

Ouch.

Here’s another. This one by John Drinkwater also from the Unversity of Nottingham. The full review is published in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History and available at Project Muse.

His lengthy treatment of Tacitus’ description of Nero’s savage punishment of Christian scapegoats may, indeed, smack of self-indulgence; it certainly comes close to academic heresy in its revival of the view that it may be a late Roman interpolation. Yet his frankness is forgiveable: Lay readers should be aware of the range of problems that have to be explained away by special pleading if the passage is to be accepted as authentic.

Shorter is sweeter.

Take your pick: Hyper-suspicious or Special pleading?

 

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Neil Godfrey

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2 thoughts on “Nero – the Followup: Reviews of Barrett’s Discussion of the Neronian Persecution”

  1. If nobody mentionned the passage in Tacitus before the fifth century, the reasonable explanation is it didn’t exist. It’s a habit of Christian apologist to say:« There is a contrived explanation so we have to assume it’s true unless proven wrong ».
    Faking the style of an author is something parodists do for a living. Most Vermeers were found to be fakes

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