Monday, October 10, 2016

How Did The Apostles Die? (4)

From the Alt. Bible. Errancy discussion group, 6-5-99:

The Apostle Peter

I think you have been looking in the wrong places for your "apostle data". (if you have looked at all) I would like you to start simple with the 
Encyclopedia Brittanica. Youll find that the British Scholar Herbert Workman describes Peters death. How does one look past the Encyclopedia Britannica when in the midst of research? 

Goodguy doesn't know that general encyclopedias, especially in religious matters, often present only what is popularly believed? It would have helped the discussion if he had stated what he "knows" to be the historical facts about the death of Peter, but since he didn't, I'll have to discuss Peter without the benefits of Goodguy's expertise on the subject. In his listing of the apostles below (which I will eventually get to), Goodguy stated that Peter was crucified. I assume that he also accepts the tradition that he was crucified upside down. The only problem is that Goodguy is again wandering around in the area of Christian tradition, and the traditions about Peter are the same as the traditions about the deaths of the other apostles: they are rooted entirely in biased sources.

Even Goodguy's own source (*Encyclopedia Britannica*) acknowledged early in the article about "Saint Peter" that "(t)he sources of information concerning the life of Peter are limited to the NT: the four gospels, Acts, the letters of Paul, and the two letters that bear the name of Peter" (Vol. 9, 15th Edition, p. 330). In other words, what is known about Peter has been derived from biased sources; there are no disinterested sources that mention this man who was presumably the cornerstone apostle of the church. Traditions about Peter are another source of information, of course, but traditions are... well, traditions are traditions, and the various traditions about the apostles and the manners in which they died are so varied and so contradictory that no rational person can consider them sources of reliable historical information. Many of the traditions about Peter concern his alleged ministry, martyrdom, and interment in Rome, all of which are not the least surprising in view of the early movement to make Rome the headquarters of the Catholic Church. What better way to strengthen the claim that the church should be centered in Rome than to have this as the place where the chief of the apostles lived, preached, and died the death of a martyr? 

Goodguy's own source said of the traditions about Peter's tenure in Rome, "It is probable that the tradition of a 25-year episcopate of Peter in Rome is not earlier than the beginning or the middle of the 3rd century. The claims that the church of Rome was founded by Peter or that he served as its first bishop are in dispute and rest on evidence that is not earlier than the middle or late 2nd century" (p. 332). In dispute? Is Goodguy's own source telling us that the traditions about Peter's tenure in Rome are so unreliable that they are actually "in dispute"? Let's notice also that Goodguy's source uses the word "tradition" in the quotation cited above. That word "tradition" keeps popping up in everything that I read about the life of Peter, and I never seem to find any solid evidence from disinterested secular sources that would make the existence of Peter and the experiences that tradition assigns to him historically reliable. Certainly, traditions that developed two centuries after the death of a person cannot be considered historically reliable. 

What are the traditions of Peter's death? This is what Eusebius said about the deaths of Peter (and Paul): "So it came about that this man [Nero], the first to be heralded as a conspicuous fighter against God, was led on to murder the apostles. It is recorded that in his reign Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified, and the record is confirmed by the fact that the cemeteries there are still called by the names of Peter and Paul, and,equally so by a churchman named Gaius, who was living while Zephyrinus was Bishop of Rome" (*the History of the Church,* translated by G. A. Williamson, Dorset Press, 1965, p. 104). 

This translation leaves the impression that the cemeteries in Rome were named after Peter and Paul. If this is what Eusebius meant, there would be nothing,unusual about this. By the time of Eusebius, Christianity had gained a foothold in the Roman empire, so there would be nothing unusual about cemeteries being named after Catholic saints. (For example, I live directly across the street from St. Joseph Cemetery. It could have just as easily been named St. Peter or St. Paul Cemetery.) However, there is some question about what Eusebius meant in this passage. A check of other translations of Eusebius's church history will show that some have him saying that "the names of Peter and Paul still remain in the cemeteries of that city [Rome] even to this day." This translation leaves the impression that Eusebius was saying that there were grave markers in the cemeteries that bore the names of Peter and Paul. That interpretation is consistent with what Eusebius went on to say in this same paragraph when he claimed that Gaius had said he could "point out the monuments of the victorious apostles [Peter and Paul]" to those who would go with him "as far as the Vatican or the Ostian Way" (Ibid., p. 105). 

Now I find it interesting that the burial sites of both Peter and Paul were allegedly known almost three centuries after their alleged martyrdom, but somehow became lost even though Christianity grew stronger with time. How likely is it that the location of the tombs of the two most prestigious apostles would have been lost during an era where the church was essentially in control of political reins? Given Christianity's penchant for preserving religious relics and building shrines, I find it quite unbelievable that Christians would have allowed this to happen. For such to occur, a religion that venerated important religious leaders would have had to experience some kind of suppression that just didn't happen in this case. It is more likely that such talk as the location of sites where apostles were buried was just... well, tradition. Certainly, in the case of Eusebius, whose reputation for honesty in scholarly circles isn't the best, we can't get too excited over "historical" information that he could support only with what some other church leader had said. So the problem remains the same: would-be apologists like Goodguy expect people to swoon over the claim that the apostles died as martyrs for what they believed when there is no reliable testimony from disinterested historical sources that any such thing actually occurred or that these "apostles" even existed. 

Clement of Rome said in his epistle to the Corinthians that "(i)t was by sinful jealousy that Peter was subjected to tribulation, not once or twice but many times; it was in that way that he bore his witness, ere he left us for his well-earned place in glory" (section 5). Hmmmm, all that Clement of Rome said about the death of Peter is that "he left us for his well-earned place in glory," yet we are supposed to believe that Peter was crucified upside down during Nero's persecution of Christians. It does seem that if Clement had known that Peter had suffered such an ignominious death, he would have mentioned something a bit more specific about the manner of death that Peter had endured. Since scholars date Clement's epistle at about A. D. 96, could it possibly be that Clement's silence about the way that Peter had died was due to the fact that the tradition of an upside-down crucifixion had not yet developed? 

The silence of disinterested sources on Peter's death and even his existence is a factor that Goodguy should consider but probably won't. Both Suetonius (*The Twelve Caesars,* Penguin Books 1979, translated by Michael Grant, p. 221) and Tacitus (*Annals of Imperial Rome,* Penguin Books, 1989, translated by Michael Grant, pp. 365-366) mention Nero's persecution of Christians, but neither one named Peter, who would have been their principal leader, as one who was killed in the purge. Of all the rotten luck for Christian apologists! Since both of these writers spoke derogatorily of the Christian sect, it would certainly have helped Goodguy's case if these obviously disinterested historians had taken the time just to mention the name Peter in their comments,about Nero's Christian purge, but, alas, they didn't. 

Dorman Newman in *The Lives and Deaths of the Holy Apostles* (London: 1685) said that Peter was crucified "with his head downwards" and then buried "in the Vatican near the Triumphal Way" and that a small church was built over his body (p. 20). Dorman claimed that Peter's body was later disinterred and taken to a cemetery 2 miles from Rome, where it "rested obscurely until the Reign of Constantine [who] rebuilt and enlarged the Vatican to the honor of St. Peter" (p. 21). In commenting on Newman's claim, William Steuart McBirnie said, "Dorman Newman apparently had sources unavailable to us which possibly cast more light on St. Peter's burial" (*The Search for the TwelveApostles,* Tyndale House Publishers, 12th printing, 1977, p. 71). Yeah, right, Dorman Newman had sources that are unavailable to us. Newman published his work in 1685, but the church allowed sources that shed such remarkable light on the burial of Peter to disappear, and so those sources are no longer available to us! Again, what rotten luck! McBirnie had an obvious interest in defending the historicity of the apostles, and so it just never occurred to him that Newman's sources were pure tradition. 

At any rate, it is obvious that the apostle Peter and his alleged crucifixion upside down rests solely on traditions and biased Christian sources. No disinterested secular confirmation of anything that Christians now believe about Peter can be produced to support those beliefs. Hence, to say that Peter died for his belief in the resurrection of Jesus is to say something that cannot be verified with reliable historical information. On this central point of the apologetic argument we are now discussing, everyone should notice that even the Christian traditions about the death of Peter include no information that would justify the claim that he was willing to die for his belief in the resurrection of Jesus. The traditions say only that he was crucified upside down; they do not specify that his death occurred after a refusal to recant his belief in the resurrection. Eusebius made no such claim, and neither did Clement of Rome. Even if we assume that Peter was an actual historical person and that he was crucified upside down in Rome during a Christian purge, that would not justify the conclusion that he died for his refusal to renounce belief in the resurrection. Nothing in any of these traditions give reason to assume that the apostles were offered the opportunity to recant their belief but refused to do so. In a purge, members of the movement being eradicated are usually killed for their past associations and not for any refusal to make last-minute renunciations of their association with the movement. In other words, even if Peter died in the way that church tradition claims, that would not constitute evidence that he refused to renounce his belief in the resurrection. It could well be that once the purge had begun, it was too late to renounce beliefs. On the Errancy list, Joseph Smith has been cited as an example of this. Once the mob stormed the jail in Carthage, Illinois, where Smith was being held, it was probably too late for Smith to think about recanting anything. 

Steve Carr sent to the Errancy list a posting today that shows even scriptural reasons to question the Christian claim of widespread persecutions in the early history of Christianity. I am cutting and pasting that section immediately below for Goodguy's consideration. 

"The author of Hebrews could tell his Christian readers that 'In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.' (Hebrews 12:4) He goes on to remind his readers that they should 'Remember those in prison as if they were your fellow-prisoners ,and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering.' (Hebrews 13:3). Why does he say 'as if they were your fellow prisoners'? Surely if there were Christians in prisons, there would be no 'as if' about it - they actually would be their fellow-prisoners." 

Perhaps Goodguy will want to answer this by just telling us how uneducated Carr is too. At any rate, I will continue my response to Goodguy's "argument" later. 

Farrell Till

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