A Guest Post and an Appetizer on The Shared Agonies of Vitellius and Jesus

Inom kort kommer jag att publicera en intressant artikel som jag har skrivit tillsammans med D. Blocker. Jag kommer dessutom att låta publicera en längre artikel som han har skrivit och till dess att dessa båda artiklar är klara, låter jag återge ett mycket kort utdrag ut den artikel som Blocker själv har skrivit och vars ideer är hans egna och inte nödvändigtvis mina. Detta är ännu blott ett utkast.

I am co-authoring a very interesting essay together with David Blocker, and also plan to host an essay by a guest author in the near future. Here is a very brief excerpt from the guest essay. It is still in the rough draft stage, but it will hopefully still be enjoyable. Needless to say, I do not necessarily agree with everything said.

And I might also give the quotation from the Gospel of Luke:

“And there appeared unto him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.” (Luke 22:43-44)

The shared agonies of Vitellius and Jesus.

There is a remarkable literary resemblance between Jesus’ Agony in the Garden (Luke 22:44) and the arrest of Jesus the failed Messiah (Luke 22:50), and the Agony in the Palace and the arrest of Vitellius the failed Emperor (see below, Tacitus, Histories, 3. 84.  See also Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Vitellius 16-17).

Both suffered misgivings and fear after a leadership crisis, both were deserted by their followers, both were captured by a Roman tribune leading a cohort.  One of their captors had his ear cut off.  Jesus one-upped the Roman emperor by rebuking the assailant and healing the ear.  Both Jesus and Vitellius were stripped of their clothing and then lead away to be mocked and killed.

Jesus was crucified between two “thieves”.  Vitellius is shown where two prior claimants to the Imperial throne died.

Both Vitelllius and Jesus summon up a final dignity and die with a memorable quotation on their lips.

Most early manuscripts do not contain Luke 22:43-44 * indicating that it is a later interpolation into the canonical text.  This suggests a Lukan redactor was trying to address two audiences.  An unsophisticated audience would hear only of Jesus’ noble suffering, while a sophisticated Roman reader would see the parallel drawn between Jesus’ arrest and the ignominious capture of Vitellius.

Would it be going too far to say that this passage was a subtle warning to well informed members of Roman society not to take Christian anecdotes too seriously?

From: Tacitus’ Histories:

[3. 84] When the city had been taken, Vitellius caused himself to be carried in a litter through the back of the palace to the Aventine, to his wife’s dwelling, intending, if by any concealment he could escape for that day, to make his way to his brother’s cohorts at Tarracina. Then, with characteristic weakness, and following the instincts of fear, which, dreading everything, shrinks most from what is immediately before it, he retraced his steps to the desolate and forsaken palace, whence even the meanest slaves had fled, or where they avoided his presence. The solitude and silence of the place scared him; he tried the closed doors, he shuddered in the empty chambers, till, wearied out with his miserable wanderings, he concealed himself in an unseemly hiding-place, from which he was dragged out by the tribune Julius Placidus. His hands were bound behind his back, and he was led along with tattered robes, a revolting spectacle, amidst the invectives of many, the tears of none. The degradation of his end had extinguished all pity. One of the German soldiers met the party, and aimed a deadly blow at Vitellius, perhaps in anger, perhaps wishing to release him the sooner from insult. Possibly the blow was meant for the tribune. He struck off that officer’s ear, and was immediately dispatched.

[3.85] Vitellius, compelled by threatening swords, first to raise his face and offer it to insulting blows, then to behold his own statues falling round him, and more than once to look at the Rostra and the spot where Galba was slain, was then driven along till they reached the Gemoniae, the place where the corpse of Flavius Sabinus had lain. One speech was heard from him showing a spirit not utterly degraded, when to the insults of a tribune he answered, “Yet, I was your Emperor.” Then he fell under a shower of blows, and the mob reviled the dead man with the same heartlessness with which they had flattered him when he was alive.

“to defend the law with their own blood and with their noble sweat in the face of sufferings unto death” (4 Macc 7:8) might be the literary inspiration for Luke 22:43-44.

D. Blocker ,  2005-2011


* From footnote F483, NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, The Lockman Foundation, PO Box 2279, La Habra, CA 90631, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995.

2 kommentarer

  1. bbnews said,

    3 augusti, 2011 den 08:49

    Very interesting! Read more about Vitellius (15-69) here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitellius .

    If the scenario in the blog article above is true, and if most early manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke do not contain the verses 43-44 in chapter 22 (indicating that it is a later interpolation into the canonical text) – does this tell us something about when the gospel of Luke originally was written?


  2. Den andre BB said,

    3 augusti, 2011 den 12:11

    Since the Vitellius story must have been in circulation since his death, I cannot see how similarities can affect the dating of the Gospel. Parallells like the comparison between Galba, Otho and the two ”thieves”, I also regard as very far-fetched…



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