Is Nero The Antichrist? Essay, Research Paper
Is Nero the Antichrist?
Nero was a mixture of megalomania, evil, and cruelty
according to Roman historians as well as Jews and Christians. His sin of matricide and his claims of deity were major elements in his infamous reputation. Though modern Historians have tried to whitewash Nero and say that certain groups in Rome and other parts of the empire supported him, his name has become a synonym for tyrant and, for many, Antichrist.
Nero was born in AD 37 on December 15 to Agrippina and Gnaeus. Nero’s father was said to have run his chariot over a boy deliberately and to have killed one of his freedman for drinking less than he was ordered. Agrippina was without a doubt the most successfully ambitious mother in history. She would stop at nothing to get her son on the throne. Anyone that was any threat to her son’s chance of becoming Caesar was either framed for a crime or poisoned. She would have affairs with powerful people and use it as leverage. She even ended up marrying Claudius, the emperor of that time, and got him to adopt Nero before she poisoned him. Nero’s biological dad was poisoned by his mom before he was born and his mom was in exile the first three years of his life. With parents like these Nero did not have a very moral up bringing as you can probably see.
In AD fifty-four Claudius died and Nero became Caesar. Historian Charles Merivale wrote about Nero calling him “The last and most detestable of the Caesarean family.” Nero was one of a select body of rulers including King Arthur, Frederick Barbarossa, Frederick II “Stupor Mundi” and Hitler – men cut off by sudden or mysterious deaths which people refused to believe had ever really happened, weaving return sagas round their memory.
The circumstances surrounding Nero’s suicide by sword blow in sixty – eight AD – let alone the more bizarre aspects of his reign – were so mysterious they gave rise to a host of stories and legends. Impostors pretending to be the returning Nero appeared in sixty-nine and in eighty AD. In the year eighty – eight AD, a more serious pretender surfaced in Parthia and, according to the Roman historians, almost succeeded in bringing about a war between these ancient superpowers.
We know that the idea of a returning Nero affected Jewish thought of the first and second centuries primarily through his appearance in the Sibylline oracles. In book five written in Egypt around one – hundred AD and bitterly anti – Roman, makes a full presentation of Nero as the apocalyptic opponent of the messiah. No less than five passages contain an extensive development of the story of the evil emperor. Aspects of his life and deeds are prophetically recounted. He is described as having disappeared but also as becoming destructive again when he returns declaring himself equal to God. A final passage in Book five also approaches the Antichrist legend by contrasting the action of the returning Nero as the agent of final apocalyptic conflict.
The belief that Antichrist – Nero is the devil incarnate is one of the two major forms of the Christian use of the stories about Nero. Although this form would be rejected by the mainstream tradition, it would have a number of adherents in later centuries. The second Christian use of the Nero legend, one that found its center in contrasting resurrections was to be far more influential in Christian history, though later Christian theology denied the Final enemy a real resurrection because such power was seen as belonging to God alone. We find this use in the Johannine Apocalypse (Revelations) the greatest of all Christian apocalyptic texts. Revelations was written by an early Christian prophet named John in Asia Minor, in the last decade of the first century. It is clearly an Apocalypse, or a revelation given to John by the risen Christ and by various angelic figures. The key figure is the Beast from the Abyss of Revelations 11:7, who is also one of the seven heads of the beast from the sea, the head that received the fatal wound but was restored to life. The dependence of Revelation 13 on Daniel 7 has long been noted. While Daniel saw four beasts arise from the sea, John sees one beast that combines the features of Daniel four:
Then I saw a Beast emerge from the sea: it had seven heads and ten horns, and each of its heads was marked with blasphemous titles. I saw that the Beast was like a leopard, with paws like a bear and a mouth like a lion: the Dragon had handed over to it his own power and his throne and his world – wide authority. I saw that one of its heads seemed to have had a fatal wound but that this deadly injury had been healed and, after that, the whole world had marveled and followed the Beast (Revelation 13:1-3).
While chapter 13 gives us many details about the activities of the Beast such as his forty – two – months reign and his number “The number of a man, the number 666 ” (13:18), the head that seemed to have the fatal wound and recovered is the main clue to his identity. This comes from the second description of the Beast and his activity in chapters 17:
The Beast you have seen once was and now is not. He is yet to come out from the Abyss, but only to go to his destruction. And the people of the world … will think it miraculous when they see how the Beast once was and now is not and is still to come. Here there is need for cleverness, for a shrewd mind; the seven heads are the seven hills, and the women is sitting on them. The seven heads are also seven emperors. Five of them have already gone, one is here now, and one is to come; once here, he must stay for a short while. The Beast, once was and now is not, is at the same time the eighth and one of the seventh, and he is going to his destruction (Revelations 17:8-11).
Comparing this version of the Beast to the one in chapter 13 clarifies a number of important issues.
First it is evident that the Beast represents the Roman Empire and a final single imperial opponent, the head with the deadly wound that “once was and now is not and is still to come”(17:8). Second it is almost unanimously admitted that this fatally wounded and soon – to – be – revived head is Nero, conceived of for the first time in surviving literature as returning from the dead. Just as the Lamb who opened the sealed scroll was singing “standing (that is, risen) as though it had been slain” (5:6), so his apocalyptic opponent, the Beast from the Abyss, will also arise from death, that is, from the Abyssos. The contrast between the two animal images for Christ and Antichrist – Nero is made with stunning symbolic precision. The dead Nero symbolized as the head of the Beast will ascend alive into the world from the abyss to war against the saints and to destroy Rome, as the legends had long predicted.
The identification of the slain and revived head with Nero also helps explain mysterious number of the Beast (13:18) that is 666. Since the second century, many interpretations 666 have been offered. Students of apocalypticism have been uncertain whether to take the number as an example of general number symbolism (according to which we might say that 666 is total imperfection just as 888 would be complete perfection), or of gematria, this special number symbolism popular in antiquity that calculated names according to the numbers signified by the letters. In addition, some have opted for gematria based on Hebrew letters, others on Greek. The simplest and most likely solution is that 666 is a gematria for the Hebrew nrwn qsr, that is, “Nero Emperor.”
One final aspect of the depiction of the Antichrist as the Beast in Revelation needs to be noted. The mythological background of the picture of the two Beasts is apparently Jewish speculation about Leviathan and Behemoth. Both of these monsters appear in the Hebrew Bible as forms of the cosmic opposition to God. The two Beasts John writes of are symbols of the Antichrist and his helper, not to be confused with actual Beasts.
At Nero’s birth his father is reported as saying, ” Nothing born of myself and Agrippina can be other than odious and a public disaster. ” He had no idea.