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The Apostolic Fathers

The Apostolic Fathers by J.B. Lightfoot: Part I, Volume 2

Appendix B.


[Found among the Bishop's miscellaneous papers. The essay is undated, but it was apparently written before the publication of Gebhardt and Harnack's edition.]

The Epistle, which bears the name of Barnabas, stands alone in the literature of the early Church. The writer is an uncompromising antagonist of Judaism; but, beyond this antagonism, he has nothing in common with the Antijudaic heresies of the second century. These later heretics, Gnostic and Marcionite, took their stand on a dualism in some form or other. They postulated an opposition between the Old Testament and the New. In Marcionism, which flourished about the middle of the second century, this doctrine assumes its extreme form. The Old Testament—so Marcion affirmed—was the work of the Demiurge, whose tyranny over mankind Jesus Christ, the son of the Good God, came to destroy. The antagonism was absolute and complete; the warfare was internecine. Of such a doctrine the Epistle of Barnabas exhibits not the faintest trace. On the contrary, the writer sees Christianity everywhere in the Lawgiver and the Prophets, He treats them with a degree of respect, which would have satisfied the most devout rabbi. He quotes them profusely, as authoritative. Only he accuses the Jews of misunderstanding them from beginning to end. He even intimates that the ordinances of circumcision, of the Sabbath, of the distinction of meats clean and unclean, as having a spiritual or mystical significance, were never intended to be literally observed, though on this point he is not quite explicit.

Who then was the writer of this Epistle? At the close of the second century Clement of Alexandria quotes it profusely, ascribing it to 'the Apostle Barnabas' or 'the Apostolic Barnabas' or 'the Prophet Barnabas'; and, lest any doubt should be entertained as to the identity of the person bearing this name, he in one passage describes the author


as 'Barnabas who himself also preached in company with the Apostle (i.e. S. Paul) in the ministry of the Gentiles1.' Yet elsewhere2 Clement himself refers anonymously to the explanation which our Barnabas gives of the prohibition against eating the flesh of 'the hare and the hyena,' and criticizes it freely. He declares his acquiescence in the symbolical interpretation, but he distinctly repudiates the statement on which our author founds it as a physical impossibility. It seems clear therefore that notwithstanding his profuse and deferential quotations he does not treat the book as final and authoritative. A few years later, Origen also cites this work with the introductory words, 'It is written in the Catholic (i.e. General) Epistle of Barnabas.' The earliest notices however are confined to the Alexandrian fathers; and elsewhere it does not appear to have been received with any very special consideration. Altogether the position, which it occupies in the Codex Sinaiticus, may be taken to represent the highest distinction to which it ever attained. It is there placed, not with the Catholic Epistles, which would have been its proper rank, if it had been regarded as strictly canonical, but after the Apocalypse, in company with the Shepherd of Hermas, as a sort of Appendix to the sacred volume.

This prominence it doubtless owed to the belief that it was written by Barnabas the Levite of Cyprus, the companion of S. Paul. Later criticism however, with very few exceptions, has pronounced decidedly against this view, which indeed is beset with many difficulties. But on the other hand this work is in no sense apocryphal, if by apocryphal we mean fictitious. There is no indication, direct or indirect, that the writer desired to be taken for the Apostle Barnabas. On the contrary, when he speaks of the Apostles, his language is such as to suggest that he was wholly unconnected with them; and he merely addresses his 'sons and daughters,' as a teacher who had important trusts to communicate. How the name of Barnabas came to be attached to the Epistle, it is impossible to say. An early tradition, or fiction, represents Barnabas as residing at Alexandria; but this story might have been the consequence, rather than the cause, of the name attached to the letter. Possibly its author was some unknown namesake of this 'Son of Consolation.'

At all events we can hardly be wrong in ascribing to it an Alexandrian origin. Its mode of interpretation is Alexandrian throughout; and its

1 Clem. Alex. Strom. ii. 7 (p. 447 ed. Potter), 20 (p. 489), v. 10 (p. 683).

2 Clem. Alex. Paed. ii. 10 (p. 220, 221 ed. Potter). It is true that the reference is not beyond the reach of doubt. See also Strom. ii. 15, p. 464, where Barnabas is mentioned by name.


earliest reception, as we have seen, is connected with this Church. The beginnings of Christianity at Alexandria are wrapped in obscurity. It would be as rash to reject confidently, as to adopt confidently, the tradition which represents Mark, the 'cousin' of Barnabas, as its evangelist. But on the other hand it seems certain that the Alexandrian Church was a flourishing community at an early date. Doubtless Apollos was not the only 'learned Jew of Alexandria,' who was brought to the knowledge of the Gospel during the lifetime of S. Paul. The Epistle to the Hebrews is steeped in the learning of Alexandria, and was probably written by a member of this Church. When Hadrian visited this city in the autumn of A.D. 130, he found the Christian Church an appreciable influence in society, extending itself and proselytizing in all directions. 'I have become familiar with Egypt, which you praised to me,' he writes to his brother-in-law Servianus afterwards; 'it is fickle, uncertain, blown about by every gust of rumour. Those who worship Serapis are Christians, and those are devoted to Serapis who call themselves bishops of Christ. There is no ruler of a synagogue there, no Samaritan, no Christian presbyter, who is not an astrologer, a soothsayer, a quack. The patriarch himself, whenever he comes to Egypt, is compelled by some to worship Serapis, by others to worship Christ' (Vopiscus Vita Saturnini 8). No stronger testimony to the growing power of the Christian Church could be desired than these sarcasms of the sceptical emperor. The Epistle of Barnabas may be regarded as a product of these conflicts between Jews and Christians which Hadrian here describes. The antagonism between the discordant elements which made up the population of Alexandria, is a matter of history; and in the general melée the feuds between Jews and Christians for some generations bore no insignificant part.

The birthplace of this Epistle then seems tolerably certain; but its date is more open to dispute. It was certainly written after the first destruction of Jerusalem under Titus to which it alludes, and it was almost as certainly written before the war under Hadrian ending in the second devastation, about which it is silent, but to which it could hardly have failed to refer, if written after or during the conflict. The possible limits therefore are A.D. 70 and A.D. 132. It would be mere waste of time to discuss any theories which go beyond these boundaries. But within this period of sixty years various dates have been assigned to it. Among the advocates of an earlier date we may single out Weizsacker, who places it under Vespasian (A.D. 69—79); while Volkmar, who throws it forward to the time of Hadrian (A.D. 119—138), may be taken to represent the champions of the late date. Of the intermediate


position, occupied by several critics of reputation, Hilgenfeld may be regarded as a typical champion, who dates it during the reign of Nerva (A.D. 96—98).

The conclusion depends mainly on the interpretation of two passages in the Epistle itself.

The first is the more important. The writer warns his readers that 'the last scandal, or offence, is at hand,' in other words that the great and final conflict, which is destined to try the faith of the believers, is fast approaching, and he calls their attention to the signs of the last days, as foretold in Daniel, in the following words:—

'And so also says the prophet; Ten kingdoms shall reign upon the earth, and after them shall rise up a little king, who shall lay low three of the kings in one (τρεις `υφ∍ `εν των βασιλεων). In like manner Daniel saith concerning the same; And I saw the fourth beast wicked and strong and untoward beyond all the beasts of the earth, and how that ten horns sprang up out of it, and out of them a little horn (as) an offshoot (παραφυαδιον), and how that it laid low three of the great horns in one (`υφ∍ `εν τρια των μεγαλων κερατων). Ye ought therefore to understand' (§ 4).

The first passage is taken from Daniel vii. 24: the second from an earlier verse in the same chapter. But, like the Old Testament citations in this writer generally, they are quoted with a degree of freedom which is, or ought to be, highly suggestive when we come to deal with evangelical quotations in the earliest fathers.

Of the interpretation the so-called Barnabas says nothing. He is evidently referring to the Roman emperors, and common prudence therefore gags his lips, when he would speak of their overthrow. He leaves the solution to the intelligence of his hearers.

When we attempt to read the enigma, we must remember that the writer applies to his own times language which was intended to describe something wholly different. We may therefore expect to find some wresting of the imagery to adapt it to contemporary events. But on the other hand it must have exhibited coincidences sufficiently patent to strike the ordinary mind. Otherwise the writer would not have ventured to leave the application of the prophecy to his readers. He must have discarded the prophecy as unfit for his purpose unless it had told its own tale, if he did not venture to expand it. And again; we may look for the key to the exposition in those modifications of the original words which the writer introduces. The most important of these is the twice-repeated expression `υφ∍ `εν—'in one' or 'at once.' The original prophecy contains no hint that the three kings shall suffer at once or are closely connected together. Lastly; the little horn in the original


prophecy is plainly the Antichrist; for he is described as making war against the Saints and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given to the Saints of the Most High; and the time came that the Saints possessed the kingdom (vii. 21, 22). This fact was too patent to be overlooked, and is recognised in all patristic interpretations of the prophecy. It is impossible therefore to suppose that our Barnabas could have interpreted the little horn in any other way. Bearing these conditions of the problem in mind, we may proceed to investigate three solutions of the enigma which have been offered.

1. In the first place then Weizsacker reckons the ten Caesars from Julius to Vespasian continuously, Vespasian being the tenth. So far he adopts the simple and natural reckoning. But he supposes Vespasian to be the little horn, and the three kings humbled by him to be Galba, Otho, Vitellius. These identifications must be discarded for several reasons. In the first place Vespasian is made the little horn, while at the same time he is one of the great horns. Next; Vespasian, though he humbled Vitellius, can in no sense be said to have humbled Galba and Otho. Indeed, so far was this from being the case, that Vespasian throughout identified himself with the cause of Galba, and the first measure of his reign was the vindication of the memory of this prince (Tac. Hist. ii. 6, iv. 40). Lastly; this interpretation altogether sets aside the distinctive character of the little horn as the Antichrist. Vespasian was never so regarded by the Christians. During his reign they had an entire immunity from persecution, and so rapidly did their influence grow that they even made converts in the imperial family itself. To a strongly Antijudaic writer, like Barnabas, more especially Vespasian, the scourge of the Jews and the instrument of God's vengeance on a rebellious people, must have been regarded in a directly opposite light.

2. Hilgenfeld reckons Domitian as the tenth king. He omits Julius as not having been an emperor strictly so called, and Vitellius as never having been recognised in Egypt. The little horn according to his solution is Nerva, a feeble and insignificant prince, who subverted the dynasty of the three great emperors of the Flavian family—Vespasian, Titus, Domitian. But this theory again is open to very serious and (as it seems to me) fatal objections. In the first place there is no parallel elsewhere to this mode of reckoning, which makes Domitian the tenth, and not the twelfth of the Caesars. Whatever might be said in favour of excluding Julius from the enumeration, the exclusion of Vitellius is indefensible. It is a mistake to maintain that


he was never recognised by the Alexandrians. True, his name does not occur, or at least has not yet been discovered, on the hieroglyphic monuments of Egypt; but, as his reign only lasted a few months, this proves nothing. His name is equally conspicuous by its absence in the Latin Inscriptions of Asia, of Greece, of Thrace and Illyricum, of Cisalpine Gaul, of Spain, of Britain, and throughout the whole collection of Greek Inscriptions. On the other hand, as an evidence that he was recognised in Egypt, we have coins of this reign struck at Alexandria. And in the Sibylline Oracles, which in some cases at least emanated from this country, he has his proper place1. The lists of the Roman 'kings' which they give begin with Julius and include Vitellius, according to the ordinary practice. As Vitellius, like Otho, was duly acknowledged by the Senate, and took possession of the Capital, no one at a subsequent period would have disputed his claim to appear in the list. This sanction gave to Otho and Vitellius a position in history which was never accorded to pretenders like Civilis.

Moreover this theory fails, like the last, in not recognising the little horn as the Antichrist. The persecution, which had harassed the Christians under Domitian, ceased under Nerva, for whose memory in consequence they always had a kindly regard, as their benefactor. Hilgenfeld is therefore obliged altogether to ignore the Antichrist in his interpretation. Nor again could Nerva be said without excessive straining of language to destroy the three kings 'in one' or 'at once.' Vespasian, the earliest, and Titus the next of the Flavii, died in their beds seventeen and fifteen years respectively before the accession of Nerva.

3. The solution of Volkmar is exposed to still greater objections than the two theories which have been considered hitherto. Like Hilgenfeld, he omits Julius and Vitellius, so as to reckon Domitian the 10th king; but he takes the three kings to be the three successors of this last-named emperor, Nerva, Trajan, and Hadrian. They are said to be three in one, because Trajan was adopted by Nerva, and Hadrian by Trajan. The writer therefore, living in the time of Hadrian, looks forward to the appearance of the Antichrist in the person of Nero or Domitian redivivus, who shall crush Hadrian and end the dynasty. This theory has the merit of seeing the Antichrist in the little horn; but this is its only advantage. Its enumeration of the Caesars is exposed to the same objection as the last; and its explanation of the three kings in one seems altogether impossible. Nerva had been already dead for twenty or thirty years on this

1 Orac. Sibyl. V. 35, VIII. 50, XII. 95.


hypothesis, and yet the writer is looking forward to the advent of a conqueror who shall smite and humiliate him. Again; the connexion of these three emperors was very slight, the adoption of the successor in each case having been made shortly before the death of the predecessor. And though this seems to be a less serious objection than the preceding, the three kings are enumerated over and above the ten, whereas the language suggests that they were in some sense comprised in the ten.

The solution, which I venture to offer, has not, so far as I am aware, been given before. We enumerate the ten Caesars in their natural sequence with Weizsacker, and we arrive at Vespasian as the tenth. We regard the three Flavii as the three kings destined to be humiliated, with Hilgenfeld. We do not however with him contemplate them as three separate emperors, but we explain the language as referring to the reigning sovereign, Vespasian, associating his two sons Titus and Domitian with himself in the exercise of the supreme power. At no other point in the history of the imperial household do we find so close a connexion of three in one, until a date too late to enter into consideration. And lastly; we interpret the little horn as symbolising the Antichrist with Volkmar, and we explain it by the expectation of Nero's reappearance which we know to have been rife during the reign of Vespasian. No other epoch in the history of the Caesars presents this coincidence of the three elements in the image—the ten kings, the three kings, and the Antichrist—so appropriately. For these reasons we are led to place the so-called Barnabas during the reign of Vespasian (A.D. 70—79).

The enumeration of the ten kings speaks for itself; but the significance of the three kings requires some illustration. When Vespasian assumed the supreme dignity, the power of the empire was sustained by Titus among the legions, while it was represented by Domitian in the capital (Tac. Hist. iii. 84, iv. 2, 3). The three were thus associated together in the public mind, as no three persons had been associated before in the history of the Empire. Immediately on the accession of their father the two young men were created Caesars by the Senate and invested with the title of 'Principes Juventutis.' The first act of Vespasian was to associate Titus with himself as colleague in the consulship, while Domitian was made praetor with consular power. Several types of coin, struck during this reign, exhibit the effigy of the reigning emperor on the obverse with figures of Titus and Domitian on the reverse in various attitudes and with various legends. An extant inscription, on a marble (Eckhel Doctr.


Num. vi. p. 320 sq), which has apparently served as a base for three busts, commemorates the emperor and his two sons in parallel columns, Vespasian's name and titles occupying the central column. 'Along this path (to glory)', says the elder Pliny (N. H. ii. 5) 'now advances with godlike step, accompanied by his sons, Vespasianus Augustus the greatest ruler of any age.' The association of Titus with his father's honours was close and continuous. He was seven times colleague to the emperor in the consulate during the ten years of Vespasian's reign. He was associated in the Pontificate, the Censorship, and the Tribunician Power, which represented respectively the religious, the moral, and the political authority of the sovereign. From the moment of his return to Rome after his Eastern victories 'he never ceased,' we are told, 'to act the part of colleague and even guardian of the empire1.' The title Imperator itself was conferred upon him2, so that the language of the elder Pliny is perfectly correct, when he speaks of 'imperatores Caesares Vespasiani, pater filiusque' during the lifetime of the father3. On the other hand the relations of Vespasian towards his younger son were never cordial. But the good nature and generosity of Titus interposed to prevent any open breach between the two. He represented to his father that the safety of the empire was dependent on the harmony of the imperial household; and the baseness of Domitian was in consequence overlooked. Coins were struck, which had on the obverse the two sons of Vespasian, with the legend TVTELA . AVGVSTI4. At the triumph after the close of the Judaic war, 'Vespasian,' says one who witnessed it, 'preceded in a chariot, and Titus followed, while Domitian rode on horseback by the side, himself splendidly habited and mounted on a horse which was a sight to see5.'

Here then were the very three kings of whom the prophecy spoke. It is true that the obvious interpretation of the words pointed to three several kings belonging to the ten who are mentioned just before, whereas the so-called Barnabas found the three combined in one of the ten together with his sons and colleagues in the kingship. But this manipulation was forced upon him by the stubbornness of contemporary facts; and he calls attention to it by repeating the expression 'three in one,' which has no place in the original.

But what will be the end of this threefold kingship? It would be

1 Suet. Tit. 6 neque ex eo destitit participem atque [etiam] tutorem imperil agere. Compare Plin. Paneg. 2.

2 But not as a praenomen, Eckhel VI. 361 sq. See Pliny N. H. vii. 50; compare N. H. ii. 10.

3 So Titus himself is called Titus Imperator Caesar, N. H. ii. 22.

4 Eckhel VI. 329.

5 Joseph. B.J. VII. 5. 5.


treason to give utterance to the thought which was passing through his mind. He therefore leaves the riddle to the intelligence of his readers. And this he might safely do. Ever since the reported death of Nero, expectation had been rife on the subject of his reappearance. He was thought to live retired beyond the Euphrates, where he was watching his opportunity to swoop down upon the Roman Empire and avenge himself on his enemies1. The wish was father to the thought. For Nero, monster though he was, possessed some popular qualities which made him a favourite with the masses. One after another pretender took advantage of this expectation. One false Nero started up immediately under Galba. He was caught at Cythnus and put to death; but it was thought necessary to take his body to Rome that the public mind might be disabused2. A second appeared about A.D. 80 under Titus, gathered followers on the banks of the Euphrates, and ultimately fled for refuge to the Parthians3. A third, if he be not the same with the last mentioned, threatened the peace of the Roman Empire under Domitian about A.D. 884. Even in the early years of the second century Dion Chrysostom could still write, 'To the present time all men desire him to be alive, and the majority even trust that he is5.' This belief chimed in with the Christian expectation of the speedy coming of Antichrist and the end of all things. This persecutor of the disciples, this prodigy of wickedness and audacity who outraged humanity and defied nature, the son who murdered his mother, the engineer who would sever the Isthmus and join the two seas—who could he be but the very man of sin, the Antichrist, or the forerunner of the Antichrist? Accordingly in an early apocryphal writing, the Ascension of Isaiah, it is said that in the last days Belial shall appear 'in the form of a man, of the king of unrighteousness, of the matricide,' and shall 'persecute the Church6.' In this respect Christian anticipation only kept pace with Jewish. Two Sibylline Oracles, which date about A.D. 80—both apparently Jewish, and one of them written in Egypt—dwell on this expected return of the matricide, this final scourge of the human race, which shall precede the advent of Messiah's reign; and from these earlier Sibylline Oracles it is transmitted to the later. The belief indeed lingered on for several centuries. In the age of Jerome and Augustine some were still found to entertain this opinion. Even S. Martin of Tours himself is credited with it by a contemporary and

1 Suet. Ner. 57.

2 Tac. Hist. ii. 8, 9.

3 Zonaras xi. 18 (p. 578).

4 Suet. Ner. 57.

5 Dion. Chrysost. Orat. xxi (p. 504 ed. Reiske).

6 iv. 2 sq (p. 17 ed. Dillmann, 1877).


friend. But it was during the continuance of the Flavian dynasty that the expectation was at a white heat.

Here then was the little horn of Daniel. What more appropriate? The little horn is represented as springing up from the ten, and yet not counting as one of the ten. It is in fact an offshoot, an excrescence. Hence our Barnabas, with his own interpretation of the prophecy in his mind, unconsciously quotes this word 'excrescence' (παραφυαδιον), as if it were part of the text.

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