πετροστελος

March 28, 2009

Paul’s Martyrdom

From Corpus Paulinum, Sept. 12, 2000:

Until now I have observed silently the discussion on the death of Paul with some interest, as I am currently working on the Acts of Paul.

Karl Heinz Schmidtke wrote:

It is clear that Eusebius is very insistent that Paul actually died, and equally insistent that Paul and Peter died under Nero and in Rome. This very insistence is a mark of  Eusebian polemic against the heretical view that Paul was “elevated”, for which we have even earlier literary evidence (e.g. 1 Clement 5 as another lister has pointed out off list). Paul (at least in part) thought of himself as an Elijah figure (Rom 11), and this is the point of the heretical view (also attested in Polycarp, Philippians 9; Epiphanius and the Armenian Acts of Paul among others) that Eusebius seems intent on countering. Do scholars on this list accept Eusebius’ view that Peter and Paul died under Nero in Rome?

In two cases where Eusebius relates Paul’s death, he appears neither to create a new tradition (that Paul has died in Rome) nor to counter a heresy (that Paul was translated living in the fashion of Elijah). Eusebius’s purpose is first historical. He is writing an account of the church from its origins to his own day. He does this by relying especially on written traditions available to him. In h.e. 2.22.1, he writes that “tradition has it” that Paul defended himself before Nero in Rome (referring to his imprisionment in Acts 28), was released. He returned to the same city to be martyred. Eusebius maintains that Paul wrote 2 Tim during this second imprisonment.

In h.e. 2.25.5f., Eusebius cites Caius of Rome, who was active while Zephyrinus was bishop (199-217) and Dionysius of bishop of Corinth (late 2nd cent.). Furthermore, Eusebius maintains that Paul was beheaded in keeping both with the Acts of Paul and with the legal means of executing a Roman citizen (cf. Acts). Surely the Acts of Paul is one of the traditions upon which Eusebius relies, since he almost certainly knew it, placing it in the category of disputed books with Revelation, Shepherd, et al. (h.e. 3.25.4). This reliance could explain two facts of Eusebius: (1) the beheading of Paul (see Martyrdom of Paul [Acts of Paul XIV] 5); (2) Eusebius’ theory that Paul was released and recaptured, which he may have deduced from the two very different and incompatible accounts of the Paul’s journeys to Rome in the canonical Acts and in the Acts of Paul. Willy Rordorf (see =Ecrits apocryphes chrétiens, vol 1, François Bovon and Pierre Geoltrain, eds.) and I now date the Acts of Paul ca. 150 in any case, it is another second-century tradition referring to Paul’s death. I do not recall from my reading (some years ago) of the Armenian Martyrdom of Paul this idea that Paul was translated. The Armenian is in any case dependent on the Greek Martyrdom, at the end of which Paul appears alive. But one must argue that this is in spirit only, since he has already been decapitated (ch. 5); after death, he appears to Nero saying (ch. 6), “Caesar, behold it is Paul, the soldier of God. I am not dead but living.” Is this where Herr Schmidtke gets the notion of an Elijah-like Paul?  1 Clement 5.7 does indeed say that Paul was “taken up”. But the immediate context indicates that both Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom (1 Clement 5.2; LCL): “Through jealousy and envy the greatest and most righteous pillars of the Church were persecuted and contended unto death.”

Polycarp, Phil. 9, also implies that Paul, like Ignatius, suffered martyrdom. Finally, one must add Ignatius’ testimony (Eph. 12.2, LCL): “… you are the passage for those who are being slain for the sake of God, fellow initiates with Paul, who was sanctified, who gained a good report, who was right blessed, in whose footsteps may I be found when I shall attain to God …” Thus, Ignatius hopes to imitate Paul by travelling to Rome and suffering martyrdom. According to tradition, he attained his wish.

Thus, we are not in the position of merely judging Eusebius’ own view of Paul’s martyrdom in Rome but of judging the whole superstructure of tradition on which he bases his point of view and which was deeply entrenched in the church already in the 2nd century.

Finally, I am completely unaware of an early church heresy which held that Paul did not die. If such a opinion existed, I would certainly like to see the evidence, as my ignorance on the matter would be a great fault.  I do not accept Herr Schmidtke’s interpretation of those texts which I have been able to check (i.e., Philippians, Romans 11, Polycarp, Phil. 9, 1 Clement 5, and the Armenian Martyrdom of Paul). None of them offers tangible historical evidence that anyone in the early church held such a view.

Perhaps Herr Schmidtke would be so kind as to indicate a reference in Epiphanius’ voluminous corpus so that I might also check it too. Or is there some other text not yet mentioned?

Peter W. Dunn
Concord, Ontario

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