The arsonist Apostles in the Gospel of Peter

by DIVVS·IVLIVS

In the Gospel of Peter there is a peculiar remark by the apocryphal evangelist who uses the Apostle Peter as his proxy (GPet 7:26):

ἐγὼ δὲ μετὰ τῶν ἑταίρων μου ἐλυπούμην, καὶ τετρωμένοι κατὰ διάνοιαν ἐκρυβόμεθα· ἐζητούμεθα γὰρ ὑπ᾿ αὐτῶν ὡς κακοῦργοι καὶ ὡς τὸν ναὸν θέλοντες ἐμπρῆσαι.

But I with the companions was sorrowful; and having been wounded in spirit, we were in hiding, for we were sought after by them as wrongdoers and as wishing to set fire to the sanctuary.

In the canonical gospels there is no mention of the fact or of the belief that after the death of Jesus his followers wished to “set fire” to the “temple”, the “sanctuary” or “dwelling” of the god. But within the new theory of the Gospel as a Julio-Caesarian hypertext we can easily establish that we are yet again dealing with a diegetic transposition from the sources about Julius Caesar’s death and resurrection as god in March 44 BCE. Two possibilities arise:

After Caesar’s death on the Ides of March many of his followers went into hiding at first, and after the situation had changed, they later wished to set fire to the Capitolium, the Roman hill with the sanctuary of (among others) the highest god Jupiter, to where the assassins had retreated (Oros. Hist. 17.2): diu deliberatum est, utrum Capitolium cum auctoribus caedis oporteret incendi. Alternatively, the hypotext could be located during the funeral, where a wax effigy of Caesar was presented to the crowd on a cruciform tropaeum. The people originally wished to bury and cremate Caesar on the Capitolium, but were prevented from doing so by the priests, and therefore returned to the Forum Romanum (App. BC 2.148 [20]), where they cremated him “in the midst of many sanctuaries, asylums, and holy places” (Plut. Brut. 20.6).

In addition, both possible transpositions could have been enforced by the fact that after the funeral the Caesarians among the people lit their torches on Caesar’s pyre, hunted the assassins, and wanted to burn down many houses (i.a. Suet. Jul. 85.1; Cic. Att. 14.10.1; Plut. Ant. 13.4; Cic. 42.4). But they were eventually repelled (Plut. Brut. 20.7), and only set fire to the Curia, where Caesar had been murdered (App. BC 2.147 [20]).

These incidents themselves have an earlier historical parallel, namely the funeral of Publius Clodius Pulcher. Plutarch writes that Caesar’s funeral proceeded in part “as formerly in the case of Clodius” (Brut. 20.6), where the people not only burnt down the Curia, but also the Basilica Porcia (Asc. Mil. 29.2–6 [33]):

Populus […] corpus P. Clodi in curiam intulit cremavitque subselliis et tribunalibus et mensis et codicibus librariorum; quo igne et ipsa quoque curia flagravit, et item Porcia basilica quae erat ei iuncta ambusta est.

But irrespective of this Clodian parallel we have found yet another small but important piece of evidence that the Gospel and its Passion narrative are based on the histories of Julius Caesar. And as with many other historical Caesarian events, the arsonist actions of the crowd during Caesar’s funeral and cremation were properly ritualized and remain a popular element of the Holy Week, most notoriously in the cult of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem before Easter.

HolyFireJerusalem

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Image source: Orthodox Christianity for Absolute Beginners (CC BY-ND 3.0)