Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Unmodern Biography

From the April 2009 E-Block -- which I still need to finish posting here when interesting things stop happening. This piece is by James Pinnington, a Tekton reader in the UK who contributed most of this article from readings of the biographies highlighted.

One thing that anyone who has read the Gospels notices is the fact that they contain very little information about what happened to Jesus during his childhood and formative years. After the story of the birth, the flight to Egypt and the subsequent return, we then have a gap in the narrative of a decade or so until the visit to Jerusalem with His parents at the age of 12 (Luke 2:22-39), and then again we have a gap in the Gospel record until the story picks up again 18 years or so later with the start of Jesus' ministry at the age of about 30.
Because there is very little information on what Jesus got up to in His childhood, and because there is precisely no information pertaining to what happened to Jesus between the ages of 12 to 30, people have often dubbed this period the "silent years" or the "lost years." Of course, although we don't know exactly what happened to Jesus during these years, the safe guess would be to say that He worked as an understudy to His father Joseph in the family trade of carpentry, and presumably He also spent His time learning the Scriptures (this would also include the Wisdom literature of the intertestamental period which Jesus was clearly conversant with). It's clear from passages such as Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55, and Luke 4:22 that Jesus was well-known within His community; and Luke 4:16 tells us straight that Jesus was "brought up" in Nazareth. Although this explanation makes perfect sense and is clearly the most sensible option out there, this of course has not stopped some of the more wacky critics from coming up with off-the-wall speculations designed to fill this 18-year "gap" in the narrative and enlighten us on what "really" happened during this time period. Famously we have the belief promoted back in the late 1800s that during these silent years Jesus went off to India to study among the Brahmin's ('The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ' by Nicolas Notovitch, 1890). Two decades later we had 'The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ' by Levi H. Dowling, in which Jesus goes off to study in places like India, Persia, Greece, Italy, and Egypt. Even back in Medieval times we had legends which speak of Jesus visiting England to study with the Druids during His so-called "missing" years. To cap it all off, New Ager author Brad Steiger notes in his book 'The Fellowship' that another common view amongst the New Age movement regarding the "lost years" is that Jesus spent this time aboard a spaceship! To quote Steiger:
"The 'lost years' of Jesus are no mystery: Between the ages of 12 and 30, according to these sources (alleged alien beings), he was receiving special training aboard aboard a spacecraft or in a remote area of Earth selected by the space entities" (pp.156-157 of 'The Fellowship' by Brad Steiger)
Wackier theories aside, why exactly is it that the Bible is silent on what Jesus was doing between the age of 12 and 30? Why, as one internet critic recently put it to me, does the Jesus of the Gospels "just magically go from being a baby to being a 30 year old on the cross." Of course, even allowing for hyperbole on the critic's behalf, he still errs in his comment, but, be that as it may, how do we respond to his point? The common sense answer would be to note the reason His childhood, teen years, and early adulthood are not in the Bible is because the Gospel writers were attempting to focus on the most important parts of His life, which would be His supernatural birth, death/resurrection, and preaching career. Added to this the fact that scrolls weren't cheap back then; the fact that NT writers didn't have a lot of money at their disposal, and the fact that writing space was at a premium (see here), and we can see that common sense would dictate that the writers wouldn't bother going to the trouble of wasting time and money on these needless details.

A further point to make - and this is really the purpose of this article - is to note that the Gospels fit nicely within the ancient genre of biography (bioi). The relevant point to note is that other ancient bioi of the period follow the same basic pattern of the four Gospels; namely, they do not tell us much at all about events which occur during their biographees childhood and teen years. As Richard Burridge rightly says:

"The content of Greco-Roman biographies also has similarities with the Gospels. They begin with a brief mention of the hero's ancestry, family, or city, followed by his birth and occasional anecdote about his upbringing; usually we move rapidly on to his public debut later in life" (cited by Richard Bauckham on page 122 of his book 'The Gospel for all Christians').

It may now be instructive to take a look at some ancient Greco-Roman biois to see if they back up our contention:

Gnaeus Julius Agricola (40 A.D–93 A.D) was a Roman general responsible for much of the Roman conquest of Britain, and was Tacitus' father-in-law. As you read Tacitus' bioi of Agricola, what strikes you is that Agricola's childhood receives far less attention from Tacitus than Jesus' childhood does in the Gospels. Tacitus begins by speaking about Agricola's birthplace and ancestry:

"Cnaeus Julius Agricola was born at the ancient and famous colony of Forum Julii. Each of his grandfathers was an Imperial procurator, that is, of the highest equestrian rank. His father, Julius Graecinus, a member of the Senatorian order, and distinguished for his pursuit of eloquence and philosophy, earned for himself by these very merits the displeasure of Caius Caesar. He was ordered to impeach Marcus Silanus, and because he refused was put to death. His mother was Julia Procilla, a lady of singular virtue."

Tacitus then moves on to describing his biographee's childhood, and comments that Agricola, "passed his boyhood and youth in the cultivation of every worthy attainment. He was guarded from the enticements of the profligate not only by his own good and straight- forward character, but also by having, when quite a child, for the scene and guide of his studies, Massilia, a place where refinement and provincial frugality were blended and happily combined. I remember that he used to tell us how in his early youth he would have imbibed a keener love of philosophy than became a Roman and a senator, had not his mother's good sense checked his excited and ardent spirit. It was the case of a lofty and aspiring soul craving with more eagerness than caution the beauty and splendour of great and glorious renown. But it was soon mellowed by reason and experience, and he retained from his learning that most difficult of lessons -- moderation" (Chapter 4 of 'The Life and Death of Julius Agricola').

In Chapters 5 through 46 of his work, Tacitus goes on to talk about the Agricola's career in Roman public life, beginning at the age of 18 when he became a military tribune. So, we see that Tacitus only devotes a few lines in his work to deal with events in Agricola's childhood and formative years. In light of this, we may ask why it is that no one is worrying why Agricola's childhood receives such little attention, and why is it that no-one speaks about the "lost years" of Agricola, with the insinuation being that there was some nefarious reason for their omission?

Titus Pomponius Atticus (110-32 B.C.) is best known as the intimate friend of the orator Cicero. The bioi of Atticus is pretty similar to Agricola's in that it contains very little about his childhood. Thus, in the very first chapter of the bioi, Nepos gives us this brief overview of Atticus' early years: "In the boy, too, besides docility of disposition, there was great sweetness of voice, so that he not only imbibed rapidly what was taught him, but repeated it extremely well. He was in consequence distinguished among his companions in his boyhood, and shone forth with more lustre than his noble fellow-students could patiently bear; hence he stirred them all to new exertions by his application. In the number of them were Lucius Torquatus, Caius Marius the younger, and Marcus Cicero, whom he so attached to himself by his intercourse with them, that no one was ever more dear to them" (Chapter 1:3-4 of Nepos' 'Life of Atticus'). Nepos then moves on to make a brief comment about the bravery displayed by Atticus in his youth (Chapter 2:1), and then he informs us that after the death of Sulpicius in 88 B.C and the disturbances wrought by Cinna, Atticus

"...thought it a proper time for devoting himself to his studies, and betook himself to Athens." Atticus would have been in his early 20s at this point, which shows that Nepos has covered over 20-years of the man's life in just a few short chapters. So again we see that there is nothing out of the ordinary in the Gospels making so little a fuss over the contents of Jesus' early years.

Agesilaus (444 B.C-360 B.C) was the King of Sparta for approximately 40 years. Much like the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Xenophon's begins by talking about the birth and ancestry of his biographee. Xenophon says of Agesilaus: "As touching, therefore, the excellency of his birth, what weightier, what nobler testimony can be adduced than this one fact? To the commemorative list of famous ancestry is added to-day the name Agesilaus as holding this or that numerical descent from Heracles, and these ancestors no private persons, but kings sprung from the loins of kings. Nor is it open to the gainsayer to contend that they were kings indeed but of some chance city. Not so, but even as their family holds highest honour in their fatherland, so too is their city the most glorious in Hellas, whereby they hold, not primacy over the second best, but among leaders they have leadership."

It's interesting that nothing else is spoken of Agesilaus' childhood and formative years by Xenophon. Xenophon cuts right on through all that and states: "And so I pass on at once to narrate the chief achievements of his reign, since by the light of deeds the character of him who wrought them will, if I mistake not, best shine forth." So, much like the Gospel writers, Xenophon moves on to highlight what he believes are the most important parts of his biographee's life which, in the case of Agesilaus, would obviously be his reign as king. Therefore we can conclude that if critics are to speak about the "lost years" of Jesus and use that term in a pejorative way, they should be consistent and also do the same with Agesilaus. Not that it will happen of course, for most have probably never heard of Agesilaus!

Demonax was a cynic philosopher who lived between 70-170 A.D. Lucian's bioi of his teacher Demonax is even more interesting in that it doesn't, as far as I could tell, mention anything about what happened to him during his childhood or formative years apart from one comment about how he had "an innate yearning for philosophy which manifested itself in childish years." Apart from that, the bioi deals strictly with his life as a philosopher, which would obviously only cover his adult years. The bioi, then, as we'd expect, is replete with his sayings, witty retorts and put downs. This in some sense is similar to the Gospels in that they are focusing on Jesus' words and teachings, and particularly on His confrontations with the Pharisees in which He would outwit His opponents (Matt 22:15-22; 42-46).

Cato Minor lived between 95 B.C-46 B.C and was a politician and statesman in the late Roman Republic. In the biographies we have surveyed so far, we have seen that many of them contain far less information about their subjects' childhood and formative years than do the Gospels about Jesus' early life. Plutarch's bioi of Cato is a little different inasmuch as around 9 chapters of Plutarch's 73 chapter work is devoted to events of Cato's early life (around 3 chapters speak to his childhood). For example, in chaper 1:2, we are told by Plutarch that "...from his very childhood Cato displayed, in speech, countenance, and in his childish sports, a nature that was inflexible, imperturbable, and altogether steadfast. He set out to accomplish his purposes with a vigour beyond his years, and while he was harsh and repellent to those who would flatter him, he was still more masterful towards those who tried to frighten him. It was altogether difficult to make him laugh, although once in a while he relaxed his features so far as to smile; and he was not quickly nor easily moved to anger, though once angered he was inexorable." In chaper 1:3, Plutarch tell us that in the academic sphere, the young Cato was "sluggish of comprehension and slow." However, he notes that he made up for this deficiency by holding whatever information he did comprehend fast in his memory. In chapters 2:1-3:5, he gives us five different anecdotes from Cato's childhood in order to give us a feel of what his character was like. Just to cite one example from the five, Plutarch speaks of how, at the age of 14, after witnessing opponents of Sulla the Roman dictator being lead from his villa to be executed, Cato turned to his teacher Sarpedon and asked why no one had yet killed this man. When Sarpedon answered "Because, my child, men fear him more than they hate him," Cato responded, ""Why, then, didst thou not give me a sword, that I might slay him and set my country free from slavery?."
Concerning his early adulthood, we are told of his marriage to Lepida, his volunteering to fight in the war against Spartacus at aged 23, and his taking the job of military tribune at aged 28 (Chapters 7, 8, and 9 respectively). Other than that, we are told that on becoming a man, he received an inheritance of 120 talents, and moved out of his uncle' house and started studying philosophy and politics (Chapter 4:1). We are told that he was a great speech-giver, employing his orratory skills in the Forum. In chapter 5, Plutarch notes that Cato's "voice was sufficiently loud and penetrating to reach the ears of so large a multitude, and it had a strength and tension which could not be broken or worn out; for he often spoke all day without getting tired." Finally, Plutarch tells us of Cato's great love of physical exercise and how he would journey on foot in both heat and snow whilst his friends would use vehicles (5:3).

As we've seen, Plutarch's bioi of Cato goes into more detail about his early years than the Gospels go into regarding the early years of Jesus' life, but it would be quite wrong to say it goes into a "lot" more detail. Concerning further similarities between Plutarch's bioi of Cato and the Gospels, Mark W. G. Stibbe - although not agreeing with the contention that the Gospels fit completely within the genre of Greco-Roman bioi - cites Richard Burridge as noting that, "Twenty percent of John is devoted to the last supper, the passion and resurrection of Jesus. This again compares favourably with Bioi. 17.3 percent of Cato Minor is devoted to the last days of the protagonist, and 26.3 percent of Appolonius of Tyana to the imprisonment, trial and death of Appolonius" (p.58 of 'John's gospel' by Mark W. G. Stibbe).

The Old Testament, of course, doesn't go into a much detail on what happened to Moses in his early years, and although Philo fills us in on some details, he doesn't devote a huge amount of time to this area. In Chapter 3 of his work, Philo notes that "the child Moses, as soon as he was born, displayed a more beautiful and noble form than usual." He tells that his parents kept him at home and fed him on milk for 3-months in an attempt to hid him from the Egyptians but, when someone discovered the child was there, they set him adrift on the Nile in the ark of bullrushes. In Chapter 5 Philo tells us that the young Moses was not so much interested in toys and "objects of laughter and amusement" like other children were but, rather, he states that he "exhibited a modest and dignified deportment in all his words and gestures, attending diligently to every lesson of every kind which could tend to the improvement of his mind." Philo tells us that the young Moses had an "instinctive genius" and notes that when many teachers from different districts and as far as away as Greece were brought in to educate him, he quickly "surpassed all their knowledge" and was able to anticipate all their lessons. Furthermore, Philo tell us that Moses "speedily" learnt arithmetic, geometry, music, and the meaning of hieroglyphic symbols from Egyptian philosophers. Added to this, Philo notes that "the philosophers from the adjacent countries taught him Assyrian literature and the knowledge of the heavenly bodies." Moses, according to Philo, when he had "passed the boundaries of the age of infancy," began to "exercise his intellect; not, as some people do, letting his youthful passions roam at large without restraint," but, we are told, "he behaved with temperance and fortitude" (Chapter 6). On top of all this, Moses is said (although not in these exact words) to have been a young man who practised what he preached. Because of all this, we are told that "those who associated with him and every one who was acquainted with him marvelled at him, being astonished as at a novel spectacle, and inquiring what kind of mind it was that had its abode in his body, and that was set up in it like an image in a shrine; whether it was a human mind or a divine intellect, or something combined of the two." In Chapter 7, Philo leaves Moses' early years and moves on to talk about the slewing by Moses of an Egyptian - an event which we know from the Bible that happened when Moses had "grown up" - ,and also Moses part in the plagues that afflicted Egypt.

Seutonius begins his bioi of Julius Caesar by skipping past the major portion of his childhood and right to his 16th year, the year of his father's death. The next year he is reported to have married a woman named Cornelia (ch. 1:1). Chapter 1:2-3 records that at the age of 19, he was forced to go in to hiding for a time in order to escape death at the hands of the dictator Sulla. In chapters 2-3 Suetonius talks about Julius Caesar's first campaign in Asia and his service in Cilicia. His service in Cilicia was short lived, as Suetonius tells us, because on hearing the death on Sulla 78 B.C (Julius would've been 23 at that point), he felt it was safe to return to Rome. Chapter 4 records an incident in which he was captured by pirates, and chapter 5 talks about his service as military tribune which began when he was aged 28.

Suetonius' work on Augustus is 101 chapters in length, and yet only a few deal with his childhood years: Chapter 6 gives the date of his birth; chapter 94 talks about "omens" occurring when he was born, and chapter 8 says, "At the age of four he lost his father. In his twelfth year he delivered a funeral oration to the assembled people in honour of his grandmother Julia. Four years later, after assuming the gown of manhood, he received military prizes at Caesar's African triumph, although he had taken no part in the war on account of his youth." The only other place where his early life is alluded to is in chapter 83 where Suetonius states that immediately after the civil war (it ended in 45 B.C when Augustus was 20) "he gave up exercise with horses and arms in the Campus Martius, at first turning to pass-ball and balloon-ball, but soon confining himself to riding or taking a walk, ending the latter by running and leaping, wrapped in a mantle or a blanket." And in chapter 84 we have the general statement that "From early youth he devoted himself eagerly and with utmost diligence to oratory and liberal studies" and also that "During the war at Mutina (this would be when Augustus was 21), amid such a press of affairs, he is said to have read, written and declaimed every day."

On Tiberius, only chapters 5-6 seem to deal with his earliest years. Chapter 5 talks of where he was born; chapter 6 talks about how his youth was full of hardship and tribulation, and it goes on to say, "At the age of nine he delivered a eulogy of his dead father from the rostra. Then, just as he was arriving at puberty, he accompanied the chariot of Augustus in his triumph after Actium, riding the left trace-horse, while Marcellus, son of Octavia, rode the one on the right. He presided, too, at the city festival, and took part in the game of Troy during the performances in the circus, leading the band of older boys."
Suetonius begins chapter 7:1 by telling us that he is now going to describe the "principal events" of Tiberius' youth and later life, from the "assumption of his manhood to the beginning of his reign." He talks about Tiberius gave a gladiatorial show in memory of his father, and also a second performance in memory of his grandfather. He speaks in 7:2 of Tiberius' first marriage at the age of 22, a divorce, then a second marriage at aged 31, and also the death of his brother. Chapter 8 deals with the beginning of his civil career at age 17, whereas chapter 9 deals with the beginning of his military career. It then goes on for another 67 chapters or so recaping the main events in his adulthood.
So we see from Suetonius' bioi of Tiberius that, much like the Gospels, the general pattern of ancient bioi was to have a brief mention of the childhood, then to move swiftly ahead to the biographees entrance into the public arena. For Jesus this would be at age 30 with the start of His preaching career, but with the Twelve Caesars, it would be with their first job in military or civil life, and that would generally come in the late teens.

Suetonius devotes an entire chapter to speaking about the where and when of Caligula's birth, and the reason for this is that there seems to be some disagreement over where he was actually born. Suetonius speaks in chapter 9 of his work about how, as a very young child, Caligula accompanied his father on a military campaign in Germania, and that this is where he first received his nickname "Caligula" (it was coined by the troops). He speaks in chapter 10 about a 7-year-old Caligula going with his father to Syria on another military campaign. At aged 17 he is said to have spoken the eulogy for his great-grandmother Livia (chapter 10:1),; at aged 19 he is said to have been summoned to Caprea, where he lived until aged 25 (chapter 10:2); and at age 21 he got married (chapter 12). Again we see from this example that subjects of ancient bioi did not have their childhood's described in very great detail at all.

Again Suetonius doesn't tell us a huge amount about Claudius' early life. He tells us the date and place of his birth, he notes that he lost his father as an infant, and goes on to inform us that "throughout almost the whole course of his childhood and youth he suffered so severely from various obstinate disorders that the vigour of both his mind and his body was dulled, and even when he reached the proper age he was not thought capable of any public or private business. For a long time, even after he reached the age of independence, he was in a state of pupillage and under a guardian" (Chapter 2). When, at age 15, he assumed the toga virilis (gown of manhood), we are told that "he was taken in a litter to the Capitol about midnight without the usual escort" (normal procedure being to be led into the Forum by one's father or guardian in full public view). Because of these physical disabilities, his family assumed it was reflective of mental weakness too. In Chapter 3:2, Suetonius informs us that:
"His mother Antonia often called him "a monster of a man, not finished but merely begun by Dame Nature"; and if she accused anyone of dulness, she used to say that he was "a bigger fool than her son Claudius." His grandmother Augusta always treated him with the utmost contempt, very rarely speaking to him; and when she admonished him, she did so in short, harsh letters, or through messengers. When his sister Livilla heard that he would one day be emperor, she openly and loudly prayed that the Roman people might be spared so cruel and undeserved a fortune."

In chapater 4 Suetonius quotes from some correspondence between Claudius' grandfather Augustus and his wife Livia, where Livia is asking what should be done with Claudius during the games of Mars (this event was held in 12 A.D, which would be when Claudius was aged 22). Augustus states that he does not object to his having charge of the banquet of the priests at the games of Mars, if he will allow himself to be advised by his kinsman the son of Silvanus, so as not to do anything to make himself conspicuous or ridiculous." However, he states that the idea that he should view the games in the Circus from the Imperial box "does not meet with my approval; for he will be conspicuous if exposed to full view in front of the auditorium."

In spite of being seen (unfairly) as an idiot of sorts, in chapter 3:1 we are told that Claudius "gave no slight attention to liberal studies from his earliest youth, and even published frequent specimens of his attainments in each line. But even so he could not attain any public position or inspire more favourable hope of his future."

Other than these comments from the early chapters of Suetonius' work, nothing else seems to be said about his childhood and early adulthood.

Nero, of course, became emperor at the age of 17, so naturally Suetonius' bioi tells us much more about the events of the latter part of his childhood and his early adulthood than the Gospels tell us about the corresponding years of Jesus' life. However, if we look at how much of Nero's life prior to becoming emperor that Suetonius covers, we again see that it is not overly detailed:

Chapter 6:1-2 mentions the where and when of his birth, and also recounts the story of the day of his purification by noting that it was seen as an indication of his future unhappiness because "when Gaius Caesar was asked by his sister to give the child whatever name he liked, he looked at his uncle Claudius, who later became emperor and adopted Nero, and said that he gave him his name. This he did, not seriously, but in jest, and Agrippina scorned the proposal, because at that time Claudius was one of the laughing-stocks of the court." We are then told about how Nero, at age 3, had to be brought up in his aunt's house after his father died and his mother was sent into exile, and we are also told about how, after his mother came out of exile only two years later, the wife of the emperor Claudius sent some assassins to strangle the boy Nero as he was taking nap, but, according to some gossip doing the rounds, they were frightened off when a snake darted out from under Nero's pillow. Suetonius, however, notes that the only foundation to this story was that some snake skin was foud near Nero's bed, and he goes on to to inform us that, from that day forward, Nero would wear the skin in a gold braclet on his right arm (Chapter 6:3).

In chapter 7:1 Suetonius states that when Nero was "still a young, half-grown boy," he took part in the game of Troy at a performance in the Circus with "great self-possession and success" and, at age 11, he was adopted by Claudius. Suetonius tells us that soon after this, Nero showed some early signs of the cruel character that he was to become by publicly giving testimony against his aunt Lepida in order to please his mother who was attempting to ruin his aunt. In 7:2 he tells of Nero's marriage Octavia at age 15, his formal introduction into public life, his first appearance as judge.

Again we are told of the where and when of his birth, and we are informed that he was adopted by his aunt, he changed his forename to Lucius (as opposed to Servius) and kept the name until he became emperor. Suetonius then recounts some incidents from Galba's early childhood: Firstly, he talks about how when Galba met Augustus, the emperor pinched his cheek and said in Greek: "Thou too, child, wilt have a nibble at this power of mine"; secondly, he notes that Tiberius too, when he heard that Galba was destined to be emperor, but in his old age, said: "Well, let him live then, since that does not concern me." In Chapter 4:4 we are told of a dream Galba had just after he had "assumed the gown of manhood," and in chapter 6:1 we are told that he assume the title of praetor before the legal age (the minimum age being 25) and that he then put on a never before seen exhibition in which elephants would walk a tightrope. After that, Suetonius says nothing else of Galba's early life.

Suetonius tells us that Otho, from his earliest youth, was "so extravagant and wild that his father often flogged him; and they say that he used to rove about at night and lay hands on any one whom he met who was feeble or drunk and toss him in a blanket" (Chapter 2:1) We are then told that Otho feigned love for an influential freedwoman wihin the court, with the goal being to worm his way into her affection in order to gain influenece with Nero. We are told that "his influence was such, that when he had bargained for a huge sum of money to procure the pardon of an ex-consul who had been condemned for extortion, he had no hesitation in bringing him into the senate to give thanks, before he had fully secured his restoration." We hear nothing else about his childhood and formative years, but concerning his early adulthood, Suetonius tells us about how, in his late twenties, Otho was sent to Lusitania after falling out with Nero over his relationship with Otho's wife (Chapter 3).

The bioi of Vitellius is short to begin with at only 18 chapters, so it is probably no surprise that only very few lines are devoted to his childhood. Suetonius speaks about how, at his birth, his horoscope announced by the astrologers scared his parents so much that his father sought "to prevent the assignment of any province to his son" and his mother, on hearing that he had been made emperor, immediately "mourned over him as lost" (Chapter 3:2). The same chapter also tell us that he "spent his boyhood and early youth at Capreae among the wantons of Tiberius." That is all that is spoken of his childhood, and Suetonius immediately moves on to speak of his political career (he became Consul at age 33), his time as Proconsul in Africa 12-years after he first became Consul, and his time in Germany 8-years after this (Chapters 5 and 7).

Much like his bioi of Vitellius, Suetonius speaks very little of Vespasian's childhood. In fact, all he tells us is where and when Vespasian was born, and that he "was brought up under the care of his paternal grandmother Tertulla on her estates at Cosa" (Chapter 2:1), He then moves straight to Vespasian's adulthood and the beginning of his public career by stating that "After assuming the garb of manhood he for a long time made no attempt to win the broad stripe of senator, though his brother had gained it, and only his mother could finally induce him to sue for it. She at length drove him to it, but rather by sarcasm than by entreaties or parental authority, since she constantly taunted him with being his brother's footman" (Chapter 2:2). Finally, we are informed that Vespasian become a military tribune in Thrace at age 27, that he became a quaestor the following year, and the year after that he took Flavia Domitilla as wife (Chapter 2:3-3:1).
Concerning Titus' childhood years, we are told that he was born in a "mean house near the Septizonium and in a very small dark room besides" (Chapter 1). He was, according to Suetonius, brought up at court in the company of his best friend Britannicus and, we are told, that at this time "a physiognomist was brought in by Narcissus, the freedman of Claudius, to examine Britannicus and declared most positively that he would never become emperor; but that Titus, who was standing near by at the time, would surely rule" (Chapter 2). We then move to Titus' 15th-year, and to an incident in which his best friend Britannicus died by consuming a drink lace with poison. Suetonius then tells the two boys were so close that, when Britannicus drunk the poison, Titus, who was reclining at his side, also tasted of the potion and for a long time suffered from an obstinate disorder." Moving on from his childhood to his early-to-mid twenties, we are told that he served as a military tribune in Germany and Britain, and that after his military service had finished, he married Arrecina Tertulla (Chapter 4:1-2).

As per usual, Suetonius begins by telling us the where and when of his biographees birth, and notes that he is "said to have passed the period of his boyhood and his early youth in great poverty and infamy" and that "From his youth he was far from being of an affable disposition, but was on the contrary presumptuous and unbridled both in act and in word" (Chapter 12:3).
Suetonius then skips to Domitian's 18th year, and tells us the story of how, during the war with Vitellius, he "took refuge in the Capitol with his paternal uncle Sabinus and a part of the forces under him" (Chapter 1:2). When Vitellius' supporters broke into the building, Domitian is said to have escaped by hiding during the night with the guardian of the shrine, and "in the morning, disguised in the garb of a follower of Isis and mingling with the priests of that fickle superstition, he went across the Tiber with a single companion to the mother of one of his school-fellows. There he was so effectually concealed, that though he was closely followed, he could not be found, in spite of a thorough search." After Vitellius was defeated shortly thereafter, Suetonius tells us that Domitian was hailed as Caesar and also appointed Praetor with consular powers. Suetonius notes, however, that "he exercised all the tyranny of his high position so lawlessly, that it was even then apparent what sort of a man he was going to be." In Chapter 1:3 we are told of his marriage to Domitia Longina at the age of 19. In Chapter 2:1 we are told that, at aged 18, he started a military campaign against Gaul and the Germanies which he was reprimanded for. As punishment, "and to give him a better realisation of his youth and position," we are told that he had to live with his father, and when they appeared in public he followed the emperor's chair and that of his brother in a litter, while he also attended their triumph over Judaea riding on a white horse." In 2:2, we are told that he had an interest in poetry and art, and even gave readings in public. In 2:3, we are told that throughout his early adulthood he "never ceased to plot against his brother (Titus) secretly and openly."


Little needs to be said. Obviously, the overstated charge that Jesus jumps from diapers to cross, even taken to a more reasonable level, fails to account for the nature of ancient biography.


  1. James, people often say that Jesus went to India and this is where he supposedly got His knowledge from.

    1. Yep. I've seen it several times over the years. What a load of nonsense.