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The Nero Redivius Myth - the Beast with a Mortal Wound (Rev 13:3)

Julian Spriggs M.A.

The beast with a mortal wound

In the description of the beast coming out of the sea, John included this description, “One of its heads seemed to have received a death-blow, but its mortal wound had been healed” (Rev 13:3).

This is often linked to the description the beast and seven kings of Babylon, “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to destruction ... also, they are seven kings, of whom five have fallen, one is living, and the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and goes to destruction” (Rev 17:8-11).

These statements can seem rather mysterious and there have been many suggestions about their meaning, but it may be that John is referring to a myth about the emperor Nero that was widespread in the first century. In his early years Nero had been a good emperor, but around AD 60 he went mad and introduced crazy and unjust laws. As a result, he became hated and despised by the people of the empire. He eventually committed suicide in AD 68, bringing great rejoicing. However there was a widespread belief, especially in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire that he was not really dead, but had fled to the Parthians in the east, where he was raising an army to invade the empire and regain his throne. There were at least three impostors had claimed to be Nero, and one tried to persuade the Parthians to invade Rome.

This has become known as the ‘Nero Redivivus Myth’ meaning ‘Nero resurrected’, and is recorded by several Roman historians including Suetonius, Tacitus and Dio Cassius.

Suetonius 'The Twelve Caesars'

In his ‘The Twelve Caesars’, Suetonius relates how court astrologers had predicted Nero's fall but that he would have power in the east.

“At last, after nearly fourteen years of Nero’s misrule, the earth rid herself of him. The first move was made by the Gauls under Julius Vindex, the governor of one of their provinces.

Nero’s astrologers had told him that he would one day be removed from the throne, and were given the famous reply: ‘A simple craft will keep a man from want’. This referred doubtless to his lyre-playing which, although it might be only a pastime for the emperor, would have to support him if he were reduced to earning a livelihood. Some astrologers forecast that, if forced to leave Rome, he would find another throne in the east; one or two particularized that of Jerusalem. Others assured him that he would recoup all his losses, a prediction on which he based high hopes; for when he seemed to have lost the provinces of Britain and Armenia, but managed to regain them both, he assumed that the disasters foretold had already taken place. Then the oracle at Delphi warned him to beware the seventy-third year, and assuming that this referred to his own seventy-third year, not Galba’s, he looked forward cheerfully to a ripe old age and an unbroken run of good luck; so much so that when he lost some very valuable objects in a shipwreck, he hastened to tell his friends that the fish would fetch them back to him.” (Suetonius. The Twelve Caesars. Nero 40).

The first pretender

The first pretender was described by Tacitus in his ‘Histories’. This man sang and played the cithara or lyre and had a face which was similar to that of the dead emperor. He appeared in the year following Nero’s death (AD 69) during the brief reign of Vitellius, and after persuading some people to recognize him, he was captured and executed.

“About this time Achaia and Asia were upset by a false alarm. It was rumoured that Nero was on his way to them. There had been conflicting stories about his death, and so numbers of people imagined - and believed - that he was alive. I shall describe the adventures of the other claimants in their chronological context as my story develops. On this occasion the man concerned was a man from Pontus, or according to other accounts, a freedman from Italy. The circumstance that he was a harpist and singer by profession, when added to a facial resemblance, made the imposture all the more plausible. He was joined by some army deserters who had been roaming about in destitution until he bribed them to follow him by lavish promises.

With these men he embarked on board ship. A storm forced him to land on the island of Cythnus, where he recruited some troops returning from the east on leave, or had them murdered when they refused. He also robbed businessmen and armed the sturdiest of their slaves. A centurion named Sisenna, representing the army of Syria, happened to be bringing some symbolic ‘hands’ to the pretorians as a token of friendship. He was subjected to a variety of artful approaches, but finally slipped away from the island and fled in fear of his life. This caused a wave of panic, and many restless or discontented creatures rallied with eagerness to a famous name. The bubble reputation, daily increasing, was abruptly pricked by one of the chances of history”.

Galba had appointed Calpurnius Asprenas governor of the province of Galatia and Pamphylia. He had been given two triremes from the Ravenna fleet as escort, and with these he travelled east, putting in at the island of Cythnus. Here agents of the self-styled Nero invited the captains of the triremes to join him. Assuming a pathetic air, the fellow appealed to ‘the allegiance of his former soldiers’ and asked them to land him in Syria or Egypt. Half-convinced, or to trick him, the captains declared that they would have to talk to their crews, and would return when they had got them all into the right frame of mind. But in fact, in duty bound, they made a full report to Asprenas, at whose instance the ship was overwhelmed, and the man of mystery put to death. His body, which arrested attention by the eyes, hair and savage expression, was taken to Asia, and thence to Rome. (Tacitus Histories 2:8-9)

The second pretender

The historian Dio Cassius recorded that sometime during the reign of Titus (AD 79-81) there was another impostor who appeared in Asia and also sang to the accompaniment of the lyre and looked like Nero but he, too, was exposed.

“In his (Titus) reign also the false Nero appeared, who was an Asiatic named Terentius Maximus. He resembled Nero both in appearance and in voice (for he too sang to the accompaniment of the lyre). He gained a few followers in Asia, and in his advance to the Euphrates attached a far greater number, and finally sought refuge with Artabanus, the Parthian leader, who, because of his anger against Titus, both received him and set about making preparations to restore him to Rome”. (Dio Cassus. Roman History 66:19.3)

The third pretender

Suetonius recorded that twenty years after Nero's death (AD 88), during the reign of Domitian, there was a third pretender. He was supported by the Parthians and only handed over to the Romans with great reluctance.

“Nero died at the age of thirty-one, on the anniversary of Octavia’s murder. In the widespread general rejoicing, citizens ran through the streets wearing caps of liberty. But there were people who used to lay spring and summer flowers on his grave for a long time, and had statues made of him, wearing his fringed toga, which they put up on the Rostra; they even continued to circulate his edits, pretending that he was still alive and would soon return to confound his enemies. What is more, King Vologaesus of Parthia, on sending ambassadors to ratify his alliance with Rome, particularly requested the Senate to honour Nero’s memory. In fact, twenty years later, when I was a young man, a mysterious individual came forward claiming to be Nero; and so magical was the sound of his name in the Parthians’ ears that they supported him to the best of their ability, and only handed him over with great reluctance.” (Suetonius. The Twelve Caesars. Nero 57).

In the introduction to his ‘Histories’, Tacitus describes a time of turmoil, including the appearance of a man among the Parthians claiming to be Nero, who almost caused war between Rome and Parthia.

“... and thanks to the activities of a charlatan masquerading as Nero, even Parthia was on the brink of declaring war.” (Tacitus Histories 1:2).

Back in AD 66, Nero had given Tiridates, the brother of the Parthian king a magnificent reception in Rome (Dio Cassius Histories 62.1-7). This may explain the Parthians’ faithfulness to Nero.

The memory of Nero

Describing the brief reign of Emperor Otho, Tacitus also referred to the popular memory of Nero.

“It was believed that he (Otho) even contemplated some ceremony in memory of Nero, in order to entice the mob. Indeed, some Romans did exhibit portraits of Nero, and on certain occasions the populace and the troops actually saluted the emperor as ‘Nero Otho’ as if this represented an additional ennoblement. Otho left the matter in the air, for he was afraid of saying ‘no’ or else ashamed to acknowledge the title." (Tacitus Histories 1:78)

Dio Chrysostom, the Greek philosopher and historian also wrote in his discourse ‘On Beauty’ about many people still believing that Nero was still alive.

“Indeed the truth about this has not come out even yet; for so far as the rest of his (Nero) subjects were concerned, there was nothing to prevent his continuing to be Emperor for all time, seeing that even now everybody wishes he were still alive. And the great majority do believe that he is, although in a certain sense he has died not once but often along with those who had been firmly convinced that he was still alive” (Discourse 21: On Beauty)

The earliest written record of this legend is in the Sibylline Oracles, where it is claimed that Nero did not really die, but fled to Parthia, where he will amass a large army and return to Rome and destroy and recapture it.

“A mighty king shall like a runaway slave
Flee over the Euphrates' stream unseen,
Unknown, who shall some time dare loathsome guilt
Of matricide, and many other things,
Having confidence in his most wicked hands”
(The Sibylline Oracles 4:155-159)

“Shall also come the fugitive of Rome
Bearing a great spear, having marched across
Euphrates with his many myriads”.
(The Sibylline Oracles 4:178-180)

The mighty king and fugitive of Rome is thought to refer to Nero, who murdered his mother and who was believed to have fled to the Parthians across the Euphrates, but who will return with a great army.

Nero as the future Antichrist

In later years, the legend was modified by many early Christian writers to the belief that Nero was the Antichrist.

Writing about the man of lawlessness in the second chapter of 2 Thessalonians in his ‘City of God’, Augustine of Hippo says this alludes to Nero, who will return as a future Antichrist.

“Some think that the Apostle Paul referred to the Roman empire, and that he was unwilling to use language more explicit, lest he should incur the calumnious charge of wishing ill to the empire which it was hoped would be eternal; so that in saying, ‘For the mystery of iniquity doth already work’, he alluded to Nero, whose deeds already seemed to be as the deeds of Antichrist. And hence some suppose that he shall rise again and be Antichrist. Others, again, suppose that he is not even dead, but that he was concealed that he might be supposed to have been killed, and that he now lives in concealment in the vigour of that same age which he had reached when he was believed to have perished, and will live until he is revealed in his own time and restored to his kingdom.” (Augustine. City of God 20.19.3)

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Why These 66 Books?
Books in the Hebrew Scriptures
Quotations in NT From OT
OT Passages Quoted in NT
History of the English Bible
Twelve Books of the Apocrypha
The Pseudepigrapha - False Writings
Lost Books Referenced in OT

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

OT 1: Creation and Patriarchs
OT 2: Exodus and Wilderness
OT 3: Conquest and Monarchy
OT 4: Divided kingdom and Exile
OT 5: Return from Exile
OT 6: 400 Silent Years

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

NT 1: Life and Ministry of Jesus
NT 2: Birth of the Church
NT 3: Paul's Missionary Journeys
NT 4: Paul's Imprisonment
NT 5: John and Later NT

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Genesis Exodus Leviticus
Numbers Deuteronomy

Joshua Judges Ruth
1 & 2 Samuel 1 & 2 Kings Chronicles
Ezra & Nehemiah Esther

Job Psalms Proverbs

Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations
Ezekiel Daniel

Hosea Joel Amos
Obadiah Jonah Micah
Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah
Haggai Zechariah Malachi

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Matthew's Gospel Mark's Gospel Luke's Gospel
John's Gospel

Book of Acts

Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians
Colossians 1 & 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy
2 Timothy Titus Philemon

Hebrews James 1 Peter
2 Peter 1 John 2 & 3 John


Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

Canaanite Religion
Israel's Enemies During the Conquest
Syria / Aram
The Assyrian Empire
Babylon and its History
The Persian Empire
The Greek Empire
The 400 Silent Years
The Ptolemies and Seleucids
Antiochus IV - Epiphanes

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

OT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Jewish Calendar
The Importance of Paradox
Talent Converter (weights)
Cubit Converter (lengths)
OT People Search
Ephah Converter (volumes)
Holy War in the Ancient World
The Holy Spirit in the OT
Types of Jesus in the OT

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Are chapters 1-11 of Genesis historical?
Chronology of the Flood
Genealogies of the Patriarchs
Table of the Nations (Gen 10)
Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9)

Authorship of the Pentateuch
Chronology of the Wilderness Years
Names of God in the OT
Covenants in the OT
The Ten Commandments
The Tabernacle and its Theology
Sacrifices and Offerings
The Jewish Festivals
Balaam and Balak
Highlights from Deuteronomy
Overview of Deuteronomy

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Dates of the Kings of Judah and Israel
King Solomon
The Kings of Israel
King Jeroboam I of Israel
The Syro-Ephraimite War (735 BC)
Sennacherib's Invasion of Judah (701 BC)
King Josiah of Judah
Differences Between Kings and Chronicles
Chronology of the post-exilic period

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

Prophets and the Future
The Call of Jeremiah (Jer 1)
The Fall of Satan? (Is 14, Ezek 28)
Daniel Commentary (10 pages)
Isaiah Commentary (13 pages)
Formation of the Book of Jeremiah

Daniel's Seventy Weeks (Dan 9:24-27)

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

NT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Kingdom of God / Heaven
Parousia (Coming of Christ)
The Importance of Paradox

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Unique Passages in the Synoptic Gospels
The SynopticProblem
Genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1)
Birth Narratives of Jesus
Understanding the Parables
Peter's Confession and the Transfiguration
Was John the Baptist Elijah?
The Triumphal Entry
The Olivet Discourse (Mark 13)
Important themes in John's Gospel
John's Gospel Prologue (John 1)
Jesus Fulfilling Jewish Festivals
Reclining at Table at the Last Supper
The Holy Spirit as the Paraclete

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey. More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Apostolic Messages in the Book of Acts
Paul and His Apostleship
Collection for the Saints
The Church Described as a Temple
Church as the Body of Christ
Jesus as the Last Adam
Food Offered to Idols
Paul's Teaching on Headcoverings
Who are the Fallen Angels
The Meaning of Redemption
What is the Church?
Paul and the Greek Games

Romans Commentary (7 pages)

1 Corinthians Commentary (7 pages)

Galatians Commentary (3 pages)

Philemon Commentary (1 page)

Hebrews Commentary (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Introduction to the Book of Revelation
Characters Introduced in the Book
Structure of Revelation
List of Allusions to OT
The Description of Jesus as the Lamb
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
The Nero Redivius Myth
The Millennium (1000 years)
The Rapture and the Tribulation
Different Approaches to Revelation
Predicted Dates of the Second Coming

Revelation Commentary (10 pages)

How to do Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

How to Study the Bible Inductively
I. The Inductive Study Method
II. Observation Questions
III. Interpretation Questions
IV. Structure of Books
V. Determining the Historical background
VI. Identifying Figures of Speech
VII. Personal Application
VIII. Text Layout

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

How to Understand OT Narratives
How to Understand OT Law
Hebrew Poetry
OT Wisdom Literature
Understanding the OT Prophets
The Four Gospels
The Parables of Jesus
The Book of Acts
How to Understand the NT Letters
Studying End Times (Eschatology)
The Book of Revelation

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Search for Geographical Locations
Major Archaeological Sites in Israel
Archaeological Sites in Assyria, Babylon and Persia
Virtual Paul's Missionary Journeys
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
Photos of the City of Corinth
Photos of the City of Ephesus

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Search Museums for Biblical Archaeology
Israel Museum Photos

Difficult Theological and Ethical Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

Christian Ethics
Never Heard the Gospel
Is there Ever a Just War?
Why Does God Allow Suffering
Handling Disappointment

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

What is Preaching?
I. Two Approaches to Preaching
II. Study a Passage for Preaching
III. Creating a Message Outline
IV. Making Preaching Relevant
V. Presentation and Public Speaking
VI. Preaching Feedback and Critique
Leading a Small Group Bible Study

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.

Teaching on SBS Book Topics for SBS