Saturday, October 16, 2004



How do I know you are who you say you are? Aeons ago, when I attended graduate school at the University of Virginia, John E. Manahan was a familiar figure on campus. People called him Archduke Jack, because at the age of 49, he had married a woman almost twenty years his senior, Anna Anderson, who claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Anna Anderson Manahan died in 1984, and her gravestone bears the inscription "Anastasia Manahan."

The controversy over her identity still rages. In 1994 DNA testing suggested that she was not in fact a member of the Russian royal family, but rather a former Polish factory worker, Franzisca Schanzkowska. Peter Kurth, author of Anastasia: The Riddle of Anna Anderson (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1983), said of the DNA tests, "If that woman was a Polish factory worker, I'm the Pope." Just a few days ago a musical about Anna Anderson (Unbekannt, music by Brooke Joyce, lyrics by Frederick Gaines) received its premiere performance.

Anna Anderson might have been Anastasia, for all I know. I mention the story only to show how difficult it can be, even in this day and age, to establish one's true identity.

Impostors were even more common in earlier ages without photographs and birth certificates. In 31 A.D. there was an impostor masquerading as Drusus. Tacitus, Annals 5.10 (tr. Church and Brodribb) tells the story:
About the same time Asia and Achaia were alarmed by a prevalent but short-lived rumour that Drusus, the son of Germanicus, had been seen in the Cyclades and subsequently on the mainland. There was indeed a young man of much the same age, whom some of the emperor's freedmen pretended to recognise, and to whom they attached themselves with a treacherous intent. The renown of the name attracted the ignorant, and the Greek mind eagerly fastens on what is new and marvellous. The story indeed, which they no sooner invented than believed, was that Drusus had escaped from custody, and was on his way to the armies of his father, with the design of invading Egypt or Syria. And he was now drawing to himself a multitude of young men and much popular enthusiasm, enjoying the present and cherishing idle hopes of the future, when Poppaeus Sabinus heard of the affair. At the time he was chiefly occupied with Macedonia, but he also had the charge of Achaia. So, to forestall the danger, let the story be true or false, he hurried by the bays of Torone and Thermae, then passed on to Euboea, an island of the Aegaean, to Piraeus, on the coast of Attica, thence to the shores of Corinth and the narrow Isthmus, and having arrived by the other sea at Nicopolis, a Roman colony, he there at last ascertained that the man, when skilfully questioned, had said that he was the son of Marcus Silanus, and that, after the dispersion of a number of his followers' he had embarked on a vessel, intending, it seemed, to go to Italy. Sabinus sent this account to Tiberius, and of the origin and issue of the affair nothing more is known to me.
Dio Cassius 58.25 (tr. E. Cary) says that this false Drusus was eventually captured:
While affairs at Rome were in this state, the subject territory was not quiet either. The very moment a youth who claimed to be Drusus appeared in the regions of Greece and Ionia, the cities received him gladly and espoused his cause. He would have gone on to Syria and taken over the legions, had not someone recognized him, arrested him, and taken him to Tiberius.
After the death of Nero (68 A.D.), false Neros appeared at least three times, in 69, between 79 and 81, and in 88.

Tacitus is our source of information about the first Nero redivivus:

Histories 1.2 (tr. Church and Brodribb):
There was success in the East, and disaster in the West. There were disturbances in Illyricum; Gaul wavered in its allegiance; Britain was thoroughly subdued and immediately abandoned; the tribes of the Suevi and the Sarmatae rose in concert against us; the Dacians had the glory of inflicting as well as suffering defeat; the armies of Parthia were all but set in motion by the cheat of a counterfeit Nero [falsi Neronis ludibrio].
Histories 2.8-9 (tr. Church and Brodribb):
About this time Achaia and Asia Minor were terrified by a false report that Nero was at hand. Various rumours were current about his death; and so there were many who pretended and believed that he was still alive. The adventures and enterprises of the other pretenders I shall relate in the regular course of my work. The pretender in this case was a slave from Pontus, or, according to some accounts, a freedman from Italy, a skilful harp-player and singer, accomplishments, which, added to a resemblance in the face, gave a very deceptive plausibility to his pretensions. After attaching to himself some deserters, needy vagrants whom he bribed with great offers, he put to sea. Driven by stress of weather to the island of Cythnus, he induced certain soldiers, who were on their way from the East, to join him, and ordered others, who refused, to be executed. He also robbed the traders and armed all the most able bodied of the slaves. The centurion Sisenna, who was the bearer of the clasped right hands, the usual emblems of friendship, from the armies of Syria to the Praetorians, was assailed by him with various artifices, till he left the island secretly, and, fearing actual violence, made his escape with all haste. Thence the alarm spread far and wide, and many roused themselves at the well-known name, eager for change, and detesting the present state of things. The report was daily gaining credit when an accident put an end to it.

Galba had entrusted the government of Galatia and Pamphylia to Calpurnius Asprenas. Two triremes from the fleet of Misenum were given him to pursue the adventurer: with these he reached the island of Cythnus. Persons were found to summon the captains in the name of Nero. The pretender himself, assuming a studied appearance of sorrow, and appealing to their fidelity as old soldiers of his own, besought them to land him in Egypt or Syria. The captains, perhaps wavering, perhaps intending to deceive, declared that they must address their soldiers, and that they would return when the minds of all had been prepared. Everything, however, was faithfully reported to Asprenas, and at his bidding the ship was boarded and taken, and the man, whoever he was, killed. The body, in which the eyes, the hair, and the savage countenance, were remarkable features, was conveyed to Asia, and thence to Rome.
Dio Cassius (66.19.3b, tr. E. Cary) gives information about the second Neronian impostor, who appeared during the reign of Titus (79-81 A.D.):
In his 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.
And finally Suetonius, in his Life of Nero (57.2, tr. J.C. Rolfe), has this to say about the third and final false Nero:
In fact, twenty years later, when I was a young man, a person of obscure origin appeared, who gave out that he was Nero, and the name was still in such favor with the Parthians, that they supported him vigorously and surrendered him with great reluctance.
I'm not a new Testament scholar, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn that someone had used these cases of impostors impersonating Drusus and Nero to impugn the resurrection of Jesus.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?