The series finale of the exposure of Pliny's letter about Christians as a forgery. BORN IN THE SECOND CENTURY surveys the wreckage left in its wake. We climbed and we climbed. Oh, how we climbed.
Anyone who listens to this episode can learn that no one until 1502 AD seems aware of Pliny's Letter, unless they've heard about it from the writings of Tertullian. Host Chris Palmero also does a wrap-up refuting the arguments for the letter's authenticity, explains why it was forged, and speculates on the identity of the forger. A strange guest appearance closes the show.
Opening reading: In "Antiquity Unveiled," J.M. Roberts describes a séance in which Pliny the Younger was summoned from the dead.
Music: Pompeii Gray on Apple Music, Spotify, SoundCloud
00:47 - Reading: J.M. ROBERTS, Antiquity Unveiled.
02:23 - OPENING Remarks.
13:41 - Close Reading RE-INTRO.
14:46 - REDCARD: Intertextuality with Mark (Two Women).
16:37 - Close Reading CONTINUATION.
18:28 - REDCARD: Lack of Incidence of Christianity.
19:30 - REDCARD: Groups of Three.
20:46 - REDCARD: Christianity a "Danger."
21:07 - REDCARD: Non Sequitur on Repentance.
23:04 - REDCARD: Intertextuality with Acts (Temples Bankrupt).
25:18 - Discussion of Trajan's RESPONSE.
30:58 - Intro to the Reception WALKABOUT.
42:53 - The Reception WALKABOUT.
1:18:11 - Arguments for AUTHENTICITY.
1:29:44 - Why Pliny's Letter was FORGED.
1:38:40 - IDENTITY of the Forger.
1:44:04 - CLOSING Remarks.
A reading, from Antiquity Unveiled by Jonathan M. Roberts, from 1894 AD. This is the record of a seance in which Pliny the Younger was called up from the spirit realm. Pliny says, "I'm an important witness in the settlement of the dispute over the reality of Jesus Christ. And I come here today by the invitation of a Persian sage, Aronamar. One of the greatest proofs that the Christians bring forward to establish the historical existence of Jesus is my letter to Trajan. I did write the letter. But the name 'Christian' was nowhere to be found in it. That word is a forgery. The word I used, was Essenes. Not Christians. The reason I inquired into the nature and customs of the sect called Essenes, was that they were what you moderns call, Communists. And Trajan wanted to know whether they interfered with the rights of other people. I found them to be a very quiet and inoffensive class of people, holding everything in common. And so I reported to the emperor. I had no knowledge whatsoever of the so-called Christian religion. Sign me Pliny the Younger." Well. I'm convinced. There's no reason to doubt!
You're listening to Born in the Second Century, and it is now 5 PM on November 3, 2021. This is Episode 16 of the triweekly telecast about...Christian lateness, and the origins thereof. This is also the finale of the series on Pliny's Letter. Hosted by Chris Palmero. The music for today's broadcast was provided by the recording group Pompeii Gray; you can find them on pretty much all streaming services.
I have won an award. Born in the Second Century now finds itself in the top 25% of podcasts in the world by listener volume. That is largely thanks to you, so thank you for your continued support. Speaking of support, please check out the Patreon page at patreon.com.borninthesecondcentury; I'll be releasing shorter monthly bonus shows that go deeper into the subjects that are touched on in the main show - these bonus shows are available on a special RSS feed for patrons above the five dollar level - and that ongoing series is called Born in the Second Century At Night. That is a direct reference to something called "Nugget At Night," please make a note to search for that phrase after you're done listening here. I recently released the first bonus show in October 2021, it's called "Heathen Quotes in the New Testament" and covers the four known pagan quotes in the New Testament, and, it demonstrates that despite what the footnotes in our study bibles are telling us, determining the source of these quotes is yet another infuriatingly frustrating black box, as usual in this field. So please consider supporting the show via Patreon, and my goal is to expand the amount of episodes on offer and to improve the show's quality. And we welcome our newest supporters. Aaron gave himself to the Lord and to us by the will of God. Danielle did just as she decided in her heart, because God loves a cheerful giver. Sean scattered abroad, he gave to the poor, his righteousness remains forever. Tong will be enriched in everything through all liberality. Thanks be to Dan for his indescribable gift - Dan an OG fan of Born in the Second Century - and lastly, Andrew's zeal has stirred up most of you. As always these were quotes from the collection letters on 2 Corinthians 8-9. Part of the reason I quote those is to show you how artificial those collection letters are - I mean there are only so many ways to thank someone for giving, and "Paul" pretty much burns through every single one of them there.
Now. This is a big episode. When I first came to you, brethren, it wasn't with wise speech. For I sought to prove nothing but that Pliny's Christians Letter was full of crap. This is actually the first project I've ever completed. Not bad for something done on a whim. Before this series began, I had actually been planning to do a show on the Letter of Jude, but, a listener was interested in my discussion of the letter at the front of Episode 9, and here we are - twelve hours later. Imagine someone talking to you about Pliny's Letter for twelve hours - well I guess now you don't have to. Why did I spend seven episodes on this, why did I sit with these episodes in editing for ten, twelve, thirteen hours apiece. I didn't plan to, originally. I planned to do it in two or three, but over the summer, before I'd actually started, a bigger audience came to the show. About ninety percent of them were receptive, but the ten percent - the detractors - led their criticism of my theory by bringing out Pliny's Letter. To them, the mere fact that you can read Pliny's Letter in a book or read it online automatically refutes anyone who's trying to say that Christianity originated late. And the thing is. If they had brought forward "Josephus," I wouldn't have cared as much. If they'd brought forward "Tacitus," I wouldn't have cared as much. Those short little passages, anyone who's been at this long enough can argue them, pro or con, without even looking them up. It's the same arguments pro or con being volleyed back and forth all the time, it's like World War 1 trench warfare. But Pliny's Letter is not like that. Its authenticity is rarely argued, and in fact, and perhaps for that reason, it's something I knew the apologists didn't know anything about it. I mean, don't shit a shitter. And I also knew that no one had ever done a proper academic defense of this letter's authenticity. I knew that even the biggest skeptics, even Christ mythicists, haven't delved into it as much - because, they don't even bother questioning the letter; they don't need to. Because it doesn't really say anything useful about Jesus one way or the other, so it's not really relevant to their debate. Because really, the thing that most everyone cares about is Jesus, and I'm a rara avis in that regard because I - Jesus doesn't really interest me that much. But in this field - y'know I once heard a comment that says that if any two people meet and they've each worked for Vince McMahon at some point in their lives, the conversation will always ultimately steer back to discussing Vince McMahon. And that's the way it is with this stuff - the conversation always steers back to the person of Jesus in some way. And a result of all this, I knew that Pliny's Letter had been overlooked. Sherwin-White did the big defense of it in the 60's, and really no one else - I mean Wynne Williams, whom I keep bringing up - I used his edition in this series, and...he came out with his edition and commentary in around 1990 I believe, and since then, no one. We're in the blue oceans. So I knew that the apologists and my critics didn't know what they were talking about, and as I looked into this letter more and more, I even read messageboards to collect anything that anyone ever said about it, and it began to really anger me to see skeptics bringing up the possibility that Pliny's Letter was forged, only for them to be immediately made fun of, immediately shouted down. Shouted down by people who don't know anything. Shouted down by people who don't even know what Pliny's Letter says, let alone recognize all these problems with it or have counters to those. And that's what I hate most - this idea that we're supposed to accept being policed by people who don't know what they're talking about. So it became somewhat of a mission for me. But I wanted to do it in a specific way. And I mention sometimes the rules that I have for myself on this show. Rule number one is Don't Be Crazy. Y'know, don't be like "Loose Change," basically. That's Rule Number One, and I applied it here. I could have said that Pliny's Letter was forged by Jesuits in the Counter-Reformation, I could have said that the letter was really originally about some other cult but a Christian edited it to be about Christians, I could have said that Pliny wasn't a real person. Instead I took the most dispassionate approach possible because I want you as the listener to have a kind of clearing-house to be prepared to discuss this letter the next time an apologist brings it up, and, believe me when I say: you'll have them on their back heels because most of them like I said aren't even familiar with what the letter says, let alone have they given any thought to the kind of arguments that I've raised here, this carpet bombing that we've done. Most people have a conventional wisdom about what they think Pliny's Letter says. But they don't recognize that in reality, it's a typhoon of tropes. And even if you're not convinced, I hope you would agree by now that it's not impossible that the letter could have been forged. Because at the end of all things, I always have that parachute cord that I could pull. I could say that Pliny is talking about "proto-Christians" here and just move on. But I came to recognize that there are too many problems with this document, and so I raised the doubts. And this idea of how could all the experts be wrong - well, Argument A against that is really - no one has actually ever done the kind of systematic analysis that's needed to at least prove beyond a reasonable that it's real. But Argument B: early Christianity is based on about fifty boring and confusing and heavily interpolated texts, seventy-five percent of which have no named author, all copies of which come from centuries after the purported date of writing, and which no two people on earth can agree when they were written. But the problem is that modern Christianity, the religion, as practiced, is based on the assumption that the texts are all genuine and early. Christians should've taken my advice a long time ago and transitioned to a fully spiritual religion - believe in the son of God as a spiritual emanation regardless of what these specific book says, but they didn't. And so we find that whenever we criticize these texts, it's unlike when we criticize anything else - we're in the garden of the Pharaohs. Anything we say is a militant act just by the mere fact of us saying it. But I intend for this Pliny series to be an oasis protected by our spears. Where we can question it without worrying about whether it hurts the apologists' or the theologians' feelings.
But our goal today is of course to finish our demonstration that Pliny's Letter to Trajan about the Christians was a late forgery and doesn't conflict with the theory of a late origin for the Christian religion.
We're going to finish the close reading today, and when we've done that, we're going to do what I call the Reception Walkabout. We're going to trace the mentions of Pliny, and his letters as a whole, and the Christians Letter from the time it was supposedly written - which is 112 AD - all the way to the 1500's when it was first printed. And in doing this, I'm gonna show that its lack of mention, the lack of knowledge about it throughout the centuries, supports the idea that it was a Christian forgery of the 190's AD that was surreptitiously placed in a single manuscript of Pliny's Letter by an enterprising Christian editor. And that's how we ended up with it. And then we'll do our big closing.
We began our series with the rallying cry, "It's not impossible that Pliny's Letter was forged." And I think we've shown that. Back after this.
We have a little bit left in the close reading, but we're not gonna go through it systematically like in the previous episodes in this series. We're just gonna do a few quick hits. And of course after Pliny's Letter to Trajan, there's Trajan's response...I mostly covered that in Episode 11 right before I began the close reading, so we won't delve too much into it. But let's see where we stand at this point in the letter. When we last left Pliny, he had heard about the details of the Christian ceremony from the apostates. He indicated that the Christians really didn't seem to be doing anything wrong. He found out that they got together in innocuous meetings and swore an oath not to commit crimes; they ate innocent and harmless food. In short, he found out that "they're just like you and me!" But for some unspecified reason, he didn't leave it there. He tortured two slave women and learned some new, mysterious thing, that he doesn't tell us, and ultimately he concludes that he's still mad at Christianity. Again, for reasons that he doesn't tell us. And now he's gonna seek Trajan's advice. Speaking of the two slave women, before I get to the reading, I need to cover something we read last time.
I need to issue a Redcard to Pliny for Intertextuality over these two women. The mere fact of there being two of them - and not only one - is most likely a reference to the story of "Two Girls One Tomb," from the gospel of Mark chapter sixteen, where the sole witnesses to the resurrection are two women. I think that this is a clear reference by the forger to the gospel of Mark because Pliny, for all he was told by the apostate Christians, he didn't really seem to learn anything about the resurrection of Jesus from them, and I think that here where the forger has him change his mind after torturing the women and saying that Christianity still deserves punishment because it's an immoderate superstition, he probably meant to imply that the two women had told Pliny about the resurrection. I mean because that was their role in the gospel, to witness the resurrection. And remember how Mark says that they, "told no one because they were afraid," so we're dealing with a couple of flighty damsels here, well, face to face with the persecutor, they might just be afraid enough to divulge the mysteries of Christianity. In fact, given how inartistic, and how ignorant of chronology, the late second century Christians were, I wouldn't be surprised if the forger actually intended for these two deaconesses to be the very two women who witnessed the empty tomb in Mark, now all grown up, and ministering in the church. I mean if they can claim that Jesus' disciple John lived until 115 AD then it's certainly not impossible that the forger thought that the two women from the gospel could have lived this long. But that's obviously more speculative. We conclude the close reading: Pliny, activate!
Ideo dilata cognitione, ad consulendum te decucurri. Visa est enim mihi res digna consultatione, maxime propter periclitantium numerum. Multi enim omnis aetatis, omnis ordinis, utriusque sexus etiam, uocantur in periculum, et uocabuntur. Neque ciuitates tantum, sed uicos etiam, atque agros superstitionis istius contagio peruagata est...quae uidetur sisti et corrigi posse. Certe satis constat, prope iam desolata templa coepisse celebrari, et sacra sollemnia diu intermissa repeti, passimque uenire carnem uictimarum, cuius adhuc rarissimus emptor inueniebatur. Ex quo, facile est opinari, quae turba hominum emendari possit, si sit paenitentiae locus.
Accordingly, I postponed the hearing and hastened to consult you. Because the matter seemed to me to be worthy of your consideration, especially because of the number of people who're endangered. Because many people of every age, every rank, and of both sexes are and will be brought into danger. The contagion of this superstition has spread not only through the towns but also through the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. At any rate it's well established that the temples - which just now were almost abandoned - have begun to be thronged, and customary rites which had long been suspended to be renewed, and the flesh of sacrificial animals - for which until recently very few buyers were to be found - to be sold everywhere. From this it's easy to imagine what a multitude of people could be reformed, if an opportunity for repentance is given
Now, what can we briefly say about this?
We can issue a Redcard for Lack of Incidence of Christianity: he says that the contagion of this superstition has spread everywhere in the province. Those who argue that the letter is authentic say that Pliny is exaggerating here; the critical scholar Richard Carrier compares him to Joseph McCarthy drumming up a kind of Hellenistic Red Scare. But Pliny in this letter gives no indication that Christians are rare, or that he's exaggerating the threat - I mean there's a difference between rhetorical exaggeration and outright lying. Because Pliny in fact portrays the Christians as numerous, pervasive, and universally threatening. This is because in the forger's mind, the Romans would have thought of it as such - indeed, would had to have thought of it as such. Remember - this is, in its own mind, the breakaway success religion, the sleeper hit, it is necessarily successful, according to its own doctrines, because it comes from God.
We can issue a Redcard for Style for our Groups of Three - remember how Pliny groups the different elements of this letter into groups of three - three questions to Trajan; he asks the Christians to repent three times; has them perform three actions; he finds three distinct groups of Christians - there are actually twelve such groups of three in this letter. And here in this short section we encounter, three of them - the Christians are threatening the Empire in three ways - age class sex; Christianity has spread to towns villages farms; and Pliny is optimistic for three reasons: the temples are back in business, the customary rites have started up again, and the sacrificial animals are being sold. The top Pliny scholars for centuries have all agreed that the style of Book Ten is unpolished and unadorned compared to the style of the first nine books, and they've concluded that that's because these letters of Book Ten weren't dressed up prior to publication like those others were. But even though they all agree on that, it doesn't seem to give them pause that here in this Christians Letter we're given this intricate word picture, almost a word origami. I think it's clear that a forger carefully crafted this at his writing table.
We can issue another Redcard for Style: he says that Christianity is a danger. But he doesn't really explain why, and there's really nothing previously written in the letter that explains why. He says he doesn't want this contagion to spread. What, the contagion of people eating harmless food and swearing never to form polycules?
We can issue a Redcard for Peculiarities of the Situation: in this section Pliny reveals his purpose in writing - he believes that Christians should be given the opportunity to repent. But the letter up until now does not really lead up to this. He did ask, in his three questions at the beginning, whether pardon should be granted for repentance. That was sandwiched in between two other, unrelated questions that he didn't bother to revisit. But here at the end, it seems almost an anticlimax when he ends it with his recommendation to let the Christians repent - the letter wasn't really structured in the way it would have needed to be if that was really the throughline this whole time. In other words, Pliny talked about repentance at the very beginning and the very end, but didn't revisit it again in the body of the letter; the whole body of the letter with his trials and interrogations is a non sequitur. I think the forger decided that if his purpose in fabricating this thing was to have Trajan sign off on letting Christians repent, it would have been too obvious of a forgery. So he kind of had to muddy the waters and cram in all this incidental information, and above all, he still had to portray Pliny as unsympathetic to Christianity and in fact willing to kill Christians. So he added all that stuff to the body of the letter - the middle section. That's why it seems so strangely unrelated to this repentance question. The forger probably wished he could have said this: "Pliny to Trajan, I've never been present at trials of Christians. But they don't seem to be doing anything wrong. Some of them seem keen to repent and indeed, the temples are now coming back online and it seems like letting them repent is a good plan. What do you think." I mean that woulda been pathetic. Transparently obvious. So the letter has to take its meandering course in order to conceal the forgery but now, at the end, we're suddenly slapped across the face with the wet fish of this repentance question; it's quite jarring.
And lastly we can issue a Redcard for Intertextuality. "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians," was the rallying cry of the pagans during the anti-Christian riot depicted in Acts of the Apostles, chapter 19. "You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in all of Asia, this Paul persuaded a large crowd and turned them away, saying that things made by hands aren't really gods at all. But there's not only a danger that this trade of ours might lose reputation, but even the temple of the great goddess Artemis might be thought worthless, and for her to be pulled down from her eminent magnificence, she whom all of Asia and the entire oikumene revere." If the idea that the Artemision of all things could go out of business was mythical and frankly stupid when the author of Acts said it, then it's just as mythical in Pliny's Letter for him to say that all the temples in the region are suddenly going out of business because of this strange new religion that he's barely even heard of. And I think all should agree that these sections of each document are related in some way. Way back, before I did any of the research for this, like even years ago, I always felt confident that it at least wasn't entirely genuine - because my mind would always go back to this specific passage about the bankrupt temples. And of course it also counts as Low Key Christian Propaganda. By the way, those who argue for this letter's authenticity often say that the sellers of the sacrificial animals were the ones who brought this matter to Pliny's attention in the first place - like they're the reason why Christians are in front of him to begin with. They were ratted out by these entrepreneurs whose livelihood depended on the temples being open. And when he issues these Cassandra-like warnings he's really just repeating their own exaggerated complaints verbatim, essentially. But there's no indication of that whatsoever in this letter, and I don't understand why it's OK for theologians and apologists to speculate and to read these things into the text, but they shout skeptics down whenever they do so.
Now Trajan's response. Trajan responds by saying that Pliny observed proper procedure, which is...curious. He says that this is because "it's not possible to lay down a general rule or fixed standard." This is the forger's way of explaining Pliny's weird behavior to the reader. Like even the forger knows how weird this letter is, so he has Trajan kind of lampshade that by saying "Yeah, ya know, forget it, it's Chinatown." Trajan says that Christians are not to be hunted down. He says that if they're denounced and proven guilty they should be punished unless they deny their faith by worshiping the gods; he says that anyone who does this will receive pardon "even though he was under suspicion in the past." And lastly he says that anonymously posted accusations ought never to be heeded; it sets a dangerous precedent that's out of keeping with the spirit of our age.
What more can I say about this that I didn't say in Episode 11? Christianity according to Pliny is as big of a threat as Mister Shadow from Fifth Element, yet the first thing Trajan tells him is that Christians shouldn't be hunted down. And, he gives no reason for saying this. He moves right to his next point. "Christians shouldn't be hunted down" also does not logically follow from anything that Pliny said in his initial letter - I mean, Pliny wasn't hunting Christians down - they were being brought before him by a delator, or by the anonymous accusations, or by the informer. By the way, I recently heard a remix of "Informer" by Snow - that song from the early 90's - why is this song popular again? It was ridiculed at the time, if you saw the parody with Jim Carrey on "In Living Color," but, no one was hunting down Christians; Trajan's ban on hunting down Christians is a non sequitur if this letter is genuine, but of course, a huge boon to Christians if it was a Christian forgery. Trajan also approves Pliny's "sacrifice test." They should be allowed to repent as long as they also worship the traditional gods. As even Wynne Williams - one of the commentators I'm using for this letter - points out, Trajan doesn't give a reason for agreeing with Pliny's sacrifice test either. We know the reason. The reason is that the forger assumes that the audience will be familiar with the Persecution Trope, which is the true basis of this sacrifice test. And lastly, Trajan says that anonymous accusations should never be honored. This is also, obviously, highly beneficial to Christians but, anonymous accusations were kind of a thorn in the side of most of the second century emperors - even Domitian hated them - even as far back as Titus informers were on the shit list - he supposedly banished them from Rome. The author of Acts is in on this debate too - he has the Roman official Festus denounce anonymous accusations. And in the third century it would be set in stone - accusers from now on had to sign the charge - they couldn't be anonymous. As the great Roman lawyer Ulpian says about this, "this rule was was devised so that no one should readily leap to an accusation. Because, now he knows that his accusation won't be brought without risk to himself." And finally in the fourth century, no less than ten laws would be explicitly passed against anonymous accusations. So here we have a window on to a contemporary Roman legal debate that had been bubbling under the surface since the time of Cicero at least, and wasn't really resolved until the third century. And the Christians were firmly on the side that said that anonymous accusations shouldn't be honored, and the forger weighed in accordingly. I spend a bit of time here on this because it actually gives us an upper limit to date of the forgery of Pliny's Letter. Trajan's response assumes that the debate over anonymous accusations is ongoing - Pliny's letter assumes that it's a common practice. So this had to have been forged before about the first quarter of the third century; it couldn't have been forged in the fifth century in the time of Apollinaris, and it obviously couldn't have been forged by the Renaissance humanists. I point this out to demonstrate that I'm not being radical for the sake of being radical, and just trying to put this thing as late as possible.
Now, a line on Trajan's response that I read in a Christian commentary said that it's, quote, "perhaps unnecessarily paradoxical." Ya think? Also, think about this legal remedy for a moment. Imagine if this was the Roman legal procedure, all you have to do to get cleared of a crime is say you're sorry. "Now don't do it again." But we've now completed the close reading. When we come back, we'll do our "Reception Walkabout," and we'll check out each reference to Pliny, or his letters as a whole, or this Christians Letter, all throughout history all the way up until the 1500's. And I'm gonna show once and for all that the basis, the foundation for this letter, is not so secure as we're led to believe. Back after this.
Safe and sound in its shell, the precious pearl is the slave of the currents. This is how the theologians view Pliny's Letter to Trajan about the Christians, in its voyage through history. Tertullian supposedly picks it up in the year 197, and when he puts it down, it disappears from history until it's released with the rest of Pliny's Letters in the fifth century, and that fifth century manuscript ends up collecting dust at the bottom of the stacks of the Abbey of Saint Victor in Paris, not to be found again, not to be known again by the world until the reign of Charles the Fifth. No one between the year 197, and between that later time, ever independently mentions it.
The title of today's episode is "Adieu, Pliny." It's borrowed from the title of an article by the great radical critic and hero of this telebroadcast, Herman Detering. Herman Detering did an overview of Pliny's Letter and concluded that it was forged by Tertullian. And his most compelling argument was that we have some evidence that the text of the Christians Letter was altered; it was cleaned up prior to its publication in the fifth century. Detering says that instead of seeing Pliny's Letter - as we have it in our modern editions - as the beginning link of the chain, the version that we have today is actually closer to the end of that chain. He believed that when Tertullian supposedly mentioned Pliny's Letter, he was actually putting out - for the first time - a kind of rough draft of what later turned into Pliny's Letter. And here's what Detering says: he says that in Tertullian's version, when the apostate Christians talked about the oath that they swore, they said it was an oath against "murder, adultery, dishonesty, and other crimes." I've brought that up several times in this series, and I reminded you that Pliny's own letter as we have it says that they swore "not to commit acts of theft or robbery or adultery, not to break faith, not to refuse money placed in their keeping." This is a discrepancy, to say the least. But remember how I said - and Detering also points this out - that all later Christians who mention this letter get their testimony about it from Tertullian. Including Jerome. Well. Here's what Jerome says about Pliny's Letter; from his Chronicle, quote, "When Pliny the Younger was ruling a certain province and had put to death many Christians in his capacity as governor, he became frightened by their great numbers and sought from Trajan what he should do, reporting to him that except for their stubborn refusal to sacrifice and their predawn gatherings to sing to a certain Christ as to a god, there was nothing to be found among them. Furthermore, in order to be united in a common way of life, they forbade themselves to commit 'murder, theft, adultery, robbery,' and the like. Disturbed by these things, Trajan wrote back: This kind of people shouldn't be sought out, but when they're brought before you, it's fitting for them to be punished." And then Jerome tells us that "Tertullian refers to all this in his Apology." We see that in his description of Pliny's Letter, Jerome changed two of the words that Tertullian had used when describing it. According to Jerome, it contained the words "furta," or theft, and "latrocinia," or robbery. The Pliny Letter that we have, contains those two words. Tertullian's version, did not. If Jerome was getting all his information about Pliny's Letter from Tertullian, then how in the fucky hell does Jerome know what the original letter said. The actual one. The one that I have four copies of on Kindle, and the one that Jerome supposedly did not have. Another thing. And to my knowledge, Detering doesn't point this out. Tertullian has something else extra to say about Pliny's Letter: he uses a curious phrase that's usually translated as "he drove some Christians from their steadfastness." It's not in the modern copies of Pliny that have come down to us -it's not in that Kindle edition. The theologians have warred unendingly about this phrase and what Tertullian meant by it. But notice, that Jerome's version doesn't include that phrase. I don't think it's impossible that Tertullian forged Pliny's Letter...more on that later. But really what this all means is that Pliny's Letter, when it hit Tertullian's desk, said something different than our modern version says. It existed either in a standalone format, or more likely as part of a little compilation book that Tertullian had. And I think that that compilation was attached to the writings of Tertullian in some way. Or in some way associated with them. And it was edited over the years, and changed as it was copied just like with the New Testament books, just like with any ancient book. And when Jerome got around to writing about it, he had in front of him, Pliny's Letter 2.0. Pliny's Letter 1.0 was the one that Tertullian had. There was nothing before Pliny's Letter 1.0, because the actual Pliny never wrote the letter. And this version of the Letter, the 2.0 - Jerome's version - we see how much closer it is to our modern edition than Tertullian's was, and on my theory, it continued to be edited, and was added to what became the PBF family of the Ten Book Manuscript Tradition of Pliny's Letters by an enterprising Christian editor in the fifth century. Even if the specifics of my theory here can be shown to not be a hundred percent correct, what it shows is that the Christians Letter wasn't lying safe and sound all this time, in substantially its modern format, rotting away in some library, waiting to be discovered, the slave of the currents! It was an active document, almost like a Google Document, in this early period. And Jerome enters the stream when Pliny's Letter was still in the process of being edited and cleaned up by Christians. How could this be the case unless Pliny's Letter to Trajan was in fact an in-house Christian text this entire time.
Now. One other thing that Detering focused on was the reception of Pliny's Letter throughout history. And he noted how strange it was that all information about, it in any source whatsoever, always ultimately goes back to Tertullian's citation of it. What that means for us, is that there's no strong support for this letter that we can derive from external testimony. It's clearly not enough to say that, "no one mentions it for fourteen hundred years; therefore it's a forgery," but what we can say is that we're not speaking out of school when we say that there's nothing in the record of the years, nothing in the annals, nothing in the long march of history that counters the hypothesis of forgery. There's no rich tradition of reception and discussion of Pliny's Letter about Christians, no sufficiently early testimony outside of Tertullian - in fact there's barely any attestation for it at all. Even where - as we'll see - copies of Pliny's Epistulae were circulating throughout Christendom in those early centuries. And we're gonna see this for ourselves. This is the Reception Walkabout, in which we're gonna stop in and visit each commentator who mentions Pliny between the years 200 AD, and 1500 AD, and this is gonna allow us to slam the big reset button, we're gonna summon Resetti from Animal Crossing, because in showing that this Christians Letter was virtually unattested for all this time, we can thereby raise the question as to whether it was original to Pliny's collection at all. Or whether, as I believe, a Christian editor took the pre-existing forgery of Pliny's Christians Letter that had been made in around the 190's, and furtively slipped it in to a single manuscript of the letters, a manuscript that lay hidden until the Renaissance humanists found it. A manuscript which, by the way, was absolutely ridden with errors. And which first made its appearance in the late fifth century. In this, we are heavily aided by the Catalogus Translationum Et Commentariorum, with its article on Pliny by Lucia Ciapponi. And we'll show that commentators from the earliest days all the way up to the 1500's knew about Pliny's letters to his friends in the first nine books. They also sometimes knew about the letters of Book Ten. But they did not know about the Christians letter except from Tertullian.
We'll also see that Pliny's Epistulae weren't widely popular at first. That was an insight shared by Bruce Gibson and Roger Rees, in their article, "Pliny the Younger in Late Antiquity," 2013 AD, published in the journal Arethusa. They say that the reception of Pliny's letters is an "irregular canvas." But they also point out that for all that, the letters did circulate widely enough to where people in what's now France, Italy, Germany were familiar with them. We'll also see that for centuries, there was a confusion between Pliny the Elder, and Pliny the Younger. Even Saint Jerome, the smartest man in history, confused the two. We'll also see that citations of Pliny in the medieval era are relatively rare, especially when compared to someone like Virgil who was universally popular - kinda like the Red Badge of Courage of the medieval world, or something, like everyone had read Virgil for some reason. Above all we'll also see that there's no independent knowledge of Letters 10.96 and 10.97 until they are first set to print in the early 1500's. And lastly, we'll see that my knowledge of history slowly decreases as we move forward in time, and away from Late Antiquity.
Always keep in mind too that the fact that a particular author is not often cited, is not super significant in and of itself. First of all, we don't possess every document that was ever written or copied; many of them have perished, and also, for example, Tertullian is the first writer before the 300's to show a knowledge of Juvenal, who wrote at the turn of the second century. We can learn that from Alan Cameron's article called, "The Fate of Pliny's Letters in the Late Empire," from 1965 AD. So what we'll find is that like I said - the lack of attestation of Pliny's Christians Letter isn't a smoking gun, but it also doesn't provide any strong support for authenticity. This is important because, when an apologist is screaming at you that no one questions Pliny's Letter, laughing in your face in a lotta the cases, it's helpful to be armed with the knowledge that this thing fell into a black hole for the better part of two millennia.
Now, Pliny, along with his friend Tacitus and Suetonius, is part of what's called the Silver Age of Latin literature. The authors from this period became popular again in the fourth century, and as we'll see, the references to Pliny will begin picking up in that period. There was what was called the fourth century renaissance, where scholars of the time would copy these Silver Age books from scrolls onto codices, and we'll see that Pliny enjoyed a spike in popularity at that time - but with no discussion or reaction to the Christians Letter - that, like I said, is always floating out in space somewhere throughout this entire time period. Now I'm warning you before we get into this, there's gonna be lot of names flyin' at ya here, but don't worry if you get confused! The key thing to remember in all this is: Pliny's Letter is bullshit. We need you along for the ride.
But let's begin where it's most appropriate - the early second century, with Pliny's own contemporaries. We're in the actual time period of Pliny and Friends. The Roman poet Martial, as I mentioned in Episode 10, alludes directly to Pliny with a friendly shout-out. In his Epigrams...calls him eloquent, learned, talks about how he's a dedicated lawyer. Actually, Martial doxxes Pliny the Younger in his epigram because he technically reveals Pliny's address. He says it's past the Suburra near the statue of Orpheus. So, hopefully none of Pliny's enemies got their hands on a copy of Martial's book, they could have SWATTED him and sent 250 Hellenistic pizzas to his house. Just as an aside, I used to live in Kuwait, and the people there would give directions much in the same way that Martial does - like there were no numbered addresses, so I'd ask how to get to a place and they'd be like, "it's right by that red pole on the highway." And similarly, Martial says that Pliny lives right by the statue.
Another contemporary of Pliny, Sentius Augurinus. He wrote a poem in praise of Pliny, who cites it his own Book Four - Sentius identifies Pliny as a poet, which is significant because as we'll see in our walkabout, a few of the pagans who cite Pliny down the centuries will do so in light of his poetry, which we do not possess.
Now. Another contemporary or near-contemporary of Pliny. In Episode 14, I joked about Paul writing a response to Pliny's Letter about Christians. But as it turns out, Paul had to have known Pliny's Letters, since the letter to Philemon in the New Testament is a hard reboot of one of Pliny's Letters from Book 9, where he writes to Sabinianus about an escaped slave. If Paul's letters were written in the first century, then you in fact have to assume that Pliny used Paul as a model - in fact that's what apologists and theologians have done, and they do the same thing for the parallels between Epictetus and the gospels. Now I would put Philemon in the 120's, and to me that indicates that Pliny's letters were circulating around, in at least a nine-book format, at that time.
Now moving forward in history, we get to a controversial one, in the mid-second century, Marcus Cornelius Fronto. This was a Roman statesman who was actually the tutor of Marcus Aurelius. Fronto published his own letters to the emperor, and he published panegyrics, just as Pliny had, but it's always been an open question as to whether Fronto was aware of Pliny's writings - he never alludes to them. But when Fronto writes in praise of the emperor Antoninus, he does so in much the same terms as Pliny had about the emperor Trajan. Combined with him having published his own letters to the emperor, it seems that the evidence is in favor of Fronto being highly familiar with Pliny but not referencing him outright. As the scholar Roger Rees pointed out, Fronto had a tendency to favor earlier authors, from the Roman Republic time period. He was somewhat of a classicist. I think on the evidence, Fronto's literary activities make much more sense on the hypothesis that he was following Pliny, as opposed to him somehow just doing exactly the same things as Pliny, completely independently. So Fronto most likely knew of a collection of Pliny's Letters that contained Book Ten, but he never mentions the Christians Letter, or Christians in general. Now Fronto, by the way, was supposedly anti-Christian. A third century writer tells us that he built his career on making speeches against the Christians. So I guess it sucks for the apologists that he never mentions Christians in his own writings. He's another one of them cats that I could've added to Episode 1, the section about Romans of the second century who should have mentioned Christians but didn't.
But, moving forward in history, we now get to where it all started for us, the number one buster, Tertullian. The insufferable Christian author from North Africa, from the turn of the third century. In his Apology book, he brings up four pagan documents that were forged by Christians, and he brings up Pliny's Letter to Trajan. Correction! He brings up five pagan documents that were forged by Christians, including Pliny's Letter to Trajan. And as we've seen repeatedly, he brings it up in some strange, mongrelized form such that we should train ourselves to see his testimony of Pliny's Letter not as a secondary citation from memory - a kind of crude bungling based on not having it in front of him, but rather, as a form of the letter that was anterior to what we find in our modern text; it's a proto-Pliny Letter that he discusses. So that's Tertullian. And we're not done with this fool, either - not by a damn sight.
Moving now all the way to the fourth century, the Roman poet Ausonius. That is Decimius Magnus Ausonius. Pagan who converted to Christianity because it was the hot thing at the time. His wedding cento. It's him using lines from Virgil to create a poem with sexually explicit themes. This was what porn was in the ancient world. But at any rate he justifies himself at the end by pointing out that past authors and poets had also written about explicit topics, and in this he says that Pliny, although a most virtuous man who was severe in his manners, was nevertheless "wanton in his verses." And this appears to refer to Pliny as a writer of poetry; now, none of Pliny's poems have come down to us, but in Book 4 of Pliny's Letters he writes to a man named Paternus and he refers to his own poems, and acknowledges that they are somewhat "indelicate," in fact in that letter, Pliny apologizes for his lascivious poetry in much the same way that Ausonius would do in the fourth century; he says, look at the authors of the past and how moral and how severe they were, yet even they tended to let their hair down when writing their poetry. So Ausonius here is aware of Pliny's Letters, and by the way - this is how we would expect a reference to show up in an ancient text. Notice how Ausonius doesn't say like, "Hey I read Pliny's Letter 4.14, line 5, and he said "some of the passages may strike you as rather indelicate." It's just a passing allusion, it's rolled up within the context of Ausonius' own argument, and, there's a bit of a show-offy quality to it as well; Ausonius is demonstrating the fact that he's well-read. As pretty much every Greco-Roman author did - I mean every single one. And so, Ausonius may not have had occasion to mention the Christians letter, but, if it existed, and as we go through the rest of our walkabout, we should expect the Christians Letter to at least be brought up by a Christian author, in similar terms to these. And independently of Tertullian's use of it. So Ausonius is shown not to reference Book Ten, and not to reference Pliny's Letter to Trajan about the Christians.
Still in the fourth century, Brother of the Show Eusebius. Despite him having a wealth of sources to put together his Church History, Pliny's Letters are not one of them. He gets his information about it wholly from Tertullian. Now this is interesting because it's one of the rare occasions where Eusebius notes that he's using a Latin source. And he brags about how he's translating Tertullian directly. So he can read Latin. He's friends with the emperor, has all kinds of resources at his disposal. Was he not interested enough to try to find Pliny's Letter in the original. I mean it's pretty damn monumental as far as events in Christian history go, and this is indeed a history of the Christian church. Like we went to the trouble to have the bogus letters between Jesus and Abgar delivered to him from the church of Edessa; couldn't he have called someone on the emperor's staff in Constantinople, or WhatsApp, and just be like "Hey can you guys look to see if there's a copy of Pliny's Letters up there; there's a pretty important entry in them that I really need for my Church History," but no, he's content to follow slavishly Tertullian. And then Eusebius kinda shows his ass too because he says like "thank God for Trajan's response to Pliny here, because the terrible persecution that would have broken out was checked for the moment." It's like, how the fuck does he know that? He just said he got all his info about Pliny's Letter from Tertullian. He's just making that up, about there being a threat of an even bigger persecution but Trajan's letter helped to tamp it down somewhat. It's fan fiction. And so we've seen that the most important historian of the early church not only did not have Pliny's Christians Letter directly, but apparently, it was beyond his scope to try to obtain it. We have now passed the period where Christianity was illegal and where guys like Eusebius supposedly had to peer around the corner before they stepped out in the street. In fact, we're almost in the opposite situation of Christianity being illegal, because Eusebius is technically part of the state apparatus at this point. I think that Eusebius' treatment of Pliny's Letter is especially curious - if there was one person who should have made an effort to track down the original source of Tertullian's statements about it, it was this boob.
Moving later in the fourth century, we have Saint Ambrose of Milan. The ancient Christian who was most similar to a Mafia don: the capo di tutti capi. Or bishop di tutti bishi. This wise guy published his own letters in the year 395 AD. Guess how he arranged them? Nine books of personal correspondence; one book of official correspondence. Exactly the pattern that we see in Pliny's Letters. And this serves as proof, by the way, that a ten book edition of Pliny's Epistulae was circulating at the time in some form. When this goomba put together his letter collection in exactly the same way as Pliny did, was he deliberately emulating a famous persecutor? We're going to encounter three Christians who did this exact same thing in Late Antiquity.
Still late in the fourth century, we have Quintus Aurelius Symmachus. He was a Roman official. He was not a Christian, he stood for the old-guard paganism in that era. And his son, who published his correspondence, was aware of all ten books of Pliny's Letters, because when he published it, he did so in - take a shot - ten volumes - the first nine were the personal letters, the tenth was the official correspondence. Despite all this, Symmachus himself never referenced or mentioned Pliny's Christians Letter. Now it's important to note that our textual evidence, our manuscript evidence reveals that in the ancient world, and in Late Antiquity, there were two versions of Pliny's Epistulae circulating around. One with the first nine books, and one with all ten books, and we'll see that some of the historical figures that we encounter on this walkabout will be familiar with only the personal letters, the first nine books, and some like the son of Symmachus here will be familiar with all ten. None will be familiar with the Christians Letter independently and on their own - all their knowledge of it comes from Tertullian.
And as we move on now to the turn of the fifth century, we see another example of that, in Paulus Orosius, a Roman cleric from Spain. In writing against the pagans he gives a kind of outline of calamities that have happened to the Christians since the birth of Jesus. Now just as an aside, this man is writing around the year 400. He knows that Nero persecuted Christians, but he doesn't connect it to the Great Fire of Rome as Tacitus does. He just says that Nero caused the fire. His knowledge of Nero's persecution of Christians is centered around the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul. I mean he mentions the Fire. He mentions Nero's persecution of Christians. But the two events are not connected by him; they're like the south pole ends of two magnets that can never touch. Damn strange, to me. But anyway, he eventually moves on to the reign of Trajan. When he Orosius describes Pliny's Letter about the Christians, he does so in a way that doesn't match our modern text - he says that Pliny "had been persecutor with other judges." We talked somewhat about that in Episode 14 - from how he talks about it, we can instantly see that he didn't have it in front of him. And in fact in this case he is getting his information about it from Eusebius, whose books he used as reference materials.
Also the turn of the fifth century: we get Saint Jerome. Brother of the Show. He had direct knowledge of Pliny's personal letters. References to them start showing up in his own letters. He quotes from Book Two and Book Four of Pliny's Epistulae. Now Jerome is a curious case. In a letter, he says that Pliny was one of his models for style. So he had the Epistulae - there's no question...he quotes from them...but he did not have any awareness of Book Ten. Yet he is one of the few people in this entire fourteen hundred year period who discuss the Christians Letter that we now find in Book Ten. As I talked about, he mentions it in his Chronicle, and says he's following Tertullian. There seems to be a sort of strange dance that these Christian commentators are doing. They know about Pliny, they know he wrote letters. But inn the extremely rare case where they also know about the Christians Letter, it seems to exist in an entirely separate space than the rest of Pliny's Letters. I would go so far as to say that in the minds of these early Christians, the Pliny who wrote the letter about persecution and trials was not the same guy as wrote the personal letters, the ones we know as Books One through Nine. And Jerome is in that category. And he got all his information about the Christians Letter from Tertullian, and he admits that, yet as we discussed, he seems to have a more advanced version of it than Tertullian did. We see evidence in Jerome that the forged letter is in the process of being cleaned up, before some fraudster would eventually slip it into a manuscript of Pliny for the first time, not too long after Jerome. So given that: might we say that Jerome had somewhat of a hand in the forgery of Pliny's Letter? I'd call that a big yes.
Still at the turn of the fifth century, we get Macrobius, a pagan gentleman. Another one of these guys who refers to Pliny as being well-known for poetry. Around the same time, the Neoplatonist Martianus Capella also refers to Pliny, classifies him as an orator. Neither of them talk about the letters; neither of them talk about Pliny the genocidaire. Macrobius also thinks that Pliny the Younger is the same person as Pliny the Elder.
Moving to the mid-fifth century, Prosper of Aquitaine. He continued Jerome's Chronicle. All he knew of Pliny's Letter about the Christians came from Jerome's mention of it, so Prosper here is getting his info thirdhand, really fourthhand.
Moving later in the fifth century, we encounter Sidonius Apollinaris. We've talked about him a few times during this series...a Christian cleric from the Gallic provinces; he published his own letters in - take a shot - nine volumes. At the very beginning of his book of letters he says that he's following the examples of Symmachus, and, Pliny. And he writes to his friend Firminus and tells him that he'd decided to publish his letters in nine books because he was following Pliny's example. He in fact calls himself "a disciple of Pliny." This man Sidonius did not know Book Ten...did not know of the letter about Christians. And Sidonius, by the way, was a staunch Christian - could not possibly have been more Christian - who would have had a keen and surpassing interest in Pliny's Christians Letter if he'd been aware of it.
Moving now to the sixth century. Cassiodorus, that is Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator - a lot more people starting to be named "Magnus" as we move forward in time...he preserves a letter from the Ostrogothic king Athalaric to one of his new government officials. Athalaric says, "We now therefore promote you to the office of quaestor, and expect you to be the new Pliny to the new Trajan." So this guy knows Book Ten. Book Ten was circulating in his time. But think about this. Cassiodorus, who records this, was a Christian. Athalaric was a Christian - in fact the Ostrogoths as a whole were ostentatiously Christian. Would it therefore be appropriate, that this Christian king would tell one of his officials, "Hey, I'm gonna make you the next Pliny." What does he mean by that? That this guy's gonna then go off and whack ten thousand believers and then write back to him sounding like a kid who ate too much cake? "Duh, I don't know what the charge usually is..." No, what he meant was that he hopes this man will be a diligent administrator serving underneath a wise and august prince, as was the case between Pliny and Trajan, and he might also be indicating that he hopes this new official will keep up a regular correspondence with him and inform him about everything that's going on. The fact that this reference can be dropped so freely at this time, that a Christian official can be called "the new Pliny to the new Trajan -" it just seems to me that there must have been no negative connotations surrounding Pliny at this time among Christians. What I mean is, whoever dropped this reference here clearly was not familiar with the fact that Pliny, in the very same collection he was referencing, had written about persecuting and killing Christians. What we see already at this point in history is that you can know Pliny, you can even know Book Ten - but unless you've read Tertullian, unless you've read Eusebius, Jerome, you don't know that Pliny had written about persecuting Christians. There are like two streams that are not crossing here, and we'll continue to see this. And my suspicion is, like I said, that even if these guys knew both that Pliny had written ten books of letters, and that Tertullian Jerome Eusebius had written about a man named Pliny persecuting Christians, they probably didn't make the connection that the writer of ten books of letters and the Christian persecutor were the same guy. In other words, Pliny's Letter about Christians was not in all copies of Book Ten.
Now at this point in our Walkabout, we encounter a giant frickin' gap of like three centuries before Pliny is referenced again. We end up in the ninth century, at the desk of Einhard, from the Frankish kingdom - he wrote the biography of Charlemagne. In his correspondence and in other books he references Pliny's Epistulae a few times. His selections come from Book One, Book Two, Book Five, and Book Six. Nothing about Book Ten; nothing about the Christians Letter.
Also ninth century France, Frechulf of Lisieux. A Carolingian cleric - wrote about Pliny's Christians Letter - tells us nothing that Jerome didn't already tell us...that's because Frechulf was using Jerome's Chronicle as a source. Frechulf is getting his info about the Christians Letter fourthhand.
Ninth century Italy, we get Ratherius of Verona, a bishop, kind of a ramblin' man, lotta time on his hands - he's aware of Pliny as a composer of letters, and he cites from Book One of Pliny's Epistulae that he found in a chapter library in Verona. Does not know about the Christians Letter, does not know Book Ten, does not know about Pliny's reputation as a murderer of Christians - Pliny to him is just a stand-up guy who wrote some cool letters. Puts him in the same category as Cicero and Seneca.
Now, also in this period we begin to see lists of library catalogues from monasteries throughout Europe. In the tenth and eleventh centuries in Germany, in the twelfth century in France, just tiny innocuous statements in these lists of books indicating that the monastery possesses what it usually calls "Epistles of Gaius Pliny." Nothing more than that. They're just entries in catalogues, and we don't have any way of knowing whether these contained Book Ten, whether they contained the Christians Letter. However, as I alluded to at the beginning of this series, some skeptics have tried to maintain over the years that Pliny's Christians Letter, or Pliny's Letters in general, were forged by the Renaissance humanists. But as we see from these citations of them by medieval commentators, and by their presence in these card catalogues, they indeed existed all throughout that period and going back into the early centuries. Whether Pliny's Christians Letter was in these manuscripts of the letters is an entirely different question.
Moving now to eleventh century Germany, Mainard of Bamberg, a scholar in the cathedral there - knows Pliny's Letters. Knows only the first nine books. Quotes from them...doesn't know Book Ten, doesn't know about the Christians Letter, doesn't know Pliny murdered Christians. To him, Pliny's just a cool guy who wrote letters.
Twelfth century England. Walter Map. His poem "Metamorphosis Goliae Episcopi," it's a rhyming poem in Latin of the kind that, you really shouldn't do...references Pliny's Letters - only Book 6 and Book 7. He also talks about Pliny's positive relationship with his wife...Pliny to him is a cool guy who wrote some kickass letters.
The thirteenth century, France - Vincent de Beauvais. His gigantic history of the world, the Speculum Historiale. I looked up an image of this one - it's an illuminated manuscript in Latin. You might have seen it in my post on the Born in the Second Century Facebook page. He discusses Pliny's Letter to Trajan about the Christians, and Trajan's response, but - what does he say at the end of this discussion but "this is what Tertullian wrote in his Apology." Vincent had no independent access to the Christians Letter. In another book of his, Vincent quotes letters of Pliny from Book One, Book Three, and Book Five. Nothing from Book Ten...no awareness of Book Ten; no awareness of the Christians Letter outside of what Tertullian said about it. Vincent, by the way, is another one of these boobs who thought Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger were the same person.
Also thirteenth century France. Richard de Fournival, in his "Biblionomia." Knows Pliny's letters only indirectly. Knows nothing about Book Ten, knows nothing about Pliny the murderer. Pliny to him is a dude who wrote letters. These are all Christians at this point, by the way - at this point in history. Conjuring the name of Pliny has apparently no negative connotations for them for some reason.
Thirteenth century England. Walter Burleigh. He knows about the Christians Letter from Vincent de Beauvais, whom we talked about. So here, another person is getting their testimony about it thirdhand from Tertullian. Burleigh in fact knows of Pliny in general only through Vincent de Beauvais - he quotes the exact letters as Vincent does, from Books One, Three, and Five of the Epistulae.
Now as we start to get into the Renaissance, we begin to see more scholars becoming aware of Pliny the Younger. The lights start turning on all over Europe as these humanists dust off the ancient copies of Pliny that they found in the libraries of abbeys and monasteries. Guys from the 1300's like Nicholas de Clamanges and Gontier Col and Jean de Montreuilin France; and Simon della Tenca and Coluccio Salutati and Domenico Bandini; all of these guys either owned or saw copies of the Epistulae but saw or said nothing about the Christians Letter. Or Book Ten for that matter.
Also fourteenth century Italy, the scholar Johannes Mansionarius and an anonymous author who's sometimes called "The Florist" because he wrote a book called "The Flowers of Moral Authority" - they cite Pliny's Letters - only Books One through Eight. No knowledge of Book Ten, no knowledge of Pliny as genocidal maniac. Now remember that in the Renaissance, a lot of ancient knowledge and wisdom was supposedly "rediscovered" by the humanists, well, Mansioniarius, here, contributes to that - he finally sets the record straight by issuing a book that proved once and for all that Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger were not the same person. That gives you a sense of how far the level of knowledge had fallen since those early days. However, in doing this, Mansionarius argued that both men were from his proud hometown of Verona, which was not the case. Now the Italians at this time did not need more excuses to go to war with each other - of course from Dante at this time, we learn that these little Italian cities were starting about six wars per hour with one another; and this feud about where Pliny came from really wasn't productive in mitigating any of that. Around this same time, a man named Guglielmo da Pastrengo reveals that he knew of Pliny's Epistulae - only Books One through Eight. Knew nothing about Pliny the Persecutor, knew nothing about Pliny the Book Ten Writer.
Staying in fourteenth century Italy, Giovanni d'Andrea. Italian canon lawyer. Wrote a book called the Decretalium Librum Commentaria. Quoted from Pliny's Letters, and, as if I even had to tell you at this point: does not quote from Book Ten. His quotes come from Books One, Three, and Four. To him, Pliny's just a rad fellow who wrote some awesome letters. Another Italian, Francesco Nelli, who died in 1363. He knew Pliny's Letters. Quoted only from...Book One. To him, Pliny was a nice guy, who had notable epistolary talents.
And finally, a red letter date in the history of Pliny, 1419 AD, Guarino Guarini quote en quote "discovered" the eight book manuscript of Pliny's Letters in Verona, bragged about, lent it to his friends, lost it eventually - but with his dissemination of it, Pliny finally becomes part of the common fund of knowledge of the time. After this, everyone who considers themselves an educated person knows about Pliny the Younger.
Now. The reason that many of the commentators we've discussed did not have access to Book Ten was because they knew Pliny's Letters in an edition that contained either eight books, or nine books. For the ten book family, which includes the Christians Letter toward the end of Book Ten, we know of only one manuscript copy in the entire world throughout all of history. This manuscript was written in Italy at the end of the 400's AD. It ended up in France, collecting dust at the Abbey of Saint Victor in Paris until the year 1500, when it was unearthed from the stacks by Fra Giacondo da Verona. A few copies were made, some better than others. One of the "less better" ones was the basis of the first printed text of Pliny's Book Ten, by Avantius in 1502. Now I mentioned in Episode Ten that we only have a few surviving sheets from this manuscript in our time. And part of the reason for that is because in the Renaissance, those who were printing these books for the first time were obsessed with the idea that they would be printing the most correct text. A lotta times they had access to more than one manuscript, and in the printed edition they would proudly advertise - it would be part of the advertising blurb - that, "This is the most correct text of Pliny! You won't get a more correct text anywhere else!" And then they would just lose or trash the actual manuscript because in their mind, the printed version now superseded the manuscript. Made sense to them, but highly frustrating for us.
But. Even if the reason that no one independently mentions the Christians Letter is because they simply didn't have direct access to it in their manuscript copies, this still means that, contrary to popular belief, Pliny's Christians Letter was not being shared or discussed or commented on widely or even really at all since from the year 200, to the year fifteen hundred. That suggests to me that there wasn't a great big book in the "P" section of every library and every bookstore in the Roman Empire that was "Pliny's Epistulae," and here's Book Ten, and flip to the end and you'll find the famous Christians Letter available for everyone to read. No - during this entire time, Christians Letter was floating around in the Bermuda Triangle, and we only have it because one ancient Christian publisher happened to stick it where we eventually found it in that one, single, Pierpont Morgan, Saint Victor codex. And we've talked about Justin Martyr not referencing Pliny's Letter in the 140's even though it cried out to be referenced by him. The reason that he didn't mention it was because it was ultimately forged in response to his books. The Christian writer Lactantius wrote a book about persecution. In it he says that a famous Roman lawyer collected all the imperial rescripts against the Christians. But when Lactantius talks about the reign of Trajan he doesn't mention Pliny's Letter. Lactantius does an entire overview of the history of persecution prior to his time - no mention of Pliny - he talks about Trajan a bit in his narrative - but no mention of how Pliny's Letter affected the persecution of Christians at all. It's like it never happened, and again, these books where I'm saying that these people didn't mention Book Ten, didn't mention the Christians Letter, and so it's an argument from silence - these are not books about cats. These are not books about Lebanese cooking shows. They're books about the very subjects that Pliny's Letter would have been germane to - the history of early Christianity, and the treatment of Christians by the Romans. Lactantius wrote a book about the persecution of Christians. So did Justin Martyr. Their lack of mention of Pliny's Letter is inexcusable, unless we have to assume that Book Ten had such a limited run that only a handful of randos throughout the centuries had access to it, and that none of them cracked it open and noticed this red hot, this piping hot letter that was a testimony to the earliest days of the faith, and the Christian steadfastness in the face of persecution - it wasn't even notable to them apparently. Now if I was arguing against me right now, if I was an opponent of Born in the Second Century, my synapses would be firing non-stop with possible responses as to why the Christians Letter was never independently mentioned throughout all these centuries, it'd be like Terminator with the list of responses scrolling down my eyeball but the fact is, any response I would come up with, any counter-argument would simply be ad hoc - ninety-nine percent of the apologists' arguments and even the theologians' arguments are ad hoc - it's like, let's wait to hear what the atheist says, or what the skeptic says, or what the radical critic says, wait for them to get done talking and to lay out all their points - and then formulate some ad hoc jerry-rigged construction that will reveal to the audience that the skeptics' statement is in some way untenable and needs more work. Needs more thought. But my hypothesis here is forgery and there's nothing preventing it! But, when I talk about the lack of attestation of Pliny's Letter for fourteen hundred years, an apologist might say "Well, the writings of Plautus are only mentioned on and off, the writings of Terence are only mentioned here and there, the writings of Fuckulus aren't cited for three thousand years...and medieval scribes weren't in the habit of talking about things that cast a poor light on Christianity, or maybe the chroniclers loved Pliny because he was such a big help to them in adding to their knowledge of Latin and its style and they were therefore willing to give a pass to the Christians Letter" - it's like at what point do we default to the likeliest explanation, which is that taking everything together - not just the lack of reception of the Christians Letter, but its manifold internal problems - at what point do we default to forgery and call it a day. Now I suspect that you and I, and really anyone, using the type of judgment that we would use at work, or dealing with things in our personal lives like being in a relationship or dealing with a landlord or dealing with a car salesman, or assessing the statements of a politician or even a doctor - we're all radical critics in our personal lives. And we can be very skeptical about written testimony - for example if we were promised something by a car salesman, and when it came time to sign the deal we found that half the terms we'd been promised were missing. We'd be analyzing every word - we'd be issuing Redcards - Redcard for Trying to Grift Me. But we refuse to do this for Pliny's Letter, despite all the problems with it, and despite having the worst chain of attestation in history. It's because it would upset too many people, and more to the point, it would upset too many Christians, and Christian parents will not wanna shell out the forty thousand dollars a year to send their kid to a school where one or more of the biblical studies professors is questioning a fundamental piece of early Christian testimony. They're not gonna wanna co-sign the PLUS loan, and it won't be long before that professor is called in by the dean and ends up walkin' outta there like Matthew Broderick at the end of Election. "It was pretty simple, really. I offered my resignation, and he accepted." This was our Reception Walkabout. Back after this.
What are the arguments for Pliny's Letter being authentic? The style? The writing style? Anyone who uses "style" as an argument for a document's authenticity, I have to honestly ask - do you know what a forgery even is? Like why would anyone forge something and forget to make the style of their forgery consistent - I mean to me, that's gotta be like the first thing you do maybe even in fact the only thing you do. Now there's something I haven't even mentioned yet in this series. In the year 2017, a scholar named Enrico Tuccinardi did a stylometric analysis of Pliny's Christian Letter. The study is published in Digital Scholarship in the Humanities. His conclusion was that Pliny's Christian Letter is stylistically distinct from the other entries in Book Ten. Meaning, it doesn't seem to match the other letters. And Tuccinardi argues that large parts of the Christians Letter at were at least interpolated, if not that the whole thing is a forgery. So there's a stylistic argument against authenticity and that's a peer-reviewed study. And this Pliny series has been so comprehensive that I can afford to mention this just as an aside, just as a passing statement in my seventh episode on this. How foolish must the apologists feel that the writing style is their primary argument.
What other arguments can be mustered to defend Pliny's letter? It doesn't seem like a forgery? The forged letters of Phalaris of Akragas don't seem like forgeries either. I discussed those in Episode 11. And, scholars today would probably say "Well, it's obvious that those Phalaris letters are forgeries" - yeah - it's obvious now, yeah? But when Richard Bentley exposed them back in the 1600's, he met heavy resistance, and if you read the works of the people who were vehemently trying to refute him at the time, and were insisting that the letters of Phalaris were actually genuine, you read those and you're like, "Damn, good point. I don't know who to believe." And the exact same thing is going on with Pliny's Letter right now. So this is a weak argument, added to which, the vast majority of Christian apologists don't know enough about other ancient texts to be in a position to say what appears authentic or not. But I will say this - if you handed these same apologists a mortgage document to sign that has half the problems that Pliny's Letter does, they wouldn't sign. Now, Pliny, in Book Ten, happens to discuss forgery. He says that someone forged a will, and it's causing controversy, and they had to assemble all kinds of lawyers and experts to prove that it was indeed a forgery. If the apologists were on that investigative team, the analysis would go nowhere, because according to the apologists, forgery cannot be subtle or sophisticated - they'd have the lawyers looking for only the most super-obvious clues, and if there weren't any, they would conclude that the will wasn't forged. Now, to some this might seem to be a straw man argument, but like I said last time - you, me, everyone knows that "the Pliny Letter seems real" is actually deep down the reason that most people think it's genuine. Same thing applies to the historical Jesus. It "feels right" that Jesus existed.
What else? The letter appears consistent with Roman law? Well, Tertullian talks about how Tiberius asked the Senate to approve Christ as a god and to add him to the Roman pantheon, and what he describes is consistent with Roman Senate procedures, and they of course voted no..."I wanna tack on a rider to that bill: fifty million dollars of taxpayer money to support the perverted arts. BOO. Bill defeated." And you get into trouble with this, if you wanna argue that Pliny's Letter is genuine because it's consistent with Roman law, because when it comes to how they treat Christians, that is indeed consistent with our written sources about persecution, but those are, without exception, Christian sources - and not only that but they're apologetic, sectarian, late - all come from the late second century and later - they're highly stereotyped, and laden with tropes. They were part of the suffering and martyrdom myth that was so important not just to ancient Christians, but specifically to what I call the mainstream Christian church - the proto-orthodox that Bart Ehrman talks about. That's the branch of the church that became dominant; it's the branch of the church that forged this letter.
What other arguments can we muster? That it portrays some Christians lapsing? Therefore it wouldn't have been forged? I addressed this toward the beginning of Episode 12. In the late second century, seemingly every Christian group accused every other Christian group of denying Christ when things got hot. Remember. Christianity was the first religion to really discriminate based on proper belief, that is orthodoxy. And this led to in-group fighting and acrimony from Day One - you don't even have to look to the Wars of Religion, or the English Civil War or something like that - it was present right from the beginning.
What else? It says negative things about Christians? I talked about this at the beginning of Episode 11, and now I'd like to invite on the Christian author Minukius Felix, from the early third century, putting this speech into the mouth of a pagan critic of Christianity, quote, "These abominable shrines of an impious assembly are maturing themselves throughout the whole world. Assuredly, this confederacy oughtta be rooted out and execrated. They know one another by secret marks and insignia, and they love one another almost before they know one another. Everywhere also there's mingled among them a certain religion of lust, and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters: it's thus that their vain and senseless superstition glories in crimes. Nor would intelligent report speak of things so great and various unless truth were at the bottom of it. I hear that they adore the head of an ass - that basest of creatures - consecrated by I know not what silly persuasion - a worthy and appropriate religion for such manners. Some even say that they worship the genitals of their pontiff and priest." En quote. Keep in mind, that this dude - Minukius Felix - is not reporting what an actual Roman pagan said about Christianity. This is the critique of Christianity that he himself, the Christian, comes up with and puts in the mouth of the pagan character in his own dialogue, for the Christian character to refute. Is the speech of this Roman official, this character in a dialogue, therefore authentic, simply because he's made to say negative things about Christianity? No, everyone recognizes that this is a literary device. And of course, Minukius has his Christian character duly refute the charges. And in Pliny's letter, it's not a dialogue, but for every lame negative thing he says about Christianity, there's at least two positive things that he says about it. Where by rights he should be saying no positive things about it; certainly shouldn't be intimating that they're doing nothing contrary to the laws. I mean how silly it is to say that "Well, this letter has anti-Christian content so it can't be fake."
What else? Tertullian references it? We put his ass to sleep on this series a long time ago. See Episode Ten for that.
What else? What about Pliny's Letter being genuine, but only applying to a specific, limited area. That's actually becoming the consensus in our time. The apologists and some of the theologians say that Pliny's Letter wasn't well known throughout the Empire, and it wasn't cited by later Roman officials, because it only applied to the specific time and place in which these two fools were writing. Of course, this is just the minimalism of convenience but I would also point out - the procedure that Pliny employs, with the sacrifice test and the questioning them three times - this is the exact procedure that shows up in the Christian Acts of the Martyrs, in practically every single one of them. And they all come from at least a century after Pliny. So if Trajan's directives to Pliny on the sacrifice test were meant only to apply to Pontus at this specific time, and they weren't widely read, weren't widely known, then it's a damn good job that they somehow spread so pervasively throughout the Empire that they were supposedly the common practice of the Romans in the third century.
Anything else? We usually hear in this case the classic argument that's deployed against anyone who claims that one of these ancient passages about Christians is a forgery - why wouldn't the forger take the opportunity to say much more about Christians, more positive things, more interesting things? This is probably the worst argument for authenticity that there is. The forger had a specific intent, as we'll get to in a minute. And always keep in mind that these Christian fabricators were not geniuses; a lot of them were morons. And these books and these forgeries were probably only ever meant for internal consumption by Christians. The actual way in which something like Pliny's Letter would intersect with the public discourse was not by having everyday Romans read it, but to get it on the desk of someone like Tertullian or some other cleric who would internalize its arguments and use them in the course of his daily life, in the course of his apologetics. Ancient Catholic forgers were not of the same mindset as twenty-first century Christian apologists: yes, it would have served their purposes well to say more explicitly positive things about Christians and not be so cryptic; it would have served their purposes well to do more to establish ancient testimony and ancient witnesses to the New Testament writings, for example, among many other things. But these forgers lived in the pre-Cartesian world; they had a tendency to be very single-minded. They read these embellished accounts of persecution that their own clerics were churning out and thought that creating these forgeries: like Pliny's Letter, Hadrian's letter, the letter of Antoninus, even the fake letter of Marcus Aurelius where he says that no one should bother the Christians because they saved his army from a drought - they thought these would help in some way.
At the end of all things, the one and only argument for Pliny's Letter being genuine is the same as that for which we have to believe that Paul met Jesus' brother and therefore there was a historical Jesus is the same exact argument that impressed ancient people so much - it says so in a book. "Book says the thing." But as I've shown: there are tough, tough problems with Pliny's Letter that need to be reconciled before anyone gets to that point. But the apologists don't engage with those problems; don't engage with things like the Persecution Trope, as I said in the beginning of Episode 14. Whenever one of these problems comes up, they simply stare at it, like cows staring at a new gate like Martin Luther said, and they ultimately refuse to budge from their position of one hundred percent certainty that Pliny's Letter is genuine as written. So one can either waste your time on the apologetics websites knowing all the while that the fundamental basis of their argument is "book says the thing," or continue with me, on this journey.
Why was Pliny's Letter forged? Think back to what even the radical critic Earl Doherty said; we woulda thought he was on our side: "One wonders what a forger would think he was accomplishing by this type of fabrication." First of all, does there even need to be a reason? This could have just been some idiot killing time while he waited to pick up his kid from Hellenistic soccer.
But I said Pliny's Letter was forged in the 190's. So to help explain why it was forged, let's go back to the thought world of the 190's, with a reading from a man who lived and wrote at that time - the Catholic theologian Irenaeus. Talking about, why it's necessary for Christians to be persecuted. Quote. "The apostolic church preserves the truth about God and the doctrines of Christianity. For that reason, the church in every place sends forward throughout all time a multitude of martyrs to the father, while all others not only have nothing of this kind to point to among themselves, but even maintain that such witness-bearing isn't at all necessary, because their system of doctrines is the true witness, except that maybe that one or two of them during the whole time that's elapsed since the Lord appeared on earth, have occasionally along with our martyrs borne the reproach of the name, and have been led forth with them to death, being as it were a sort of retinue granted to them. Because the church alone sustains with purity the reproach of those who suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness and endure all kinds of punishments, and are put to death because of the love that they bear to God and their confession of his son." En quote. And a little bit later he says, quote, "And indeed, the prophets, along with other things that they predicted, also foretold this: that all those on whom the spirit of God would rest and who would obey the word of the father and serve him according to their ability should suffer persecution, and be stoned and slain. Because the prophets prefigured in themselves all these things, because of their love to God and on account of his word. Those who said, The Lord has reigned; let the people be enraged: he who sits on the cherubim; let the earth be moved, were thus predicting -in part - the wrath from all nations that after his ascension came on those who believed in him, with the movement of the whole earth against the church." En quote. "The Lord has reigned," he presented that as a quote, it's from Psalm 99. The wrestling promotion called Extreme Championship Wrestling, that is ECW, from the 1990's in Philadelphia, used to have a motto: "It's not for everyone." I considered making that the motto of Born in the Second Century. It was a successful slogan for ECW. But early Christianity got there first. "You will be hated by everyone because of my name;" it sounds uncomfortable to us, but in the social dislocation of the Empire, in which the cults of the city-state were giving way to religions based on the spiritual life of the individual, it was very potent. And even in the twentieth century: for fifty years, Americans were told that half the world hated them. Yet this was inspiring to most of them, it gave them a sense of belonging. And Irenaeus here is operating within the tradition of the forger of Pliny's Letter. Christians are hated by the world, but not only that - this was predicted and prefigured by the ancient prophets. It's necessary. It has to happen. It's God's plan. And not only that. But the heretics in some way interfere with it. They're not like us. They don't often go willingly to death, and when they do, it's merely in our train. They're just like a little retinue that accompanies us, the true Christians, when we go to martyrdom.
In the thought world of the 190's, Christianity being hated by the world was something that was considered necessary, and it's something that Judaism had long been dabbling in, and the apocalyptic cults within Judaism took this to a new level. And we can't rule out the possibility that as early Christianity absorbed and internalized this siege mentality, a few of the most zealous Christians courted martyrdom - think of it as a kinda suicide by cop or suicide by Praetorian in this case. They certainly had the example of the willing martyrs in the Jewish tradition to look back to. And this created a kind of feedback loop. Provincial Roman administrators may have killed some Christians on a local level for one reason or another in a few scattered incidents, and to the early mainstream clerics, this wasn't the worst thing in the world. It amplified their message, that Christians being hated by the world, we have to band together. It's also a way to win over those socially dislocated converts - "it's not for everyone," this world-denying faith, but only for the truly pure of heart. But the fact is that the Romans of the 150's, the 160's, the 170's, didn't really systematically persecute Christians in the way that these apologists were saying - didn't really seem to notice or care about Christianity for the most part. They did of course execute them if they caused trouble, but executed them as common criminals. They didn't match the energy of the Christian apologists of the time, didn't really appreciate the role that was foisted on them by the theologians as the kind of midwives of God's grand scheme. But any time they did execute Christians, for any reason - whether it was for general crimes like I said, or whether it was in fact a Suicide by Praetorian scenario - it made waves in this small religion. And the feedback loop, this kind of hothouse of courting what they called persecution, and then inveighing against the so-called persecution, and being surprised when that seemed to create more so-called persecution - would continue to intensify at the end of the second century. And also, as we saw in the reading from Irenaeus, to be a Christian in the 180's, the 190's, you had to believe that the forces of the world were arrayed against you. And all of this led to what I call the Persecution on the Page, the Persecution Trope. Christians are hated for being Christians, and punished by the state on the charge of the name. If you accepted that, and you believed that - and you had to believe it - it was practically an article of faith according these early Christian writers - then, you are now in the intellectual world that can produce the forgery of Hadrian's letter, of the Antoninus Letter, the Marcus Aurelius Letter, Pliny's Letter, the testimony of Pilate to Tiberius, the testimony about Tiberius begging the Senate to vote yes on Jesus. And believe me - Christians of the time forged much dumber things for much dumber reasons. It doesn't matter if these forgeries make sense or not; doesn't matter if a pagan administrator reads them. They served the purposes of the Christian forgers - whether that purpose was to explain the Persecution Trope as they understood it, or whether that purpose was to change the Romans' treatment of Christians - whether the Romans were harming Christians on a systematic level or not. These forgers really wouldn't have known any better. People in our time, with access to every wire service that there is, still are not informed about even basic events that happen every day in the world. What hope did these benighted ancient Christians have - if you tell them hey, there's no law on the books against your faith, there's no reason to forge this Pliny Letter, or this Hadrian Letter - you think they're gonna know any better?
The forger of Pliny's Letter no doubt had a certain passage in mind, one of the most haunting in the New Testament. When Jesus is on trial, those in the courtyard say to Peter: "Surely you're one of them too." The forger believed in the Persecution Trope, and he lived in a world full of warring Christian sects. He was afraid that if the persecution of a rival sect got too hot, that it could spread. "Hey, aren't you one of them too?" He knew that heretics had a tendency to deny their faith. So, let them deny it, let the case be closed after that, and let's forget the whole thing ever happened. "They should not be hunted down," Trajan said. "If someone denies then he's absolved, however suspect he may be with regard to the past." If you're trying to root out Christianity - as Pliny explicitly says that he was - then that is probably not the most efficient way to go about it, but if you're trying to protect Christianity, you could hardly do better. The forger of course can't make Trajan say that Christianity isn't a crime, because then where would we be, if we had to tell our congregants that we were lying to them this whole time about how they'd be hated and persecuted.
Who forged Pliny's Letter? I can't shake the suspicion that Tertullian had something to do with it. Passages throughout his writings seem to echo Pliny's Letter when he's not even talking about it. In his Apology book he says, "You say that the temple revenues are falling off every day: how few now throw in a contribution!" Well Pliny's Letter said something similar, but not in those terms at all. And Tertullian doesn't give any indication there that he's alluding to it. He says in "To the Nations," "We're said to be guilty not merely of forsaking the religion of the community but of introducing a monstrous superstition." Shades of Pliny's Letter; again from the same book: "Your constant cry is, that the state is beset by us; that Christians are in your fields, in your camps, in your islands. You grieve over it as a calamity, that each sex, every age - in short, every rank - is passing over from you to us." En quote. Note the groups of three: "fields, camps, islands." "Sex, age, rank." Where did we last see that one? In Pliny's Letter, in a different order, and in slightly different wording. Now you might say here, well, Tertullian is getting this invective from Pliny's Letter - but no. In these sections, he goes on to spout even more invective, goes on to give even more stock Roman arguments against Christians. None of those come from Pliny's Letter. And to prove that this is a line of Tertullian - that didn't come from Pliny - let's look at how he phrases it in another book, his Apology, which was a rewrite of To the Nations: "The outcry is that the state is filled with Christians and that both sexes, all ages and conditions, even high rank, are passing to the profession of the Christian faith." His wording is different. But the difference in the wording did not come from Pliny - it came from his own editing. These all sound like phrases that are casting about in Tertullian's mind. They don't sound like half-remembered phrases from Pliny that he's quoting. But they resemble passages in Pliny's Letter. It's just like the Josephus passage about Christians, how we see strange echoes of it in the writings of Eusebius that don't quite match up with it. Snatches of phrases that will eventually coalesce in an end product, the forged text. It's like he's still mustering the troops at this point, so to speak, mustering the phrases that he's eventually gonna use when he does do the forgery. And remember too that Tertullian, in a few of his books, is extremely interested in highlighting how innocent the Christian meal service is. This is a hot button issue for him, especially when you compare him to the other contemporary apologists - this thing about the innocent meals is a sore spot for him, almost like he once got into a bar fight over this issue. And here in Pliny's Letter we see, for all its relative brevity, a special cameo by the innocent meal service with its "ordinary and harmless food."
A handful of critics have pointed the finger at Tertullian over the centuries. I'm not completely sold on it. But it would explain the problems we found in our Walkabout - why did this letter appear to have a life of its own over the centuries, completely independently of Pliny's main letters. This forged letter, whether Tertullian fabricated it himself, or whether he found it some whack ass compilation of forgeries, could have been associated with or appended to his own writings, just like how books like the Acts of the Gallican Martyrs and the Martyrdom of Polycarp were associated with Irenaeus. The editor of the Martyrdom of Polycarp explicitly says that it was copied from the papers of Irenaeus, so this Pliny Letter could have been in the "papers" of Tertullian. And always remember, that the forger of this letter - whoever it was, whether it was Tertullian - probably did not at all intend for it to be folded into the books of Pliny's Epistulae books - y'know, Book 10 - because when Tertullian referenced the letter, he wasn't reading it out of the big book of Pliny's letters to Trajan. It was either a standalone text, or it was part a compilation of forged Christian fragments that had to do with persecution. How this all started, was that in the late second century, a Christian became aware of Pliny's correspondence with Trajan, and instead of simply forging a rescript of Trajan in a straightforward, boring way, he chose to do it in this creative, literary way. Mainly also for verisimilitude. And it became part of the text of Pliny's Letters, the big book - the one we can buy on Kindle - much later, and, essentially, by accident.
And what more can we say. From the first sentence to the last - this letter has problems from the first damn sentence; Pliny says he's never been present at trials of Christians - that assumes that "trials of Christians" are a well-known thing that someone can be present at. And it all goes downhill from there. I won't belabor the point; I've covered just about everything there is to cover in these previous episodes. By my count, I issued forty-five Redcards to Pliny, not including Trajan's response, where there's at least one per sentence. And keep in mind - I'm trying to do this in the context of a podcast that's not too long, and I have to make sure it's entertaining; I'm sure I could hit at least seventy-five if I really went over it with a fine-toothed comb. And this doesn't have to be my last word on this: Now, the very last thing I wanna mention. If you remember, I began this series with a reading of a letter from Pliny to Tacitus. And I didn't say it at the time, but there's something that's said in it that is monumental for the question of Christian origins, and I almost can't believe I didn't -
[sound effect: phone ringing]
Wai- what? We're set up to take calls now? Okay...I was joking about putting a number up on the screen - I didn't know we actually had the capability to do that.
[sound effect: Facetime answer] Caller, you're on with Born in the Second Century.
[sound effect: time lapse]
[sound effect: Pliny's letter being read in Latin, throughout]
Well that's Pliny's Letter...what, is this supposed to be Pliny? We got Pliny on the line? Pliny, you're on with Born in the Second Century, I guess. So Pliny, we found some problems with your letter. Did y- ...okay...See, he never concedes anything. Just wanna recite the letter. Alright. Yes, I'd like to hear it, Pliny. Read it for me.
[sound effect: Pliny's gets slower and eventually slows down fully]
Huh. Don't worry...don't worry? That's it. It's done. There's no pain - it's over it's over.
[sound effect: Facetime end]
Well. Thank you for listening. In the name of Saint Candida...go in peace.
[music: Pliny Origins 2]