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Chresto in the Suetonius Manuscript Tradition

by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S

Published in Liber Annuus 61 (2011), Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, Jerusalem 2012, p. 355-376, B. Jobjorn Boman's Inpulsore Cherestro? Suetonius' Divus Claudius 25.4 in Sources and Manuscripts, addresses the contention that only one manuscript of Suetonius's Claudius uses the term "Chresto." In his study, Boman, of Örebro University, Sweden, analyzes the manuscript tradition and determines that some 90 percent of the oldest manuscripts (37/41), including the earliest extant, the Parisinus Lat. 6115 or Memmianus (c. 820 AD/CE), in fact utilize a rendering with an "e," such as "Chresto" or "Cherestro," etc. "Chresto" appears in 51% of the total manuscripts, making it in the majority of all versions combined.

The later manuscripts, of which there are some 150+, are generally copies of these earlier ones and contain some very strange and erroneous renditions of the relevant words "impulsore Chresto," including  "inpulsore" and "Cherestro." Thus, the title of Boman's paper, which combines the renderings in two different manuscripts: As he says, "The 'inpulsore' is from Orosius and the 'Orosian witnesses' to the sentence, and the "Cherestro" is from (late) Suetonius MSS."* Manuscripts of the 15th and 16th century include "Cresto," "Cheresto," "Cherestro" and "Cristo." Of the 41 earliest manuscripts, only four use a form of "Christ" (xpo, xpristo, Christo and Cristo).

Regarding the Suetonius manuscripts and the use of the word "Chresto," Boman concludes:

...About 90% of the collected manuscripts use an e, and the most common, earliest and most trustworthy spelling is indeed Chresto, which is an intelligible Latin word (the ablative of the proper name Chrestus).... Accordingly, I, in agreement with the modern editions of De Vita Caesarum, conclude that the original Suetonian spelling of the word in fact was Chresto.

In his paper, Boman of also remarks:

After having confirmed the long-known fact, that in the earliest extant manuscript of the Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus' Annales 15:44, in which he depicts the Great Fire in Rome in the reign of Nero (64 CE) and its aftermaths, the word Chrestianos was altered into Christianos (Christians), and after having found that, if correctly dated (c. 37 CE), a supposedly early Roman inscription mentioning one Iucundus Chrestianus, most likely does not refer to an early Christian, I will now examine another famous Chrest-sentence, which has been connected to ancient Christianity – the one in the Lives of the Twelve Caesars by the Roman historian and biographer Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c. 70-after 130 CE)....

Here we discover that another "proof text" used by Christian apologists, that of the Roman historian Tacitus's Annales 15:44 (c. 116 AD/CE?), refers not to "Christians" but to "Chrestians," an important distinction, since it is demonstrable that "Chrestians" existed before the creation of Christianity. Just as "Chrestians" was morphed into "Christian," so too did "Chresto" become "Christo" or "Christ."

Moreover, the sloppiness of the scribes copying the Suetonian text, as if they were oblivious to its importance serves as further indication that this sentence was not believe to represent Christ. 

(* In a private email, Boman kindly reviewed this article.)

Further Reading

Is Suetonius's Chresto a Reference to Jesus? 
The Chi-Rho Symbol and Chrestos
Chrestos Magical Bowl? 
Chrestes as Oracle and Chrematizo in the New Testament
Isis the Chrest and the Egyptian Houses of Goodness
Apollo, Son of God and the Chrest?
Pliny, Tacitus and Suetonius: No Proof of Jesus
Christos or Chrestos?
Does Josephus prove a historical Jesus?
Franck Goddio Society Chrestos Bowl Report
Earliest Reference Describes Christ as 'Magician'
Catalogue of Chrest



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