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
...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
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.)
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