Archive for August, 2018
Recent discoveries in the Mamertine Prison, Rome
Posted by simon peter sutherland in Biblical archaeology on August 6, 2018
“In 2017 I revisited the Mamertine prison, and forum, Rome and explored a number of new discoveries made at the Mamertine the previous year. I believe Paul wrote 2 Timothy from that prison. I also think it possible that 2 Peter and Acts of the Apostles was written from here.
The Mamerine Prison is one of my favorite Biblical places in the world. I have visited the proposed cell of St. Paul at Philippi, I have visited St. Paul’s Grotto, Rabat, Malta, but the Mamertine has won me. It is or was, a cold, damp, dark and dingy place, and such is what I love about it. It is highly primitive. Ancient. Biblical!
In the Basilica of St. Paul outside the walls, Rome, there is an ancient ‘chain’ reputed to have been used to bind St. Paul during his time in Rome. The chain was found in the ancient tomb of St. Paul over which the Basilica was built. When I visited the basilica in 2014, I noticed in 2 Timothy 1: 16 Paul referred to his “chain”. This in the Greek and the English is in the singular. For me, it perfectly matched the description given by Paul. It also fit perfectly with the type of chain that would have been used to bind Paul at the Mamertine.
Having read through an excellent series of books entitled “The Book of Acts in its first century setting” Volume 3, Paul in Roman Custody by Brian Rapske, it is explicitly clear that the Apostolic era was a time of great suffering. Here at the Mamertine, Paul suffered greatly and wrote to Timothy about his departure being at hand (2 Timothy 4: 6). He had stood trial before Casear, probably at the Curia and Eusebius in Ecclesiastical history 2: 22, informs us it was on Paul’s second visit to Rome that he was martyred under Nero.
At the Mamertine when Paul was held there about 60 AD and later, the 2016 excavations revealed that the cell did not have an upper floor like we see today. The upper floor is only about 500 years old and was constructed into the building when it was used as a Church. The original cells were more in the format of a cave rather than a fixed upper and lower level structure. Visitors for many years have believed that Paul was lowered into the lower dungeon via the circled hole in the upper cell floor. But the 2016 excavations revealed that the entrance to the lower cell area came from the upper roof, not the upper floor. When Paul was incarcerated here before his execution, he would have been lowered into the lower dungeon from the upper roof.
This practice often left prisoners physically damaged. Sometimes the broke a leg or an arm. We do not know of the level of damage Paul suffered here, but we know that his time at the jail, within the cell, would have been to face death. Once prisoners were put in here, it was to await execution.
The excavations revealed areas not seen by the public for centuries. These areas were around the main cell, and raised somewhat. If Peter was ever held here, he would have been held in the upper cells until his trial, and when condemned, dropped into the lower cell from the upper roof to await his death.
As I previously mentioned, it is also possible that 2 Peter was written in this cell. Although some modern scholars claim that Peter never wrote 2 Peter, I disagree entirely. While in Rome I attempted to view the letter from the perspective of the ancient city. Upon my return to England I researched the letter internally and found hints of ancient Rome in the text. One of which involved the great fire of Rome, of whom Nero, by tradition, is believed to have blamed the Christians. If Peter was in Rome at the time, he too would have been accused of either arson or inciting it. This could reveal insight into his references to “fire” in 2 Peter 3: 7, 12. He may well have been using the ‘fire’ reference to provoke believers to remember that a coming judgment will bring about the destruction of the world, by “fire”. There can be little doubt from this perspective that the great fire of Rome, would have been the fresh and current hot topic of the city. If Peter was being held in the Mamertine while the great fire was fresh in the minds of the Roman people, it is not difficult to see why he used this reference to remind people of the coming greater judgment at the end of the world. This would place the composition date toward the summer/autumn of 64 AD, because the fire took place in July of that year.”
Excerpt from upcoming book by Simon Peter Sutherland
© 2018 Simon Peter Sutherland