The Clementine Books

© 2005 Dr. Barbara Thiering (June, 2005)

The major historical record that may now be seen to be genuine is the literature written by Clement, who became Pope in Rome in the late 1st century. The two main books bearing his name are the Recognitions and Homilies. In them he gives a full and believable account of himself and of Peter's debates with Simon Magus in the late 30's and early 40's AD. Once Simon Magus' part in the gospel history is recognised - he is Simon the Zealot (Luke 6:15), Simon the leper (Mark 14:3), Lazarus the leper (John 11:1-57 - John 12: 1-17), Simon of Cyrene (Mark 15:21), Simon the tanner (Acts 9:43) as well as appearing under his own name in Acts 8:9-24 - the Clementines give the necessary fuller account of his extraordinary career.

It is interesting to note that in the first publication of the two books issued in the 1870's, serious consideration was given to their importance as history. Some scholars accepted that they were really written by Pope Clement, as they claimed to be. But following the narrowing of curiosity about sources that appeared to differ from the canon, they came to be treated as fictitious late works, drawing on numerous names of New Testament characters, but the rest invented. However, we are now in a period when parallel documents independent of the canon are inviting us to open our minds again to the possibility that the canon of the New Testament represents only one of the traditions. The Clementines give accurate dates and information on conditions in Rome and Judea in the latter part of the reign of Tiberius, late 30's AD. They have none of the gross historical errors that expose a pseudepigraphon, as in the case of the book of Daniel. Their account of the debates in Caesarea between Peter and Simon Magus fit the situation of the first proclamation of Christian teaching as an advance on the Old Covenant. If they had been composed as fiction several centuries later as critics have thought, the Jewish question would have been simply irrelevant.

Clement of Rome (not to be confused with Clement of Alexandria) is known as the author of epistles dealing with problems in the churches, found in the collection the Apostolic Fathers. It has been suggested that he was possibly the same as Titus Flavius Clemens, a distinguished Roman of the imperial Flavian family. He was a cousin of the emperor Domitian, and his wife also was a relative of the emperor. Domitian (emperor 81-96 AD) put Titus Flavius Clemens to death on a charge of impiety, because he had "drifted into Jewish ways" (Dio Cassius 67, 14, 1-2). From a Roman point of view, this was the same as being a Christian - Christians were persecuted by Domitian.

In the Clementine books, Clement states that he was born into a branch of the Roman imperial family. The dates he gives show that he is speaking of the thirties AD for his conversion as a young man. He introduces himself as "a lover of chastity", a seeker after philosophical truth (Recognitions of Clement 1, 1). He writes: "Whilst I was tossed upon these billows of my thought, a certain report, which took its rise in the regions of the East in the reign of Tiberius Caesar (AD 14-37) ...was spread over all places, announcing that there was a certain person in Judea who, beginning in the springtime, was preaching the kingdom of God to the Jews ... (Recognitions of Clement 1, 6). At length meetings began to be held in various places in the city, and this subject to be discussed in conversation ....until, about the same year, a certain man, standing in a most crowded place in the city, made proclamation to the people, saying, 'Hear me, O ye citizens of Rome. The Son of God is now in the regions of Judea (the sermon is quoted) ...' Now, the man who spoke these things to the people was from the regions of the East, by nation a Hebrew, by name Barnabas..."(Recognitions of Clement 1, 7)

Barnabas was roughly treated and jeered at by his Roman audience including philosophers, who declared that he was a barbarian and a madman. Clement rescued him. "As the day was declining to evening, I laid hold of Barnabas by the right hand, and led him away, although reluctantly, to my house."(Recognitions of Clement 1, 10). It may be conjectured that his house was the building that is now St Clement's church. It is located in what was a prestigious part of Rome, appropriately to an imperial relative, not far from the Forum, only a few blocks away from where the Colosseum was subsequently built.

Barnabas then hastened to leave Rome, "saying that he must by all means celebrate at Judea a festal day of his religion which was approaching". Clement followed him, coming to Caesarea, where he witnessed the intense debates between Peter and Simon Magus which are the subject of much of the books. The debates did not centre around Jesus at all, but were on the question of the way traditional Judaism should be modified, whether Simon's way or Peter's way.

Clement's family history emerges in the course of the narrative. He had come of the stock of Caesar, his parents' marriage having been arranged by Caesar (Augustus) himself. His father's name was Faustinianus, his mother's name Matthidia; she also was of noble birth. Before Clement, twin sons were born, at a date that can be calculated to be 3 AD. Their names were Faustinus and Faustus. Clement himself was born 10 AD. When he was five years old, that is in 15 AD, his mother with the twins left Rome for a reason that does not sound very convincing. This was at the beginning of the reign of Tiberius (14-37 AD), who was a dour moralist.

The mother, when she turned up later, said that she had left Rome as the result of a vision or dream. Her husband's brother had tried to seduce her, and to protect her chastity she fled Rome. She had been put on board a ship to take the twins to Athens to be educated, but she had never arrived there. At the subsequent reunion with her husband, he gave what he had believed to be his wife's history. He cited her horoscope, adding, 'This configuration leads women to be adulteresses, and to love their own slaves, and to end their days in foreign travel and in waters. And this has so come to pass. For she (his wife) fell in love with her slave, and fearing at once danger and reproach, she fled with him, and going abroad, where she satisfied her love, she perished in the sea." (Recognitions of Clement 9, 32)

The wife Matthidia had not perished, but was present at the reconciliation in about 42 AD. According to her story, she had been shipwrecked, had landed on an island, and been taken in by a woman who lived there in a hut. With this woman, she became a mendicant, living by begging, and was found by Peter when he visited the island off the coast of Caesarea. The island location may be seen to agree with what may be derived from the pesher of Acts, that female celibates, mendicants like the male Nazirites, lived in communities on the Mediterranean islands, such as Cyprus, Crete, Malta, Patmos, Rhodes. Their convents took in women who had become socially alienated. Being female centres, they came to be used also by Gentile celibates, who being uncircumcised were the legal equivalents of females. The meeting with Peter led to a reunion with the father, who had been searching for his family.

Matthidia thought that her twin sons had perished in the shipwreck. But they had been rescued by pirates and brought to Caesarea, where they were sold as slaves. Their names were changed to Niceta and Aquila. They were bought and educated by Justa, said to be the Syrophoenician woman who exchanged riddles with Jesus in Mark 7: 24-30. She treated them as her sons, educated them in Greek literature and the liberal arts, and when they were ready for philosophic studies handed them over to Simon Magus. But a certain colleague of Peter, Zacchaeus, warned them against the magician Simon, and they turned from him to follow Zacchaeus, who was the subject of an encounter with Jesus in Luke 19: 2-9.

Justa's career is described: "There is amongst us one Justa, a Syro-Phoenician, by race a Canaanite (summary of Mark 7:24-30)....She (Justa) having taken up a manner of life according to the law, was...driven out from her home by her husband, whose sentiments were opposed to ours. But she, being faithful to her engagements, and being in affluent circumstances, remained a widow herself...And, abstaining from marriage for the sake of her daughter, she bought two boys and educated them, and had them in place of sons. And they being educated from their boyhood with Simon Magus, have learned all things concerning him. For such was their friendship that they were associated with him in all things in which he wished to unite with them.

"These men having fallen in with Zacchaeus, who sojourned here, and having received the word of truth from him, and having repented of their former innovations, and immediately denouncing Simon as being privy with him in all things, as soon as I (Peter, the speaker) came to sojourn here, they came to me with their foster-mother, being presented to me by him, Zacchaeus, and ever since they continue with me, enjoying instructions in the truth." (Clementine Homilies 2, 21) Chapter XXIX.-Immortality of the Soul. In the gospels, an intended process of detection identifies further the woman and the twin boys. In Matthew 20:20 the "mother of the sons of Zebedee", that is of James and John (Mark 1:19) claimed from Jesus a high privilege for her sons. In Matthew 27:56 "the mother of the sons of Zebedee" was present at the crosses, as one of three named women, the other two being Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joses(Joseph). In Mark 15:40 the passage that is paralleled by Matthew names the three women as Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome. It would follow that Salome in Mark was a name for Matthew's "mother of the sons of Zebedee".

In Mark 6:22 a "daughter of Herodias" was instrumental in causing John the Baptist to be executed. Although the text does not use a name, it appears on the surface that she was the literal daughter of Herodias named Salome. But symbolic family relationships are being used in the pesher. Helena, as the partner of Simon Magus, a member of Antipas' house, was the instructor of Herodias in spiritual matters, in such a close personal relationship that she was called a "daughter". Helena took her name Salome from the great queen Salome Alexandra (76-67 BC) who had founded the order of women of which Helena was now head.

On the reason for her attack on John the Baptist, the political history given by the pesher carries the matter further. At the beginning of the Baptist's reign as Pope, in 26 AD, all the parties had belonged together. Simon Magus and Helena were associates of the Baptist in mission. Then in 29 AD there was a schism. The Magus, with Jesus, formed the Twelve Apostles, with more liberal attitudes towards Gentiles and on moral questions. The two opposed parties from then on were that of John the Baptist, the Teacher of Righteousness, with his strict moralism, and that of the "Seekers-of-Smooth-Things" liberal hellenisers, Samaritans. Jesus was one of their associates, but their actual leader was Simon Magus.(See 'Seekers-of-Smooth-Things' in "The pesher on Nahum" in The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christianity section on this site.)

The Clementines show Simon Magus to be the teacher of Niceta and Aquila trusted by Justa. They show also that Simon's mistress was Helena, giving in some detail the story of his infatuation with her and his promotion of her to a divine status (Recognitions of Clement 2, 9; Clementine Homilies 2, 25). At the crucifixion, Simon Magus hung on the central cross, while Jesus, a deputy, hung on the western cross. The two women present named Mary (Miriam) were the wife and mother of Jesus, attending him in his suffering . The other woman, not called Miriam, would be Helena, the mistress of Simon Magus, attending him for the same reason. Salome and Helena were, then, names for the same woman, who was the same as "the mother of James and John," "the sons of Zebedee". Both James (Jacob)and John (Iōannēs) were Jewish names. They were now assumed by the twins Niceta and Aquila. Their names had first been changed to other Latin ones to conceal their identity, then, when they transferred their allegiance from Simon Magus to Zacchaeus, they changed them again to religious Jewish names.

An Aquila was a fellow-worker with Paul (Acts 18: 2). He was one of the two brothers, continuing from the gospel period, now fully identifying with the Christian revision of the doctrine.

Justa is a title rather than a name. It is the feminine form of Justus, the Righteous One, a title used of both Jesus and James, meaning that she was a woman leader of the highest status. Her place in the calendar- based organisational system is also given in the Clementines. "There was one John, a Hemerobaptist, who was also, according to the method of combination, the forerunner of our Lord Jesus; and as the Lord had twelve apostles, bearing the number of the twelve months of the sun, so also he, John, had thirty chief men, fulfilling the monthly reckoning of the moon, in which number was a certain woman named Helena, that not even this might be without a dispensational significance. For a woman, being half a man, made up the imperfect number of the triacontad (29 1/2 lunar days counted as 30); as also in the case of the moon, whose revolution does not make the complete course of the month. But of these thirty, the first and most esteemed by John was Simon (Magus, before the schism )..." (Clementine Homilies 2, 23)

Niceta and Aquila or James and John were, then, the older brothers of Clement, and of imperial descent although illegitimate. In the Synoptic gospels they are associated with Peter as very close to Jesus (Mark 5:37; Mark 14:33). Once persuaded to turn away from Simon Magus to Christianity and a pro-Roman political attitude, they would have been in an influential position to spread Christian teaching.

Further information on Simon Magus and Helena, confirming what the Clementines say about their relationship, comes from the Christian writer Justin Martyr (died 165 AD). In his First Apology, 26, he describes the activities of Simon in Rome, conducting mission in rivalry with the Christians after their schism. He gives a date for Simon, in the reign of Claudius (41-54 AD).

"After Christ's ascension into heaven the devils put forward certain men who said that they themselves were gods, and they were not only not persecuted by you (the emperor representing Roman power, whom Justin is addressing), but even deemed worthy of honours. There was a Samaritan, Simon, a native of the village called Gitto, who in the reign of Claudius Caesar, and in your royal city of Rome, did mighty acts of magic, by virtue of the art of the devils operating in him. He was considered a god, and as a god was honoured by you with a statue, which statue was erected on the river Tiber, between the two bridges, and bore this inscription, in the language of Rome, "Simoni Deo Sancto", "To Simon the holy God". And almost all the Samaritans, and a few even of other nations, worship him, and acknowledge him as the first god; and a woman, Helena, who went about with him at that time, and had formerly been a prostitute, they say is the first idea generated by him." [Note. Helena, like Mary Magdalene, was called a prostitute by enemies, for reasons connected with the missionary methods of zealot women, illustrated in Revelation 2:20-23.]

Clement, the first Gentile Pope, took over from Peter in the last third of the first century. In his Epistle of Clement to James, part of the Clementina, he records how Peter handed the papacy over to him:

'Simon (Peter) who, for the sake of the true faith, and the most sure foundation of his doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church....was commanded to enlighten the darker part of the world, namely the West...he himself...having come as far as violence exchanged this present existence for life. But about that time, when he was about to die, the brethren being assembled together, he suddenly seized my (Clement's) hand...and said in presence of the church, 'Hear me, brethren and fellow-servants. Since...the day of my death is approaching, I lay hands on this Clement as your bishop, and to him I entrust my chair of discourse."

It can be seen, then, that Christianity came to Rome through influence in the highest social circles including relatives of the imperial court. This understanding supplies the background to another set of valuable historical documents, the correspondence between Paul and the great Stoic philosopher Seneca.