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NERO:

Roman emperor; born at Antium Dec. 15, 37 C.E.; died near Rome in 68. His original name was Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, but on being adopted by the emperor Claudius he was called Nero Claudius Cæsar Drusus Germanicus. After his accession to the throne (54) he showed many favors to the Herodian family: he bestowed the kingdom of Lesser Armenia upon Aristobulus, son of Herod of Chalcis, and added four important cities (among which were Tiberias and Tarichea in Galilee) with their surrounding districts to the dominions of Agrippa II. The Jews of Rome were well treated under his government. A Jewish actor, Alityros (Aliturus), lived at his court (Josephus, "Vita," § 3). A Neronian coin ("Neronit") is mentioned in B. M. 25b, and a "sela' Neronit" in Bek. 37b, 38a, and Kelim xvii. 12.

Favorably Disposed to the Jews.

When in the year 60 fierce rioting broke out between the Jews and the Greeks in Cæsarea, the seat of the Roman procurators, both parties sent representatives to Rome. Nero, influenced by his secretary Burrus, who had been bribed by the Greeks, gave a verdict against the Jews and deprived them of their civil rights. During the procuratorship of Festus a dispute arose between the population of Jerusalem and Agrippa II., who in his Hasmonean palace built a dining-hall which overlooked the courts of the Temple. In order to hide the Temple from this profaning view, the Jews erected a high wall on its western side. When they refused the order of Procurator Festus to tear down this wall, the case was brought before Nero, who, influenced by his second wife, Poppæa, decided in favor of the people. Poppæa, like many members of prominent Roman families, inclined to Judaism, and her last wish, that she might be buried according to Jewish customs, was granted by Nero.

Beginning of Great War.

Still the discontent among the Jews of Palestine continued owing to the arbitrary action of the procurators Felix, Festus, Albinus, and Gessius Florus, who by their exactions drove the Jews into open revolt. In the year 66 began that heroic war which ended with the destruction of the Second Temple and of the national existence of the Jews. In vain Cestius Gallus, the governor of Syria, informed Nero of the dangerous state of affairs in Palestine. The emperor continued his journey through Greece, where he courted public applause by appearing in the arena as singer, player, and charioteer. When, however, he received the news of the defeat of Cestius, he took immediate steps to crush the rebellion, and appointed Flavius Vespasian commander-in-chief. He did not live to enjoy the victories of his general; for, driven to despair by the uprising in Gallia, where the army had proclaimed Galba emperor, and forsaken by his Pretorian guard, he ended his life by suicide.

—In Jewish Legend:

In Lam. R. i. 31 it is related that three days after the prediction made by Johanan ben Zakkai to Vespasian that the latter would become emperor the news of Nero's death reached the Roman army besieging Jerusalem. The following legendary account, showing the cause of the destruction of Jerusalem, is given inthe Babylonian Talmud (Giṭ. 55b-56a): An inhabitant of Jerusalem sent a messenger to invite his friend Ḳamẓa to dinner. By mistake the messenger invited his enemy Bar Ḳamẓa, who took his place among the guests. When the master of the house noticed him he angrily ordered him to leave. In vain Bar Ḳamẓa requested the host not to put him to shame before so many people, and offered to pay for his meal, then a half and finally all of the expenses of the banquet. The host ejected him, and the other guests did not interfere in his behalf. Indignant at this insult, Bar Ḳamẓa told the emperor that the Jews planned a rebellion, and advised him to test their loyalty by sending a sacrifice which should be offered in the Temple in his behalf. The emperor sent a heifer, in whose lips (or, according to other reports, eyelids) Bar Ḳamẓa made an incision in order to render the animal unfit for sacrifice. After a long discussion as to whether this constituted a bodily defect, the Jews rejected the sacrifice. The emperor, insulted by this refusal, and taking it as a sign of rebellion, deputed Vespasian to wreak vengeance on the Jews.

When Nero arrived in Palestine, he shot arrows in the direction of the four principal points of the compass; but all of them flew toward Jerusalem. A boy whom he asked to recite his Biblical lesson (a usual form of oracle) quoted Ezek. xxv. 14 (Hebr.): "And I shall take my revenge on Edom through My people Israel; and they shall do unto Edom according to My anger and My wrath," on hearing which Nero said: "God wishes to wipe His hands [lay the blame] on me" (i.e., "wishes to make me His tool and then to punish me"). He fled and became a convert to Judaism; and from him Rabbi Meïr was descended. This Talmudical story seems to be an echo of the legend that Nero was still alive and would return to reign. Indeed, some pretenders availed themselves of this legend and claimed to be Nero. Oracles prophesying Nero's return from beyond the Euphrates were current among the Jews; and an apocryphal book of the second century, Ascension of Isaiah, declares that in the last days "Belial shall appear in the form of a man, of the king of unrighteousness, of the matricide." In Christian legends Nero was personified as Antichrist.

Bibliography:
  • Grätz, Gesch. iii., ch. xiv.-xv.;
  • Henderson, Life of Nero, passim, London, 1903;
  • Josephus, Ant. xx. 8, §§ 9, 11;
  • idem, B. J. ii. 13 et seq.;
  • Vogelstein and Rieger, Gesch. der Juden in Rom, i. 21, 63, 74, 91, 108.
D. S. Man.
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