It seems clear that the Roman historian Suetoneus (Claudius 25.4) did write, “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.”
Unlike the Testimonium of Josephus or the Nero- blamed-Christians-for-the-fire statement of Tacitus, there appears to be no reason to suspect any interpolation in Suetonius.
Recently it was discovered that the earlier manuscript of Tacitus had Chrestians in the passage and it was changed to Christians by a later scribe. It seems obvious that a Christian scribe could not have made the mistake of writing Chrestians (Chrestianos) for Christians, so we must take it that Tacitus’ passage was probably authentic, but it has been interpolated. If Tacitus wrote Chrestians, then it is quite likely that he also wrote Chrest for Christ. The passage makes little sense as now recorded in wikipedia:
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite punishments on a class hated for their disgraceful acts, called Chrestians by the populace. Christ, from whom the name had its origin.
It seems ridiculous to say that Chrestians (the good ones) came from Christ (the anointed one). It is like saying that the followers of Lenin are called Lenenists or the followers of Stalin are called Stalenists, or the followers of Jefferson are called Jiffersonians or the followers of Woodrow Wilson are called Welsonians. It is not an easy thing to get the letters “i” and “e” mixed up in this way. Nobody refers to the founder of Mormonism as Joseph Smeth when they mean Joseph Smith.
In order to make a joke out of the discrepancy, Tertullian writes in ad nationes, (circa 200 CE) “Even when by a faulty pronunciation you call us “Chrestians” (for you are not certain about even the sound of this noted name), you in fact lisp out the sense of pleasantness and goodness.” To the rhetorician Tertullian the thought never occurs that the Romans might be a better and more accurate source for the beginning of Christianity than the Christians themselves.
Once we accept this, then we have two Roman historians from between 110-120 C.E. mentioning not Jesus or Christ, but a man leading a Jewish rebellion named Chrestus.
I proposed a number of years ago that Tacitus originally wrote that Nero sent the Procurator Porcius Festus to put down the Christians/Chrestians.
Christian interpolators, misunderstanding, changed it to Pontius Pilate, and they changed Chrestus to Christ and Nero to Tiberius.
Thus the original read:
|Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite punishments on a class hated for their disgraceful acts, called Chrestians by the populace. Chrestus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty (i.e., Crucifixion) during the reign of Nero at the hands of one of our procurators, Porcius Festus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.|
Note what Josephus (book 20:8.10) says about the procurator Porcius Festus whom Nero sent:
|10. Upon Festus’s coming into Judea, it happened that Judea was afflicted by the robbers, while all the villages were set on fire, and plundered by them. And then it was that the sicarii, as they were called, who were robbers, grew numerous. They made use of small swords, not much different in length from the Persian acinacae, but somewhat crooked, and like the Roman sicae, [or sickles,] as they were called; and from these weapons these robbers got their denomination; and with these weapons they slew a great many; for they mingled themselves among the multitude at their festivals, when they were come up in crowds from all parts to the city to worship God, as we said before, and easily slew those that they had a mind to slay. They also came frequently upon the villages belonging to their enemies, with their weapons, and plundered them, and set them on fire. So Festus sent forces, both horsemen and footmen, to fall upon those that had been seduced by a certain impostor, who promised them deliverance and freedom from the miseries they were under, if they would but follow him as far as the wilderness. Accordingly, those forces that were sent destroyed both him that had deluded them, and those that were his followers also.|
It makes perfect sense for Tacitus to be talking about this “Chrest” who was killed around 59 according to Tacitus. The Christians reading the passage must have thought that Tacitus had heard the wrong story and took the liberty to correct him.
The sudden leap back from the time of Nero to the time of Tiberius and leap forward again is what is really disconcerting about the passage. Tacitus would have had to explain more about the suppression of the new superstition if it died out in the 30’s and started again in Rome around in the 60’s. (The Fire was in 64). If the outbreak of the superstition happened in the time of Nero, as Josephus reports, there would be no need to explain what happened. The death of the Christ by Festus would have upset the Jews in Rome. Nero could then place the blame for the fire on them.
If we just look at the history by Tacitus and Josephus and stop trying to fit it into the imaginary history of Eusebius, we can see things more clearly.