The Pagan Shepherd of Hermas: From Canonical to Apocryphal

Fresco in the catacombs of Domitilla in Rome, second century; a common, pagan Greco-Roman motif.
This is the first in a short series about historical characters of the first century, how they are portrayed in sacred texts and their role in the new, imperial religion I term Chrestianity.
Start of The Shepherd of Hermas in Codex Sinaiticus

Part I

The Shepherd of Hermas is a book of the original New Testament:
It was bound as part of the New Testament[1][4] in the Codex Sinaiticus, and it was listed between the Acts of the Apostles and the Acts of Paul in the stichometrical list of the Codex Claromontanus. (1. Newadvent.org; 4. Davidson & Leaney, Biblical Criticism: p230.) Codex Siniaticus contains probably the oldest version of the New Testament, which includes The Shepherd of Hermas.
Anyone doubting this undisputed fact can check for themselves, with the online editions of the codex.

It was in the original, then expelled. Why it was included in the first place, then why expunged, are actually unknown, for the textual tradition in this regards is late, unreliable and possibly mythological.

Hermas begins:

1:1 The master, who reared me, had sold me to one Rhoda in Rome. After many years, I met her again, and began to love her as a sister.
1:2 After a certain time I saw her bathing in the river Tiber...

It is a work of Greek literature, written in imperial Rome:
The work comprises five visions, twelve mandates, and ten parables. It relies on allegory and pays special attention to the Church, calling the faithful to repent of the sins that have harmed it.
The book was originally written in Rome, in the Greek language, but a first Latin translation, the Vulgata, was made very shortly afterwards. A second Latin translation, the Palatina, was made at the beginning of the fifth century. Only the Latin version has been preserved in full. Of the Greek version the last fifth or so is missing.
The shepherd is one of the meanings that was probably attached to some figurines of the Good Shepherd as well as a symbol for Christ, or a traditional pagan kriophoros. [Emphasis mine.]
I have argued already how the New Testament must belong to the religion of the divine man named within - Chrest - and thus Hermas also should be Chrestian.
The Grapte palace located in Second Temple Jerusalem, at the foot of the Temple stairs.
Though I've mentioned this extract in an earlier post, it fits here, too:
4[8]:3 Thou shalt therefore write two little books, and shalt send one to Clement, and one to Grapte. So Clement shall send to the foreign cities, for this is his duty; while Grapte shall instruct the widows and the orphans. But thou shalt read (the book) to this city along with the elders that preside over the Church.
These are two historical personages:
1. Titus Flavius T. f. T. n. Clemens was a nephew of the Roman Emperor Vespasian. He was the son of Titus Flavius Sabinus, consul in AD 52 and praefectus urbi during the reign of Nero, and a brother of Titus Flavius Sabinus, consul in AD 82. The emperors Titus and Domitian were his cousins.
According to Cassius Dio, Clemens was put to death on a charge of atheism, for which, he adds, many others who went over to the Jewish opinions were executed. This may imply that Clemens had become a Christian. For the same reason, his wife was banished to Pandataria.
To this Clemens in all probability is dedicated the church of St. Clement at Rome, on the Caelian hill...
(Titus Flavius Clemens (consul))
Seutonius describes Clemens as a man of most contemptible laziness. His home was built on the ashes of the Great Fire in 64 - started according to witnesses, by chamberlains such as Epaphroditus; excavations revealed a mithraeum under the house; how this was the home of a pope is unexplained.
3 And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow labourers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:3 (King James Version)) 
2. 11. Yet did the army that was under John raise a sedition against him, and all the Idumeans separated themselves from the tyrant, and attempted to destroy him, and this out of their envy at his power, and hatred of his cruelty; so they got together, and slew many of the zealots, and drove the rest before them into that royal palace that was built by Grapte, who was a relation of Izates, the king of Adiabene; the Idumeans fell in with them, and drove the zealots out thence into the temple, and betook themselves to plunder John's effects; for both he himself was in that palace, and therein had he laid up the spoils he had acquired by his tyranny.
(Josephus, Wars, 4:4)
Let us consider the woman named Grapte and how she is in Rome, then (according to the legal documents mentioned above, found in the Cave of Letters) Roman Arabia and Judea.

When Judea lost the First Jewish-Roman War, the insurrectionist leaders were taken to Rome for the victory parade and royal children, specifically those of "Izates" were kept as hostages, in the same manner that earlier, Antonia Minor - with the authority of the emperor Augustus - had held royal and noble children as hostages. This Antonia Minor, her husband Drusus and the banker Jucundus, are named in an inscription as Chrestians; as these children reached adulthood, they were returned to their provinces and became the core of Chrestian rule across the Roman Empire.

There is no reason to assume these later royal children of "Izates" were treated differently, so we may assume that they also were raised as Chrestians, before returning to the Levant. Hermas in fact confirms this, with Grapte sent as a missionary, then appearing as a landowner in Roman Arabia and Judea.

Hermas clearly describes a Church, in Rome, sending Clement and Grapte on missions. This obviously is some time after the end of the War in 73 - enough time for Grapte to be indoctrinated as a Chrestian and reach maturity, and before Domitian had Clemens executed in 95. The book itself, naming Clemens in the manner it does, would have provided Domitian with sufficient reason to execute him; this suggests that it was written under the rule of his elder brother, Titus, for both he and his father, Vespasian, were Chrestian. This enables us to suggest the authorship time-frame of 79-81, for then a Chrestian book such as Hermas would have been acceptable, and both Clemens and Grapte must have enjoyed imperial sanction at the least.

A Grapte woman is also mentioned in a number of early-second century legal documents, including property and a dispute with the first-ever bishop, Julia Crispina, daughter of the last Herodian heir. The timing, rarity of this royal name and her status allow us to assume she is the girl captured and sent to Rome to be made Chrestian. Hermas therefore could belong to the late first century, though we can be more exact.
Domitian, AR Denarius, 88, Third Issue, Rome
The reverse commemorates the rituals and events associated with the saeculum, which was celebrated with the Saecular Games in 88.
The emperor Domitian was the younger brother of the previous emperor, Titus, and both were sons of the general-made-emperor Vespasian; this is the Flavian dynasty. Vespasian took as common-law wife a freedwoman of Antonia Minor, whose estate manager, the Alabarch in Alexandria, used his control of the Egyptian grain supply to Italy in order to pressure Rome to grant Vespasian the imperial purple. Vespasian, Titus and the Alabarch are part of what has been termed the Flavian Conspiracy; they are Chrestians. This cannot be said for Domitian, for he turned against this conspiracy (he is well-known for his conservative views and probably rejected the suggestion that he needed a covert cult in order to rule); Josephus disappears and various other leading Chrestians, such as Clemens and Epaphroditus - the effective prime minister -  are executed; he in turn was assassinated by Chrestians.

The reign of Domitian would not have been a time to publish The Shepherd of Hermas, especially in Rome. Rather, an appropriate time would be the reign of Titus, 79-81. This also provides time for Grapte to be sufficiently indoctrinated, reach maturity and become trusted sufficiently to be sent out as a missionary. With the book published then, it was too late for Clemens to hide his cult membership from Domitian, or his extensive spy network.

Now to the character of Hermas, which provides neither the name of its divine man, nor his title, Chrest, or Christ. Instead, there is reference to a Son of God:
In parable 5, the author mentions a Son of God, as a virtuous man filled with a Holy "pre-existent spirit" and adopted as the Son.
"Adoptionism" is a term invented in the textual tradition for a form of heresy; it parodies the manner in which Roman emperors adopted their heirs, as their sons. The first emperor, Augustus is the adopted son of Julius Caesar, and he adopts the next, Tiberius and he adopts his grandson, Caligula. (Antonia Minor was a niece of the Emperor Augustus, sister-in-law of the Emperor Tiberius, paternal grandmother of the Emperor Caligula and Empress Agrippina the Younger, mother of the Emperor Claudius, and both maternal great-grandmother and paternal great-aunt of the Emperor Nero.)
Julius Caesar was made divine; Augustus can be regarded as a Son of God in imperial Rome.

Hermas is a Chrestian sacred text, both because it is so in its own right - pagan, magical and mysterious in the Greco-Roman, literary character of the period - and because it is presented as part of the Chrestian New Testament. It pre-dates not just the gospels, but also Source Q; it pre-dates Acts of the Apostles. Treated properly for what it is, rather than what Christians later thought of it, Hermas has something to teach historians of the period.

Lastly, one should consider the people involved and associated with Hermas. None are poor, wretched, uneducated, oppressed; rather, they are all part of the imperial elite - even Grapte was royalty by birth, then became owner of estates using slave labour. There was no Christ and there is no Christianity yet for centuries; what exists in the historical and archaeological records is the worship of Chrest and an imperially-sponsored Chrestian Church, a cult populated by the elite exclusively.

Share this: