What is the difference between Suetonius in his account ( Lives of the Twelve Caesars ) about “an apparition of superhuman size and beauty . . . sitting on the river bank, playing a reed pipe” and the Gospel writings of the supernatural?
(Please pray for me I am going through a little doubt currently)
The easy answer is “one is an account inspired by God and the other is a history written by a human writer.”
The more thorough answer goes something like this:
Suetonius may have gotten his story mixed up or deliberately created a sympathetic account of Caesar’s initiation of the civil war. The context is Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon. The river was a boundary that Caesar didn’t have the right to cross – doing so was an invasion and an act of war (in modern terms, it would be like the governor of Pennsylvania mounting an armed invasion of Ohio).
Caesar was torn – should he take that step? If he did, there was no turning back; he would have crossed a line that he couldn’t “undo”, so to speak.
Suetonius says that there was an actual apparition. Plutarch, on the other hand, merely reports that Caesar was quoting from one of his favorite playwrights – Menander, who wrote “The Flute-Girl”.
Plutarch describes it this way:
Plutarch’s description demonstrates Caesar’s deliberate decision to invade. Suetonius softens it up by making it seem like there was divine intervention, and Caesar merely acceded to the will of the gods.
One doesn’t have to read into Suetonius’ account too deeply to realize that he’s not going to side against Caesar on this one.
The gospels really don’t have a special section to focus on “the supernatural”. They recognize the supernatural, but they aren’t written to impress or entertain.
They are written primarily as basic idea instruction for new Christians, or those considering. They present real life. They include examples of how we should live, Who we should have a relationship with in our own lives.
The supernatural element is there because it’s a part of real life, not some add-on to hook the readers. (Those “gospels” were left out of the NT.)
C.S. Lewis was open to the idea that some of what ancient pagans wrote was inspired by God (often mixed in with other stuff). He described it as God sending us “good dreams”.
Read his Reflections on the Psalms, Pilgrim’s Regress, and essays where he raised the possibility that Plato, Vergil, and others had insights that helped prepare the way for the fullness of revelation in Christ.
I’m guessing he wouldn’t rule out some supernatural manifestation, though he wouldn’t encourage focusing on it.
Hmm… maybe because it’s not a sighting of God, but of pagan elements, and is interpreted as such by the witnesses to the putative apparition?
In any case, it seems that the argument you’re making is that God was the source of an apparition that recommended that a secular leader perform an illegal action and initiate a civil war meant to permit him to usurp power. Are you sure that’s a case you wish to make?
Or, a righteous leader who fought to save the republic from the decadence of a parasitical oligarchy which had grown fat off the proletarianization of the populus was shown a favorable omen. God is the author of history, keep in mind. Giant flute playing spirits aside, its a bit tendentious to dismiss every eyewitness account of the supernatural in history except the ones concerning Hebrews.
We’re back to where we started, then. One author wishes to show that he has the approbation of the ‘gods’, so he tells a story about an omen and of Caesar’s mere acknowledgement of the will of the gods. The other author shows him making the personal decision to rebel on his own.
If the point of view is “there’s only one God, and the Roman pantheon is not real”, then what other approach might one take?
I know it’s somewhat subjective, but just read the two accounts. One comes off as mythological, fanciful, with little purpose while the other, even though supernatural, records events that seem rational, purposeful, meaningful, ordered towards love, etc, and towards a true beneficial outcome for humankind.
It does form a “record for posterity” but so do lots of mundane incidents also recorded.
In the 1800s there was a realistic style of literature, in which details are inserted into the narrative not essential to the plot. This would be like Jesus writing something in the dirt, we couldn’t see what.
But people were not doing that 1800s technique in the time of Christ. The sense I get is the writers of the gospels were trying to record things faithfully, whether it be a miracle or something else.