This post is part of an on-going series in which I and others systematically read through Augustine of Hippo’s City of God in 2014.
City of God 7.33–8.13.
7.33–35. We’ve reached the end of book seven, and Augustine has waited until the end to bring out new evidence supporting his theory that polytheistic religion is actually the worship of malignant spirits.
Numa Pompilius was the legendary second king of Rome, supposedly reigning from 715 to 673 BC. The Romans had a list of contributions that each of the seven kings made to the city of Rome. Numa was supposedly a Sabine whose major contribution was the establishment of Rome’s religious institutions.
In 181 BC, some of Numa’s books on religion and philosophy were found, but the Roman Senate had them burned. Augustine relates Varro’s version of the story but provides his own interpretation. These books wouldn’t have been burned if they hadn’t revealed the truth about polytheism’s demonic origin.
It’s worth reading Livy’s account of the same event in History of Rome 40.29. Livy claims that the books looked new and sounded Pythagorean. Pythagoreanism would show them to be obvious forgeries since Pythagoras lived long after Numa. It seems that a rumor circulated at the time that Numa was a disciple of Pythagoras, even though this would be a chronological impossibility. Even so, Livy says that the books were burned because they undermined civil religion, not because they were inauthentic.