Maier, Paul. Flames of Rome. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1981.
Imagine if Dan Brown were orthodox and capable of writing a coherent paragraph. This is what Paul Maier gives us. It is a perfectly paced novel that puts the reader in the midst of the caldron that is Neronic Rome. Maier’s credentials are unquestionable. He is a professional historian, having translated Eusebius and Josephus from the Greek.
This is what he calls a documentary novel. What separates it from standard “historical fiction” is the historical reconstruction provided in the notes at the end. If I were teaching a class on 1st Century Christianity, I would make this a required text. The novel itself is quite good, but the reconstruction at the end is simply breathtaking.
Despite the title, the book isn’t mostly about Nero. Claudius plays just as important a role. The reader gets some idea about the machinations in the palace.
The Christianity angle is interesting. We see Priscilla and Aquila in Rome, which matches the timeline and Claudius’s edict banning the Jews from Rome (and to what extent, as in the notes, that could have been carried out).
Maier takes the line that Peter did in fact make it to Rome (Schaff had argued, quite forcefully, that Peter couldn’t have made it to Rome given his bishopric in Antioch). The evidence that Peter made it to Rome is too strong to ignore. Pace Roman Catholicism, though, Peter could not have had a 25 year ministry there as head of the church.
If you know a little about Nero, you probably have a general idea of what happens in the novel. It’s still worth reading, though. It is perfectly paced and the characters are quite developed.