Titus Flavius Clemens- Rome's Jewish Consul
One interesting obscure figure I read about recently was that of Titus Flavius Clemens (50-95), Roman consul during 95 AD. As cousin to the emperor Domitian, he enjoyed a high-ranking position in Roman politics. His two sons in fact, Vespasian and Domitian, were meant to succeed the emperor. We don’t know much about his consulship, but Suetonius describes him as a man "of most contemptible laziness".
As the emperor Domitian’s mental health deteriorated (a peculiar disposition of Roman Emperors), he became more and more paranoid. Some of his most eccentric exploits involved pitching dwarfs and women equipped with cleavers to fight against each other in the Coliseum.
One spectator, who spoke in favor of the Thracian gladiator over the Murmillo one during a game, had the misfortune of being dragged from his seat and thrown into the arena to be eaten by a pack of dogs, bearing the placard: "A favourer of the Thracian who spoke impiously".
Flavius Clemens brother, Flavius Sabinus, had been executed by the emperor even prior to Clemens become consul. His crime? Accidentally announcing the emperor as the 'Emperor-elect' instead of 'Consul-elect'.
Clemens met his fate near the end of his consulship. Cassius Dio writes how-
"Domitian slew, along with many others, Flavius Clemens the consul, although he was a cousin and had to wife Flavia Domitilla, who was also a relative of the emperor's. The charge brought against them both was that of atheism, a charge on which many others who drifted into Jewish ways were condemned. Some of these were put to death, and the rest were at least deprived of their property."
Clemens is also mentioned in the Talmud as well, under different names. In one story he raises the prophet Balaam from the dead to ask him theological questions. Balaam is a prophet from the Bible who entices the Israelite's into sexual immorality and idol worship, thus inflicting the wrath of god upon him. His unique punishment, as he explains to Clemens, is to stand for all eternity in boiling semen.
The Talmud also provides an alternative explanation for Clemens death:
As there was a certain Roman emperor who hated the Jews. He said to the important members of the kingdom: If one had an ulcerous sore [nima] rise on his foot, should he cut it off and live, or leave it and suffer? They said to him: He should cut it off and live. The ulcerous sore was a metaphor for the Jewish people, whom the emperor sought to eliminate as the cause of harm for the Roman Empire.
Ketia, son of Shalom [Flavius Clemens], said to them: It is unwise to do so, for two reasons. One is that you cannot destroy all of them, as it is written: “For I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heaven, says the Lord” (Zechariah 2:10). He clarified: What is it saying? Shall we say that the verse means that God has scattered them to the four winds of the world? If so, this phrase: “As the four winds,” is inaccurate, since it should have said: To the four winds. Rather, this is what the verse is saying: Just as the world cannot exist without winds, so too, the world cannot exist without the Jewish people, and they will never be destroyed. And furthermore, if you attempt to carry out the destruction of the Jews, they will call you the severed kingdom, as the Roman Empire would be devoid of Jews, but Jews would exist in other locations.
The emperor said to Ketia: You have spoken well and your statement is correct; but they throw anyone who defeats the king in argument into a house full of ashes [lekamonya ḥalila], where he would die. When they were seizing Ketia and going to take him to his death, a certain matron [matronita] said to him: Woe to the ship that goes without paying the tax. Ketia bent down over his foreskin, severed it, and said: I gave my tax; I will pass and enter. When they threw him into the house of ashes, he said: All of my property is given to Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues. How was this inheritance to be divided? The Gemara relates: Rabbi Akiva went out and taught that the verse: “And it shall be for Aaron and his sons” (Exodus 29:28), means half to Aaron and half to his sons. Here too, as Rabbi Akiva is mentioned separately, he should receive half, while his colleagues receive the other half.