Could the descendants of Jesus Christ – the so-called Desposyni – have met a Roman emperor? This presupposes a few things like: Christ had descendants; Christ got married and had children and a Roman emperor would have wanted to meet them.
Yet according to a Roman source (admittedly a Christian one with a faint grasp on the truth), that is exactly what happened. Eusebius – Christian historian of the early legal church under the Romans and a bit of a religious spin doctor – quotes the story of a group of Christ’s descendants meeting the Roman emperor Domitian in the first century AD.
Domitian was a brooding, autocratic ruler hated by the senatorial class but viewed more favourably these days as a reformer, even if his methods were a touch insensitive. He was the son of the emperor Vespasian who had crushed the First Jewish Revolt in Jerusalem and utterly destroyed the Jewish Temple built by Herod. Yes, THAT Herod.
The story of his meeting with the Desposyni of Christ was written over two hundred years later by Eusebius and could be an attempt to suggest that Christianity was more influential at the time than it actually was. There is nothing from contemporary sources in the first hundred years after Christ that indicates the Romans were even aware of this Middle Eastern mystery cult. It just didn’t blip on their radar.
When the respected Roman historian (pagan) Tacitus writes about Christians a hundred years after the crucifixion, it’s mainly to snigger about reports that these strange people eat their god during their services.
Anyway – here’s what Eusebius wrote about the meeting between the Roman emperor Domitian and the Desposyni:
There still survived of the kindred of the Lord the grandsons of Jude, brother of Jesus, who according to the flesh was called his brother. These were informed against, as belonging to the family of David, and Evocatus brought them before Domitian Caesar: for that emperor dreaded the advent of Christ, as Herod had done. So he asked them whether they were of the family of David; and they confessed they were. Next he asked them what property they had, or how much money they possessed. They both replied that they had only 9000 denaria between them, each of them owning half that sum; but even this they said they did not possess in cash, but as the estimated value of some land, consisting of thirty-nine plethra only, out of which they had to pay the dues, and that they supported themselves by their own labour. And then they began to hold out their hands, exhibiting, as proof of their manual labour, the roughness of their skin, and the corns raised on their hands by constant work. Being then asked concerning Christ and His kingdom, what was its nature, and when and where it was to appear, they returned answer that it was not of this world, nor of the earth, but belonging to the sphere of heaven and angels, and would make its appearance at the end of time, when He shall come in glory, and judge living and dead, and render to every one according to the course of his life. Thereupon Domitian passed no condemnation upon them, but treated them with contempt, as too mean for notice, and let them go free. At the same time he issued a command, and put a stop to the persecution against the Church. When they were released they became leaders of the churches, as was natural in the case of those who were at once martyrs and of the kindred of the Lord. And, after the establishment of peace to the Church, their lives were prolonged to the reign of Trajan.
—Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia Ecclesiae, 3.20—Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia Ecclesiae, 3.20