The "Great Persecution" referred to in the colophon of the manuscript is not the persecution of Nero. Nero was an emperor of Rome, and that persecution happened in the Roman empire, not the Persian empire where the Khabouris
was copied in the 11th century AD.
There is only one persecution (of many, of course) that is called the "Great Persecution" ("radptha rabba"), and that is the persecution of Shapur II, the Shah of Persia (310-379 AD). After Constantine made Christianity the official creed of the Roman empire, the perception of the Persian rulers was that the Church of the East was an agent of the Roman Empire. Shapur II became furious, and wrote the following letter to his generals:
"You will arrest Shimon, chief of the Nazarenes. You will keep him till he signs this document and consents to collect for us a double tax and double tribute from the Nazarenes. . . for we gods have all the trials of war and they have nothing but repose and pleasure. They inhabit our territory and agree with Caesar (Constantine), our enemy. (quoted in Freya Stark, Rome on the Euphrates 1967, p. 375)"
Of course, Mar Shimun refused to sign the document. He was summoned to the court and given a final chance to agree. He again refused saying: "I am no tax-collector, but a shepherd of the Lord's flock."
The "Great Persecution" of the Church of the East began on Good Friday, 344 AD with the martyrdom of the Patriarch Mar Shimon bar-Sabbae, with 5 bishops and 100 elders of the church in the city of Susa....Mar Shimon being the last to die.
The next two successors to Mar Shimun also suffered martyrdom during the same Great Persecution. The names of 16,000 martyrs have been preserved, but some estimate that as many as 190,000 were slain during this time. (Moffett, p. 144) The slaughter was relentless and lasted for 40 years.
According to Samuel Hugh Moffett:
Persia's priests and rulers cemented their alliance of state and religion in a series of periods of terror that have been called the most massive persecutions of Christians in history. (Samuel Hugh Moffett, A History of Christianity in Asia, Vol. I: Beginnings to 1500 (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1998), p. 138)
I wanted to share with you this record of the martyrdom of Mar Narsai, the bishop of Beth-Garmai (house of bones), along with his disciple Yosef:
When they were brought before the visiting king, Shapur exhorted them:
"Your venerable gray hairs, and the comeliness and bloom of your pupil's youth, strongly incline me in your favor. Seek your own advantage: receive the sacred rites of the Sun, and I will confer on you most ample rewards and honors; for I am exceedingly taken with your persons."
Narsai: Your flattery is very disagreeable to us, because it ensnares and tends to draw us over to a treacherous world. Even you who enjoy whatever the world can give, and who promise it to others, will find it fleeting from you like a dream, and falling away like the morning dew. As for my part, I am now above four score years old, and have served God from my infancy. I pray Him again and again, that I may be preserved from so grievous an evil, and may never betray the fidelity which I owe Him by adoring the sun, the work of His hands.
Shapur: If you don't obey immediately, you shall this instant be led to execution.
Narsai: If you had power, O king, to put us to death seven times over, we should never yield to your desire.
The king pronounced the sentence and handed the martyrs over to the executioners. When the martyrs were led out of the tents, they were followed by a large crowd. At the place of execution Narsai looked at the multitude congregated to witness their execution.
Yosef: See how the people gaze at you. They are waiting for you to dismiss them and go to your own home.
Narsai: You are most happy, my blessed Yosef who have broken the snares of the world, and have entered with joy, the narrow path of the kingdom of heaven.
Yosef was the first to be beheaded.