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The Law in Its Majestic Equality…

[ 92 ] February 24, 2013 |

I’m quite willing to be skeptical of the construction of martyrdom in the early Christian Church, but this seems rather the wrong approach:

This is not to deny that some Christians were executed in horrible ways under conditions we’d consider grotesquely unjust. But it’s important, Moss explains, to distinguish between “persecution” and “prosecution.” The Romans had no desire to support a prison population, so capital punishment was common for many seemingly minor offenses; you could be sentenced to be beaten to death for writing a slanderous song. Moss distinguishes between those cases in which Christians were prosecuted simply for being Christians and those in which they were condemned for engaging in what the Romans considered subversive or treasonous activity. Given the “everyday ideals and social structures” the Romans regarded as essential to the empire, such transgressions might include publicly denying the divine status of the emperor, rejecting military service or refusing to accept the authority of a court. In one of her most fascinating chapters, Moss tries to explain how baffling and annoying the Romans (for whom “pacifism didn’t exist as a concept”) found the Christians — when the Romans thought about them at all.

Christians wound up in Roman courts for any number of reasons, but when they got there, they were prone to announcing, as a believer named Liberian once did, “that he cannot be respectful to the emperor, that he can be respectful only to Christ.” Moss compares this to “modern defendants who say that they will not recognize the authority of the court or of the government, but recognize only the authority of God. For modern Americans, as for ancient Romans, this sounds either sinister or vaguely insane.” It didn’t help that early Christians developed a passion for martyrdom. Suffering demonstrated both the piety of the martyr and the authenticity of the religion itself, and besides, it earned you an immediate, first-class seat in heaven.

Indeed; I can’t at all imagine why a religious minority would think itself persecuted when its members are beaten to death for refusing to consent to the rites of the state-sponsored faith, and rejecting conscription in service of that faith. The best point here seems to be that Christians were persecuted for reasons related to state power and social control rather than the specifics of their faith, although the tension between the pacifist commitment of the early church and the nature of the Roman state make even that questionable. In a state which fused religious and political authority, however, the distinction is nearly irrelevant. Finally, while it’s not unreasonable to note the inconsistency of Roman persecution, we should interpret this in context of the pre-modern state, which generally lacked the capacity to make and maintain long-term, long range bureaucratic commitments.

Comments (92)

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  1. Protagoras says:

    The article both talks about the fact that the executions seem to have been a lot rarer than later stories suggest (a lot of the tales of martyrdom seem to be invented), and the issue you emphasize, that execution was used for far lesser crimes in ancient times. I feel like the former amounts to more than you give it credit for in your final sentence, but it may be that the article distracts from that point in talking too much about the more dubious latter point.

    • Snarki, child of Loki says:

      From what I’ve read, Roman citizens generally were not imprisoned for crimes; it was considered ‘cruel and unusual’. They either got a fine, or execution.

      Given the state of long-term incarceration over most of history (i.e., death by disease, malnutrition and harsh conditions) they may have had a point.

      They treated “non-citizen subjects” much more harshly, but their bias against incarceration was still present.

      BTW, the Roman “religion” didn’t give a fig about what anyone *believed*, it was all about overt behavior. Believe whatever you want, but don’t piss off Jupiter or he’ll take it out on the city. If christians weren’t such stick-up-the-ass self-righteous jerks, they’d have had a much easier time of it.

      They’re still that way, of course.

      • Anon21 says:

        BTW, the Roman “religion” didn’t give a fig about what anyone *believed*, it was all about overt behavior. Believe whatever you want, but don’t piss off Jupiter or he’ll take it out on the city. If christians weren’t such stick-up-the-ass self-righteous jerks, they’d have had a much easier time of it.

        I feel like it’s entirely common, and not especially “self-righteous,” to believe that a compelled affirmation of that which you don’t believe, or compelled participation in the rites of a religion that’s fundamentally inconsistent with your own, is a violation of freedom of conscience. That’s the principle of Tinker, for one, and you don’t often hear that the Jehovah’s Witnesses in that case were being “stick-up-the-ass self-righteous jerks” for not wanting to be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. And they were only facing expulsion, not execution.

        I think it’s probably better not to go trying to justify religious oppression solely because it’s inflicted on those whom one considers ideological opponents (at least in their modern form). But what do I know?

        • Rhino says:

          Was freedom of conscience even a thing in roman thought? Serious question.

          • Anon21 says:

            I seriously doubt it. But Snarki sounded like s/he was trying to justify it as something early Christians deserved for being so sensitive about their silly religion, and I was saying, that’s bullshit. They didn’t deserve it. And I don’t think the fact that they lived in an unjust society changes that.

        • heckblazer says:

          I think the point is that to a bunch of polytheists the idea of religions being fundamentally inconsistent was a complete head scratcher. They were used to syncretism that allowed Jupiter, Thor and Teshub to be considered the same god, or at least close enough that everyone could pretend they were and get along. They certainly weren’t persecuting Christians the way the Spanish Inquisition persecuted Jews by hunting down people with wrong beliefs even if they keep them secret.

          Of course, the really strong rejoinder is that the Roman persecution of Christians was pretty much just like the persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to swear loyalty to the Nazis.

          • Snarki, child of Loki says:

            The Greek/Roman/pagan understanding of deities was very different from jewish/christian beliefs in one particular respect: “The gods cannot see your thoughts, only your actions”

            So, when the city was having a big cattle sacrifice to Jupiter, followed by a public barbeque (damn,that sounds like something that would go over well in TEXAS), people who go out of their way to diss Jupiter are considered to put the city in danger. Yes, it was superstitious, but damn near everyone was superstitious through most of human history. Do you really need citations of fundie preachers blaming everything from hurricanes to 9/11 on “those bad sinners”?

            Philosophers, who were quite firmly atheists, had to deal with the same problem, and did so with a lot more intelligence and tact. Two characteristics that were (and are) prominently absent from strident christians.

            The Roman Empire, for all of its many faults, was quite tolerant of religious differences. The christians were not.

  2. FMguru says:

    My favorite collection of early Christian martyrs is the Circumcellions, a North African sect who figured out that martyrdom was the surest way to heaven and so set out to make martyrs of themselves – by attacking armed travellers with nothing more than simple clubs and loudly shouting their faith, hoping to be cut down and rocket straight up to heaven. Like that scene in Fight Club, where members are instructed to pick a fight with a stranger and lose, only with much higher stakes, and for real.

  3. LosGatosCA says:

    Humans have been pretty barbaric using all sorts of excuses – persecution, prosecution, inconvenience, bad luck (wrong time – wrong place), wrong color, wrong religion, wrong gender, bad leadership, etc.

    The list of excuses to do bad things to people is pretty inexhaustible. It kind of all blends together. Mostly distinctions without a difference.

  4. Winchester says:

    We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when. but I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day. Keep smiling through , just like you always do, till the blue skies drive the dark clouds, far away.

  5. Yossarian says:

    Freedom isn’t keeping one’s shit? But I’ve been storing my shit in jars for YEARS now, despite the protestations of my neighbors. Are you suggesting I’m not free?

    • Winchester says:

      We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when. but I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day. Keep smiling through , just like you always do, till the blue skies drive the dark clouds, far away.

      • cpinva says:

        “freedom’s just another word, for nothin’ left to lose”

        dude, seriously, get some professional help. hate to see you end it all, on a university bell-tower.

        “You are consciously and explicitly choosing Ceasar-Obama, the IRS and their death-cult of child sacrifice and somody and thus by extension your own sh*t, OVER GOD, which is exactly the objective of the satan.”

      • LosGatosCA says:

        This is a plant.

        It’s Archie Bunker penned by someone who is not Archie Bunker (ex Norman Lear/his minions).

  6. Winchester says:

    We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when. but I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day. Keep smiling through , just like you always do, till the blue skies drive the dark clouds, far away.

    • Malaclypse says:

      The twelve apostles and St. Paul were arrested, imprisoned and eventually executed

      Man, you should be embarrassed that a pagan like me knows more about your traditions than you do. Seriously, you think Judas Iscariot died a martyr?

      • LosGatosCA says:

        You got something against an entrepreneur trying to earn 30 silver coins? You must be an anti-colonial (in the Roman sense) socialist.

        • LosGatosCA says:

          The Romans were great until they started taxing the wealthy to build those aqueducts. Just another example of a great capitalist society that lost it’s purpose when it decided to start building publicly owned infrastructure with stolen private funds.

          Of course banning swords across the Rubicon also showed that sword free zones could not be sustained since only the criminal Senators had knives and swords, as Julius Caesar soon understood.

        • If he believes in the Book of Judas, then our Catholic friend has outed himself as a heretic.

          • Rhino says:

            There are plenty of Catholics who differ. Hell, I know a gay female catholic priest. The pope in Rome would likely burn her, but that just because she sends her franchise payment to the competition.

      • Lurker says:

        There were twelve apostles. Matthias was the twelfth one, selected after the ascension but before the pentecost.

        However, tradition holds that St. John the Apostle and Evangelist did not die as a martyr but peacefully of old age, so Winchester’s point is still invalid.

    • Matt T. in New Orleans says:

      Countless thousands of Christians over the last 2000 years have been imprisoned and executed.

      And for a solid bulk of that time, it was from other Christians. Always thought that was a helluva thing.

    • efgoldman says:

      Countless thousands of Christians over the last 2000 years have been imprisoned and executed.

      And then because they’d learned their lessons so very well, they spent most of the rest of the time trying to destroy the Jews.
      Holy shit, I really try not to feed the trolls, but this clown? He is embarrassing himself, and unlike the election trolls, I don’t think anyone is paying him to do it.

      • evodevo says:

        You haven’t visited many freethought websites, have you? Xtian trolls are out there by teh thousands, hijacking threads with fanatic regularity, along with their “concern” brethren. It practically requires the services of a full time monitor to keep them at bay.

  7. Winchester says:

    We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when. but I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day. Keep smiling through , just like you always do, till the blue skies drive the dark clouds, far away.

  8. shocked says:

    Given that all religion is based on unassailable universal truth, it is inconceivable that the early church would have exaggerated the extent of Christian persecution for worldly gain.

  9. Murc says:

    we should interpret this in context of the pre-modern state, which generally lacked the capacity to make and maintain long-term, long range bureaucratic commitments.

    How are we defining a pre-modern state here?

    Because the Roman Empire was entirely capable of making and maintaining long-range bureaucratic commitments. Their adeptness at organizing both a government and an economy (they had a stock market and a complex system of debt and credit) would not be equaled again in the western world for over a thousand years. Someone who did twenty years in the legions and then claimed a pension which was transferable to any point in the Empire and the people who undertook multi-decade, complex infrastructure projects spanning hundreds of miles and multiple cities and required dedicated government support would probably take issue with the idea that the Romans didn’t have the ability to hew to bureaucratic priorities over the long term.

  10. efgoldman says:

    I do believe that Mr. Farley has pancaked the troll, good and proper.
    Now if he could only fix the script error…
    Thank you, Mr. Farley.

  11. Sly says:

    In a state which fused religious and political authority, however, the distinction is nearly irrelevant.

    I’d go a step further and say that it is totally irrelevant, but otherwise: bingo.

    “(M)odern defendants who say that they will not recognize the authority of the court or of the government, but recognize only the authority of God” relates to religious adherents rejecting the authority of a secular court that makes no distinction concerning the religion of the parties before it, and such a court really is a modern phenomenon. And we can’t automatically assume that Roman Christians would have rejected the authority of such a secular court had such a thing existed in the time and place in question.

    • Lurker says:

      Actually, some of the most authentic martyrdom legends are explicitly written so that the martyr recognizes the authority of the magistrate who is judging him. Instead, the soon-to-be martyr denies that the act he is prosecuted for is a crime.

  12. Robert Farley says:

    Will you idiots please stop feeding this troll? Let me clue you in; he doesn’t give the faintest fuck about politics, or the church, or feminism, or anything beyond generating dozens of outraged comments. Jeebus, what inspires people to respond to this nonsense?

    • Hogan says:

      . . . I’ll be good.

    • Matt T. in New Orleans says:

      Jeebus, what inspires people to respond to this nonsense?

      Actually, I find this sort of thing somewhat helpful. That sort of rampant, blinding ignorance – that insistence of not knowing what the fuck you’re talking about and holding contempt for someone who does – throws me for a loop, like a dog trying to figure out a crossword puzzle. So watch people smarter than me take apart his arguments helps me deal with friends and family when I go back home for the holidays and they say the exact same sort of dumb shit this guy or any of the other trolls say (including y’all’s pet libertarians).

      Shit, by this argument, why does any sensible blogger still write about Anne Althouse or Jonah Goldberg? It’s just a matter of degrees, isn’t it?

    • rea says:

      People used to pay good money to visit Bedlam and poke the crazy people with sticks.

    • Murc says:

      To answer your question seriously, Robert, three reasons inspire me to respond to this nonsense.

      The first is general amusement. This guy is HILARIOUS.

      The second is that, while it is nonsense, it’s nonsense that’s way to wide-spread to simply be ignored. I’m not sure Winchester IS a troll, because, as you well know, irony is dead. His rhetoric is fairly standard Catholic Revanchist and isn’t too far away from stuff I’ve heard from people in real life. Therefore I use any available opportunity to push back against it and try and hone my arguments; my responses to him are less “Fuck you, you sack of shit” and instead at least semi-legitimate attempts to engage.

      The third is that I just love to argue and will generally take any opportunity to do so even I suspect I’m being approached in bad faith.

      That said, this place isn’t my place, and I should probably exercise a modicum of restraint while a guest here. (And you will note I did at least make a substantive comment related to the subject of the post.) I sort of forgot that, unlike Scott and Erik, you have actual control over the website AND will not hesitate to prune your own threads.

      • witless chum says:

        This. Jenny is no fun, but Winchester reads like a legitimate kook.

        • gmack says:

          Sure, I suppose. I know tastes differ about these things. I also know that people go into blog discussions with different interests and ends in mind. However, for my part, I find the discussions below–the ones that actually discuss early Christian, Jewish, and Roman law and theology–to be far more interesting and fun than the nth epicycle of “look at the stupid and offensive thing that winchester just said!” Mostly, this is because I actually learn something in those discussions. But regardless, these more interesting discussions don’t get to happen when the entire thread becomes consumed with comments mocking the increasingly stupid things that some troll just said.

          In any case, I would add that the issue with winchester or the other troll (jenbob or whatever the fuck the handle is these days) isn’t just that they argue in bad faith. Whether the troll believes or doesn’t believe what he’s talking about is, to my mind, neither here nor there. The problem here is that they have nothing of any interest to say. I guess some people might find it fun to talk with someone who engages in incoherent rants about Islam not being a religion*, but I don’t really understand why. And I sure as hell don’t understand why when the topic of the post has to do with early Christian narratives of martyrdom.

          *By the way, there is some potentially interesting stuff to talk about regarding the concept of “religion,” and how the European connotations of the concept (referring, usually, to a more or less systematic set of institutions and practices unified under a common creed) apply when discussing things like Buddhism or Hinduism, particularly in their pre-colonial forms. Still, I have pretty grave doubts about whether our local trolls would be useful interlocutors for talking about these things.

      • Uncle Kvetch says:

        What Murc said. I did more reading ‘n’ laughing at Winchester than actively poking him with a stick, but your house, your rules, and I’m retaking the pledge. No more feeding.

    • gmack says:

      FWIW: Thank you Rob. The comment threads from the last several days have been utterly tedious.

      • Die Pedantetroler says:

        I think there should be a one post per troll per thread limit. Matt T has a point that there is some value but “UR NOT ADDRESSING MY ARUGMENTS LIBZ” gets old really quickly.

  13. latinist says:

    “The Romans had no desire to support a prison population, so capital punishment was common for many seemingly minor offenses; you could be sentenced to be beaten to death for writing a slanderous song.”

    Argh. This is basically false, based on the legal sources we have (though it might be somewhat more true if we could be more particular about who “you” might be — we don’t know as much about punishments for slaves and others who might not have had access to the official legal system). The death penalty is quite rare in laws that survive from the Republic and pagan empire (it gets more common later, though again, their tend to be distinctions based on the rank of the criminal). As for that bit about slanderous songs, it comes from the Twelve Tables, a text which (a) was several centuries old, with its meaning already unclear and not directly applied, by the time Christianity came into existence; (b) pretty clearly referred to magic spells, not slanderous songs, though Horace in his Satires interprets it the latter way, perhaps as a joke; and (c) does not, as far as we know, mention the death penalty — the fragment of the Tables is incomplete (“whoever sings a bad song[....]“) and Horace just mentions an unspecified “punishment.” So, perhaps this issue would be better discussed by someone who had at least a glimmer of an idea what the hell he or she was talking about.

  14. DocAmazing says:

    beaten to death for refusing to consent to the rites of the state-sponsored faith, and rejecting conscription in service of that faith

    i sing of Olaf glad and big
    whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
    a conscientious object-or

  15. Bloix says:

    In the ancient world, virtually all religions were polytheistic. The Romans (like most ancient empires) had a practice of declaring their emperors to be gods, and this posed no problem for followers of non-Roman polytheistic religions, who could fairly easily accommodate the Roman emperor-god into their pantheon. So if you were a member of a non-Roman nationality in the empire, you just treated the emperor as a manifestation of one of your existing gods, and you could be a loyal subject without sacrificing anything about your religion.

    And there was no concept of a division between religion and state. The idea that you could be a good Roman subject without accepting the godhead of the emperor was simply not comprehensible. But otherwise the Romans were extremely tolerant of diverse religious beliefs. They didn’t permit human sacrifice, but otherwise they let people believe what they wanted as long as they accepted the emperor as a god.

    There was one exception – the Jews. The Jews, with their odd monotheistic belief in a single god that was not a man, could not manage to accept the emperor as a god. When Judea was a client state, the Romans let things slide, They accepted that, as a distinct, very old, nationality, and a loyal ally to boot, the Jews could be allowed their own peculiar practices. When the Jews started to cause difficulties – after their state was abolished and they were ruled directly from Rome, they rebelled twice in seventy years, and were smashed twice, with considerable difficulty both times – the Romans started to treat their religion less tolerantly. Jews were expelled from Rome and later, from Jerusalem.

    The Jews were a subjugated people who had to be put down from time to time, but they didn’t attempt to foment treason among non-Jews. They didn’t proselytize, and their religion – with its nationalistic God and its restrictive, oriental rules regarding sex, food, the sabbath, and circumcision – held no appeal to non-Jews. Jews might not worship the emperor, but they didn’t pose a widespread threat that would spread to others.

    But Christians proselytized like crazy. That’s mainly what they did. And they got rid of all the restrictive Jewish rules, and they made their God universal, so their religion was much more attractive to people than Judaism was. So what they did, to the Romans’ eyes, was run around telling people to reject the authority of the emperor. And they didn’t have the Jewish excuse that their God was not a man. Their God was a man! And not just any man. They were an underground sect who denied the divinity of the emperor and accepted the divinity of a man that the emperor had executed for treason. The symbol of their faith was the Roman method of capital punishment. It’s not like they were some inoffensive sect that the Romans decided to persecute for no reason.

    • Lurker says:

      Actually, even Jews were quite active proselytizers. The whole word, “proselyte”, originally meant a convert to Judaism.

      We must remember that among the educated classes of the Roman-Hellenistic world, belief in a single God was quite popular. Judaism offered an organised form of worship for this single God, with an old, respectable tradition.

      • LeeEsq says:

        There is actually a lot of debate about this among Jewish historians. We don’t have any direct evidence that Jews were active missionaries in antiquity. We have a lot of indirect evidence, statements here and there, for both sides of the argument. We also know that between the building of the Second Temple and the reign of Augustus that there was a tremendous increase in the number of Jews in the world. Historians debate whether or not this could come from natural increase even if you assume that Jews had somewhat better health and lower infant mortality because of religious prohibition against infanticide.

        I think the most likely interpretation is that a lot of Greeks and Romans were attracted to Judaism and took on elements of Jewish practice without formally converting. That is they became Synagogue going Gentiles. These Synagogue going Gentiles became the first Gentile Christians because Christianity offered the ethical monotheism of Judaism without the ritual laws like circumcision or kashrut.

      • evodevo says:

        Yes. However, you have to recognize that 1st century BC/AD Judaism was considerably different from what arose after the second rebellion (circa 135 AD). Jesus was one of many orthodox Jewish peasant Messianic eschatological cult leaders to arise in those years, some mentioned in historical records (but not Jesus). The key here is Messianic – the theological interpretation was that the Messiah was the new King (and/or High Priest – interpretations differed), sent to bring about the overthrow of the present order (which would be Greco-Roman) with Adonai disappearing their legions and a new, “righteous” physical world making itself manifest. Each cult had its own take on the details, but basically this was the plan. Proselytizing was rampant, both in Judea itself and among the Diaspora. Since the extant Jewish upper and middle classes were content with the way things were, they were appalled anytime such rabble-rousing movements arose, and turned the troublemakers in whenever possible. The Romans were in charge of civil law, not religious law, so a civil case had to be made – they were “robbers” (true in some cases of guerilla war) or committing treason against the State, or whatever.
        After the First Revolt, the original Jewish Christians fled to the provinces, and their influence declined. The relay baton was picked up by the Greco-Roman followers of Paul’s revisionist doctrines, who proselytized like crazy, and whose principal following was among slaves (red alert to Roman authorities!), the poor, the disenfranchised of all races, etc. This, along with their intolerance for any other creed, or indeed, other versions of their own creed (lots of infighting, still going on!), made them targets from time to time.
        After the Second Revolt, the Rabbis got together and did away with any overt proselytizing among their ranks, so as to direct the gaze of the State away from their communities. Lying low as a strategy didn’t work well, however, after Christianity became the State religion in the 4th century.

        • Lurker says:

          I agree. Also, I’d like to note that it was not only the grass-roots level fanaticism but also the high-level “modernism” that were wiped out in the Revolts. The Sadducees, who were the politically dominant party, were physically destroyed and their ideology was made redundant by the destruction of the Temple.

          As far as I understand, in the pre-Revolt Judaism, you would have a spectrum of different doctrines:
          1) Sadducees (the “high priests” of the Gospels). These were upper class who were pretty content with the things as they were. Their faith was in the Temple and the ritual as the means to purify Israel in this world. They denounced afterlife and resurrection.
          2) Pharisees, who were essentially modern-day Orthodox Jews. They disemphasized the Temple ritual, and concentrated on the religious law as the means to become righteous and to get a good afterlife. At first, e.g. in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus seemed to be a hard-line pharisee.
          3) Esseans. These were the crazy monastic types, widely respected but with a lot of apocalyptic visions. I seriously doubt if anyone really has a coherent view of their beliefs. Still, they cooked up a lot of the imagery that found its way to the New Testament.
          4) Hellenicised Jews: Most of the Jews outside the Holy Land. Following the Law as far as practicable and concentrating on the service in Synagogue and pilgrimages to Jerusalem.
          4) Jewish Christians aka Ebionites: Poor and rather unimportant Jewish sect that believed in the resurrection of Christ, and practiced circumcision.
          5) Pauline Christians, gentiles who went on to form the modern Christianity.

          • LeeEsq says:

            This is more or less correct but some details are off. The Sadducees were the most theologically conservative of the Jewish sects and believed in a plain text reading of the Scriptures and placed emphasis on Temple worship. They drew their support from the rich of Judea, the landowners and rich merchants.

            The Pharisees believed that Moses received an Oral Torah from God at Sinai in addition to the Written Torah. They believed that the Oral Torah could be discovered by studying and discussing the Written Torah. They did not believe in a plain text reading of Scriptures. The Pharisees deeply believed in the importance of the Temple and its rituals, many of them were Kohanim and Levites, but did not believe that these themselves made up Judaism. They drew their support from what we would call the lower middle class or petit bouregeosie. Craftsman, farmers, and shopkeepers. The Pharisees were also strong in the Diaspora because they developed a form of Judaism that could be practiced without the Temple.

            In addition, there was a political sect called the Zealots who only wanted Rome out of Judea. They were more political and less theological than other sects.

            After the Romans destroyed the Temple, only two Jewish sects remained. The Pharisees and the Nazarens, the followerso of Jesus. One of the earliest debates in Christianity was whether non-Jewish followers of Jesus had to become Jews and follow the law. James, who was Jesus’ younger brother or cousin depending on your reading of the New Testament, argued that circumcision and all the rituals laws were necessary. Paul did not. Most of the remaining Jews decided to follow the Pharisees and the Nazarenes ended up focusing on Gentiles under Paul’s version of Christianity. Many scholars think that the trashing the Pharisees take in the Gospel represents the battle between the Pharisees and Nazarenes for the Jewish community.

          • LeeEsq says:

            There were some important differences between the Pharisees and Jesus. The Pharisees believed that while divorce was regretable, it wasn’t immoral and allowed it. Jesus was very against divorce. The Pharisees also placed much more emphasis on study than Jesus did.

  16. Dave says:

    I’m sorry, am I witnessing someone trying to apply modern standards of penal policy to a 2000-year-old slave-empire that used to feed its criminals to wild animals in public, when it wasn’t forcing them to fight to the death for entertainment? Have you any idea just how very different the Romans were, or how very silly it sounds to treat them as a candidate for admission to the United Nations about whose human-rights record we have some justified concerns?

  17. Data Tutashkhia says:

    I thought they had exile and banishment as an option. That is, you could stay and be prosecuted, of just go away and never come back. Which is (or should be) kinda the same thing, from the authority’s point of view, unless the authority is nasty and vindictive. That is a nice feature, I must say. Don’t know any details, though.

  18. LeeEsq says:

    Whether Winchester is serious or just a troll, he invokes one of my least favorite aspects of an internet. The inability of people to recognize that your just pointing out something rather than making an argument.

    Recently, there was an article on another blog that I sometimes read about a woman arrested in up-state New York for hiring stripers for her 16 year olds birthday party. Somebody posted on how unusual this is and that it might be a sign of deeper problems in the family. I replied that historically speaking it wasn’t really that unusual because it used to be a somewhat common practice to initiate sons into sex by hiring a prostitute around sixteen or so. Of course merely pointing this out invoked tons of outrage and comparisons to slavery. Why can’t people engage in reading comprehension and just realize your pointing something out rather than arguing?

    • NonyNony says:

      Why can’t people engage in reading comprehension and just realize your pointing something out rather than arguing?

      Because there is no tone of voice on the Internet and people don’t know you.

      Turns out that when one person says X and someone else says “no, not X, Y”, most people interpret that as the second person wanting to have an argument.

  19. Josh G. says:

    Ironically, the arguments made in Candida Moss’s books are the same arguments made by Christian apologists for medieval/early-modern religious persecution: namely, that the close links between faith and government made it easy for non-orthodox religious belief to be interpreted as treason against the state, and that penal policy for ordinary crimes was just as bad if not worse. I don’t find these arguments convincing when they’re trotted out to defend the Spanish Inquisition and I don’t find them any more convincing when they’re recruited in service of the Diocletianic Persecutions.

    • Lurker says:

      This is true. The Roman government did not really require very much. It required the person to make a sacrifice to the genius (protective spirit or male potency) of the Emperor. This meant throwing a minuscule amount of incense into the fire while muttering something at low voice. For Christians, this was devil-worship.

      For a Roman pagan, it was an essential gesture of patriotic commitment to the republic, as manifested in the imperial genius. (Oh yes, the Imperial Romans talked about “the republic” when referring to the government.) It did not really have anything to do with the actual existence of the genius as a spirit. Most educated Romans would have gladly noted that there is no such a thing.

      When compared to modern world, the parallels to the civic religion are clear. When an American pledges allegiance to the flag, he is not worshipping the flag, nor the idea of the republic for which the flag stands. At least he doesn’t think so. In my view, this mainly shows that religiously based objections to civic semi-religious rituals are valid and to be accomodated.

    • Bloix says:

      “the close links between faith and government made it easy for non-orthodox religious belief to be interpreted as treason against the state,”

      Why do you summarise the unconvincing argument as “easy .. to be interpreted”? The holders of these “non-orthodox religous beliefs” lived in the same intellectual world as the Romans and understood the relationship of religion and the state just as they did.

      Look at what Christianity taught:
      1) The emperor is not a god and those who worship him are worshiping the devil
      2) the one true god is a man who lived not very long ago and was put to death for sedition.
      3) this real god is not really dead and will return any day now to overthrow the emperor and establish himself as king.

  20. ajay says:

    For a Roman pagan, it was an essential gesture of patriotic commitment to the republic, as manifested in the imperial genius. (Oh yes, the Imperial Romans talked about “the republic” when referring to the government.) It did not really have anything to do with the actual existence of the genius as a spirit. Most educated Romans would have gladly noted that there is no such a thing.

    Or, as Gibbon put it, “the myriad deities of the Roman Empire were all regarded by the common man as equally true, by the philosopher as equally false, and by the magistrate as equally useful.”

    • rea says:

      the Imperial Romans talked about “the republic”

      Latin, “res publicae”–the public thing, the public business.

      For a Roman the word “republic” did not have quite the same connotations as it does to us.

  21. Mrs Tilton says:

    We can argue all day long about whether the Romans persecuted the early Christians less than, more than, or to just about the same degree that Christian texts claim. It is, however, beyond controversy that the Romans did not get the job done properly.

  22. rea says:

    Two points about Roman persecutions of Christians:

    (1) Nero, at least, needed a scapegoat for the Great Fire–which many Romans thought he started himself, to clear land for his new palace. Nero chose the Christians as his target–but note that the Christians he had executed were largely executed as arsonists, and not, legally speaking, simply because they were Christians.

    (2) Romans were generally tolerant of other people’s religions, but they were completely intolerent of religions requiring human sacrifice, e. g., Celtic druids; Carthaginian Moloch-worshipers. Christians, with their symbolic ritual cannibalism, were walking a thin line, particularly as the “symbolic” part was not always obvious to those who did not know a lot about Christians.

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