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June 11th, 2010 No comments

The Lord's Prayer; James Tissot

Work is progressing on the rewrite – replacing all the citations from copyrighted translations with older translations which are no longer subject to copyrights. I am also taking the opportunity to clarify certain sections, add footnotes containing material I either didn’t know how to work in previously or found during later research. I am currently finishing Chapter IV, so an end of summer time frame for completion seems reasonable. I will be in France on business from 21 -30 June, but should be hard at it again starting in July.

Here is a short excerpt from rewritten Chapter III:

CHAPTER III

The Price of First Century Christianity

…he also subdued Judaea, and made a prisoner of Aristobulus the king. Some cities he built up, others he set free, chastising their tyrants.

-Plutarch, Life of Pompey

Once conquered by Roman General Cnaeus Pompeius Magnus, (Pompey the Great,) in 63 BC, Judea was not destined to regain its independence until the twentieth century AD. The Romans granted some autonomy to local authorities within the empire, but client-Kings and Governors alike ultimately answered to Caesar. Roman tolerance of each various culture thus determined the subject race’s quality of life, freedom, and even their right to exist. The following narrative recounts how difficult life could be for a conquered people whose ways were not approved by Imperial Rome:

Thus Scipio took Carthage; and he sent to the senate the following message: “Carthage is taken. What are our orders now?” When these words had been read, they took counsel as to what should be done. Cato expressed the opinion that they ought to raze the city and blot out the Carthaginians, whereas Scipio Nasica still advised sparing the Carthaginians. And thereupon the senate became involved in a great dispute and contention, until some one declared that for the Romans’ own sake, if for no other reason, it must be considered necessary to spare them. With this nation for antagonists they would be sure to practise valour instead of turning aside to pleasures and luxury; whereas, if those who were able to compel them to practise warlike pursuits should be removed  from the scene, they might deteriorate from want of practice, through a lack of worthy competitors. As a result of the discussion all became unanimous in favour of destroying Carthage, since they felt sure that its inhabitants would never remain entirely at peace. The whole city was therefore utterly blotted out of existence, and it was decreed that for any person to settle upon its site should be an accursed act. The majority of the men captured were thrown into prison and there perished, and some few were sold. But the very foremost men together with the hostages and Hasdrubal and Bithias spent their lives in different parts of Italy in honourable confinement. Scipio secured both glory and honour and was called Africanus, not after his grandfather, but because of his own achievements.

-Cassius Dio Cocceianus, Roman History, Book XXI, 30

Jesus, Jesus’ followers, and the earliest Christians were frequently considered a Jewish sect by their Roman masters, much as the Essenes or the Pharisees. Due to a long tradition of friendly relations between the various leaders of Judea and Rome, the Jews had been granted special privilege to practice Judaism under Roman rule[i]. But even though Rome tried not to interfere with the practice of harmless local customs, she would ruthlessly stamp out any movement which threatened the peace or stability of the empire. Consider this account of Roman General Titus Didius in 98 BC:

…Didius, with the concurrence of the ten legates who were still present, resolved to destroy them. Accordingly, he told their principal men that he would allot the land of Colenda to them because they were poor. Finding them very much pleased with this offer, he told them to communicate it to their people, and to come with their wives and children to the parceling out of the land. When they had done so he ordered his soldiers to vacate their camp, and these people, whom he wanted to ensnare, to go inside, so that he might make a list of their names, the men on one register and the women and children on another, in order to know how much land should be set apart for them. When they had gone inside the ditch and palisade, Didius surrounded them with his army and killed them all, and for this he was honored with a triumph.

-Appian of Alexandria, The Spanish Wars, 100

Or the fate of the followers of the legendary Spartacus, who led slaves against Rome in the third servile war:

A large number of his men fled from the battle-field to the mountains and Crassus followed them thither. They divided themselves in four parts, and continued to fight until they all perished except 6000, who were captured and crucified along the whole road from Capua to Rome.

-Appian, The Civil Wars, Book I, XIV, 120

Rome sometimes found ideas threatening as well. There was no Roman “Bill of Rights” guarantying free speech, or freedom of religion. Roman conservatives rather adhered to Quintus Ennius’ tenet:

Moribus antiquis stat res Romana virisque. – “The Roman State stands on its ancient customs and men.”

Obviously the morals of different cultures do not always agree. And the legality of Judaism under Roman law did not guarantee its compatibility with Roman society. The Hebrew and Christian monotheistic belief systems were hardly in keeping with a polytheistic world-view which believed that gladiatorial contests, frequently to the death, were a method of keeping the citizenry strong and accustomed to violent death[ii]. The Romans, for their part, thought that the exclusivity of monotheistic dogma hindered its adherents’ loyalty to the empire[iii]. Greco-Roman culture even considered circumcision to be a barbaric practice, a ritual mutilation requiring surgical reversal[iv].

Due to these underlying incompatibilities, the Roman records from this period indicate that various regimes fluctuated in practice between disapproval of Judeo-Christian beliefs to armed reprisal against the practitioners of Judaism and Christianity.  Let us examine the policies of first century Rome toward the Christians and the Jews.

Ancient Roman historians attest that Caesar Tiberius expelled the Jews from Rome to prevent them from polluting Roman culture. Here, accounts from three different Roman authors document the degree of Roman tolerance towards Judaism during the time when Jesus of Nazareth taught in Judea and Galilee[v]:

As the Jews flocked to Rome in great numbers and were converting many of the natives to their ways, he [Tiberius] banished most of them.

-Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book LVII, 18.5 [written around 220 AD]

There was a debate too about expelling the Egyptian and Jewish worship, and a resolution of the Senate was passed that four thousand of the freedmen class who were infected with those superstitions and were of military age should be transported to the island of Sardinia, to quell the brigandage of the place, a cheap sacrifice should they die from the pestilential climate. The rest were to quit Italy, unless before a certain day they repudiated their impious rites.

-Publius Cornelius Tacitus, The Annals, Book II, 85 [written around 110 AD]

He [Tiberius] abolished foreign cults, especially the Egyptian and the Jewish rites, compelling all who were addicted to such superstitions to burn their religious vestments and all their paraphernalia. Those of the Jews who were of military age he assigned to provinces of less healthy climate, ostensibly to serve in the army; the others of that same race or of similar beliefs he banished from the city, on pain of slavery for life if they did not obey. He banished the astrologers as well, but pardoned such as begged for indulgence and promised to give up their art.

-Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, Tiberius 36 [written 121 AD]

This Roman policy was adopted in 19 AD, nine years before Jesus’ visit to Nain. The distinguished Roman Senator Tacitus [56-117 AD] echoes the prevailing Roman sentiment of his day when he calls the deaths of four thousand Jewish men “a cheap sacrifice.” In the same way, he judges the practice of Judaism “impious” by Roman standards. Tiberius’ edict was the official Roman position throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry. Around the time that Jesus endured a Roman crucifixion for his beliefs, Tiberius rescinded the policy[vi], (31 or 32 AD.)  Tacitus reports that Tiberius was 78 years old when he was smothered to death by Naevius Sutorius Macro, Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, on the 15th of March, 37 AD[vii]… (This was an example of Roman policy towards Jews during the time of Christ’s earthly ministry. More examples of Roman policies towards Christians and Jews are included in Chapter III).


[i] I Maccabees 8, 12, 15; II Maccabees 11; Josephus, Antiquities XIV, x, 1-26; Josephus, Wars I, vii, 6; I,  xx, 1 through xxi, 1

[ii] Pliny II, Panegyricus 33; Suetonius, Tiberius, 7;Suetonius, Claudius, 21.4-6  & 34; Theophilus of Antioch, Theophilus to Autolycus,  Book III, Chapter xv; Athenagoras the Athenian, A Plea for the Christians XXXV; Tatian the Assyrian, Address of Tatian to the Greeks XXIII

[iii] Cicero, Pro Flacco 67-69; Tacitus XV, 44; Pliny II, Letters, Book X, xcvi & xcvii

[iv] I Maccabees I, 14-15; Celsus, On the Practice of Medicine VII, 25

[v] See also Josephus, Antiquities, Book 18, Chapter 3, §5

[vi] Philo of Alexandria, on the Embassy to Gaius, XXIV; Emil Shürer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, Second Division, Volume II, p. 235 – 236

[vii] Tacitus, Annals, VI, § 50

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