the old Roman traditions, but he only intervened against other religious groups when he felt that they were disturbing the public order.6 In his famous letter to Alexandria,7 he did not grant citizenship to the Alexandrine Jews, but he gave them other privileges and protected them against insults and persecution by the Greekpopulation. In Rome, on the other hand, where the Jews had become very numerous, he had already prohibited their gatherings in 41 ce (Cass. Dio 60.6.6), and in 49 ce he expelled from Rome a group of unruly Jewish subjects, perhaps community leaders and Jewish Christian missionaries, whose clash had created some disturbances.8

Under Nero in 64 ce, a devastating fire burned down several quarters of the city of Rome. Since Nero himself was thought to have ordered this act of arson (Suet. Nero 38.1-3),9 he looked for another scapegoat and found the Roman Christians (see their unfavourable description in Tac. Ann. 15.44.2-4). This led to the first official persecution of Christians, which still was confined to Rome. There was no organised worldwide persecution of Christians under Domitian, despite what Eusebius says (HE 3.17). What we hear of in our sources (e.g. the death of the 'true witness' Antipas in Rev 2:13) are isolated actions of local authorities, especially in Asia Minor. Domitian's image, which was denigrated by senatorial historiography and early Christian polemic, has undergone a recent change. 10

Around 111 ce, when Trajan reigned as emperor, Pliny the Younger was responsible for the provinces of Bithynia and Pontus in northern Asia Minor, and there he was confronted with accusations against Christians, too. Since no fixed procedure for handling their case seems to have been instituted yet, he wrote to Trajan to ask for advice. This letter and the emperor's reply 'are perhaps the most important non-Christian texts on Christianity during its first two centuries'.11 Trajan's approach is a pragmatic one: Pliny doesn't have to search for Christians, and he shouldn't accept anonymous accusations. But if Christians, nevertheless, have been identified as such, they have to offer incense and libations to the Roman gods, or they must die. This is not completely

6 Cf. Alvarez Cineira, Religionspolitik, esp. 22-159.

8 Cf. Suet. Claud. 25.4: ludaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantis Roma expulit. For a critical discussion of these two incidents, which are identified by several authors, see Alvarez Cineira, Religionspolitik, 194-210.

9 But Suetonius doesn't make the link to Nero's persecution of the Christians which he had mentioned already in Nero 16.2.

10 Cf. Urner, Kaiser Domitian, 321.

11 Novak, Christianity and the Roman empire, 47. An extended analysis of these letters may be found in Freudenberger, Das Verhalten der römischen Behörden.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment