C O U R S E L E C T U R E
The Roman Empire's Knowledge of Early Christian Communities
Notes taken on February 12, 2014 by Edward Tanguay
the texts of the New Testament, crafted from 49 to 120 CE are heavily influenced by the history of empires of that time
Paul and the authors of the Gospels had an awareness of the succession of empires
they were living under Roman rule and were thinking of their place in history, e.g.
1. who are the people of Israel and what is the relation of Jews to Gentiles and other people's of the world?
2. how do Jews and Gentiles fit into the history of the people of Israel, its time of exile, destruction, and grief?
3. is God in charge of the succession of empires?
4. how do we read Jewish scriptures and our place within them?
5. what should our relation be to the empire?
majority of New Testament texts were written in the twenty years before and thirty years after the destruction of the second temple (70 CE by Titus)
the violence of this event and that leading up to it is what caused the wound at the heart of many of the readings of the New Testament
Letter to the Corinthians
Paul is speaking to a Gentile audience
Paul was dealing with a situation and a question:
situation: the Jews were God's chosen people, he had made a covenant with the jews
question: how could a just God exclude all other people from the covenant
how might a good God choose to bring the Gentiles into the identity of God's people
Paul's letters are not only a piece of historical evidence in a long story of the succession of empires and repression of Jews by various empires, they are also narratives being crafted by the earliest communities in Christ that want to see themselves as part of the story of the people of Israel
difference between a Christian and a Jew
at what date does this question make sense?
at the time of Paul's letters, there wasn't a word for Christian
the word "Christian" first appears in Acts 11:26 "In Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians (Christianoi).
early second century, Romans seemed to have recognized Christians as a distinct group
113 AD: letter from provincial governor, Pliny, to Roman Emperor Trajan in which he asks whether it's right to execute those called "Christians", and what kind of pardon is appropriate for those Christians who then pray or offer incense and wine to or on behalf of the Roman emperor
before 100 AD, the Romans didn't seem to know much about Christians
Suetonius writes about Emperor Claudius who banished from Rome all Jews, "who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus"
Judaism and Christianity did not necessarily part ways at an early date
into the second century, communities of Jews and Christians overlapped and interacted
complains that his congregants are celebrating Jewish festivals and going to Jewish synagogues
Romans likely did not understand Christians to be a separate religious group from the Jews until the second century
even in the fourth century, some Christians were acting like Jews in their religious practices, which annoyed other Christians, John Chrysostom, for example