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Physical Persecution and the Physical Resurrection of the Dead

In this post I’m thinking out loud rather than making a definitive statement.   A question occurred to me a week or so ago that, since I am on the road and rather unsettled just now, I have not had a chance to look into.  Maybe someone on the blog knows the answer.  Prior to the persecution of Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 BCE, do we have a record of *any* group of people in the entire Mediterranean world being violently opposed precisely for their religious practices? I can’t think of any, with the (partial) exception of the Roman suppression of the Bacchanals in 186 BCE (it was a partial exception because they were suppressed for their illegal and dangerous social activities that allegedly involved ritual sexual violence and murder). There was, of course, lots and lots and lots of violence in the ancient world.  Most (all?) of the “world empires” – Assyria, Babylonia, (Persia?), Greece, Rome – throve on violence.  Powerful dominance was the accepted, promoted, and assumed ideology; it was not (as for [...]

How Paul Persecuted the Christians

How Paul persecuted the Christians. I pointed out in the previous post that prior to his conversion Paul was a persecutor of the church, almost certainly because he objected to what their basic and fundamental message was, that Jesus was the messiah (despite the fact – or rather because of the fact – that he had been crucified).   But how exactly did Paul engage in his persecution?   He himself says that it was violent persecution.  What could that mean? We don’t know exactly how he proceeded.  Paul never describes his persecuting activities.  The book of Acts indicates that he ravaged the gatherings of Christians and dragged people off to prison (8:3).  That’s inherently implausible: we don’t know of anything like Jewish prisons and we can assume that Roman authorities were not inclined to provide cell space for Jewish sectarians who happened to be proclaiming a rather strange message. How Paul Persecuted the Christians So what was he doing to Christians during his persecution of them?  There is one intriguing and possibly helpful comment that Paul [...]

2022-06-19T20:40:19-04:00June 14th, 2016|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Paul as a Persecutor of the Church

The questions of what early Christianity originally *was* and of how it got *started* are closely related to one another.   Both questions are also closely tied to the life, beliefs, and writings of Paul, for one very good reason: Paul is the first Christian author whose writings survive.   Any discussion of Christianity before his time needs to consider at some length what he has to say.  I should point out as well that a lot of modern people (including some scholars) claim that it was Paul himself who started Christianity.  I think that is going too far, in fact maybe way too far, for reasons that will become apparent in this post and the next. Occasionally Paul will give us some clues about pre-Pauline Christianity.   One of the most important passages is in Galatians 1, where he discusses his own “about face,” when he turned from being a persecutor of the faith to being its great apostle.  In Gal. 1:13 Paul reminds his readers that they know what he was like before he had come [...]

Constantine and Christianity

One of the readers of this blog pointed out to me in a comment a *third* thing that is commonly said about the emperor Constantine and the council of Nicea that is also wrong (the first two being the ones I mentioned: that at the council they [or even he, Constantine!] decided which books would be in the canon of the New Testament and that it was at the council that a vote was taken on whether or not Jesus was to be considered the Son of God. Wrong, wrong, wrong – both of them). It is widely believed (for some inscrutable reason) that Constantine made Christianity the “state religion” of the Roman empire. This too is wrong. So just a very brief bit of background, which will involve another (more or less unrelated) bit of misinformation that is commonly held having to do with the history of Christian persecution up to Constantine’s time. Many people appear to think that Christianity from the very beginning was an illegal religion that was constantly persecuted by the [...]

Persecutions for Calling Jesus God

QUESTION: If the pre-'resurrection' Jesus and, later on, his earliest (Jewish) followers had declared Jesus to actually BE God then wouldn't they have been kicked out of the synagogues from the start because of blasphemy? But since that did not happen (Jesus preached in synagogues and his disciples continued to go to synagogues after his 'resurrection' for a while) doesn't that indicate that the earliest Christian belief did NOT contain the claim that Jesus actually was God? RESPONSE: This is a very interesting question and it has made me think for a bit.   As I look over all the material that we have, it appears to me that the early Christians *were* regularly kicked out of the synagogues for their claims about Jesus, but that Jesus himself never was.   First let me give the evidence for all that, and then deal with an important and related second issue about what those claims were exactly (this is where I’m still feeling my way a bit). FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. If [...]

Were the Disciples Martyred for Believing the Resurrection?

QUESTION: Another very very popular evidence put forward for the resurrection is “the disciples would not have died for what they knew was a lie, therefore it must have happened.” I hear this all the time. You note that they really believed they saw Jesus after he died so they were not lying. However, is there evidence (historical or literary) that they were killed because of their belief in Jesus’ resurrection? RESPONSE: Ah yes, if I had a fiver for every time I’ve heard this comment over the years, I could retire to a country-home in Maine…. Several other people have responded to this question on the blog by saying that we have lots of records of lots of people who have died for a something that they knew, literally, not to be true. I am not in a position to argue that particular point. But I can say something about all the disciples dying for believing in the resurrection. The way the argument (by Christian apologists) goes is this (I know this, because I [...]

2020-04-03T19:18:50-04:00October 12th, 2012|Reader’s Questions|

Christians Charged as Perverts and Criminals

I have some more posts dealing with resurrection matters; but I thought maybe I should give it a break for a day or two, since the resurrection isn't the most interesting thing for absolutely everyone. So here's something else for today: At one point in my bible introduction I talk about the persecution of the early Christians (specifically as mentioned in 1 Thessalonians) and point out that deep into the second century Christians had a very bad reputation. Here, without much comment, I indicate some of the charges sometimes leveled against them. It’s a pretty amazing text, taken from the apology of Minucius Felix, called Octavius. There is no solid evidence to suggest that specific allegations of wrongdoing were being made against the church in Thessalonica at the time of Paul’s writing, but we do know that other secret societies were widely viewed with suspicion and that certain standard kinds of slander were leveled against them. The logic of these slanders is plain: if people meet together in secret or under the cloak of darkness, [...]

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