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Why Romans Crucified People and Who Was Crucifixion Reserved For?

Why Romans crucified people.....and who was crucifixion reserved for? Most people acquire their knowledge about ancient Roman crucifixions from the accounts of Jesus' crucifixion in the Gospels. They learn the stories about the cross, the nails, the "King of the Jews" sign nailed above Jesus' head, and the agony he endured. But there's another side to the story. By studying the facts of Roman crucifixions, including their methods and process, you'll find that crucifixion was about a lot more than pain and punishment.  Their goal was absolute humiliation. This is part 5 in a thread of my responses to Craig Evans, who has argued against the positions I take in How Jesus Became God.  Here's the beginning of the thread. Why Romans Crucified People  - Why it's  Important Because you must understand the REASON the Romans crucified people in order to understand an important position I take in my book, How Jesus Became God, which Craig Evans attacked.  In the book, I argue that it is likely that Jesus was not given a decent burial, [...]

2022-06-19T23:55:45-04:00May 1st, 2022|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

Constantine and the Christian Faith: My Fourth Smithsonian Lecture

I have found over the years that lots of people have mistaken ideas about Constantine the Great, the early fourth century Roman Emperor who converted to Christianity.  I used to have mistaken ideas myself, until I started reading the sources and examining the scholarship.   For example, Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire, right?  (Wrong.)  Constantine is the reason Christianity took over the empire, right?  (Wrong again).  Constantine didn't really convert to Christianity: it was a political move by a savvy politician who remained, at heart, a pagan, right?  (Well, uh, sorry...) It is true, though that the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 312 CE is one of Christianity’s pivotal events, and that by the end of the 4th century, Christianity was proclaimed the official religion throughout Rome, leading to the suppression of other religious traditions. Here is a lecture I gave on Constantine and Christianity at the Smithsonian on Feb. 10, 2018.  It is the last of the series of four that I have given here on the blog, based on my [...]

Why Did Christianity Take Over the World? Smithsonian Lecture 3.

Here is Lecture 3 (out of 4) that I came at the Smithsonian Associates in Washington DC on Feb. 10, 2018, based, again, on my book The Triumph of Christianity.   This lecture deals with the key aspects of the early Christian movement to try to explain its success.  What was it about Christianity that allowed it to take over the entire Christian empire?   People have all sorts of "common sense" answers to the question -- as did I for many years, even as a professional scholar -- which are probably wrong (e.g., Christianity was naturally superior to all the other religions, because of its strict monotheism and strong ethical stance, so naturally people were inclined to convert). The first time I realized the actual answer to the question was when, long ago, I read Roman social historian and Yale professor Ramsay MacMullen's brilliant analysis The Christianization of the Roman Empire.  I pondered the matter for years, read massively on it, and here is what I ended up concluding (very much in line with MacMullen, but [...]

Who Were The “Pagans” Christians Were Converting?

PART TWO of FOUR: Pagan Converts and the Power of God This is the second lecture I gave at the Smithsonian on Feb. 10, 2018, based on my book The Triumph of Christianity: How A Forbidden Religion Swept the World.  The premise behind the lecture: as Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, it converted almost entirely pagans (after the first couple of decades).   Who were these people, and what were they converting *from*?  And why? Paganism is not and was not really a "thing."  The term was designed (by Christians) simply to designate all the ancient religious practices that were not either Jewish or Christian -- that is, it lumped together all kinds of religious practices, thousands of them, as some"thing" opposed to the faith in the Jewish god. But is there anything all these religions spread throughout the  Roman world had in common?  And how did Christians approach people from these traditional religions, religions that each individual would have always assumed was simply right, involving rituals and ideas that had always been part of [...]

Christianity’s Most Important Convert: Lecture at the Smithsonian

PART ONE of FOUR: Christianity’s Most Important Convert: The Apostle Paul In February 2018 I gave a series of four lectures for the Smithsonian Associates in Washington DC, based on my book The Triumph of Christianity.   It was a bit tricky, as these things always are, figuring out which parts of the book to focus on, since each lecture could really be only on one thing, not lots of things.  I decided to give the first lecture on the most important convert in the history of Christianity -- not Constantine (as I argue in the book) but the apostle Paul.  Without that conversion, would we even have *had* Christianity as a world-wide religion?  Good question!   It's hard to know.  But it *is* clear that this was a conversion of massive importance.  Here is the lecture: Viewing for blog members only!  If you'd like to join the blog, we'd like to have you.  Doesn't cost much and you get tons of value -- and every penny goes to charity.  So go for it! Please adjust [...]

2020-04-03T11:14:56-04:00April 8th, 2019|Book Discussions, Spread of Christianity, Video Media|

The Rise of the Roman Empire

I want to suspend for a time – not cancel altogether! – the thread I have been pursuing on how I came to be interested in the textual criticism of the New Testament, which itself is a spin-off (using roughly similar metaphors) of the bigger thread that I started, which at the time of inception I anticipated would be all of two posts long, of why I ended up being equipped to write trade books more than most of my colleagues who were doing research that, on the surface, seemed to be far more amenable to trade books. But I want to suspend the thread for now, to be resumed soon, because there is something else I’m particularly interested in and I want to strike it while the iron is hot.  I’m flying off to Denmark on Sunday to give a lecture and a couple of academic discussions at the University of Southern Denmark.  The topic:  the relationship between the worship of the Roman emperor (the “imperial cult”) and the rise of Christology (the understanding [...]

2020-04-03T03:05:38-04:00September 15th, 2016|Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Public Forum|

How Constantine Became Emperor

As background to the conversion of the emperor Constantine I have been explaining how Diocletian had set up the Tetrarchy with a sensible order of succession, so that the Roman emperors would be chosen on a rational basis rather than simply because of accidents of birth or the whims of the army.   His plan ended up not working. Because of health issues, after a long and successful reign of over two decades, Diocletian decided to retire from office on May 1, 305.   For the sake of a smooth succession, he compelled his rather unwilling co-Augustus, Maximian, to do so as well, to make way for the two Caesars, Galerius and Constantius, to rise to the senior offices.  For their replacements, according to the principles that Diocletian had devised, two Caesars were chosen as junior emperors:   Maximin Daia (not to be confused with the out-going Augustus Maximian) to serve with Galerius in the East, and Severus to serve with Constantius in the West.   There was now a “Second Tetrarchy.” At the time it may have seemed [...]

2020-04-03T03:29:59-04:00July 15th, 2016|Constantine, Fourth-Century Christianity, Public Forum|

Preface to Constantine: The Rule of the Four

In this post I want to explain how Constantine came to power.  It is an unusually complicated story, with all kinds of names and dates that only inveterate historians could love.   I’ll give a simple version of it here, more suitable for those of us who are mere mortals. The reason it matters is that Constantine’s predecessor’s Diocletian vision of a Tetrarchy (= Rule of Four), in which the empire would be ruled by two senior emperor (each called an Augustus) and two junior emperors (each called a Caesar), with one pair (senior – junior) in the East and one in the West, didn’t last past a year after Diocletian’s abdication.   There were usurpations, infightings, civil wars, and a whole mess of things for years until Constantine emerged as the sole ruler of the Empire.  He was in power (first as a ruling partner, then as the one guy at the top) for over thirty years, longer than any ruler of the empire apart from the one who started it all, Caesar Augustus, three centuries [...]

2020-04-03T03:30:11-04:00July 13th, 2016|Constantine, Fourth-Century Christianity, Public Forum|

The Emperor Constantine: Some Background

Time for something new, about as different from the Pentateuch as you can get while still staying in the ancient world. I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about the Emperor Constantine over the past ten months and have decided to devote a thread to him on the blog.   His conversion to Christianity is usually considered a major turning point in the history of the Christian religion. Before he became Christian all the Roman emperors were, of course, pagan, and some of them, including his immediate predecessors on the throne, were virulently opposed to the Christian movement.  He himself converted near the end of what is called the “Great Persecution,” a ten-year period in which, at least in parts of the empire, the imperial forces were trying to wipe out the religion.  After he converted, Christianity went from being persecuted, to being tolerated, to being religion-most-favored . It is a mistake to say – as so many people do say! – that Constantine made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman empire.  He absolutely [...]

2020-04-03T03:30:21-04:00July 12th, 2016|Constantine, Fourth-Century Christianity, Public Forum|

Did Roman Laws Require Decent Burials?

In my previous post I tried to show why Craig’s argument that Roman governors on (widely!) isolated occasions showed clemency to prisoners (those not sentenced to death) has no relevance to the question of whether Jesus, condemned to crucifixion for treason against the Roman state, would have been allowed a decent burial, contrary to Roman practice.   The “clemency” argument – even in the sources that Craig himself cites, only seems to show that in cases that were completely unlike that of Jesus himself, Roman governors could on rare occasions be merciful and/or bribed. Craig goes on to say that this clemency was extended to the burial of executed criminals.  Now in theory, this should be relevant to the question of whether Pilate showed mercy on Jesus by allowing his body to be buried on the day of his execution.  But when you actually look at the evidence, once again it is not relevant – or rather, as in the other cases, it actually supports the view that is opposite to the one Craig wants to [...]

2020-04-03T16:45:21-04:00July 11th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

Did Roman Authorities Show Clemency?

In my previous post I began to discuss Craig Evan’s essay “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” which was his attempt to show that the views I set forth in How Jesus Became God were flawed.   In his view, the New Testament portrayal of Jesus’ burial is almost certainly historical: Jesus really was buried, in a known tomb, on the afternoon of his death, immediately after he expired, by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who had, the night before, called for his execution.   My view is that this is entirely unlikely, that Jesus was probably left on his cross to suffer the ravages of time and, possibly, scavenging animals, as was the practice of Romans for crucified victims.  In no instance was this practice more constant than in the case of “enemies of the state,” anyone, for example, who was involved in an insurrection or who threatened a violent opposition to Roman rule (or was thought to have threatened).   Jesus himself, of course, was executed on just this charge, of [...]

2020-04-03T16:45:29-04:00July 10th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

Did Romans Allow Decent Burials?

Now that I have restated my views about the burial of Jesus by citing two passages from How Jesus Became God, and emphasized one particular general point – that it is of utmost importance to remember why Romans crucified people, and in particular why they crucified those who were guilty of insurrection, the threat of insurrection, or high treason (a point that I cannot stress enough: Jesus was executed for calling himself the King of the Jews – a political charge of treason against the state) – I can now begin to summarize the counter-arguments that Craig Evans has made in his relatively long response, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right.”   Despite this title, and despite the respect I have for Craig as a scholar, I have to say that in my judgment he gets virtually all the evidence(s !) precisely wrong. He focuses his counter-argument on two of my main points: the Roman practices of crucifixion and the character of Pontius Pilate in particular.  I will respond to all of his major claims [...]

2020-04-03T16:45:41-04:00July 8th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

Jesus Burial: My Personal Stake in the Question

Now that I have devoted two posts to presenting (part of) my argument for why I think Jesus was probably not given a decent burial – the posts were portions of a chapter lifted from How Jesus Became God – I am in a position to begin to respond to the counter-arguments of Craig Evans, my evangelical friend and naysayer, whose essay “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right” is widely seen – at least by people who have said anything to me about the matter – as the best contribution in the response book How God Became Jesus.   In my replies to his arguments, I will call him “Craig,” hoping that this does not smack too much of over-familiarity.  But, well, we’ve known each other for thirty years, have worked together on various film projects (documentaries that we have both in), and have had a number of cordial public debates.   Referring to him as “Evans” might seem a bit contemptuous. And truth be told, I’m not at all contemptuous of his scholarship or of [...]

2020-04-03T16:46:03-04:00July 6th, 2014|Bart's Critics|
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