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The Beginning of the End of Paganism

I have decided to pursue further the question of how, in the fourth century, Christianity took over the Roman imperial government (at the highest levels) leading to the proscription of pagan practices.   For that I will rely on a couple of extracts from my book,  The Triumph of Christianity, over a few posts.   Here is the continuation of the story after the death of Constantine.

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Constantine’s father Constantius became Caesar of the West in 293 CE and then senior Augustus in the imperial college with the abdication of Maximian in 305 CE.   His dynasty was to last seventy years, until the death of Constantine’s nephew Julian in 363 CE.

It was not a peaceful and closely knit family, as seen nowhere more clearly than in the vicious bloodbath that occurred after Constantine’s death on May 22, 337, with the event known as “the massacre of the princes.”    Constantine’s three remaining sons – Constantius II, Constans, and Constantine II (the eldest Crispus having earlier been executed) – were to divide his empire among themselves, but there were eleven other male relatives who could, in theory, have a stake in the succession and for that reason could be seen as a threat to those already in power.   Almost immediately upon the emperor’s death, nine of these were summarily murdered in cold blood –all except two young boys, Gallus and Julian, Constantine’s nephews.

Later in life, Julian …

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Making Rome Pagan Again
Did Constantine Outlaw the Pagan Religions?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    mbaretich  April 30, 2018

    Excellent book. I learned a lot and I admire your writing style. I think I understand your explanation of why Christianity overtook paganism in the early centuries — many factors but, primarily, our god does more and better miracles than yours. Question: Why did these factors result in the spread of Christianity across Europe but not throughout Asia and other lands adjacent to Palestine? If these factors were powerful within the Roman Empire, why not elsewhere? Surely there’s more to it than the fact that Palestine was part of the Roman Empire. Thanks!

    • Avatar
      mbaretich  May 10, 2018

      Just following up to see if you have any comments …

      • Bart
        Bart  May 11, 2018

        Ah, sorry, I seem to have missed your question. It’s mainly because Christianity spread by word of mouth: a friend to a neighbor to his wife to her cousin and so on — and the vast majority of people in the empire didn’t have connections with people outside the empire. Regions were far more isolated from one another than now. Not much travel beyond the borders, very little indeed. So there wasn’t much of an environment elsewhere for the spread of the religion.

        • Avatar
          mbaretich  May 11, 2018

          That makes sense. In asking the question I was imagining that somehow the word got beyond the regions — to travelers, traders, and so on. Would those sparks that were set in other regions have then grown by the same neighbor-to-neighbor linkages? Perhaps, in those other regions, the ideas of Christianity were too unfamiliar. Perhaps the my-god-does-better-miracles-than-yours idea was not persuasive in other cultures. In other words, I’m wondering if there were characteristics of the Roman empire (other than contiguous geography) that made it more receptive to the Christian message.

  2. Avatar
    Pattylt  April 30, 2018

    As any new faith begins to rise, bloodshed always seems to follow. Often the new faith is the excuse for political gain but also the faith itself is the motivation. What does cause me to pause a moment is that, for all of Christian claims of loving their enemy, they were just as bad as any other. So much for following the truth of the faith! Question: is there any new (at the time) faith that became the norm in a culture without a violent period during the transition?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 1, 2018

      If Mormonism keeps growing as it is it might be a case in point.

      • Avatar
        Tobit  May 3, 2018

        There was actually a fair amount of Mormon violence against non-Mormons in the early years of their settlement in Utah (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Meadows_Massacre). It’s a fascinating microcosm of Christianity: when Mormons were an oppressed minority living in the North East, they were peaceful. When they moved out to Utah and became the majority there, they began attacking and oppressing non-Mormons! A bit like Christianity after becoming dominant in the Roman Empire.

  3. Avatar
    jhague  April 30, 2018

    We know that the Israelites were told to only worship the one true God but they continued to also hold onto the idols of their neighboring countries.
    Do we also think that the pagans that converted to Christianity continued to worship the pagan gods, even if only in private?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 1, 2018

      Yes, it seems clear that many of them did.

    • Avatar
      RVBlake  May 1, 2018

      In Northern Europe, vestiges of paganism survived into the early Middle Ages in rural places. Many new Christians continued to wear Thor’s hammer amulets. The spread of Christianity to Scandinavia was not always achieved in a pacific manner, most often forced on local pagan rulers by unscrupulous Kings as a means to consolidating political power in troublesome areas.

  4. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  April 30, 2018

    How is it that early Christianity countenanced such slaughter among their proponents?!

    • Bart
      Bart  May 1, 2018

      Some of them justified it to themselves by quoting the Bible, about destroying the outsiders.

  5. Avatar
    ask21771  April 30, 2018

    Did Josephus say that the Jews asked Pilate to crucify jesus

    • Bart
      Bart  May 1, 2018

      Not “the Jews” but some of the leaders of the Jews.

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  May 6, 2018

        The question why–if “the leaders” did ask Pilate to kill Jesus–is why would they do such a thing? For the best answer read Len Lamensdorf’s historical novel, “The Murdered Messiah.” Brilliant, absolutely brilliant!

  6. Avatar
    Eric  May 1, 2018

    That 3-way division seems hardly equal. Weren’t the Eastern Provinces plus Thrace far wealthier and populated than the other two combined, let alone separated? No wonder Constantius II tried to enlarge his piece.

  7. Avatar
    HenriettePeterson  May 2, 2018

    How can your book, for example Misquoting Jesus, contain the info “New York Times Bestseller” on its cover, since no one knew it would become one when it went to print? Inside the book it says it’s the first edition.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 2, 2018

      The book is the first edition; the cover was changed once it hit the list.

  8. Avatar
    Iskander Robertson  May 2, 2018

    “We have already seen a law issued in 341 CE: “Superstition shall cease; the madness of sacrifices shall be abolished,” in accordance with “the law of the sainted Emperor, Our father.” Anyone “who performs sacrifices …shall suffer the infliction of a suitable punishment and the effect of an immediate sentence” (TC [= Theodosian Code] 16.10.2). In a law of 346 CE, the penalties are specified: Temples “in all places and in all cities” are to be “immediately closed” and “access to them forbidden.” No one may perform a sacrifice. Anyone who does “shall be struck down with the avenging sword” and his “property shall be confiscated.” Any governor who fails to avenge such crimes “shall be similarly punished” (TC 16.10.4); and perhaps more drastically, later in Constantius’s reign in 356: “Anyone who sacrifices or worships images shall be executed” (TC 16.10.6).”

    what nt and ot verses were used to justify these practices,surely nt verses had to be used to enforce these laws

    • Bart
      Bart  May 2, 2018

      Lots of passage in the OT about attacking Canaanite/pagan religion (and the people who practicied it). I discuss these in my book.

  9. Avatar
    truthseekerofallthings  June 13, 2018

    Some people argue there were no paid clergy in the first century and that the paid clerics are an apostasy or deviation from the teachings of Christ and the original apostles of the Apostolic age that slowly progressed into a large scale monstrosity after the end of the Apostolic age.

    ◄ 2 Timothy 4:3 ►

    Verse (Click for Chapter)
    New International Version
    For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

    Some argue this was a prophecy Paul foretold and Clement’s letter to the Corinthians warned of this, among others true disciples.

    (Including most Clergymen teaching of the doctrine of the Trinity)

    Were all first century baptised true Christians ordained ministers?

    Was theology taught in each church or congregation to those learning about YHWH and Christ so they could become a baptised ordained minister instead of the division between clergy and laity we find in most churches today?

    • Avatar
      truthseekerofallthings  June 13, 2018

      Remember the shepherds of ancient Israel did the exact same thing and YHWH exiled the Hebrews to Babylon .

      So were these clergy “exiled” to Babylon the Great or punishment in ante typical Jerusalem, another ante-type or foreshadowing?

      • Bart
        Bart  June 14, 2018

        They weren’t clergy in teh sense you’re using the term.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2018

      Ordination started happening only at the end of the first century (teh Pastoral epistles); Pauline churches for example has leaders, but no paid clergy. that was much later.

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