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 did not do that.   That happened only later under the Roman Emperor Theodosius I near the end of the fourth century (Constantine was at the beginning).

Moreover, it is even more commonly said and thought that Constantine’s conversion is what led to the “triumph” of Christianity, that it is the main reason that so many Christians started to convert to the religion.   It is often pointed out that when he converted, something like 7-10% of the empire was Christian (I’ve come to think that figure is too high) and that by the end of the fourth century something like 50% was.   That’s a big difference.  My view is that maybe two or three million were Christian around 300 and maybe about thirty million around 400.  For that to happen, something BIG must have changed things.  It must have been the conversion of the emperor, right?  Well, I think that’s wrong too.

But I think Constantine’s conversion was nonetheless a huge deal, as I will try to argue in these posts.

This thread is going to be more historically oriented than usual.  I won’t be talking about the words and deeds of Jesus, or the writings of Paul, or the interpretation of the Bible, or lots of the other things I normally talk about.  I’m going to be talking about events that happened in the fourth Christian century.   But we can’t very well just plop down at October 28, 312 (the traditional date of Constantine’s conversion) without some historical backdrop.

On the other hand, we can’t really start “at the beginning” because there actually *is* no beginning.  Anywhere you start, there was something that happened before that which makes sense of the think you’re starting with.   But I’ve gotta start somewhere, so let me give some very brief context.

Constantine was probably…

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