Imperial Persecution of Christians: Historical Evidence?

May 2011
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Rural Australia
Thanks for the reference to Shaw's article, and to the list of evidence being discussed by those recent scholars.

I forgot to add the Thirteenth Sibylline Oracle, written between 262 and 268, which, like Eusebius, attributes Decius' persecution of the Christians to his antipathy towards Philip.
On Pagans, Jews and Christians: Arnaldo Momigliano, 1987

has this to say about the forgery of the Greek Sibylline oracles


p.138​
Jewish and Christian forgery of the Greek Sibylline oracles​
-----------------------------------------------------------​
"The Jews began writing Sibylline oracles in the 2nd century BCE".​
"The Jews stopped writing history after 100 CE and the Christians​
did not write political history before the fifth century. The​
Sibylline oracles filled a historiographic gap."​
p.139​
"The collection of Sibylline Oracles which has reached us​
contains both Jewish and Christian Sibylline oracles. The​
collection as it now stands was put together and transmitted​
by Christians. Here we find Christian forgers using Jewish​
forgeries and adding their own more or less for the same​
purposes: anti-Roman feeling, apocalyptic expectations, and​
general reflection on past history presented as future.​
Father of the Church (notably Lactantius) hurried to quote​
these texts, and of course the Christians went on composing​
their Sybilline texts (now also in Latin) throughout the​
Middle Ages.​


David Potter acknowledges an existing view that the mention of the persecution may be an interpolation, although he doesn't think this to be so.
Is Momigliano in his bibliography?

Do you happen to know any scholarship that addresses a reference to the persecution in the noncanonical Acts of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian in which the Emperor Domitian receives a complaint in the form of a book written by the Jews all about a new and strange nation of Christians.

And when Vespasian was dead, his son Domitian, having got possession of the kingdom, along with his other wrongful acts, set himself also to make a persecution against the righteous men. For, having learned that the city was filled with Jews, remembering the orders given by his father about them, he purposed casting them all out of the city of the Romans. And some of the Jews took courage, and gave Domitian a book, in which was written as follows:—​
O Domitian, Cæsar and king of all the world, as many of us as are Jews entreat thee, as suppliants we beseech of thy power not to banish us from thy divine and benignant countenance; for we are obedient to thee, and the customs, and laws, and practices, and policy, doing wrong in nothing, but being of the same mind with the Romans.
But there is a new and strange nation, neither agreeing with other nations nor consenting to the religious observances of the Jews, uncircumcised, inhuman, lawless, subverting whole houses, proclaiming a man as God, all assembling together [2435] under a strange name, that of Christian. These men reject God, paying no heed to the law given by Him, and proclaim to be the Son of God a man born of ourselves, Jesus by name, whose parents and brothers and all his family have been connected with the Hebrews; whom on account of his great blasphemy and his wicked fooleries we gave up to the cross.
And they add another blasphemous lie to their first one: him that was nailed up and buried, they glorify as having risen from the dead; and, more than this, they falsely assert that he has been taken up by [2436] clouds into the heavens.

At all this the king, being affected with rage, ordered the senate to publish a decree that they should put to death all who confessed themselves to be Christians. Those, then, who were found in the time of his rage, and who reaped the fruit of patience, and were crowned in the triumphant contest against the works of the devil, received the repose of incorruption.​

AFAIK the story is generally classed with the non canonical acts. It is late, and seems to have an authorship after Eusebius, because the phrase "new and strange nation [of Christians]" is characteristic of Eusebius. It may be a parody. Or satire. The Jews would hardly write a book to the Emperor complaining about a "new and strange nation [of Christians]"; admitting that they crucified Jesus for blasphemy; and complaining that the Christians falsely asserted that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended through the cloud banks above Jerusalem. It has the ring of a 4th century Monty Python sketch.
 
Thanks for the reference to Shaw's article, and to the list of evidence being discussed by those recent scholars.



On Pagans, Jews and Christians: Arnaldo Momigliano, 1987

has this to say about the forgery of the Greek Sibylline oracles


p.138​
Jewish and Christian forgery of the Greek Sibylline oracles​
-----------------------------------------------------------​
"The Jews began writing Sibylline oracles in the 2nd century BCE".​
"The Jews stopped writing history after 100 CE and the Christians​
did not write political history before the fifth century. The​
Sibylline oracles filled a historiographic gap."​
p.139​
"The collection of Sibylline Oracles which has reached us​
contains both Jewish and Christian Sibylline oracles. The​
collection as it now stands was put together and transmitted​
by Christians. Here we find Christian forgers using Jewish​
forgeries and adding their own more or less for the same​
purposes: anti-Roman feeling, apocalyptic expectations, and​
general reflection on past history presented as future.​
Father of the Church (notably Lactantius) hurried to quote​
these texts, and of course the Christians went on composing​
their Sybilline texts (now also in Latin) throughout the​
Middle Ages.​




Is Momigliano in his bibliography?

Do you happen to know any scholarship that addresses a reference to the persecution in the noncanonical Acts of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian in which the Emperor Domitian receives a complaint in the form of a book written by the Jews all about a new and strange nation of Christians.

And when Vespasian was dead, his son Domitian, having got possession of the kingdom, along with his other wrongful acts, set himself also to make a persecution against the righteous men. For, having learned that the city was filled with Jews, remembering the orders given by his father about them, he purposed casting them all out of the city of the Romans. And some of the Jews took courage, and gave Domitian a book, in which was written as follows:—​
O Domitian, Cæsar and king of all the world, as many of us as are Jews entreat thee, as suppliants we beseech of thy power not to banish us from thy divine and benignant countenance; for we are obedient to thee, and the customs, and laws, and practices, and policy, doing wrong in nothing, but being of the same mind with the Romans.
But there is a new and strange nation, neither agreeing with other nations nor consenting to the religious observances of the Jews, uncircumcised, inhuman, lawless, subverting whole houses, proclaiming a man as God, all assembling together [2435] under a strange name, that of Christian. These men reject God, paying no heed to the law given by Him, and proclaim to be the Son of God a man born of ourselves, Jesus by name, whose parents and brothers and all his family have been connected with the Hebrews; whom on account of his great blasphemy and his wicked fooleries we gave up to the cross.
And they add another blasphemous lie to their first one: him that was nailed up and buried, they glorify as having risen from the dead; and, more than this, they falsely assert that he has been taken up by [2436] clouds into the heavens.

At all this the king, being affected with rage, ordered the senate to publish a decree that they should put to death all who confessed themselves to be Christians. Those, then, who were found in the time of his rage, and who reaped the fruit of patience, and were crowned in the triumphant contest against the works of the devil, received the repose of incorruption.​

AFAIK the story is generally classed with the non canonical acts. It is late, and seems to have an authorship after Eusebius, because the phrase "new and strange nation [of Christians]" is characteristic of Eusebius. It may be a parody. Or satire. The Jews would hardly write a book to the Emperor complaining about a "new and strange nation [of Christians]"; admitting that they crucified Jesus for blasphemy; and complaining that the Christians falsely asserted that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended through the cloud banks above Jerusalem. It has the ring of a 4th century Monty Python sketch.
Regarding David Potter, he doesn't reference Momigliano in that particular chapter, but he makes his point in passing. The work to check would be David Potter's book on the 13th Sibylline Oracle, titled 'Prophecy and History in the Crisis of Roman Empire.' It's the only book out there whose sole focus is the 13th Oracle.

I've never come across this particular Domitian story before! It doesn't seem like a very believable thing to do, to be told to leave Rome but instead to give Domitian a book denouncing the Christians.
 

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