Research Paper: Persecution of Early Christians

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[. . .] The persecution of early Christians by Romans

Before becoming a prominent and established religion, Christianity was a persecuted religion in the Roman Kingdom. It progressed from a small religion to well established one in the medieval West, and elsewhere for that matter. However, the history of its persecution needs to be revisited.

"Where there were some periods in the early centuries of the AD era, the Christians were generally punished and prosecuted and were often killed by the Romans. Christians, as a group, were first prosecuted by the Roman emperor Nero. This was not only the first time they were subjected to punishment, but also this was the worst kind of persecution they had ever received" (Lunn-Rockliffe, 2011).

The event that led to this worst kind of persecution from the Nero in the year 64 AD was the colossal fire that broke out in Rome. This fire was responsible for the destruction of much of the city. There were rumors circulating that no one else but Nero himself was responsible for the outbreak of this fire. Taking advantage of the destruction that resulted from this fire, Nero managed to build an extravagant palace for himself at the place where the fire had destroyed the site. "Nero could not come up with a better idea to divert the attention of the people from the rumors than to order the kidnapping and killing of the Christians. These Christians were kidnapped, beaten up like dogs, meanwhile the others burnt alive. Over another hundred years or more, not many Christians were persecuted until the mid of the third century. In the mid-third century, the Romans emperors started the Christian persecutions intensively" (Bainton, 87).

Reasons for Persecutions

The level of persecution of the Christians in Rome depended on the governors and emperors of a particular time or era. There were many reasons for the persecutions of the Christians, as individuals as well as a group. The Pagans of Rome reckoned that some of the Christians we indulged in cannibalism and incest. Moreover, the Pagans also used to get infuriated when the Christians denied the sacrifice to the Roman gods. It was considered to be an insult for the Romans. This situation was further aggravated when the Christians refused to offer sacrifice for the Roman emperor, who was considered to be a semi-divine monarch by the Romans.

Another reason for the persecution of Christians, apart from the colossal fire during the reign of Nero, was the decline of the economy and instability in Rome. The Pagans as well as the Christians had to suffer this downfall in the economy and inflation that caused them to become intolerant towards each other. Since the Pagans were the more dominated group, persecution came in the part of Christians.

Christian Perceptions of Jews

Jews were also present in the Christian society just like the heretics. However, they were not considered by the Christians as people who shared their faith. There were three religions in the society and all the three groups were separated by distinct boundaries. All the three different groups had different attitude towards the other two. The event that led to strict barriers between Christians and Jews was the extensive campaign that was carried out against the heretical sects in the thirteenth century. Moreover, the perception of Jews in the Christian society was based on two levels. The first level was the physical one; meanwhile the other one was a theological one. Both these levels were not the same.

The Jew that was present in the thoughts and imagination of the Christian was the theological Jew. Furthermore, the theological Jew was considered to have formed an important part of the Christian society and was an internal but separate entity with different characteristics. According to some sources, in spite the absence of the real Jews, they were considered as the theological or the imagined ones by the Christians.

The key to understand the code of conduct of the Christians with the Jews in the Middle Ages and particularly in the thirteenth century was to comprehend the theme of boundary between the two religions. We find out according to some sources that the Jews became an important part of the Christian environment, where they progressed and made good relations with the Christians, by the thirteenth century. There were times when the Christians could not be differentiated from the Jews because of the similar dressing, language as well as customs. The only place where the two groups differed was the religious practices.

Needless to say, Jews were nothing more than just a minority in the Christian society where they have gained the permission to live and work. As the Jews were a part of the Christian society and lived throughout the Christian West, they were required to maintain a code of relative tolerance. This tolerance was inspired in part by the desire of the authoritative bodies to maintain proper law in order in the region and in part by the basic Christian theological perception of the Jews. However, the state of tolerance and stability in which the Jews were living in the Christian society were interrupted off and on by outbreaks of intolerance that used to become violent attacks in extreme cases. Attacks like these used to swing the situation from tolerant to intolerant.

The treatment of Jews in the Christian society started worsening as the solidarity in the Christian world increased. The concept of Christian solidarity meant the delineation of other groups and formation of new legislation regarding the Jews.

Treatment of Jews by Christians

As mentioned earlier, when the wave of solidarity emerged in the Christian world, the conflict between the Christians and Jews also increased. The interaction between the Christians and the Hews did not decline, and Christians were seen participating in Sabbath worship, but the conflicts did not resolve. As this conflict further exacerbated, the writers of the New Testament were negatively influenced. There are many places where the author of gospel of John has associated Jews with darkness and devil. This led to the perception of Jews as agents of devil in the minds of Christians for a very long period of time.

Later on, in the second century, the Jews were being written as the "rejected people" by the Fathers of the Church. They were also characterized as people who were ill-fated and destined to misery. On the other hand, the Jews started to consider the world as "despised people." "On the other hand, the Jews were also hostile to the Churches as they burnt them down. The Christians did not react to this burning down of the Churches" (Marcus, 125). In some countries of the world, there was a lot of political as well as civil discrimination against the Jews. They were attacked physically and some of them were also killed in this whole situation. There were only a handful of Bishops, Popes and Christian princes who stood up against this violence, but could not win their voice over. Just in the middle of the twentieth century, the followers of the Catholic Church along with some other protesters protested against the anti-Judaic theology.

In the 4th century, Christianity was established as the religion of the state in the entire Roman Empire by Constantine the Great. As a result, many laws were issued that were pro-Christianity but against the Jews. "Constantine was the first Roman emperor who made special discriminatory laws for the Jews. Their participation in politics and other civil matters was also restricted by him. These imperial laws, which limited the rights of the Jews in Rome, had a significant influence on Judaism as it was denied the opportunity to remain a missionary religion because proselytes were prohibited" (Marcus, 3).

"One of the other laws that was also very discriminatory towards the Jews in Rome was the prohibition of marriage between Christian women and Jewish. Later on, this law was made even stricter when all the Jewish and Christian marriage was banned in Rome. The aim behind this prohibition was to halt the conversion and propagation of Judaism and to harm them economically. Moreover, the third law selection that was called Theodosius II forbade any Jew from holding an honorable office in Rome" (Marcus, 3). In the same century, another emperor Theodosius the Great managed to expel the Jews from all the honorable positions. This is the reason why the Christians destroyed the synagogues of the Jews and considered it to be there religious duty.

In the 7th century, the Jews were persecuted in Spain as well. These were the Jews who did not accept to baptize and were made slaves of the people who considered pious Christians. All the children of Jews who were seven years old or older were taken away from their parents and were forcefully given the Christian education. "According to many Christians, they were a distinct identity; however, this could not be deciphered from the difference in their language, customs… [END OF PREVIEW]

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