The Beginnings…..

Time Period:  573BC

I am about three weeks into my study of the parallels between Christian church history and the history of the Roman empire. I was hoping to find a “people’s history” of Rome for a source but have been unsuccessful in that regard. I now have about five sources of info but there really is little documented evidence of how the common man lived during this time. There are a few accounts from Roman soldiers but they are pretty much limited to their time in the military.

Here is what Simon Baker in his book Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire says about that:

Modern professional historians tend to stress how little we know about the Roman world. True, we are almost completely in the dark about what life was like for the slum dwellers of the city (though we can make a fair guess!) or for peasants struggling to find a livelihood in the countryside. And we are not much better off when it comes to understanding the feelings of women or slaves, or how the Roman empire’s balance of payments actually worked, or – for that matter – what Romans wore under their togas or how they disposed of their sewage (the miracles of Roman drainage have, I am afraid, been grossly exaggerated). 

As is common with many historical accounts Roman history is primarily focused on the wars fought and not the citizens themselves. This hampers my ability to see any parallels between Roman citizens and Christians. So, although I will lack some comparisons at the people level I still will be able to try to see just what was happening in the Roman Empire from their beginning and how they were grappling with their little Jesus followers problem later on.

Lets start out with this study of Rome here with some origin stories.

The Roman state was unofficially founded in 753BC by two brothers Romulus and Remus. These two brothers were at the head of a small band of renegades who were dug into a defensive position in a tiny village. It seems that for some reason the two brothers quarreled and Romulus killed his twin brother.  Romulus then opened up his camp for all comers including exiles, runaway slaves and criminals. So, according to this story Rome was  originally a city populated almost entirely by asylum-seekers and almost all of them were men.

Mr. Baker said early in his book said this about this story:

We have no idea how much of this lurid tale is actually true. The precise date of 753 is the result of an elaborate and frankly unreliable calculation more than five hundred years later by Roman scholars…

When I read this story I immediately thought of about closely relates to the first two brothers in the Jewish Torah or Old Testament as we Christians call it.   Here is that account:

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.  Genesis 4:8

Much like many of the early stories in the Old Testament the story of Romulus and his brother is thought to be myth that was passed down by mouth from generation to generation before being finally recorded.

Next time we will move on to when Rome was ruled by kings.

A Change of Heart…..

I know in the introduction to this study I said I would not be following a timeline but instead be giving you a mosaic. But after thinking about it for a while now I have decided to do the timeline approach. In addition to a time line I have decided to try to interweave it with the history of the Roman Empire. I know this is a very ambitious undertaking and right now I just don’t know how successful I will be but I am never one to shrink from a challenge.

Two things make me change direction here. One is that I really have never studied just what happened to the mighty Roman Empire. I know it, like the U.S. today was the superpower of its day. But I am really not versed in how the rise to power happened or  how the decline came about so quickly. I have prided myself on my diligent lifelong study of U.S. history but have never delved much beyond our shores.  This is a unique opportunity to widen my historical horizons.  There seems to be many analogies between what happened to Rome and what we as a country are currently going through. It will be interesting to try to discover those parallels as well.

The second reason for this change of heart is that I am critically aware of  the links between Christianity and the Rome. It will be interesting to see just what was going on in the empire when significant event occurred in the church.  I don’t think you can really understand one history without understanding the other. I will be on the lookout for these types of links as we study this dual path of history. In order to accomplish this I will need to do a number of posts on Roman history before we actually get into the Christianity aspect of the study.  I think this is proper in order to try to understand how the Roman Empire got to where they were as that little rag-tag group later called Christians came on the scene.

I hope that you are not disappointed with the dual approach. Since I am doing posts only about a week or two before they are put on-line I really don’t have a good idea right now just when different time periods will be covered. I will talk about each period until I am satisfied that we know enough about it to see the links between the Roman State and the Christian church. For a number of years I know they are very intrinsically linked. Way too much so for my tastes. This makes for a more ambitious study than I originally intended but as I said at the beginning of this post I feel I am up to the challenge.

So, come back soon for the next phase of this study. I think it will be very interesting to me and I hope you will enjoy it also. This new approach might throw my usual Monday and Thursday posts out of whack for a little while. I will decide that as I go….

Subverted Loyalty….

In this post lets revisit one of the quotes from Robin Myers’ book entitled The Underground Church – Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus.

Empires seldom worry about religious beliefs that have no real effect on the loyalty of their subjects. But when that loyalty is subverted or replaced, those beliefs must be investigated and the believers crushed…

It would take time  before People of the Way came up on the Roman radar screen. I think the Roman emperors thought that when the executed to primary leader of this rag-tag group that would drive them into oblivion but of course the opposite was actually true.  As reported in the Book of Acts and elsewhere when people heard of this man Jesus Christ who was a great rabbi and was executed by the Romans but then raised from the dead they anxiously wanted to know more.

One thing that was basically different about common people in those days and people today was that most in those days were completely convinced that they were bound by the circumstances in which they were born. There was little or no hope that they could advance in their circumstances. If you were a slave you were a slave for life; there was no way to change that.  So, when they heard of this carpenter’s son who defied the Roman empire and in a symbolic way defeated them they saw a glimmer of hope that things can actually change.

And Change they did. As these small groups continued to grow they unsettled some of the leaders of their day. The most outrageous thing they did was refused to bow down to the Roman emperor as their lord. That was considered treasonous in those days. The People of the Way said they had a different lord and would not bow to the Roman emperor. By not proclaiming the emperor as lord they were, as the quote above says, the beliefs in a different lord had to be investigated and the believers crushed.

Since the People of the Way were just common people the Romans targeted their leaders. This included people like Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, and Origen and others. Almost all of them were eventually hunted down and sent to the coliseum. But more on that later.  Some argue in addition to their loyalty to a man called Jesus that one of the main reasons for the success of Early Christianity was the Christian emphasis on caring for the sick. During the late Roman period there were a number of devastating plagues: the Antonine Plague (165-180 AD), the Plague of Cyprian (251-270 AD). The followers of the Way were front and center in helping others during these trying times. So they were, as we say today, “walking the walk”. That is they were very adamant in doing what their spiritual leader told them to do rather than just being in awe of him. If only we could return to actually doing what Jesus said instead of just believing things about him maybe Christianity would also see the tremendous surge of membership today. Who knows….