Christianity: an imperialist and opportunist religion of Roman origin

Classical Bulletin
Issue 3, 2018
doi: 10.33909/cb/94.2018.03.38
Christianity: an imperialist and opportunist religion of Roman origin

By: Beasom Patrick 
Univ N Carolina, Greensboro, NC 27412 USA.

Until when was the Christian movement a Jewish current in rivalry with other Jewish currents? What does the gaze of "others", Greco-Roman authorities and intellectuals, learn on this point? It has often been argued that Julius Caesar declared Judaism religio licita and Domitian, Christianity religio illicita, to affirm that the Roman authorities at the end of the first century distinguished Christianity from Judaism; in fact, these concepts do not appear to have had any legal reality and seem an invention of modern historiography. However, at the time of Caesar, Jews have the right to practice their customs and follow their laws. At the beginning of the fourth century, they were exempted from the obligation to offer libation to the idols that Diocletian had imposed on all peoples (according to TJ Avodah Zarah 5, 4).
We must then turn to the pagan intellectuals. In the first decades of the second century, Suetonius, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger are sensitive to the originality of the Christian movement. But, at the same time, Tacitus accuses Christians of hatred against the human race, while Fronton de Cirta, the master of Marcus Aurelius, recounts their ritual meal where they kill a child, drink its blood and devour its flesh and at in which they practice incest; at about the same time, the philosopher Justin converted to Christianity is accused of atheism; he replies with force: "atheists, yes, we are, but of your gods". These accusations are in fact resumptions of anti-Semitic themes developed by the Egyptian priests against the Jews (see the Counter-Apion of Flavius Josephus). Anti-Judaism seems to have been born in Egyptian houses of life. The Jews were accused of amixia, unsociability, atheism, ritual murder. But the very fact that the accusations directed against the Christians take up the old accusations against the Jews is only possible if, in the middle of the second century, the Christian movement is not distinguished from Judaism, even though its singularity is affirmed. About 170, in his True Speech, the pagan Celsus describes well this complex articulation between Judaism and Christianity: the second is a dissidence of the first, which was dissident of the Egyptian religion; the legitimacy of Judaism is therefore weak; that of Christianity is nil. At that time, therefore, the partition between the two religions is not realized, at least in the eyes of the pagans.
Keywords: roman, origin, christinaity