Roman Influence on the Birth of Christianity

Historical Context

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  • There are numerous references that support the basic premise that Christianity began early in the first century CE in Judea. Two of these include:
    • Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus (56 - 117 CE) wrote in "The Annals of Imperial Rome, XV.42":
      To suppress this rumour [suspicions on the burning of Rome in 64 CE], Nero fabricated scapegoats - and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius' reign by the governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilatus. But in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judaea (where the mischief had started) but even in Rome.
    • Luke 3:1 states that John the Baptist started his ministry in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar (29 CE)
  • Two important goals of Roman occupation included:
    • Collection of taxes
    • Enlist men to serve in its fielded armies
  • The Jewish people considered Israel to be land promised to them by God (Old Testament books of Genesis and Exodus)
  • The Jewish people felt they were God's chosen people (Exodus 3:7, Deuteronomy 7:6-24, 2 Samuel 7:8-16 23-24)
  • In Jewish culture the mere Roman presence was a defilement of their Holy Land and their Holy Covenant with God
  • The relations between the Jews and the Roman occupiers were contentious and combative: 
    • In 63 BCE Jerusalem fell to the Romans.
    • In 54 BCE Marcus Licinius Crassus stole the Jewish temple treasury.
    • Around 28 CE Pontius Pilate stole the Jewish temple treasury to pay for an aqueduct. When the Jewish people protested, Roman soldiers beat many in the crowd to death.
    • Jewish Zealots offered violent resistance to the Roman occupation.
    • Jewish sects were convinced God would throw off Roman rule through the power of their faith and obedience to God. As one example, from PBS Frontline "Apocalypticism Explained" the Essenes had a War Scroll prophesizing a final battle of the sons of light against the sons of darkness. In the first Jewish revolt against Rome (66-70 CE), the Essenes, following this battle plan, literally marched out to war against Roman soldiers and were annihilated. As we see in the War Scroll, the Essenes expected a final battle led by the forces of God to bring triumph.
    • In 70 CE Rome brutally crushed the four-year Jewish rebellion. The Roman general Titus burned the Jewish temple and laid Jerusalem in ruins.
    • In 73 CE Roman governor Flavius Silva laid siege to Masada. Approximately 1,000 Jewish men, women, and children chose mass suicide rather than submit to Roman capture.
    • 132-135 CE Second Jewish Revolt. The Jews recaptured Jerusalem.
    • In 135 CE Emperor Hadrian crushed the Jewish revolt, attempted to annihilate the Jewish presence in Jerusalem, and renamed Judea to Palestine.
  • A primary source of the fervent Jewish resistance to the Roman occupation was their religion (religious culture, established beliefs, and loose ethnic unity).
  • The intense and passionate conflict between the imperialism of the Roman Empire and the self-perceived entitlement of the ancient Jewish culture was a breeding ground for evolved ideology and human manipulation. Was Christianity born of human conflict and Roman attempts to manipulate religious forces in Judea?


Historical Discussion
In Depth


Dating the Gospels

I Was a Sunday-School Spy

The Crucifixion (animation)

Post Appearance of Jesus

Who Did Jesus Curse-Praise

Taxes to Rome

Submissiveness to Oppression

John the Baptist

Admirable and Amazing Works

The Term Gospel

Jewish Judgment

Pilate's Defense (animation)

Roman Soldiers at the Tomb

Migration of Christianity to Rome

Irony of Faith

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