The latter quality derived from the more stiff-necked qualities of Judaism. Judaism takes its name from a place, Judaea, and the ancient word for a member of the cult, Judaeus, meaning “person from Judaea.” Judaean pride convinced itself that the one and only true god visited his temple on a hilltop just at the boundary between cultivated land and the desert, in Jerusalem. Anyone would agree that a provincial god might do such a thing, but to claim that this one local god was uniquely true and powerful—such self-assurance would strike almost everyone as bizarre.
At the heart of Judaism, however, was the Judaeans’ assurance that their god was still local, and therefore that only they should worship him. They made certain that joining his cult—through circumcision—involved a high degree of commitment and difficulty. They argued that Yahweh was the one and only god; yet, ironically, it also did not matter if most of the world owed him no allegiance and went on about their many-godded ways. Yahweh was the highest and the greatest, but he was not the only, god-
Real Judaism in the Hellenistic world
Real Judaism in the Hellenistic world after Alexander and under the Roman emperors moved away from some of its original particularism, as its identity and some of its practices followed many real Judaeans who lived far from their homeland. When the general Titus destroyed the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE, much of what it meant to be Jewish was uprooted and ravaged, and still the community lived on and even thrived. Judaism in the later Roman world underwent the most wrenching change in its history, adjusting to the absence of the temple, while retaining its particularity and disinclination to pursue new converts. We will return to the Jewish story on a later page tours bulgaria.
Christianity, born and bred in the Jewish matrix, made the rest of the world what it called pagan by detaching the Jewish assertion of uniqueness from place of origin, and opening membership to all humankind. “Go and teach all nations,” Jesus was said to have taught,24 and Christians most often took this teaching quite seriously, even if it didn’t move most of them to relocate and teach in strange lands. They followed in this regard not only Jesus but Paul, for it was Paul’s reading of Christianity—as something far more ambitious than the revival or fulfillment of traditional Judaism—that prevailed in the end.
Forcing a message of uniqueness
Forcing a message of uniqueness and exclusivity allowed Christians to make themselves satisfyingly unpopular. Persecution became their badge of success. Popular imagination probably still thinks of a long period of time in which hard-nosed Roman governors regularly pulled brave, dewy-eyed, idealistic Christians off the streets, tortured them, and then fed them to the lions. The facts are less glamorous, but the influential church historian Eusebius, a fourth-century contemporary and supporter of Constantine, imbued this idea with long life in his account of ten waves of persecution that mirrored Egypt’s ten plagues in the time of Moses. What really happened was episodic, local, and highly inconsistent. The young Christian wife and mother Perpetua suffered such a fate at Carthage around 200, leaving behind a document that would be influential far beyond its time and place (and would have been perfect for Hollywood): The Acts of Perpetua and Felicity, some parts of which she may have written herself.
Occasionally in the third century such things did happen, but most Christians lived and died like their fellow Romans, undisturbed by government, quarreling now and then with some of their neighbors. In the 250 s, the emperor Decius ordered the suppression of Christianity, and in the early 300s, the emperor Galerius launched the most systematic attempt ever to deter and uproot Christian practice. In such times, suspect Chrstians were required to perform some minimal public religious act and get a certificate to prove they had done so. There is no sign that such fits of suppression and persecution had any lasting effect After a decade as emperor.
Christians resisted persecution well—both the ordinary spasmodic kind and the infrequent broader campaign—because their communities were many-headed, did not have substantial real property, and lived so fully intermingled with Roman society that they could not simply be carved out and attacked. A century after Galerius, when Christian emperors set out to—we might as well use the word—persecute “pagan” communities and practices, they were far more devastatingly effective. They halted the supply of state funds for traditional practices, crippling much of what had been long familiar. Then they seized buildings and banned ritual in them, sweeping the landscape nearly clean of the old ways. What survived—and much did—was personal, small-scale, or highly localized. Over a relatively short time, the new bludgeoned the old into submission and eventually supplanted it.25 That’s what real persecution could do, un-afraid to use violence but not needing to use very much of it. But Christianity never faced anything like what it would later visit on the traditional cults.