History or Myth?
The Persecution of "Early Christians":
After the church had triumphed over all her enemies,
the interest as well as vanity of the captives
prompted them to magnify the merit of their respective suffering.
A convenient distance of time and place
gave an ample scope to the progress of fiction;
and the frequent instances which might be alleged of holy martyrs,
whose wounds had been instantly healed,
whose strength had been renewed,
and whose lost members had miraculously been restored,
were extremely convenient for the purpose
of removing every difficulty, and of silencing every objection.
The most extravagant legends,
as they conduced to the honour of the church,
were applauded by the incredulous multitude,
countenanced by the power of the clergy,
and attested by the suspicious evidence
of ecclesiastical history
Edward Gibbon, (1776)
History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
"... the very remarkable attitude of those Christians
who, though persecuted by the Roman Empire,
defended the notion that the Roman Empire had been
providentially created to foster and support the Christian message."
On Pagans, Jews and Christians: Arnaldo Momigliano, 1987, p.136
"Early Christian Persecutions"
|History and evidence of the persecutions|
|Roman Emperor||Years CE||Sources||Comments|
|1. Nero||64 to 68||Tacitus' Annals XV.44 (11th century - second Medicean manuscript); Early Christian writers such as Tertullian, Lactantius, Sulpicius Severus, Eusebius, St. Augustine||Refers to "Chrestians", Very late. The Tacitus manuscript which, after rewards were offered by the CEO Pope, was suddenly an unexpected discovered in the archives of the church industry of the Middle Ages, just in time for an Aldus Printing Press run.|
|2. Domitian||89 to 96||Dio Cassius (67.14.1-2); execution of Flavius Clemens, a Roman consul and cousin of the Emperor, and the banishment of his wife, Flavia Domitilla, to the island of Pandateria, for "atheism" ("athotes") and practising Jewish customs ("ta ton Ioudaion").||See the noncanonical Acts of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian in which the Emperor Domitian receives a complaint in the form of a book written by the Jews all about a new and strange nation of Christians.|
|3. Trajan||98 to 117||Pliny, Letters 10.96; Trajan in Pliny, Letters 10.97||The Pliny manuscript which, after rewards were offered by the CEO Pope, was suddenly an unexpected discovered in the archives of the church industry of the Middle Ages, just in time for an Aldus Printing Press run, and then just as suddenly "lost".|
|4. Marcus Aurelius||161 to 180||Lyon (177 CE), Eusebius HE, 5.1.5,7.||The "Rain Miracle" as Christian forged nonsense.|
|5. Septimius Severus||193 to 211||Eusebius; imperial decree; Clement of Alexandria; Perpetua and Felicity; Leonides||The imperial decree is from the "Historia Augusta".|
|6. Maximinus the Thracian||235||Eusebius; Pope Pontian and Hippolytus banished to the island of Sardinia.|
|7. Decius||249 to 251||Eusebius; imperial edict of 250 CE re: sacrifice to the emperor with certificate (libellus)||The edict of 250 CE is lost; No Christian libelli have ever been found. There is no evidence that Christians were specifically being targeted|
|8. Valerian||253 to 260||Eusebius; imperial edict of 257 CE; P. Oxy 3035 (256 CE).||The edict of 257 CE is lost; P.Oxy 3035 is an "Order to arrest a Chresian".|
|9. Diocletian and Galerius||284 to 305||Eusebius, Lactantius, and Constantine||It all started under very mysterious circumstances. The Christian Jedi masters secretly intercept the communications link between the priests of Apollo and the god. Diocletian is alarmed. The priests indentify the anonymous hackers as "The Righteous Men". Diocletian is ropable (angry). The pagan Emperor has a fit and persecutes the "Righteous Christians". The kindly tribes of barbarians gently receive the persecuted "Righteous Ones"|
According to Arthur Drews here .... the word “martyr” originally means only a witness to the truth of the Christian faith in the general sense, and is equivalent to “confessor,” and was only later applied to those who sealed their faith by a violent death.
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.
Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.".
See the details of the oldest Tacitus manuscript (11th century) which when subject to ultra-violet examination an alteration was conclusively shown to have been made, from "Chrestians" to "Christians".
The Roman Tertullian is likewise a witness of this. He writes [Tertullian, Apol. V.] as follows:
Consult your own records : there you will find that Nero was the first to furiously attack with the imperial sword this sect then rising into notice especially at Rome 13. But in such an originator of our condemnation we |18 indeed glory. For whoever knows him can understand that nothing but what was sublimely good was condemned by Nero. Domitian also, somewhat of a Nero in cruelty, attempted the same, but inasmuch as he had some human feelings, he soon stopped the proceedings, and those whom he had banished were recalled 14. Such have ever been our persecutors,— the unjust, the impious, the base, whom you yourselves have been accustomed to condemn, and to restore those condemned by them.
And while Nero reigned, the Apostle Peter came to Rome, and, through the power of God committed unto him, wrought certain miracles, and, by turning many to the true religion, built up a faithful and stedfast temple unto the Lord. When Nero heard of those things, and observed that not only in Rome, but in every other place, a great multitude revolted daily from the worship of idols, and, condemning their old ways, went over to the new religion, he, an execrable and pernicious tyrant, sprung forward to raze the heavenly temple and destroy the true faith. He it was who first persecuted the servants of God; he crucified Peter, and slew Paul: nor did he escape with impunity; for God looked on the affliction of His people; and therefore the tyrant, bereaved of authority, and precipitated from the height of empire, suddenly disappeared, and even the burial-place of that noxious wild beast was nowhere to be seen. This has led some persons of extravagant imagination to suppose that, having been conveyed to a distant region, he is still reserved alive; and to him they apply the Sibylline verses concerning The fugitive, who slew his own mother, being to come from the uttermost boundaries of the earth; as if he who was the first should also be the last persecutor, and thus prove the forerunner of Antichrist! But we ought not to believe those who, affirming that the two prophets Enoch and Elias have been translated into some remote place that they might attend our Lord when He shall come to judgment, also fancy that Nero is to appear hereafter as the forerunner of the devil, when he shall come to lay waste the earth and overthrow mankind.
Christians and Jews are commonly executed as contrivers of the fire. Whoever the criminal is whose pleasure is that of a butcher, and who veils himself with a lie, he is reserved for his due season: and as the best of men is sacrificed, the one for the many, so he, vowed to death for all, will be burned with fire. A hundred and thirty-two houses and four blocks have been burnt in six days, the seventh brought a pause. I pray you may be well, brother. Given the 5th of the kalends of April; Frugi and Bassus consuls (64).
Some historians have maintained that there was little or no persecution of Christians during Domitian's time. There is no historical consensus on the matter. Evidence for persecution of Christians during the reign of Domitian is slim. Most often, reference is made to the famous account by Dio Cassius (67.14.1-2) of the execution of Flavius Clemens, a Roman consul and cousin of the Emperor, and the banishment of his wife, Flavia Domitilla, to the island of Pandateria, for "atheism" ("athotes") and practising Jewish customs ("ta ton Ioudaion"). Some consider that the references here to "atheism" and "practicing Jewish customs" do not necessarily mean that Flavius and his wife were Christians. Far more probable is that they were converts to Judaism who attempted to evade payment of the fiscus Iudaicus - the tax imposed on all persons who practiced Judaism.
But there is a new and strange nation, neither agreeing with other nations nor consenting to the religious observances of the Jews, uncircumcised, inhuman, lawless, subverting whole houses, proclaiming a man as God, all assembling together (1) under a strange name, that of Christian. These men reject God, paying no heed to the law given by Him, and proclaim to be the Son of God a man born of ourselves, Jesus by name, whose parents and brothers and all his family have been connected with the Hebrews; whom on account of his great blasphemy and his wicked fooleries we gave up to the cross.
And they add another blasphemous lie to their first one: him that was nailed up and buried, they glorify as having risen from the dead; and, more than this, they falsely assert that he has been taken up by (2) clouds into the heavens.
At all this the king, being affected with rage, ordered the senate to publish a decree that they should put to death all who confessed themselves to be Christians. Those, then, who were found in the time of his rage, and who reaped the fruit of patience, and were crowned in the triumphant contest against the works of the devil, received the repose of incorruption.
2.91 Arthur Ogden published a small tract, which appears to argue against the historicity of the alleged Domitian Persecution of "Christians".
2.92 The Jews, the Christians, and Emperor Domitian - Paul Keresztes, Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Mar., 1973), pp. 1-28.
It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.
Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.
Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ--none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do--these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.
They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.
I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.
Trajan to Pliny
You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it--that is, by worshiping our gods--even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.
See the following on Justin Martyr, whom more than one scholar has accused of forging the emperor's reply.
1. Soter, bishop of the church of Rome, died after an episcopate of eight years, and was succeeded by Eleutherus, the twelfth from the apostles. In the seventeenth year of the Emperor Antoninus Verus, the persecution of our people was rekindled more fiercely in certain districts on account of an insurrection of the masses in the cities; and judging by the number in a single nation, myriads suffered martyrdom throughout the world. A record of this was written for posterity, and in truth it is worthy of perpetual remembrance. 2. A full account, containing the most reliable information on the subject, is given in our Collection of Martyrdoms, which constitutes a narrative instructive as well as historical. I will repeat here such portions of this account as may be needful for the present purpose. 3. Other writers of history record the victories of war and trophies won from enemies, the skill of generals, and the manly bravery of soldiers, defiled with blood and with innumerable slaughters for the sake of children and country and other possessions. 4. But our narrative of the government of God will record in ineffaceable letters the most peaceful wars waged in behalf of the peace of the soul, and will tell of men doing brave deeds for truth rather than country, and for piety rather than dearest friends. It will hand down to imperishable remembrance the discipline and the much-tried fortitude of the athletes of religion, the trophies won from demons, the victories over invisible enemies, and the crowns placed upon all their heads.
Chapter 1. The Number of those who fought for Religion in Gaul Under Verus and the Nature of their Conflicts. 1. The country in which the arena was prepared for them was Gaul, of which Lyons and Vienne are the principal and most celebrated cities. The Rhone passes through both of them, flowing in a broad stream through the entire region. 2. The most celebrated churches in that country sent an account of the witnesses to the churches in Asia and Phrygia, relating in the following manner what was done among them. I will give their own words. 3. “The servants of Christ residing at Vienne and Lyons, in Gaul, to the brethren through out Asia and Phrygia, who hold the same faith and hope of redemption, peace and grace and glory from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” 4. Then, having related some other matters, they begin their account in this manner: The greatness of the tribulation in this region, and the fury of the heathen against the saints, and the sufferings of the blessed witnesses, we cannot recount accurately, nor indeed could they possibly be recorded. 5. For with all his might the adversary fell upon us, giving us a foretaste of his unbridled activity at his future coming. He endeavored in every manner to practice and exercise his servants against the servants of God, not only shutting us out from houses and baths and markets, but forbidding any of us to be seen in any place whatever. 6. But the grace of God led the conflict against him, and delivered the weak, and set them as firm pillars, able through patience to endure all the wrath of the Evil One. And they joined battle with him, undergoing all kinds of shame and injury; and regarding their great sufferings as little, they hastened to Christ, manifesting truly that 'the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us afterward.' Romans 8:18 7. First of all, they endured nobly the injuries heaped upon them by the populace; clamors and blows and draggings and robberies and stonings and imprisonments, and all things which an infuriated mob delight in inflicting on enemies and adversaries. 8. Then, being taken to the forum by the chiliarch and the authorities of the city, they were examined in the presence of the whole multitude, and having confessed, they were imprisoned until the arrival of the governor.
ETC ETC ETC ... DRIVEL DRIVEL DRIVEL ...
Surprisingly the source known as Tertullian describes Marcus Aurelius as a protector of Christians, and in doing so, makes reference to the "Rain Miracle" ...
The Emperor Cæsar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Germanicus, Parthicus, Sarmaticus, to the People of Rome, and to the sacred Senate greeting: I explained to you my grand design, and what advantages I gained on the confines of Germany, with much labour and suffering, in consequence of the circumstance that I was surrounded by the enemy; I myself being shut up in Carnuntum by seventy-four cohorts, nine miles off. And the enemy being at hand, the scouts pointed out to us, and our general Pompeianus showed us that there was close on us a mass of a mixed multitude of 977,000 men, which indeed we saw; and I was shut up by this vast host, having with me only a battalion composed of the first, tenth, double and marine legions. Having then examined my own position, and my host, with respect to the vast mass of barbarians and of the enemy, I quickly betook myself to prayer to the gods of my country. But being disregarded by them, I summoned those who among us go by the name of Christians. And having made inquiry, I discovered a great number and vast host of them, and raged against them, which was by no means becoming; for afterwards I learned their power. Wherefore they began the battle, not by preparing weapons, nor arms, nor bugles; for such preparation is hateful to them, on account of the God they bear about in their conscience. Therefore it is probable that those whom we suppose to be atheists, have God as their ruling power entrenched in their conscience. For having cast themselves on the ground, they prayed not only for me, but also for the whole army as it stood, that they might be delivered from the present thirst and famine. For during five days we had got no water, because there was none; for we were in the heart of Germany, and in the enemy's territory. And simultaneously with their casting themselves on the ground, and praying to God (a God of whom I am ignorant), water poured from heaven, upon us most refreshingly cool, but upon the enemies of Rome a withering hail. And immediately we recognised the presence of God following on the prayer — a God unconquerable and indestructible. Founding upon this, then, let us pardon such as are Christians, lest they pray for and obtain such a weapon against ourselves. And I counsel that no such person be accused on the ground of his being a Christian. But if any one be found laying to the charge of a Christian that he is a Christian, I desire that it be made manifest that he who is accused as a Christian, and acknowledges that he is one, is accused of nothing else than only this, that he is a Christian; but that he who arraigns him be burned alive. And I further desire, that he who is entrusted with the government of the province shall not compel the Christian, who confesses and certifies such a matter, to retract; neither shall he commit him. And I desire that these things be confirmed by a decree of the Senate. And I command this my edict to be published in the Forum of Trajan, in order that it may be read. The prefect Vitrasius Pollio will see that it be transmitted to all the provinces round about, and that no one who wishes to make use of or to possess it be hindered from obtaining a copy from the document I now publish.
Immediately, there were several traditions about the cause of the miracle. According to Cassius Dio, a Greek historian who wrote some 40 years after the event, an Egyptian magician had been able to work the miracle (Roman History, 72=71.8-10). On the other hand, his contemporary Tertullian, a Christian author, claimed that the prayer of Christian soldiers had caused the miracle. Other sources on the incident are coins and a relief on the honorary column of Marcus Aurelius.
The Roman History of Cassius Dio is partly lost, but an excerpt by the Byzantine author Xiphilinus survives. It is quoted below, including an addition by Xiphilinus, who accuses Dio of fraud.
Garth Fowden skilfully reviews how these stories changed over time, and how the Christian version won not because it was true, but simply because its proponents won the ensuing propaganda war, a lesson that is instructive in itself. The successful use of propaganda by Christians, especially in the exploitation of miracle stories, is also demonstrated by Thomas Matthews in his excellent book The Clash of the Gods: A Reinterpretation of Early Christian Art (1993), and analyzed by Rodney Stark in his recent book The Rise of Christianity (1997). Stories were told, and images carved, in order to sell the faith. Truth is an easy casualty in this process.
But there are other lessons here. About eight years later, the Christian apologist Apollinarius began to recount the Christian version as if its truth were a certainty, even though there are demonstrable factual errors in his account, including one hallmark of rumor-built legend: the claim that the Roman legion called "Fulminata" ("Thundering") was so- named because of this very event, to honor the all-Christian unit for having gained the aid of their god. Of course, the very notion that an entire legion, whose men had to worship Jupiter Optimus Maximus, could be composed entirely of Christians under an intolerant Emperor, and at so early a date, is absurd. But one other thing is certain: the legion named "Fulminata" had already been so-named since the time of Augustus over a century before. This proves that lies could spread, and be believed, very quickly--even in the very same generation. This should not surprise us. There were no newspapers, and what few records of any kind that existed were off limits to the masses, who had neither the social savvy nor the requisite literacy to access them, even if they had the desire to. And we see that lies can win out: Eusebius, writing in the early 300's, believes Apollinarius' story is true, and includes it in his definitive world chronicle .
Tertullian, writing only 25 years after the actual event, also thought the Christians were credited, even though it is dubious that there even could have been Christians in the army at that time, whereas Marcus Aurelius himself dedicated a statue in honor of the event to Jupiter Lightning-maker, and issued coinage celebrating "the emperor's religion," with the aid of Egyptian magic (see below), hardly a tip of the hat to Christians. On the other hand, pagans had their own wild stories, believed with equal gusto. Cassius Dio, writing about half a century later (about the same time that passed between the death of Christ and the writing of the first gospels), tells us that an Egyptian sorcerer named Harnouphis had summoned Hermes (the equivalent of Thoth) and, using this divine aid, saved the day. This story has material evidence in its support: an inscription attests to such a man travelling with the army at the time, and coins after the battle honor the "Religion of the Emperor" in connection with Hermes (Mercury) standing in an Egyptian temple.
Fowden's conclusion is instructive:
This is the historical reality. So little is known, and the sources we have are so biased and flawed, that it would be ludicrous to set our belief too firmly on any version of events, much less on whether a genuine miracle occurred that day. Fowden, a real historian, knows full well the ubiquity of propaganda, falsehood, rumor, error, credulity, and agenda which plagued all sources of the time, especially in the sphere of religion.
5.9 Magic, Montanism, Perpetua, and the Severan Persecution - Andrzej Wypustek
From Interpreting Christian History: The Challenge of the Churches' Past by Euan Cameron, p.16:
The Libelli of the Decian Persecution - John R. Knipfing
According to Lactantius, Diocletian and Galerius entered into an argument over what imperial policy towards Christians should be while at Nicomedia in 302. Diocletian argued that forbidding Christians from the bureaucracy and military would be sufficient to appease the gods, while Galerius pushed for their extermination. The two men sought to resolve their dispute by sending a messenger to consult the oracle of Apollo at Didyma. Porphyry may also have been present at this meeting. Upon returning, the messenger told the court that "the just on earth"[Eusebius, Vita Constantini 2.50] hindered Apollo's ability to speak. These "just", Diocletian was informed by members of the court, could only refer to the Christians of the empire. At the behest of his court, Diocletian acceded to demands for a universal persecution.
1. All these things were fulfilled in us, when we saw with our own eyes the houses of prayer thrown down to the very foundations, and the Divine and Sacred Scriptures committed to the flames in the midst of the market-places, and the shepherds of the churches basely hidden here and there, and some of them captured ignominiously, and mocked by their enemies. When also, according to another prophetic word, “Contempt was poured out upon rulers, and he caused them to wander in an untrodden and pathless way.”
2. But it is not our place to describe the sad misfortunes which finally came upon them, as we do not think it proper, moreover, to record their divisions and unnatural conduct to each other before the persecution. Wherefore we have decided to relate nothing concerning them except the things in which we can vindicate the Divine judgment.
3. Hence we shall not mention those who were shaken by the persecution, nor those who in everything pertaining to salvation were shipwrecked, and by their own will were sunk in the depths of the flood. But we shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be usefull first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity. Let us therefore proceed to describe briefly the sacred conflicts of the witnesses of the Divine Word.
4. It was in the nineteenth year of the reign of Diocletian, in the month Dystrus, called March by the Romans, when the feast of the Saviour's passion was near at hand, that royal edicts were published everywhere, commanding that the churches be leveled to the ground and the Scriptures be destroyed by fire, and ordering that those who held places of honor be degraded, and that the household servants, if they persisted in the profession of Christianity, be deprived of freedom.
5. Such was the first edict against us. But not long after, other decrees were issued, commanding that all the rulers of the churches in every place be first thrown into prison, and afterwards by every artifice be compelled to sacrifice.
13: Next day an edict was published, depriving the Christians of all honours and dignities; ordaining also that, without any distinction of rank or degree, they should be subjected to tortures, and that every suit at law should be received against them; while, on the other hand, they were debarred from being plaintiffs in questions of wrong, adultery, or theft; and, finally, that they should neither be capable of freedom, nor have right of suffrage.
"About that time it is said that Apollo spoke from a deep and gloomy cavern, and through the medium of no human voice, and declared that the righteous men on earth were a bar to his speaking the truth, and accordingly that the oracles from the tripod were fallacious. Hence it was that he suffered his tresses to droop in token of grief,40 and mourned the evils which the loss of the oracular spirit would entail on mankind. But let us mark the consequences of this.
Chapter LI. That Constantine, When a Youth, Heard from Him Who Wrote the Persecution Edict
that "The Righteous Men" Were the Christians.
"I call now on thee, most high God, to witness that, when young, I heard him who at that time was chief among the Roman emperors, unhappy, truly unhappy as he was, and laboring under mental delusion, make earnest enquiry of his attendants as to who these righteous ones on earth were, and that one of the Pagan priests then present replied that they were doubtless the Christians. This answer he eagerly received, like some honeyed draught, and unsheathed the sword which was ordained for the punishment of crime, against those whose holiness was beyond reproach. Immediately, therefore, he issued those sanguinary edicts, traced, if I may so express myself, with a sword's point dipped in blood; at the same time commanding his judges to tax their ingenuity for the invention of new and more terrible punishments.
Chapter LII. The Manifold Forms of Torture and Punishment Practiced Against the Christians.
"Then, indeed, one might see with what arrogance those venerable worshipers of God were daily exposed, with continued and relentless cruelty, to outrages of the most grievous kind, and how that modesty of character41 which no enemy had ever treated with disrespect, became the mere sport of their infuriated fellow-citizens. Is there any punishment by fire, are there any tortures or forms of torment, which were not applied to all, without distinction of age or sex? Then, it may be truly said, the earth shed tears, the all-encircling compass of heaven mourned because of the pollution of blood; and the very light of day itself was darkened in grief at the spectacle.
Chapter LIII. That the Barbarians Kindly Received the Christians.
"But what is the consequence of this? Why, the barbarians themselves may boast now of the contrast their conduct presents to these creel deeds; for they received and kept in gentlest captivity those who then fled from amongst us, and secured to them not merely safety from danger, but also the free exercise of their holy religion. And now the Roman people bear that lasting stain which the Christians, at that time driven from the Roman world, and taking refuge with the barbarians, have branded on them.
This is has fictional written all over it.
But did these persecutions actually happen? What is the evidence being used, and how is this evidence being evaluated? A checklist of assessment is represented in the following list of nine emperors in who's rule the pagan persecution of Christians has been claimed by various sources. Note that here * denotes Moss's summary above, and an absence of * indicates that Moss does not evaluate any the listed sources as supportive of the historical persecution of Christians.
1. * Nero 64 to 68 Tacitus' Annals XV.44 (11th) Tertullian, Lactantius, Severus, Eusebius, Augustine 2. Domitian 89 to 96 Dio Cassius (67.14.1-2); execution of Flavius Clemens for "atheism" 3. Trajan 98 to 117 Pliny, Letters 10.96; Trajan in Pliny, Letters 10.97 4. Marcus Aurelius 161 to 180 Lyon (177 CE), Eusebius HE, 5.1.5,7. 5. Septimius Severus 193 to 211 Clement of Alexandria; Perpetua and Felicity; Leonides 6. Maximinus the Thracian 235 Pope Pontian and Hippolytus banished to the island of Sardinia. 7. * Decius 249 to 251 edict 250 CE re: sacrifice to the emperor with certificate (libellus) 8. * Valerian 253 to 260 edict (257 CE); P. Oxy 3035 (256 CE). "Order to arrest a ChrEsian". 9. * Diocletian and Galerius 284 to 305; retribution against the "Righteous Men" who silenced Apollo.Moss examines the oldest and generally agreed to be most authentic of the martyrdom accounts—the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the Acts of Ptolemaeus and Lucius, the account of the trial and death of Justin Martyr and companions, the Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs, the story of Perpetua and Felicity, and the Persecution in Lyon involving the bishop Pothinus, Blandina and several others—and finds that even these cannot be relied on as accurate historical accounts as they have been altered and re-written by subsequent generations of Christians.
10.2 ANDROCLES AND THE LION GEORGE BERNARD SHAW (1912); End notes by the author ...
There is no reason to believe that there was anything more in the Roman persecutions than this. The attitude of the Roman Emperor and the officers of his staff towards the opinions at issue were much the same as those of a modern British Home Secretary towards members of the lower middle classes when some pious policeman charges them with Bad Taste, technically called blasphemy: Bad Taste being a violation of Good Taste, which in such matters practically means Hypocrisy. The Home Secretary and the judges who try the case are usually far more sceptical and blasphemous than the poor men whom they persecute; and their professions of horror at the blunt utterance of their own opinions are revolting to those behind the scenes who have any genuine religious sensibility; but the thing is done because the governing classes, provided only the law against blasphemy is not applied to themselves, strongly approve of such persecution because it enables them to represent their own privileges as part of the religion of the country.
Therefore my martyrs are the martyrs of all time, and my persecutors the persecutors of all time. My Emperor, who has no sense of the value of common people's lives, and amuses himself with killing as carelessly as with sparing, is the sort of monster you can make of any silly-clever gentleman by idolizing him. We are still so easily imposed on by such idols that one of the leading pastors of the Free Churches in London denounced my play on the ground that my persecuting Emperor is a very fine fellow, and the persecuted Christians ridiculous. From which I conclude that a popular pulpit may be as perilous to a man's soul as an imperial throne.
All my articulate Christians, the reader will notice, have different enthusiasms, which they accept as the same religion only because it involves them in a common opposition to the official religion and consequently in a common doom. Androcles is a humanitarian naturalist, whose views surprise everybody. Lavinia, a clever and fearless freethinker, shocks the Pauline Ferrovius, who is comparatively stupid and conscience ridden. Spintho, the blackguardly debauchee, is presented as one of the typical Christians of that period on the authority of St. Augustine, who seems to have come to the conclusion at one period of his development that most Christians were what we call wrong uns. No doubt he was to some extent right: I have had occasion often to point out that revolutionary movements attract those who are not good enough for established institutions as well as those who are too good for them.
But the most striking aspect of the play at this moment is the terrible topicality given it by the war. We were at peace when I pointed out, by the mouth of Ferrovius, the path of an honest man who finds out, when the trumpet sounds, that he cannot follow Jesus. Many years earlier, in The Devil's Disciple, I touched the same theme even more definitely, and showed the minister throwing off his black coat for ever when he discovered, amid the thunder of the captains and the shouting, that he was a born fighter. Great numbers of our clergy have found themselves of late in the position of Ferrovius and Anthony Anderson. They have discovered that they hate not only their enemies but everyone who does not share their hatred, and that they want to fight and to force other people to fight. They have turned their churches into recruiting stations and their vestries into munition workshops. But it has never occurred to them to take off their black coats and say quite simply, "I find in the hour of trial that the Sermon on the Mount is tosh, and that I am not a Christian. I apologize for all the unpatriotic nonsense I have been preaching all these years. Have the goodness to give me a revolver and a commission in a regiment which has for its chaplain a priest of the god Mars: my God." Not a bit of it. They have stuck to their livings and served Mars in the name of Christ, to the scandal of all religious mankind. When the Archbishop of York behaved like a gentleman and the Head Master of Eton preached a Christian sermon, and were reviled by the rabble, the Martian parsons encouraged the rabble. For this they made no apologies or excuses, good or bad. They simple indulged their passions, just as they had always indulged their class prejudices and commercial interests, without troubling themselves for a moment as to whether they were Christians or not. They did not protest even when a body calling itself the AntiGerman League (not having noticed, apparently, that it had been anticipated by the British Empire, the French Republic, and the Kingdoms of Italy, Japan, and Serbia) actually succeeded in closing a church at Forest Hill in which God was worshipped in the German language. One would have supposed that this grotesque outrage on the commonest decencies of religion would have provoked a remonstrance from even the worldliest bench of bishops. But no: apparently it seemed to the bishops as natural that the House of God should be looted when He allowed German to be spoken in it as that a baker's shop with a German name over the door should be pillaged. Their verdict was, in effect, "Serve God right, for creating the Germans!" The incident would have been impossible in a country where the Church was as powerful as the Church of England, had it had at the same time a spark of catholic as distinguished from tribal religion in it. As it is, the thing occurred; and as far as I have observed, the only people who gasped were the Freethinkers. Thus we see that even among men who make a profession of religion the great majority are as Martian as the majority of their congregations. The average clergyman is an official who makes his living by christening babies, marrying adults, conducting a ritual, and making the best he can (when he has any conscience about it) of a certain routine of school superintendence, district visiting, and organization of almsgiving, which does not necessarily touch Christianity at any point except the point of the tongue. The exceptional or religious clergyman may be an ardent Pauline salvationist, in which case his more cultivated parishioners dislike him, and say that he ought to have joined the Methodists. Or he may be an artist expressing religious emotion without intellectual definition by means of poetry, music, vestments and architecture, also producing religious ecstacy by physical expedients, such as fasts and vigils, in which case he is denounced as a Ritualist. Or he may be either a Unitarian Deist like Voltaire or Tom Paine, or the more modern sort of Anglican Theosophist to whom the Holy Ghost is the Elan Vital of Bergson, and the Father and Son are an expression of the fact that our functions and aspects are manifold, and that we are all sons and all either potential or actual parents, in which case he is strongly suspected by the straiter Salvationists of being little better than an Atheist. All these varieties, you see, excite remark. They may be very popular with their congregations; but they are regarded by the average man as the freaks of the Church. The Church, like the society of which it is an organ, is balanced and steadied by the great central Philistine mass above whom theology looms as a highly spoken of and doubtless most important thing, like Greek Tragedy, or classical music, or the higher mathematics, but who are very glad when church is over and they can go home to lunch or dinner, having in fact, for all practical purposes, no reasoned convictions at all, and being equally ready to persecute a poor Freethinker for saying that St. James was not infallible, and to send one of the Peculiar People to prison for being so very peculiar as to take St. James seriously.
In short, a Christian martyr was thrown to the lions not because he was a Christian, but because he was a crank: that is, an unusual sort of person. And multitudes of people, quite as civilized and amiable as we, crowded to see the lions eat him just as they now crowd the lion-house in the Zoo at feeding-time, not because they really cared two-pence about Diana or Christ, or could have given you any intelligent or correct account of the things Diana and Christ stood against one another for, but simply because they wanted to see a curious and exciting spectacle. You, dear reader, have probably run to see a fire; and if somebody came in now and told you that a lion was chasing a man down the street you would rush to the window. And if anyone were to say that you were as cruel as the people who let the lion loose on the man, you would be justly indignant. Now that we may no longer see a man hanged, we assemble outside the jail to see the black flag run up. That is our duller method of enjoying ourselves in the old Roman spirit. And if the Government decided to throw persons of unpopular or eccentric views to the lions in the Albert Hall or the Earl's Court stadium tomorrow, can you doubt that all the seats would be crammed, mostly by people who could not give you the most superficial account of the views in question. Much less unlikely things have happened. It is true that if such a revival does take place soon, the martyrs will not be members of heretical religious sects: they will be Peculiars, Anti-Vivisectionists, Flat-Earth men, scoffers at the laboratories, or infidels who refuse to kneel down when a procession of doctors goes by. But the lions will hurt them just as much, and the spectators will enjoy themselves just as much, as the Roman lions and spectators used to do.
It was currently reported in the Berlin newspapers that when Androcles was first performed in Berlin, the Crown Prince rose and left the house, unable to endure the (I hope) very clear and fair exposition of autocratic Imperialism given by the Roman captain to his Christian prisoners. No English Imperialist was intelligent and earnest enough to do the same in London. If the report is correct, I confirm the logic of the Crown Prince, and am glad to find myself so well understood. But I can assure him that the Empire which served for my model when I wrote Androcles was, as he is now finding to his cost, much nearer my home than the German one.
Propaganda is also one of the methods used in psychological warfare, which may also involve false flag operations. The term propaganda may also refer to false information meant to reinforce the mindsets of people who already believe as the propagandist wishes. The assumption is that, if people believe something false, they will constantly be assailed by doubts. Since these doubts are unpleasant (see cognitive dissonance), people will be eager to have them extinguished, and are therefore receptive to the reassurances of those in power. For this reason propaganda is often addressed to people who are already sympathetic to the agenda. This process of reinforcement uses an individual's predisposition to self-select "agreeable" information sources as a mechanism for maintaining control.
This can be done:
What was the public opinion of the Constantine's doctrine? Apparently no one had dared to publicly reject it.
We have now seen what events transpired in the churches during the reign of Constantine.
On his death the doctrine which had been set forth at Nicæa, was subjected to renewed examination.
Although this doctrine was not universally approved,
no one, during the life of Constantine, had dared to reject it openly.
At his death, however, many renounced this opinion,
especially those who had previously been suspected of treachery.
By "treachery" it is meant that people were resisting the truth of the Bible, Constantine's political instrument by which he planned to unify the Roman Empire with a centralized monotheistic state religious cult. Constantine, like most Roman Emperors, can be readily described as a military dictator. What are the historical implications of the fact that no one had dared to openly reject his [Christian] doctrine while he lived? It's quite simple. If one were stupid enough to question the doctrine of the emperor one was likely to get a sword shoved through one's neck. This may in part be how the Christian religion was ushered into political history, and by a supreme military dictator whose history of violent executions extended from pagan priests and philosophers, to his son and wife. The history of Philostorgius states that Constantine was finally poisoned (Nicomedia c.337 CE) by his brothers on account of his violent execution of his son Crispus.
Modern Christians should understand a little about the political history of this Roman emperor who was the first widespread publisher of the Bible. After Constantine went to the underworld, a mass family execution was arranged by one of his sons in order to keep control of the new and strange Christian Church Industry. Later this same son (Constantius) arranged one of the first attested Christian inquisition and the persecution of pagans, in which "numbers without end" of victims were dragged from Antioch and Alexandria for torture and execution (See the history of Ammianus Marcellinus - Book 19,CH 7)
All through these intervening sixteen centuries this church industry has been playing the "Persecuted Christian" card, in order to appeal to the emotions of its audience - both children and adults. According to Aristotle the Three Modes of Persuasion in Rhetoric are Ethos - Appeal to the audience's sense of honesty and/or authority; Pathos - Appeal to the audience's sense of emotions; and Logos - Appeal to the audience's sense of logic. The story of the Christian persecution involves the fabrication of many forged documents, so many people may rule ethos out. Most Biblical scholars defer to the perceived authority of Eusebius in these matters. Eusebius is often the one and only literary source. Logos can be ruled out because there is no logic involved in these stories. The mode of persuasion in these stories of the persecutions is pathos - an appeal to the audience's sense of emotions. The audience is supposed to identify with the poor and suffering persecuted Christians. This is typical of a propaganda exercise.