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Power, Politics, and God: Religion in the Roman Empire

Prof. Paula Fredriksen

In Roman antiquity, gods and humans clustered in family groups. Pagans often saw their own ethnic group, or at least their rulers, as descended from a sexual union between a human ancestor and a god; Jews used the language of family and lineage to describe their relationship with their own god (as Israel’s “father” or “husband”). What modern people think of as “religion” ancient people saw as a group-defining patrimony. People were born into their relationship—thus, into their ritual and ethical obligations—to their gods. The first generation of the Jesus movement, by reaching out to non-Jews while promoting exclusive devotion to the god of Israel, disrupted this genealogical/patrilineal model of divine/human relations. Eventually, different interpretations of the figure of Jesus as God’s messiah (christos in Greek) gave birth to a wide variety of gentile movements who argued with each other—and with Jews both within the movement and outside of it—on the correct way to relate to the high god who was the father of Christ. By the fourth century, beginning with Constantine, Roman power politics complicated—and simplified—these debates. The application of Roman state coercive force was brought to bear, first, on other Christians (“heretics”), then on traditionalists (“pagans”), and finally, even on the source of the imperial church’s Old Testament scriptures, coercion against Jews. Our time together traces the arc of these social and religious developments.

Sun
6.2.2022
6
ב
Feb
20:00
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Free

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Power, Politics, and God: Religion in the Roman Empire

Prof. Paula Fredriksen

In Roman antiquity, gods and humans clustered in family groups. Pagans often saw their own ethnic group, or at least their rulers, as descended from a sexual union between a human ancestor and a god; Jews used the language of family and lineage to describe their relationship with their own god (as Israel’s “father” or “husband”). What modern people think of as “religion” ancient people saw as a group-defining patrimony. People were born into their relationship—thus, into their ritual and ethical obligations—to their gods. The first generation of the Jesus movement, by reaching out to non-Jews while promoting exclusive devotion to the god of Israel, disrupted this genealogical/patrilineal model of divine/human relations. Eventually, different interpretations of the figure of Jesus as God’s messiah (christos in Greek) gave birth to a wide variety of gentile movements who argued with each other—and with Jews both within the movement and outside of it—on the correct way to relate to the high god who was the father of Christ. By the fourth century, beginning with Constantine, Roman power politics complicated—and simplified—these debates. The application of Roman state coercive force was brought to bear, first, on other Christians (“heretics”), then on traditionalists (“pagans”), and finally, even on the source of the imperial church’s Old Testament scriptures, coercion against Jews. Our time together traces the arc of these social and religious developments.

Sun
6.2.2022
20:00
Online Event
Free of charge

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