Tuesday, July 31, 2018

There was
no Domitianic persecution of Christians /

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No pagan writer of the time ever accused Domitian, as they had Nero, of persecuting Christians. Pliny, for example, served as a lawyer under Domitian and wrote in a letter to Trajan (r. 98–117 C.E.) that he was never present at the trial of a Christian (Letters 10.96.1). This is a strange claim for one of Domitian’s former officials if Christian persecution were so prevalent. The archaeologist Julian Bennett, who has written a biography of Trajan, also fails to mention any general persecution of Christians at this time. Domitian’s execution of Clemens has sometimes been linked to the senator’s apparent “atheism,” a term sometimes given to Christians. However, there is no “smoking gun” linking Clemens’s death to Christian persecution.3 So Jones concludes, “No convincing evidence exists for a Domitianic persecution of the Christians.”4

A related “fact” is that Domitian claimed the title Dominus et Deus (“Lord and God”). The evidence here is mixed. The poet Statius (Silvae 1.6.83–84) states that Domitian rejected the title Dominus as his predecessor Augustus (the first Roman emperor) had done. The historian Suetonius (Life of Domitian 13.2) does report that Domitian dictated a letter that began, “Our Lord and Master orders…,” but it was only his sycophantic officials who began to address him in this way. The story was again embellished by later historians to the point that Domitian is said to have ordered its use. Jones thinks the story incredible because Domitian was known for his habitual attention to theological detail in traditional Roman worship, so he would not have adopted such inflammatory divine language. After their deaths, the best that emperors could hope for was to be called Divus (Divine), not Deus (God). If Domitian were such a megalomaniac who ordered worship to himself, why haven’t any inscriptions been found using this formula? In fact, no epigraphic evidence exists attesting to Christians being forced to call him “Lord and God.”


Jones writes as a Roman historian outside of Biblical studies, but a New Testament scholar has similarly articulated this view. Leonard Thompson notes that a more critical reading of Eusebius raises doubts about a widespread persecution of Christians under Domitian. He concludes that “most modern commentators no longer accept a Domitianic persecution of Christians.”5 Some writers consider Revelation as a source for a persecution by Domitian, although John never identifies a specific emperor. If so, then Revelation would be the only ancient source pointing to such a persecution.


Anonymous said...

Hogwash. The author here is just the right person to discredit the Holocaust next. Historians are fast running out of subjects, so they are turning against each other in an effort to make a name for themselves. Unfortunately, this not the right place for me to fight Mr Miller point to point. But I will mention something. The apostle John was over 90 years old when he was exiled to Patmos. In the book of Revelation he wrote:
(Rev 1:9) I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
"Companion to tribulation"? What tribulation? There had been no persecution for decades. The expression obviously refutes the opinion John was the only one or one of the very few persecuted at the time. Please note also why he was thrown into prison. That couldn't have happened without a trial under Roman Law. So what John was doing had become illegal at some point in time. When? Well, if there was no problem until that time, then it must have been under Domitian's reign.
The point where Mr Miller is misleading everybody is his mention of a persecution of Christians that never happened. True, partly. Domitian, in his later years, became very dictatorial, and as he was very religious, he turned against anybody who was against the religion of Rome, not just Christians. He viewed this as sedition.
And one more point. The title "My Lord and my God" (Dominus et Deus noster) used for Domitian did not mean that Domitian viewed himself as God. The Roman pantheon had scores of gods. Which one was Domitian? Jupiter was "noster" and no Roman ever denied that. At best, he could only claim to be a god - which is not what that title says. Then what? The title means he was a representative of the gods on earth authorized to end any threatening opposition to the Roman gods. Some religions adjusted accordingly, but the Jewish and the Christian religions could not. This resulted in a legal indictment against persons, not actually a persecution against religions, herding them and throwing them into arenas. Modern example, religious conscientious objectors. They are brought to court one by one for refusing military service while their religion may be legally free in a country. So Mr Miller and his clan wilfully mislead us. I advise him to become a songwriter rather - he may have better luck.

digiSapientia said...

Thank you, dear friend.