Christianity is defined as, “A major religion, stemming from the life, teachings, and death of Jesus of Nazareth (the Christ, or the Anointed One of God) in the 1st century AD.” (Shelton) It has become the largest of the world’s religions. Yet in Ancient Rome in the first century A.D. they were not welcome. Christians were burned and tortured, and persecuted for just over three hundred years because of their beliefs. Why? We may never fully know, but I believe it was mostly out of fear. Fear of the new, and fear of change.
Christianity derived from Judaism. More specifically it derived from Jesus Christ who was Jewish, in the first century A.D. Judaism was a racially exclusive religion whose members did not attempt to make converts among non-Jews. (Shelton) This is one of the reasons that Jews went so long without being persecuted. Even Augustus was considerate toward there religious beliefs, and did not deny any Jew of Roman citizenship. He also would move the monthly grain doles to another day if they happened to fall on a Jewish Sabbath, but this peace did not last for long. The Jews blatant refusal to worship any God but there own began to anger the emperor Tiberius, so he therefore sent out a decree of persecution. (Shelton) Many Jews were forced to burn their religious vestments, and were sent to provinces with harsh climates. Others were forced into life-long slavery. During this time the Christians began to break away from the Jews. The Christians believed in spreading their “sacred mission” to the entire world, and believed in accepting any person who wanted to convert to Christianity. This went directly against Judaic belief therefore they split into two religions. (Starr)
Early persecutions were sporadic, caused by local conditions and depending on the attitude of the governor. The fundamental cause of persecution was that the Christians conscientiously rejected the gods whose favor was believed to have brought success to the empire. The Christians were not respectful toward ancestral pagan customs as the Jews had been. Their preaching of a new “king” sounded like revolution. The opposition of the Jews to them led to breaches of the peace. Thus the Christians were very unpopular. Paul, one of Christ’s apostles, sermon at Ephesus provoked a riot to defend the cult of the goddess Artemis. In 64 A.D. the Christians were accused of setting a fire that destroyed much of Rome. (Shelton) The emperor Nero, happy to have a scapegoat, and a reason to kill Christians ordered a vast multitude murdered. This incident was the first time that Rome was conscious that Christians were distinct from Jews. But there was no formal senatorial enactment proscribing Christianity at this time. Nero's persecution was local and short. Soon thereafter, however, the profession of Christianity was defined as a capital crime, though of a special kind because one gained pardon by apostasy, rejection of a faith once confessed, demonstrated by...