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Violence against Christians and violence by Christians in the first three centuries: direct violence, cultural violence and the debate about Christian exclusiveness

Danny Praet (UGent)
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Abstract
This contribution addresses the problem of violence by and violence against Christians in the first three centuries of the common era by using the definition of both direct and cultural violence as developed by Johan Galtung. Ancient religions offer examples of both and this paper argues that violence cannot always be explained by non-religious factors but is inherent to the traditions themselves. The ‘pax deorum’ mechanism identified the Christian refusal to sacrifice as the cause of catastrophe and triggered direct violence against Christians. Direct violence by Christians is very rare in the first three centuries but the paper offers examples of a violent discourse in Jewish and Christian sources as a prefiguration of real violence against idols and temples in later centuries. The Kitos-war is perhaps the closest example of a religious war in the Roman period and, although Christians were not involved, this paper asks the question whether Greek and Roman intellectuals saw the religious exclusivism common to both Judaism and Christianity as a threat to the religious inclusiveness of the Empire, in which case Christian proselytism would have identified the latter as the greatest threat. The final stage of violence against Christians, large scale state persecutions, were accompanied by a religious “war” of propaganda. Intellectuals close to officials instigating direct violence against Christians attacked their exclusiveness. In the context of the Great Persecution Hierocles used The Life of Apollonius of Tyana to attack Christian claims to superiority. This work by Flavius Philostratus is extremely difficult to interpret and the link between Philostratus and the religious politics of the Severan dynasty is a matter of conjecture but the rejection of Jewish exclusiveness is so clear and the tension in this work between allusions to the Gospels and the absence of any explicit reference to Christianity have triggered the question whether Philostratus was also thinking of Christian exclusivism. His work combines religious inclusivism with an epistemological skepticism which only rejects exclusive religious truth-claims, and it can perhaps be interpreted as the terms on which pagan intellectuals were willing to include Christianity in their religious-cultural system. What lay ahead was however far less subtle.
Keywords
greek, roman, christianity, violence, persecution, religious conflict

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MLA
Praet, Danny. “Violence Against Christians and Violence by Christians in the First Three Centuries: Direct Violence, Cultural Violence and the Debate About Christian Exclusiveness.” Violence in Ancient Christianity : Victims and Perpetrators. Ed. Albert C Geljon & Riemer Roukema. Vol. 125. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2014. 31–55. Print.
APA
Praet, D. (2014). Violence against Christians and violence by Christians in the first three centuries: direct violence, cultural violence and the debate about Christian exclusiveness. In A. C. Geljon & R. Roukema (Eds.), Violence in ancient Christianity : victims and perpetrators (Vol. 125, pp. 31–55). Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.
Chicago author-date
Praet, Danny. 2014. “Violence Against Christians and Violence by Christians in the First Three Centuries: Direct Violence, Cultural Violence and the Debate About Christian Exclusiveness.” In Violence in Ancient Christianity : Victims and Perpetrators, ed. Albert C Geljon and Riemer Roukema, 125:31–55. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Praet, Danny. 2014. “Violence Against Christians and Violence by Christians in the First Three Centuries: Direct Violence, Cultural Violence and the Debate About Christian Exclusiveness.” In Violence in Ancient Christianity : Victims and Perpetrators, ed. Albert C Geljon and Riemer Roukema, 125:31–55. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.
Vancouver
1.
Praet D. Violence against Christians and violence by Christians in the first three centuries: direct violence, cultural violence and the debate about Christian exclusiveness. In: Geljon AC, Roukema R, editors. Violence in ancient Christianity : victims and perpetrators. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill; 2014. p. 31–55.
IEEE
[1]
D. Praet, “Violence against Christians and violence by Christians in the first three centuries: direct violence, cultural violence and the debate about Christian exclusiveness,” in Violence in ancient Christianity : victims and perpetrators, vol. 125, A. C. Geljon and R. Roukema, Eds. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2014, pp. 31–55.
@incollection{5672507,
  abstract     = {This contribution addresses the problem of violence by and violence against Christians in the first three centuries of the common era by using the definition of both direct and cultural violence as developed by Johan Galtung. Ancient religions offer examples of both and this paper argues that violence cannot always be explained by non-religious factors but is inherent to the traditions themselves. The ‘pax deorum’ mechanism identified the Christian refusal to sacrifice as the cause of catastrophe and triggered direct violence against Christians. Direct violence by Christians is very rare in the first three centuries but the paper offers examples of a violent discourse in Jewish and Christian sources as a prefiguration of real violence against idols and temples in later centuries. The Kitos-war is perhaps the closest example of a religious war in the Roman period and, although Christians were not involved, this paper asks the question whether Greek and Roman intellectuals saw the religious exclusivism common to both Judaism and Christianity as a threat to the religious inclusiveness of the Empire, in which case Christian proselytism would have identified the latter as the greatest threat. The final stage of violence against Christians, large scale state persecutions, were accompanied by a religious “war” of propaganda. Intellectuals close to officials instigating direct violence against Christians attacked their exclusiveness. In the context of the Great Persecution Hierocles used The Life of Apollonius of Tyana to attack Christian claims to superiority. This work by Flavius Philostratus is extremely difficult to interpret and the link between Philostratus and the religious politics of the Severan dynasty is a matter of conjecture but the rejection of Jewish exclusiveness is so clear and the tension in this work between allusions to the Gospels and the absence of any explicit reference to Christianity have triggered the question whether Philostratus was also thinking of Christian exclusivism. His work combines religious inclusivism with an epistemological skepticism which only rejects exclusive religious truth-claims, and it can perhaps be interpreted as the terms on which pagan intellectuals were willing to include Christianity in their religious-cultural system. What lay ahead was however far less subtle.},
  author       = {Praet, Danny},
  booktitle    = {Violence in ancient Christianity : victims and perpetrators},
  editor       = {Geljon, Albert C and Roukema, Riemer},
  isbn         = {9789004274785},
  keywords     = {greek,roman,christianity,violence,persecution,religious conflict},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {31--55},
  publisher    = {Brill},
  series       = {Vigiliae Christianae Supplements},
  title        = {Violence against Christians and violence by Christians in the first three centuries: direct violence, cultural violence and the debate about Christian exclusiveness},
  volume       = {125},
  year         = {2014},
}