Quest Post this week is from Clint Burnett. I am delighted to have a friend and former student write this week’s post. Clint has academic training that has given him the opportunity to study the historical backgrounds of early Christianity. Clint has completed the MDiv degree from Harding School of Theology and the Master of Sacred Theology (STM) from Boston University. He is currently enrolled in the doctoral program at Boston College, working on a PhD in Biblical Studies. Clint has had opportunity to combine work done in a graduate course in papyrology at Harvard University with his longstanding interest in the mistreatment of early followers of Christ during the Roman Empire. He was kind enough to write up a post about one aspect of the persecution of early disciples for this blog on the book of Revelation (Clint also has a blog that looks at material cultural and the historical context of early Christianity, which you can find at http://www.clintburnett.com/
Egyptian Papyri and the Persecution of Christians
For the first 220 years of the movement, no empire wide, systematic persecution of Christians occurred. While there is evidence for persecution of Christians from the earliest days of Christianity (e.g., the testimony of Acts, Paul’s letters, 1 Peter, the book of Revelation, the Neronian persecution of Christians in Rome in the AD 60s), these persecutions seem to have been localized, and with the exception of the persecutions of Christians under the Roman Emperors Nero (AD 54-68), Septimius Severus (AD 193-211), and Maximinus Thrax (AD 235-38), not state sponsored, i.e., the Roman government did not actively seek out Christians. It seems that most Roman officials were content to follow the modus operandi of the Emperor Trajan. That is, when Pliny the Younger wrote to Trajan c. AD 110 and asked him what he should do about Christians, Trajan instructed the governor of Pontus-Bithynia, “These people (i.e., Christians) must not be hunted out; if they are brought before you and the charge against them proved, they must be punished” (Pliny, Letters 10.97; translation from LCL, Betty Radice).