Christian Persecution in Antiquity
Imprint: Baylor University Press
181 Pages, 5.50 x 8.50 in
- Published: September 2021
For centuries into the Common Era, Christians faced social ostracism and suspicion from neighbors and authorities alike. At times, this antipathy erupted into violence. Following Christ was a risky allegiance: to be a Christian in the Roman Empire carried with it the implicit risk of being branded a traitor to cultural and imperial sensibilities. The prolonged experience of distrust, oppression, and outright persecution helped shape the ethos of the Christian faith and produced a wealth of literature commemorating those who gave their lives in witness to the gospel.
Wolfram Kinzig, in Christian Persecution in Antiquity, examines the motivations and legal mechanisms behind the various outbursts of violence against Christians, and chronologically tracks the course of Roman oppression of this new religion to the time of Constantine. Brief consideration is also given to persecutions of Christians outside the borders of the Roman Empire. Kinzig analyzes martyrdom accounts of the early church, cautiously drawing on these ancient voices alongside contemporary non-Christian evidence to reconstruct the church’s experience as a minority sect. In doing so, Kinzig challenges recent reductionist attempts to dismantle the idea that Christians were ever serious targets of intentional violence. While martyrdom accounts and their glorification of self-sacrifice seem strange to modern eyes, they should still be given credence as historical artifacts indicative of actual events, despite them being embellished by sanctified memory.
Newly translated from the German original by Markus Bockmuehl and featuring an additional chapter and concise notes, Christian Persecution in Antiquity fills a gap in English scholarship on early Christianity and offers a helpful introduction to this era for nonspecialists. Kinzig makes clear the critical role played by the experience of persecution in the development of the church’s identity and sense of belonging in the ancient world.
Introduction: The Cruelty and Fascination of Ancient Persecutions of Christians
1 The Marginalization of Christianity within Judaism
2 Christianity’s Offensiveness: Ideological Parameters of the Ancient Conflicts
3 Legal Procedures and Punishments
4 Persecutions in Rome under Nero and Domitian
5 Christians as Victims of Local Police Actions (111–249)
6 A Decade of Persecution: From Decius to Valerian (249–260)
7 The Fiercest Attack on Ancient Christianity: The ‘Great Persecution’ under Diocletian and Its Aftermath
8 Later Repressions of Christians in the Roman Empire
9 Late Antique Persecutions outside the Roman Empire
10 The Dispute about Repentance after Apostasy
Kinzig’s book offers a factual description of the persecution of Christians from the time of the apostles to the fourth century. The book is an excellent read. It is packed with information and clearly written. People, periods, and places are referenced in an accessible manner. Kinzig doesn’t get bogged down in scholarly minutiae, but his reconstruction is informed by an excellent grasp of the sources and by their critical evaluation. There is not, to my knowledge, a book of this character available in English.~Johannes Zachhuber, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology, University of Oxford
Wolfram Kinzig combines great learning and critical rigor with a sensitivity to the cruelty and fascination of ancient persecutions of Christians. The result is a compact and lively study that provides crisp presentations of individual accounts of Christian persecutions and substantive analyses of the historical contexts that brought them about. New material on methodology, number of victims, court procedures, and methods of torture contribute to the success of the English version, as does Markus Bockmuehl’s excellent translation.~Wayne Coppins, Professor of Religion, The University of Georgia
Was the persecution of ancient Christians only a myth? In this timely intervention in a fraught debate, Kinzig replies with a clear ‘No.’ On the basis of a wide range of historical sources, he traces a concise outline of the history of persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire before Constantine. Thanks to Markus Bockmuehl, this sobering scholarship is now mediated for Anglophone readers in fluid English prose.~Jane Heath, Associate Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University