View Full Version : Rome condemns Christianity in 35AD?


Jenyar
04-21-04, 11:46 AM
The official website of the Christian Catacombs of Rome (http://www.catacombe.roma.it/) makes this passing statement:

The Christian religion was proclaimed "strana et illicita - strange and unlawful" (Senatorial decree of the year 35); "exitialis - deadly"(Tacitus); "prava et immodica - wicked and unbridled" (Plinius); "nova et malefica - new and harmful" (Svetonius); "tenebrosa et lucifuga - mysterious and opposed to light" (from "Octavius" by Minucius); "detestabilis- hateful" (Tacitus); therefore it was outlawed and persecuted, because it was considered the most dangerous enemy of the power of Rome, which was based upon the ancient national religion and on the emperor's worship.
(The Christians of the age of persecutions (http://www.catacombe.roma.it/en/persecuzioni.html)
My question is about the first line: what source did they use? Who would have made that "senatorial decree", Tiberius? And where is it recorded? "The year 35" can hardly mean 35 AD, surely that's way too early? If it's a reference, it's much too obscure to find (at least on Google).

I would dismiss it as a factual error on their part, but the words (strana et ellicita) might have appeared in some later text that they simply requoted. Can anyone shed some light?

spidergoat
04-21-04, 11:51 AM
I'm not sure about the details, but the statement seems to coincide with the political climate of the time. I doubt they considered it the MOST dangerous enemy to Rome, more probably it was just another of many religious movements that refused to acknowledge Roman gods.

Xev
04-21-04, 10:15 PM
Not of 35 AD, when Christianity was barely known to the Romans. I don't believe Tiberius or Sejanus were even acquainted with the religion.

Doubtfully Tiberius, though. He wasn't responsible for much of government by that time.

Dr Lou Natic
04-21-04, 10:19 PM
Rome was breeding awesome dogs at that time.... thats all I know:(

Tiassa
04-23-04, 03:07 PM
Well, the good news is that I looked up rome senatorial decree 35 (http://www.google.com/search?q=rome+senatorial+decree+35&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8) and Sciforums is now the #1 link at Google for that search.

I'll try a couple other terms.

At any rate ... document, people. Let's find the stinkin' document!

(I'll let you know if I come up with it.)

Tiassa
04-23-04, 03:56 PM
I've found some mention of the issue in the Catholic Encyclopedia:
The ministry and death of John the Baptist and of Jesus Christ occurred during the reign of Tiberius. According to St. Luke (iii, 1), St. John the Baptist was called by God, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, to prepare the way for Christ as His precursor. Shortly before his death Tiberius recalled the procurator Pontius Pilate from Judea. Tertullian (Apologeticum, v, xxi), from whom Eusebius and Orosius take the story, relates that Tiberius received a report concerning Christ and that he called upon the Senate to place Christ among the gods. The Senate rejected the request; Tiberius then threatened the accusers of the Christians with punishment. The narrative is not worthy of belief, still it is probable that Tertullian knew a document that professed to be a report of Pilate. ("Tiberius (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14717b.htm)")Okay, I think I got it.

From Tertullian:
• To say a word about the origin of laws of the kind to which we now refer, there was an old decree that no god should be consecrated by the emperor till first approved by the senate. Marcus ¦milius had experience of this in reference to his god Alburnus. And this, too, makes for our case, that among you divinity is allotted at the judgment of human beings. Unless gods give satisfaction to men, there will be no deification for them: the god will have to propitiate the man. Tiberius accordingly, in whose days the Christian name made its entry into the world, having himself received intelligence from Palestine of events which had clearly shown the truth of Christ's divinity, brought the matter before the senate, with his own decision in favour of Christ. The senate, because it had not given the approval itself, rejected his proposal. Caesar held to his opinion, threatening wrath against all accusers of the Christians. (Apology, 6 (http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-03/anf03-05.htm#P274_77178))

• All these things Pilate did to Christ; and now in fact a Christian in his own convictions, he sent word of Him to the reigning Caesar, who was at the time Tiberius. Yes, and the Caesars too would have believed on Christ, if either the Caesars had not been necessary for the world, or if Christians could have been Caesars. His disciples also, spreading over the world, did as their Divine Master bade them; and after suffering greatly themselves from the persecutions of the Jews, and with no unwilling heart, as having faith undoubting in the truth, at last by Nero's cruel sword sowed the seed of Christian blood at Rome. (Apology, 21 (http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-03/anf03-05.htm#P344_139064))There is commentary available on Eusebius that refers to Tertullian; see Schaff, "How Tiberius was affected when informed by Pilate concerning Christ (http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/npnf201/htm/iii.vii.iii.htm)."

The half-hour examination suggests that the whole thing starts with Tertullian, and while I'm no fan of Tertullian, it's ridiculous to think he fabricated the episode out of thin air. Schaff's footnotes include the following:
This entire account bears all the marks of untruthfulness, and cannot for a moment be thought of as genuine. Tertullian was probably, as Neander suggests, deceived by falsified or interpolated documents from some Christian source. He cannot have secured his knowledge from original state records. The falsification took place, probably, long after the time of Tiberius. Tertullian is the first writer to mention these circumstances, and Tertullian was not by any means a critical historian. (note 14 (http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/npnf201/htm/iii.vii.iii.htm#_fnf14))So Tertullian most likely related a spurious tale and down through the ages we come to this oddity at the Catacombs, which certainly does help market the place.

But that's just the short examination.

gendanken
04-25-04, 07:29 PM
Jenyar:

My question is about the first line: what source did they use? Who would have made that "senatorial decree", Tiberius? And where is it recorded? "The year 35" can hardly mean 35 AD, surely that's way too early? If it's a reference, it's much too obscure to find (at least on Google).

I would dismiss it as a factual error on their part, but the words (strana et ellicita) might have appeared in some later text that they simply requoted. Can anyone shed some light?
Most "first hand" accounts should be read with discretion- Selenius (sp?) was known to despise Claudius and so most of our ideas of the Emperor being a mumbling idiot come from his bias against him- this is not to say he was an idiot for Claudius was incredibly well read and in comparison to all the other Ceasers far more 'virtuous' in reign.

35 A.D. seems like too soon a time to be denouncing Christianity- it is too soon after the Nazarene was crucified, and by that time the following was disapaora and practiced in secret. In Claudius' time (41- 54 a.d) as well as Tiberious' time Christianity seemed more like a fad or novelty.

So it seems fallous, I'll quote the reasons why given above:

This entire account bears all the marks of untruthfulness, and cannot for a moment be thought of as genuine. Tertullian was probably, as Neander suggests, deceived by falsified or interpolated documents from some Christian source. He cannot have secured his knowledge from original state records. The falsification took place, probably, long after the time of Tiberius. Tertullian is the first writer to mention these circumstances, and Tertullian was not by any means a critical historian. (note 14)

Reliable historians like Josephus are few and far between.

Jenyar
04-26-04, 04:23 AM
Well, that seems to settle it then. But it seems odd to me that an elementary website like the Catacombs' would dig up such an obscure reference, and proceed to quote it in Latin. But they are Roman (er...Italian), so Latin might not be so strana to them.

gendanken
04-27-04, 06:54 PM
Jenyar:

Well, that seems to settle it then

Not really- even here another boo boo:


Gendanken: Most "first hand" accounts should be read with discretion- Selenius (sp?).........

Look how easy one makes a mistake, I meant Seneca the philosopher. Its the Se's where the mixup lies:

" In Seneca's Apocolocyntosis Augustus speaks against Claudius in the divine Senate, accusing him of killing his two great-granddaughters, his grand-niece Messalina, and others without specifying charges and ascertaining facts. Augustus warns them that if they create such gods, no one will believe that they themselves are gods. Augustus proposes that Claudius be deported from heaven; the motion is carried; and Mercury takes Claudius off to hell. At the tribunal of Aeacus Claudius is charged with murdering 35 senators, 221 Roman knights, and countless others. Aeacus pronounces him guilty and sentences him to suffer what he had caused. He is ordered to throw dice continually from a broken dice cup."

http://www.san.beck.org/AB7-RomanDecadence.html

And he wrote a piece called "The Pumkinifcaiton of Claudius" where he is mocking him as an idiot.

If I had not come back and noticed my mistake you'd be walking away thinking it was Selenius.

Jenyar
04-28-04, 04:56 AM
If I had not come back and noticed my mistake you'd be walking away thinking it was Selenius.
No danger of that - I make a point of checking the sources before accepting anything (although I'm not exempt from making similar mistakes myself). I was more interested in the original context than the author, though, but thanks.

edit: we don't seem to have found the original text containing the words strana et elicita yet, so whether they refer to the earliest Christians (as the website claims) or just some sects in general is still inconclusive.

Tiassa
04-28-04, 02:24 PM
we don't seem to have found the original text containing the words strana et elicita yetI'm not sure we will find that document. I'm not sure it exists.

The story so far:

• Senate condemns Christianity as false ca. 35CE (issue in question)
• Pilate reports affairs of Christianity to Tiberius (Tertullian)
• Tiberius moves to include Jesus among divinity (Tertullian)
• Senate rejects proposal (Tertullian)
• The Tertullian story is false (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Whether of not the rejection by the Senate of Tiberius' proposal in favor of Christians is, in fact, the "condemnation" referred to is an open question at this point.

However, the apocryphal "Acts of Pilate" might provide some further insight:
We should especially like to know if Pilate sent home to Rome any report of the trial and execution of Jesus, and, if so, what it contained. But it is not certain that he must have done so; and if he did, it has disappeared beyond trace.

Certainly some ancient writers believed that Pilate did send in such a report, but there is no evidence that any of them had any real knowledge of it. About AD 150 Justin Martyr, addressing his Defence of Christianity to the Emperor Antoninius Pius, referred him to Pilate's report, which Justin supposed must be preserved in the imperial archives. 'But the words, "They pierced my hands and my feet," ' he says, 'are a description of the nails that were fixed in His hands and His feet on the cross; and after He was crucified, those who crucified Him cast lots for His garments, and divided them among themselves; and that these things were so, you may learn from the "Acts" which were recorded under Pontius Pilate." Later he says: 'That He performed these miracles you may easily be satisfied from the "Acts" of Pontius Pilate."

Then Tertullian, the great jurist-theologian of Carthage, addressing his Defence of Christianity to the man authorities in the province of Africa about AD 197, says: 'Tiberius, in whose time the Christian name first made its appearance in the world, laid before the Senate tidings from Syria Palestina which had revealed to him the truth of the divinity there manifested, and supported the motion by his own vote to begin with. The Senate rejected it because it had not itself given its approval. Caesar held to his own opinion and threatened danger to the accusers of the Christians."

It would no doubt be pleasant if we could believe this story of Tertullian, which he manifestly believed to be true but a story so inherently improbable and inconsistent with what we know of Tiberius, related nearly 170 years after the event, does not commend itself to a historian's judgment.

When the influence of Christianity was increasing rapidly in the Empire, one of the last pagan emperors, Maximin II, two years before the Edict of Milan, attempted to bring Christianity into disrepute by publishing what he alleged to be the true 'Acts of Pilate', representing the origins of Christianity in an unsavoury guise. These 'Acts', which were full of outrageous assertions about Jesus, had to be read and memorized by schoolchildren. They were manifestly forged, as Eusebius historian pointed out at the time;' among other things, their dating was quite wrong, as they placed the death of Jesus in the seventh year of Tiberius (AD 20), whereas the testimony of Josephus' is plain that Pilate not become procurator of Judaea till Tiberius' Twelfth year (not to mention the evidence of Luke iii. 1, according to which John the Baptist began to preach in fifteenth year of Tiberius). We do not know in detail these alleged 'Acts' contained, as they were naturally suppressed on Constantine's accession to power; but we may surmise that they had some affinity with Toledoth Yeshu, an anti-Christian compilation popular in some Jewish circles in mediaeval time.'

Later in the fourth century another forged set of 'Acts of Pilate' appeared, this time from the Christian side, and as devoid of genuineness as Maximin's, to which they were perhaps intended as a counterblast. They are still extant, and consist of alleged memorials the trial, passion, and resurrection of Christ, recorded by Nicodemus and deposited with Pilate. (They are also own as the 'Gospel of Nicodemus'.) A translation of them is given in M. R. James' Apocryphal New Testament, pp. 94 ff., and they have a literary interest of their own, which does not concern us here. (Bruce, see "Information on the Acts of Pilate (http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/actspilate.html)")The so-called report of Pilate can be found here (http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/reportpilate.html). Even Eusebius denounces the Acts of Pilate, reporting that they were taught for memorization in the schools.

Right now we might face a difficult proposition: searching two languages (at least) and two-thousand years of history for a document that may not actually ever have existed.

But everything we have so far suggests the Senate decree condemning Christianity in 35CE doesn't exist; I'll have to think where to go from there.

(Before I go off and do something silly like email the site and ask the question ... anyone know much about computerized translation? I'm going to use Systran to send the email in English and Italian, but I've never trusted computerized translators, and, well, I'm an American so I've never bothered to learn any other languages.)

Edit: Too late ... whoops. Hit send, not save. Lesson - Smoke first, then save. Don't click randomly when you're not watching what you're doing. Instinct and intuition will abandon you.