Roman Attitudes Toward the Christians

John Granger Cook, Mohr Siebed, 2011, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        This is a fascinating compilation of writings of the church and government officials of the first five centuries of the CE. Why the animosity by government officials? ‘Once Christianity separated from Judaism and began converting pagans, some Romans began to suspect that Christianity had the potential of tearing the fabric of Roman society apart’ (p 4). ‘The persecutions were sporadic. The sum total of Christians who died as a result of the Roman persecutions in the era before Constantine was less than the number of Protestants who died at the hands of Charles V in the Netherlands’ (p 9). Of major significance (especially for research in John’s apocalypse) is lack of data on Domitian persecution; major attention should be paid to Trajan and Neronian persecutions (p 10).

        Of particular interest is Cook’s documentation of Christians ‘revenge’ on pagans once they had the political power (eg an 11-year old boy who is compelled to certify that he sacrificed to the gods ‘all his life’ (p 188). Pagans teaching in public institutions were not to receive public stipends (p 184). Synagogues were destroyed or converted into churches (p 287).

        Fascinating documentation of a difficult time in western thought in the transition of religious and political structures.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.