Podcast episode

Episode 144: Politics and Religion in Late Antiquity, Part II: The Rise of Christianity and the Invention and Eclipse of ‘Paganism’

Coin dedicated to ‘Unconquered Sol, my Companion’, issued under Constantine from the years 313-17

This episode is a second discussion of late-antique politics and religion in Rome, with a view to giving some political and social background to the changes in late-antique religious life which took a decidedly new turn from the middle of the third century. This process, which would lead eventually to the Christianisation of the Roman realm in a definitive way, was only definitive in retrospect, and we attempt some contextualisation of the ways in which it occurred. A number of discursus occur along the way, including discussion of the origin of the term ‘pagan’ and its resonances in modern esoteric movements. You can’t do all this without going into an awful lot of historical details, so those listeners who simply are not interested in late-antique Roman imperial politics may want to skip this one (but at their peril!).

Works Cited in this Episode, roughly-chronologically:

  • The Gospel of John on Jews expelling Christians from the synagogue: 9:22; 12:42; 16:2.
  • Pliny’s letter to Trajan: Ep. X.96.
  • Origen on the ongoing ‘problem’ of Jewish Christians: Homilies on Leviticus 5.8.
  • Constantine calls in Sopater of Apamea for some specialist telestic consultation on his Constantinople-project: John Lydus De mens. p. 65, 2-66, 1 Wünsch. See Eunapius VS 6.2 on Sopater’s career at Constantine’s court, up until he was killed in a plot involving calumnies of sorcery.
  • John Chrysostom is still criticizing judaizers in the Church who attend synagogue services. See, e.g., his Contra Jud. 4.3.

Recommended Reading:

Generally Interesting:

  • Polymnia Athanassiadi and Michael Frede, editors. Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1999.
  • Daniélou, Jean, Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1973).
  • Deissmann, Adolf, Light from the Ancient East: The New Testament Illustrated by Recently Discovered Texts of the Graeco-Roman World (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2004) [The classic presentation of the evidence for the influence of traditional ruler-cult on early Christianity].
  • W. H. C. Frend. Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church: A Study of a Conflict from the Maccabees to Donatus. Blackwell, Oxford, 1965.
  • Idem. The Rise of Christianity. Fortress, Philadelphia, 1984.
  • R. MacMullen. Paganism in the Roman Empire. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT/London, 1981.
  • Guy G. Stroumsa. The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformations of Late Antiquity. Chicago, IL, 2009.

On Christians and Jews in the late-antique Roman World:

  • Walter Bauer. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. Fortress, Philadelphia, 1971.
  • Raymond Brown. Not Jewish Christianity and Gentile Christianity but Types of Jewish/Gentile Christianity. Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 45:74–79, 1983.
  • James D. G. Dunn, editor. Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A.D. 70 to 135: The Second Durham-Tübingen Research Symposium on Earliest Christianity and Judaism (Durham, September 1989). Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, 1992.
  • Sabrina Inowlocki. Eusebius and the Jewish Authors: His Citation Technique in an Apologetic Context. Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands, 2006.
  • J. Carleton Paget, The Definition of Jewish Christian/Jewish Christianity in the History of Research, in R. Hvalnik and O. Skarsaune, ed., A History of Jewish Believers in Christ from Antiquity to the Present, Vol. 1, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006).
  • Burton Visotzky. Prolegomenon to the Study of Jewish-Christianities in Rabbinic Literature. Association for Jewish Studies Review, 14:47–70, 1989.

On the ‘End of Paganism’:

  • Pierre Chuvin. A Chronicle of the Last Pagans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1990.
  • R. Macmullen. Christianizing the Roman Empire (AD100-400). Yale University Press, New York, NY, 1984.
  • Eberhard Sauer. The End of Paganism in the North-Western Provinces of the Roman Empire: The Example of the Mithras Cult. Number 634 in BAR International Series. Tempus Reparatum, London, 1996.
  • Edward J Watts. The Final Pagan Generation: Rome’s Unexpected Path to Christianity. University of California Press, Berkeley, 2020.



, , , , , , , ,