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Power, Politics, and God: Religion in the Roman Empire

Hosted By: The National Library of Israel (NLI)

In Roman antiquity, gods and humans clustered in family groups. Pagans often saw their own ethnic group, or at least their rulers, as descended from a sexual union between a human ancestor and a god, while Jews used the language of family and lineage to describe their relationship with their own god (as Israel’s “father” or “husband”).

This lecture is the last event in “Jews and Christians through the Centuries: Communities in Conflict and Contact”, a series from the National Library of Israel.

What modern people think of as “religion”. ancient people saw as a group-defining patrimony. People were born into their relationship – thus, into their ritual and ethical obligations – to their gods. The first generation of the Jesus movement, by reaching out to non-Jews while still promoting exclusive devotion to the god of Israel, disrupted this genealogical/patrilineal model of divine/human relations.

Eventually, different interpretations of the figure of Jesus as God’s messiah (“christos” in Greek) gave birth to a wide variety of gentile movements who argued with each other, and with Jews both within the movement and outside of it, over the correct way to relate to the high god – the father of Christ. By the fourth century, beginning with Constantine, Roman power politics both complicated and simplified these debates.

The application of Roman state coercive force was brought to bear, first, on other Christians (“heretics”), then on traditionalists (“pagans”), and finally, even on the source of the imperial church’s Old Testament scriptures – the Jews. This lecture will trace the arc of these social and religious developments.

*This event was originally scheduled for the first week in January, but unfortunately had to be postponed due to unforeseen circumstances.

The event listed here is hosted by a third party. My Jewish Learning/70 Faces Media is not responsible for its content or for errors in the listing.

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