Religions 19: Roman Religious Policy - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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Religions 19: Roman Religious Policy

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  1. Religions 19: Roman ReligiousPolicy

  2. Was there a Roman policy? • NO! Not in sense of a systematic, deliberate policy (this could not be since the Empire did not have a central religious institution to enforce measures) • Roman measures only in response to stimuli from within Empire (cf. e.g. letter of Pliny!), so was rather indirect and incidental, and only when public order was at stake • 2 effects of Roman policy: • positive: promotion of religious practices from Rome (applied by local elite): imperial cult + ‘Romanisation’ • Negative: repression of certain religious ideas and practices

  3. Terminology for religious ‘awkwardness’ • Atheos = ‘distanced from gods’ (V BCE) > ‘rejecting or neglecting traditional practices’ (cf. asebes). Latin equivalents are sacrilegusand impius • Superstitio(Greek deisidaimonia): ‘being deviant’, but more defined as the antonym of religio • Plutarch: regards deisidaimoniaas even worse than atheos, as the latter is simply rejecting the gods, whereas in the former people hate the gods and blame them for everything; end result: atheism

  4. How did religious authority handle these cases? • Religious authority (together with other powers) in hands of elite: any other claims to religious authority were thus subversive > potential action (mostly indirect/laissez faire): • - priestly castes (Egypt, Judaea: under close scrutiny; Gaul: Druids abolished) • Claims to authority by individuals: always problem, cf. e.g. execution of Jesus • Esoteric wisdom: burning of prophetic texts under Augustus (12 BCE) * However, these measures were ambivalent or even contradictory: one hand, regarded as ‘superstition’, other hand, divination was major part of civic cults (might end up in wrong hands)

  5. Religious policy was thus mainly reactive and only in response to disturbance of public order • We can thus speak of ‘religious policy’ as the whole group of ad-hoc measures pertaining to religion taken by the Roman government • Still we can study: • Patterns in these ad-hoc measures • Exceptional cases where government did impose measures (i.e. was not reactive)

  6. Three Cases • 1. magic: see class on Religious Options and Apuleius’ Apology • 2. Judaism: ancient, certain tendencies in philosophy agree on description of God. However, ‘strange’ aspects: circumcision, abstention from meat, Sabbath, worship of exclusive God in Jerusalem More serious: Judaeans set themselves apart from public worship > tension

  7. 1 BCE edict of Augustus (READ) • 41 CE: Claudius on Alexandrian riots • Ca. 49 CE: Judaeans banned from Rome • Few years later: incident of Paul in Ephesus (Judaean community distances itself from Paul) • 66-73 CE: Judaean War (temple destroyed 70) • 115-7: Judaean revolt in Egypt • 132-5: Bar Kochba revolt (Jerusalem refounded as Roman colony)

  8. Consequence of destruction of Temple in 70: Romans took away Judaean sacrificial cult and priesthood > without central focus of cult, ethnic identity Judaeans was severely damaged and transformed > rabbis, writing down of oral traditions = normative Judaism of later times

  9. 3. Christianity • ‘Strange’ aspects: follow convicted criminal, whom they worship as ‘God’; strange habits like eating his body and drinking his blood (cannibalism); ‘secret’ meetings • As with Judaeans, main problem, however, was absence in public cults and, in contrast to Judaeans, they did not have old tradition > ‘depraved superstitio’

  10. Before mid-II CE: Roman measures sporadic and ad hoc • 64 CE: fire of Rome, Christians scapegoats (Tacitus) • Ca. 110 CE: Pliny on Christians * Imperial policy against Christians: ‘persecutions’ (though it only concerns measures by 3 emperors, so no systematic policy)

  11. 249: edict of Decius > everyone has to sacrifice (not anti-Christian, but would have had effect on Christian communities) • 257-60: Valerian: clergy should ‘acknowledge’ traditional practices; no Christian meetings, Christian elite should renounce; punishment of clergy > aimed at organization of Church • 303-11: ‘Great Persecutions’: destructions of sacred texts and meeting places, confiscation of Church property, restrictions on legal + social privileges of Christians; later: sacrifice for clergy, then all Christians

  12. 249 set precedent for seeing Roman religion as a unified system (sole thing that connected everything: sacrifice) > Empire wide measures • 311: Galerius: ‘edict of toleration’ • 313: edict of Milan (Constantine + Licinius): Church property given back, Christianity regarded as on equal footing with traditional cults and practices • From Constantine, Christianity gradually becomes state-favoured religion