Friday, 24 May 2019

Paul Middleton: Early Christian Persecution: A Case for “Modified Minimalism”

he last sixty years has seen a significant shift in the way Roman persecution of the early Christians has been seen. No longer is the history of the church viewed as a history of persecution, or the first four centuries divided between “good” and “bad” emperors depending on their attitude towards the Church. Rather, the view developed that where persecution happened at all, it was sporadic and random, and local rather than officially state-sponsored. More recently, scholars have questioned even the notion of persecution, since, it is argued, any Roman action against Christians was prosecution. This might be viewed as a swing from the maximalism of, for example, Eusebius to what might be deemed minimalism. In this paper, I will argue that while an important corrective, the prosecution/persecution dichotomy that sustains minimalist accounts of persecution do not adequately take account of the situation of the early Christians. Instead, what I term “modified minimalism” will take account of both the judicial nature of Roman action against members of the early church, but also the experiences of those early Christians who believed themselves to be persecuted.

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