When Steve Green paid millions of dollars from his family fortune for 16 fragments of the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls, it seemed the perfect addition to their new Museum of the Bible in Washington DC.
Then this weekend, at a conference in Washington, scrambled by the coronavirus pandemic, experts released a 200-page report revealing how the forgeries fooled scholars and buyers on the antiquities market.
"After an exhaustive review of all the imaging and scientific analysis results, it is evident that none of the textual fragments in Museum of the Bible's Dead Sea Scroll collection are authentic," said the leader of the investigation, Colette Loll, the director of Art Fraud Insights, in a statement.
The exposure of the fakes does not affect the authenticity of the genuine Dead Sea Scrolls. The oldest known pieces of the original Hebrew Bible, dating from about 400BC to 300AD, were discovered rolled in clay pots in caves in Palestine’s West Bank in the 1940s.
But it casts doubt on almost every piece of the so-called Post-2002 fragments, a collection of about 70 items that entered the market in the early years of this century after William Kando, the son of an antiquities dealer who bought the original scrolls from Bedouin shepherds seven decades ago, claimed to have opened a family vault in Switzerland.
In fact, scholars now say the Dead Sea forgeries could be part of the most significant sham in biblical archeology since the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife," which hoodwinked a Harvard scholar and made worldwide news in 2012.
Some scholars estimate that as many as 70 forged fragments, purportedly part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, have hit the market since 2002. Revelations about the Green's collection could raise more questions about ancient biblical artifacts bought by other evangelicals, often for millions of dollars.
Hence it also is good to retrace who and what Jesus Christ really was. We already drew attention to this in an earlier segment which also referred to the Dead Sea scrolls. To which one can ad that for example, in The Jesus Dynasty (2006) James D.Tabor claimed that John the Baptizer, not Jesus, was the initiator of the Messianic Movement that became Christianity. Jesus valued his kinsman John as highly as anyone could value another-as a Prophet and Teacher, and inaugurator of the Kingdom of God. Jesus joined the movement John had begun, being baptized by John, and working with him to advance the Messianic Movement. John and Jesus filled expectations of the coming of Two Messiahs current in their time-one as priestly descendant of Aaron, the other as royal descendant of David. They called for a repent of sins in view of the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God. Those who responded were baptized in water as a sign of their participation in the movement and its message. Theirs was an apocalyptic movement that expected God to soon intervene in history to establish the Kingdom of God as described in detail by all the Prophets, so Tabor.
The preaching and baptizing efforts of John and Jesus led to John's arrest by Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee. Following John's arrest Jesus continued so Tabor, the work they had begun. According to Tabor he chose the inner Council of Twelve, including four of his brothers, to whom he promised rule over the Twelve Tribes of Israel, which he expected to be gathered back to the Land of Israel. “He became known as a healer and an exorcist as well as a preacher of the Kingdom of God and a teacher of Torah ethics. Jesus was convinced that the downfall of Satan, the unseen ruler of the world, was imminent.” (Tabor 2006, p. 310.)
When Herod Antipas unexpectedly and brutally murdered John, Jesus believed according to Tabor, that his destiny was to go to Jerusalem, enter the Temple, and directly confront the religious and political authorities with his message of radical reform.
“Like his kinsman John, Jesus died in faith that his cause would be realized. His followers were devastated and for a time returned to Galilee in fear and disappointment. Their faith had been severely tried-the Two Messiahs were dead. It was under the leadership of James, linked with Peter and John, that the community regained its faith. They believed that Jesus, though dead, had triumphed in his cause, and would in the end be vindicated, as would be all the righteous martyrs for the Kingdom of God. James, also of Davidic ancestry, was understood to be a successor of Jesus, ruling over the nascent messianic "government" that Jesus had initiated with his Council of Twelve. The message and teachings of James, Peter, John, and the Twelve was a continuation of that of John the Baptizer and Jesus. They expected the imminent manifestation of the Kingdom of God, and they preached a message of repentance from sins, baptizing their followers into what they believed was the core of a newly constituted and reformed nation of Israel Non-Jews were invited to join them in the cause, as long as they turned from the worship of idols and adhered to the minimum ethics prescribed in the Torah for Gentiles. The message that Paul began to preach in the 40S and 50S A.D., as Paul himself so adamantly insisted, was in no way dependent upon, nor derived from, the original group of Jesus' apostles in Jerusalem led by James.” (Tabor, 2006, p. 311.)
In fact all the way until Constantine, the number and identity of Christians are disputed subjects because of only scraps of information. One of the more important referred to by the early Christian bishop and historian Eusebius, suggests, that a staff of 154 ministers of varying rank (including fifty-two exorcists) and "more than fifteen hundred widows and poor people" were said by the bishop of Rome to be supported by Rome's Christians in the year 251. However elsewhere as far as information available to date, Christians were distributed patchily, if at all: in the mid-third century, there was still no bishop and no church in Salona (Split) and before the 250’s, no Christians in Libya or in certain villages in the Mareotic district, connected by a road to Alexandria, which they almost adjoined.1
When describing their religion's success, Christian authors, from Acts onwards, were quite uncritical in their use of words like "all" and "everywhere." This habit lends particular weight to the one contrary assertion: in the 240’s, Origen, the Christian intellectual, did admit that Christians were only a tiny fraction of the world's inhabitants. We can support his remark with two general arguments, one from silence, one from archaeology.
Although we have much incidental material for life in the Empire, the inscriptions, pagan histories, texts and papyri make next to no reference to Christians before 250: the two fullest histories, written in the early third century, do not even mention them. lf Christians were really so numerous, we could also expect some evidence of meeting places which could hold so many worshippers. At this date, there were no church buildings on public ground, yet the tradition of regular attendance at services was very strong. Christians met in enlarged private houses or rooms. There might be several meeting places in a city, but the space for each congregation cannot have been large. Around 200, a fine Christian novel imagined how one Theophilus, a rich patron in Antioch, had to send for the builders and enlarge his reception rooms as soon as Christians entered his house and started to multiply. The scene was plausibly imagined, but how large was the increase? At Dura-Europos, out east on the Euphrates, this expansion can be followed on site. The Christians began to use a decent private house which had recently been built round a courtyard with rooms of fashionable pagan decoration, including a frieze of the god Dionysus's exploits. It may be right, then, to place their earliest meeting place elsewhere in the building, in a small room off the courtyard which was able to hold some thirty people. During the 240’s, a bigger hall for sixty people or so was being made down the courtyard's west side by knocking two rooms into one, just as the Christian novel remarks. Perhaps the earlier room was now reserved for teaching while a small baptistery was equipped next door and decorated with symbolic paintings. The street door was marked with a red cross to signify a Christian" church house," private, but with community uses.
At Dura, during the 240s, the space for a Christian meeting increased from a capacity of thirty persons to one of sixty. Members, no doubt, were impressed by their "great" advance. Statements by Christians about their "growth" should be read with a very critical eye for the figures from which they begin. The point is well made in a "biography" whose accuracy is beset with difficulties but whose taste for the miraculous is not in doubt. In the Christian Empire of the fifth century, we have various versions of a "life" of Porphyry; bishop of Gaza, which purports to be written by Mark, the deacon. Perhaps it was, in its original Syriac form, though the question is still open. On any view of its origins, the text was concerned to emphasize the wonders which amazed pagan Gaza between 392 and 420, eighty to a hundred years after Constantine's conversion. A first miracle is said to have won 127 converts in the city, a second, 64; the Greek version of the text goes on to tell how later wonders brought another two hundred people to God. It is not too important for our purpose whether this text is historical: what matters is that its author thought this scale of conversion was suitably remarkable. Gaza was a staunch pagan town, but other places were not graced with stories of evident "signs and wonders." If one or two hundred converts were an amazing harvest from a miracle, we can only wonder how many were won where miracles were less obliging.
Although Christians' numbers are elusive, the volume of their writings is conspicuous. In the later second and third centuries, most, of the best Greek and Latin literature which survives is Christian and much more has been lost. Its authors wrote largely for Christian readers, but we must not mistake eloquence for numerical strength. The general arguments still point in the other direction.It is one of this minority's achievements that there are still so many histories of the Christians' expansion and mission, but hardly a note of the people who tried being Christians, could not bear it and gave it up.
Christians have made their history into a one-way avenue, with the further implication that ‘paganism and ‘Judaism’ were so gross that nobody would have wished to return to them. Yet c. 110, Pliny was greatly exercised by former Christians in his province of Bithynia and Pontus who had lapsed up to twenty years earlier. It was because them that he wrote to Trajan and acquired the famous rescript which governed the Christians' standing before the law. He does not tell us what modern historians assume, that these Christians had only lapsed for fear of persecution. We know of individuals who lapsed for other reasons: the well-born Peregrinus, who became a Cynic philosopher; Ammonius, who taught Origen his philosophy; perhaps Aquila, who is said to have been baptized but returned to the Jewish faith and retranslated the Greek Scriptures, excluding Christian misinterpretations; and the young Emperor Julian, who left Christianity for Platonist philosophy and cult. We do not hear of anyone who left Christianity for simple paganism without any accompanying philosophy: perhaps this silence is significant and a lapse from Christianity did always lead to a favor for some systematic belief. Much the most attractive belief was full-fledged Judaism. We hear very little of Jews who became Christians after the Apostolic age, but much more of Christians who flirted with Jewish teaching: the shift was especially easy for women, who could convert without the pain of being circumcised. The acts of Church councils in the Christian Empire bring the continuing problem of these Christians back into view, long after Christianity had ceased to be persecuted. Histories of Christianity still tell a story of unimpeded growth, but the picture was always more complex at its edges. There were losses as well as gains, although Christianity, like all growing "movements," had more to say about the gains. By no means everybody who started to take an interest in Christianity "became" a Christian or died as one. The long process of "becoming" and the continuing losses at the margin are further arguments for keeping the Christians' numbers in perspective.
Nonetheless, Christians spread and increased: no other cult in the Empire grew at anything like the same speed, and even as a minority, the Christians' success raises serious questions about the blind spots in pagan cult and society. The clearest impressions of their growth derive from the Church historian Eusebius, who was writing after Constantine's conversion, and from the maps which can be drawn of Christian churches in North Africa: these maps are based on the list of bishops who attended an important Church council in the year 256. The council's acts survive, although they do not give a complete list of the North African churches, as the bishops from certain areas did not attend the meeting.
Eusebius has been most influential because he divided the Christians' expansion into phases. The first surge, he believed, occurred with the Apostles' mission, the second in the 180’s, the third shortly before Constantine's conversion. In this chapter, the second of these phases concerns us most. In the 180’s, we do happen to know of Christians in more prominent places and there does seem to be a rise in the number of such people in Rome, Carthage and Alexandria. Perhaps Eusebius was over impressed by mention of their names and assumed that numbers as a whole were growing: like us, he had no records or statistics on which to base his ideas of a widespread growth. However, an increase in prominent Christians is itself an interesting change and will need to be set in a broader context.
The idea of these phases of growth obscures a simpler question: was Christianity growing apace in the towns which it had reached in the age of St. Paul, not only growing among a few prominent people but advancing like an ever-rolling snowball among the anonymous majority, people who persevered and in due course were baptized? Or was it entering more towns, where it simply won some two hundred souls in the first ten years who intermarried, attended one or two little house-churches, chose a bishop and added another static Christian dot to the map? It is clear that numbers grew in Rome between Paul's death and the long list of bishops and minor clerics in 251. In other large cities, Carthage or Alexandria, we should allow for a similar growth, although its rate and scale are elusive. Elsewhere, Christians scattered widely, and by itself, their diffusion would account for a general impression of their increase. In 256, two of the three secular provinces of North Africa had at least 130 bishops: when plotted on a map, they cover most of the known townships and often inhabit towns less than ten miles apart. 17 This dense pattern of bishoprics is most remarkable, but it does not make the Christians into a local majority. Although it shows how widely their presence was scattered. this particular pattern may have arisen from aspects of their local history and organization. This fact, too, needs a context, but it need not be one of dramatic, continuing growth.
It is in terms of its scatter, rather than its density, that early Christianity can best be studied. Although there are many obscurities there is just enough evidence to refine explanations, refute older theories and narrow the possible answers. There is a notable unevenness between the East, where we know a little, and the Latin West where we know almost nothing. It has been suggested that in the West Christianity spread especially with traders from the Greek East, that in North Africa it developed closely from the existing communities and then prospered through this strong Semitic heritage which was shared by the Punic-speaking population in the Roman province. Neither theory seems so convincing nowadays, although it is not clear how they should be replaced. We know next to nothing about the earliest Christians in Spain, Germany and Britain: in the r80s, Irenaeus of Lyons did refer to "settled" churches in Spain, Gaul and Germany as if they had been formally founded. Tertullian can hardly be trusted when he stated c. 200 that Christians were to be found among "all" German and northern tribes and that they existed in northern Britain beyond the reach of Roman rule. We can suspect, instead, that they were at least known in southern Britain, though the date and historicity of the first British "martyr," St. Alban, are highly disputable.
The theory of traders and Eastern migrants to the West encounters similar problems. It is in Rome and Lyons that we have evidence for Greek-speaking Christians with Greek names, and in Rome, certainly, the faith had arrived from the East before St. Paul. However, we do not know if these Greek Christians had already been converted before they came West or whether they were only converted after settling: the "traders" are not distinguishable. It has recently been argued that in Lyons, Christianity in fact arrived from Rome, not the Greek East, weakening the argument still further. In North Africa, the likeliest guess is that Christianity did reach the main city of Carthage with Greek-speaking migrants: later details of the Church's liturgy support this Greek origin and do not conform to Roman practice. In the more western region of Mauritania, the Christians' origins are much more obscure, and it has recently been suggested that here the churches looked to Rome, not Carthage or the East. Throughout the African region, the theory of a strong Jewish contact and legacy is still unproven. It touches on a great uncertainty. West of Rome, in North Africa, Gaul and Spain, there is no sound evidence that there were any settled communities of Jews at all in the Apostolic age. There are a few incidental hints that this silence is significant. It may well be that the Jews had in fact spread into the West before the wars with Rome wrecked their homeland in 70 and 135, but as yet, we cannot exclude the alternative, that Christians and Jews arrived in the West together, competing, if not for converts, at least for patrons and places of settlement. The idea of a strong Jewish legacy in African Christianity, appealing to Punic-speaking Semites, is quite unproven, and on linguistic grounds, as we shall see, it is not convincing.
In the West, in short, early Christianity has lost its history, but there is one general point on which we can be more confident. An older view that heretical types of Christianity arrived in many places before the orthodox faith has nothing in its favor, except perhaps in the one Syrian city of Edessa. In Lyons and North Africa, there is no evidence of this first heretical phase and the likelier origins are all against it. In Egypt, the argument has been decisively refuted from the evidence of the papyri. Details of practice and leadership did differ widely, but the later existence of so many heresies must not obscure the common core of history and basic teaching throughout the Christian world.
In the Eastern Empire, the spread of the Christians is marginally clearer, though the origins of the local churches are most obscure. They confronted a lively variety of sites and languages, the great Greek city of Ephesus, the incestuous families of Egypt's townships, the royal valley of Petra, the tribal camps in the adjoining desert, the huge conglomeration of people and houses across the border in Parthian Ctesiphqn, and always beckoning beyond, the roads to Iran and the East and the sea route of the Persian Gulf, where a whole day's journey can be seen in a single glance to the horizon. To know these sites is to wonder how Christians wormed their way into them, the developing temples of pagan Pergamum, the hotter and less predictable society of Edessa in Syria with its Macedonian name and the Arabic spoken in its streets, the smaller townships of inland Phrygia, where the gods were invoked by sceptres and the people were known for their sober ethic and their aversion, even, to swearing oaths.
The best early evidence for the eastward diffusion of Christianity lies in the allusive verse epitaph of a Phrygian bishop, Abercius, and its hints of his journeys: "to Rome he sent me to behold a kingdom and to see a queen in golden sandals and robes: a people I saw there who have a fine seal: I also saw the plain of Syria and the cities and Nisibis, crossing east over the Euphrates. Everywhere I had fellow [kinsmen] having Paul as my [guardian] ... " Abercius's journey belongs well into the second half of the second century and he implies that he met Christians "everywhere" he went. Nisibis lay far beyonc the river Euphrates in the region of Adiabene, whose queen mother and heir had become Jewish converts in the 30’s A.D. 25 Did this Jewis' presence help Christianity to gain its foothold? Certainly, we mus allow for this type of contact in the general area of Syriac-speaking culture which stretched from Antioch to Adiabene, but a Jewish contact was not Christianity's only point of entry.
In 165, Nisibis was recaptured by Rome and brought under her control: in 196, it received the honorary title of "colony." When Abercius visited, it was within the Empire's boundaries. We can compare the military post at Dura, to the west on the Euphrates. Its Christian community in the 220S and 230S has been connected with the presence of Greek-speaking troops in the Romans' service, not with natives or local Jews: a few names were found in inscriptions from the Christian house-church, and almost all of them were connected with Greek or Latin names, not native names in Dura. Fragments of an early version of Scripture were found in Greek, not Syriac: the church's wall paintings were not very similar to those in the Jewish synagogue. These hints are reminders of the possibilities, nothing more, but they warn against tracing the core of every community to converts from Jews and local families. At Nisibis, too, the Christian presence may owe as much to the presence of Roman troops as to any Jewish or native element. At Dura, the Jews' synagogue continued to grow, looking much more impressive than the Christians' little house-church.
One of the most striking features of Rome's eastern frontier is the movement of people and ideas across it: Christianity was no exception, and no single pattern of transit will explain it in regions which saw so many travelers, traders and movements of men with their gods. The Christians in Dura with Greek names were only one of many possible types. Further south, we can already find Christians with a strong Jewish heritage who lived beyond the reach of Rome. During the second and third centuries, groups of Baptists could be found in the district between the mouths of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, where they lived under the nominal control of the Parthians. They acknowledged Christian teachings among severe beliefs which had the stamp of Jewish influence. Here, they had presumably begun as a splinter group from Jewish settlers and we have come to know only recently how they combined a respect for Jesus with a strong stamp of Jewish practice and an honor for their original leader, the prophet Elchesai, who had taught in Mesopotamia c. lOO-IIO A.D. Their sect, then, was quite old and traced back to a heretical Christian teacher, busy in this area at an early date. It is a reminder that very varied sects and small groups could multiply in the Mesopotamian area, just out of the range of Greek and Roman historians: Christian groups, already, were not limited to the area of Roman rule.
These Baptists' district was frequented by traders and travellers who moved freely between the cities of Roman Syria, the Persian Gulf and India. The new religion could travel yet further eastwards and in Christian tradition there are two distinct stories that it did. The area was the setting for scenes in the fictitious "acts" of the Apostle Thomas, which were compiled in Syriac, probably at Edessa, before c. 250. They told how Thomas, a carpenter, had seen Christ in a vision and had been sold into the service of King Gundophar, the Parthian ruler whom we know to have ruled at Taxila in the Punjab during the mid-first century. The story was well imagined. Like Thomas, goods and art objects from Roman Alexandria and Syria were reaching the Indus River and its upper reaches in the period of Gundophar's reign. However, we do not know if there is any truth in the legend of Thomas's mission. Possibly some settled groups of Christians did exist in the Punjab and encouraged this story of an Apostle's visit to explain their origin. If so, they are a sad loss to history. In Taxila, during the first and second centuries, they would have lived in a society of rich household patrons, some of whose houses adjoined a large Buddhist shrine. Here we would have to imagine the two religions' meeting, made without the intervening barrier of pagan gods.
The second story of an Indian mission is largely true. Eusebius reports that an educated Christian, Pantaenus, left Alexandria, evidently c. 180, and went as a missionary to India, where he found Christians who already claimed to trace back to St. Bartholomew. They owned a copy of Matthew's Gospel in "the Hebrew script" which the Apostle was supposed to have left with them. Contacts between Alexandria and the southwestern coast of India make it easy to credit this visit. Eusebius reports it as a "story," but he seems to be expressing his own surprise at the adventure, not his doubt at its source. The Gospel "in Hebrew letters" need not disprove it:
"Hebrew letters" may refer to Syriac script, and we cannot rule out an early Syriac translation of the Gospels for use in the East.If Christians availed themselves of these wide horizons, they were not alone among the travelers on Rome's eastern frontier: soon afterwards, the Christian teacher Bardaisan was able to give us the best ancient description of India's Brahmins from his vantage point at Edessa, in Syria. In a pupil's memoir of his teaching, he also alluded to Christians in "Bactria," beyond the Hindu Kush Mountains, though not specifically in southern India.
His silence does not refute the stories of Christians in that region: he was not giving a complete list of churches. He does, however, cast light on Christianity in his own Edessa, where it attracted something more remarkable: the patronage of a king. The old city of Edessa lay beyond the Euphrates, to the west of Nisibis, and its fictions have left an enduring mark on Christian history. Its king, Abgar V, was believed to have exchanged letters with Jesus, "copies" of which were on show in Syriac in the city's archives by the late third century: the disciple "Judas Thomas" was believed to have visited this Abgar, to have cured him and many others at the court and then converted him. Copies of the "letter" to Abgar were later inscribed and distributed across the Empire as far as Spain. They became objects of pilgrimage and special power for their city, and at Edessa, they were eventually joined by a "miraculous" image of Jesus's face, a fake "portrait" which originated in the mid-sixth century. The origin of this legend is tantalizing and open to historical dissection. A later King Abgar, A bgar VIII, was described by Africanus, a Christian scholar who visited his court, as "a holy man": another acquaintance, Bardaisan, refers to an Abgar who "believed" and "decreed that anyone who castrated himself should have his hand cut off." Probably, this Abgar is also Abgar VIII. His decree had a specific aim, as it struck at a local pagan practice, but it is very hard to accept that two local Christians would describe a king whom they knew personally as "believing," let alone as "holy," unless he was a Christian sympathizer.
King Abgar VIII's sympathies are all the more tantalizing because his career brought him into conflict, then close contact with Rome. Reinstated as a king, he eventually journeyed to Rome, where he enjoyed a magnificent reception late inhis life. We do not know if he was already, or still, a Christian supporter at the time of his visit. However, his sympathies may well have encouraged the legend of the earlier Abgar's letters from Jesus. A king's Christianity deserved a noble ancestry, so the Edessans invented one. Perhaps we can also pin down their emphasis on "Judas Thomas," the city's supposed evangelist. We have learned recently that the heretical prophet Mani corresponded with the people of Edessa in the mid-third century and sent them his "apostle" Addai, also called "Thomas," as the preacher of his new missionary gospel. Perhaps this heretical Thomas was exploiting an existing Edessan interest in 'Judas Thomas," the supposed "apostle" of Christ. More probably, the Edessan Christians replied to his heretical presence by stressing their own connection with the "true" Judas Thomas, the Christian evangelist.
We do not know the degree or effects of King Abgar VIII's Christian sympathies: they have left no mark on his coins or his city's monuments. Nonetheless, they are the first pointer to Christianity's appeal to a ruler. Locally, they served Edessa very well. Whereas Nisibis had no royal connection with Jesus, Edessa could now boast letters and an apostolic visit. Thirty miles away, her old rival, Harran (or Carrhae), remained famously pagan, perhaps partly in response to Edessa's new identity. While Edessa's fictions drew pilgrims and tourists from all over the Christian world, Harran was to remain a pagan stronghold, obscured by its neighbors until it profited ingeniously from the Muslim conquests. Then, its pagans claimed a new identity as the lost "Sabian" worshippers whom the Arabs' Koran had mentioned. Edessa's rise is one more chaptetin the lively history of the rivalries oflocal cities. 36 As with the new Ionopolis, religion gave her a fresh claim to fame. Her neighbors' contrary response is another proof of the patchiness of early Christian conversions: one town's faith could be its neighbor’s poison.
In the East, however obscurely, we have seen some of Christianity's ways of spreading, with travelers and perhaps with traders, through the presence of troops from the Roman East and among groups who had followed Jewish practice. By 210 it already extended from humble Baptists to the court of a local king. These means of entry were joined by two others: war and persecution. Persecution always scattered Christians, and in the 250S, we know of many who withdrew to the countryside in order to escape it. At the same date, schisms began among Christians themselves, and again, the "true" Christian minorities tended to withdraw from their fellow Christians in order to keep their sect alive. Pagan and Christian intolerance were constant agents of diffusion, and it is to them, therefore, that we can best trace the thick scatter of bishops in North Africa's towns. Sometimes, perhaps, a community asked for its own bishop in order to keep up with its neighbor, but such a quantity of bishops was especially advisable in a province where heresy and schism led an early, flourishing life.
If persecution could push Christians into remote townships, it could also push them across the Roman frontier. In the late fourth century, some of the towns in Mesopotamia claimed that their churches had attracted Christian exiles from the Roman Empire who had fled persecution during the reign of Hadrian. The claim is unverifiable, but similar pressures may have brought Christians soon afterwards into another eastern kingdom: the wilds of Armenia. Again, we have learned recently that Christians were thought to be prominent in the company of its king in the mid-third century. The source for this point is a later story by followers of the heretic Mani which depicted their own mission in the area. It may well be correct on this detail, an anticipation of the kingdom's conversion in the age of Constantine: perhaps here, too, the first Christians were seeking a safe retreat.
Wars, we also know, were effective spreaders of the faith elsewhere between Rome and her eastern neighbors. In the Near East, the 240’s and 250’s saw resounding victories by the Persian monarchs and the consequent return of prisoners across their borders among the spoils. Their captives included Christians, inadvertent imports from the West. In a famous inscription, the chief Magus at the Persian court later told how "demonic" teachings had been destroyed in the Persian Empire (c. 280-293), including those of the "Nazareans and Christians," terms which seem to refer to two different types of Christian. The neatest explanation is that the "Nazareans" were native Aramaic speaking Christians converted inside the Persians' Empire by some unknown type of contact, whereas the "Christians" were royal imports, originally prisoners from Greek-speaking towns. Their Greek language isolated them from wider contact with Iranian society, yet even here there were some odd opportunities. In the 270’s, one prisoner, the charming Candida, is said to have risen high by her personal talents. She was taken prisoner and brought to the Shah's harem, and if we can trust a detailed Syriac version of her martyrdom, her "astonishing beauty" earned her the greatest favor with King Vahram. She ushered in a sequence of Christian sympathizers among the many grades of queen and concubine at the Persian court. Her progress was not without precedent. At Rome, in the 180s, the Emperor Commodus had already favoured a concubine, Marcia, who used her backstairs influence to intercede for Christians who had been sentenced to hard labour in the mines. The men were more obdurate: when the powers at court altered, Candida was put to death by the Shah's new advisers.
These various avenues of Christianity's spread are all informal, but they recur in later Christian history, repeating themselves from the fourth to the ninth century. What we lack is anything more formal, any sign of a mission directed by the Church leaders. Except for Pantaenus in India and one other whom we will examine in a later chapter, we cannot name a single active Christian missionary between St. Paul and the age of Constantine. Should we look for other obstacles besides the attitude of Christians themselves? In the Near East and the areas beyond the Euphrates, missionary religions were exposed to obvious barriers of language. By the 250S, we can see the consequences in the preaching of a new and determined heresy, the "Gospel of Light, " which was spread by the young missionary Mani. Unlike Jesus, Mani had conceived his religion to be a universal faith within the immediate duration of this world. Before long, he and his fellow apostles were using Greek and Syriac, Coptic and Persian to teach it in the Near East. Some Christians, by contrast, give the strong impression of identifying their faith with the Greek language only. In the later fourth century, a strong body of Christian opinion held that at Pentecost the miracle of the tongues had 'affected the crowd, not the Apostles. So far from giving the Christians the gift of languages, it had enabled all their audience to understand Greek.
In antiquity, a refusal to translate a creed or culture was the privilege of a ruling power: Alexander and his successors used Greek, which they imposed on their supporters and even on their Macedonians; the Romans kept their laws and legal teaching in Latin; the Arabs kept their laws and religion in Arabic. Language proved itself the "perfect instrument of Empire," as Christian conquerors of the New World later described it. The Christians did not emerge with the backing of superior force or a history of conquest behind them: to have confined their teaching to the Greek of their Gospels would have been untrue to this pattern of language and culture. It is not, then, so surprising that Christians soon came to have translations of their texts. Books of Latin Scripture are attested in 180 and were probably much older in their parts or entirety. By c. 180, Gospels are attested in Syriac, the language which served as a common medium from the coast of Syria to western Iran. In Egypt, by the 270S, the Gospels are known to have been heard in Coptic: in 303, the "reader" in a small Egyptian church was "illiterate," presumably in Greek, and therefore read the Bible from a Coptic text: his father's name, Copreus, meant "off the dung heap," a man, then, of humble status who had been exposed at birth but rescued by others from death. Teaching in these versatile languages was older than our first attestations, as we can deduce from Origen's underexploited contrast between Plato and the Christians. Writing in the late 240S, he remarked that if Plato had wished to spread his truths to barbarians, he would have preached them in Syrian or Egyptian languages. He implied, then, that Christians were already using both.
Were there other languages in the Empire which had a living literary tradition? Hebrew was one, more vigorous than was once believed, but elsewhere the picture is more dubious. Inland in Asia Minor, we continue to find inscriptions in which Phrygians invoke their gods in native Phrygian curses, but these fixed formulae do not make Phrygian a literary language which could cope with a written translation of Scripture. In the early third century, the lawyer Ulpian did remark that a type of trust would be acceptable under Roman law whether it was composed in "Greek or Latin, Punic or Celtic or some other language. " His words have been pressed to show that people of property were writing documents in Punic and Celtic, but in context, they are hypothetical: his essential point is to contrast a trust with a will, which had to be written in Latin only. We need better evidence that any of these dialects had a literary use.
In Punic, however, we can find hints of it. The Phoenicians had first exported this Semitic language to North Africa, southern Spain and Sardinia c. 800 B.C. Its areas became Roman provinces, and although simple stylized inscriptions in Punic did persist in North Africa, at least until c. 200, they are known only in contexts which used or presupposed Latin too. The main exception exists outside Africa, in a text from Sardinia which records public dedications by the "people of Bitia," an Emperor's name (Marcus Aurelius) and the titles of local magistrates. The text was cut in an archaic style oflettering, harking back to the eighth century B.C., when Sardinia had had other such inscriptions, not far from Bitia. Nonetheless, this hint that civic notables could still read and write Punic does find support from St. Augustine, c. 400 A.D. He tells how Christians in North Africa could compose psalms in Punic, arranging them in the form of an acrostic. People who were capable of such artistry could certainly have written translations of the Gospels. Yet no Christian is known to have exploited Punic's forgotten potential. The omission may not be too significant. The heretical followers of Mani had no hesitation about using non-classical languages, but they, too, are not known to have used Punic for their texts. Like the Christians', their mission concentrated on townspeople, among whom we should allow for widespread bilingualism, in Latin or Greek as well as Punic. Anyone who was skilled enough to read or write was likely to know. Greek or Latin anyway. The neglect of written Punic is less telling than the more general lack of official encouragement. None of the other translations of the Bible is known to have been promoted by Church leaders or officials: when Tatian produced his "Gospel harmony" in Syriac as well as Greek, it was a personal work, undertaken to serve his own heretical interests. Yet even this apathy should not be pressed too far. We think naturally of a written canon of texts and Scriptures, but the acceptance of a basic body of written books was a slow development in the early churches. Above all, a lack of official interest in written translations need not entail a lack of missionary interest. In eighteenth-century Europe, many keen Christians argued that the Bible should not be translated from Latin for fear that vulgar Christians would then read it for themselves and find the wrong things in it. Preaching, meanwhile, continued in vernacular languages, while "experts" monopolized Scripture in a learned tongue. "In 1713, the Papal bull Unigenitus condemned the proposition. 'The reading of the Bible is for everyone.'
In Christianity's spread, the relevant question, therefore, is not whether Christians exploited all possible literary languages for their Scripture, but whether they were hampered by ignorance of spoken dialects in their missionary work. Here we enter very difficult ground, not least because the very nature or occasion of any "preaching" is itself obscure. Church services were held in one of the major written languages of culture: even in the fifth century, we find interpreters rendering what was being read and spoken in Greek or Latin into a second, vernacular language for the congregation's benefit. During a service, we are not even sure when "preaching" was usual or who undertook it. We have no historical text which refers to formal open-air sermons outside a church after the Apostolic age. For "preaching," then, we should think essentially of teaching to individuals and small groups whom Christians encountered on their travels. Even so, a traveler did not have to go far in the Roman Empire before he confronted the effects of Babel. Celtic was spoken in the West, Iberian in Spain, Punic and a Libyan dialect in Afria Coptic dialects in Egypt and "Arab speech" in parts of the Near East.
At Edessa, pagans and Christians alike wrote in Syriac, but the names of the city's families suggest people who spoke a form of Arabic. In the hinterland of Pontus, so many languages were recognized that Rome great enemy of the 80S B.C., King Mithridates, had been credited with fluency in twenty-two: some, but by no means all, died out in the Imperial period. Educated townsmen did not hesitate to project a picture of rural dialect onto the countryside beyond them. Around the mid-third century, a pagan novel assumes that on entering Cappadocia its hero had needed a native-speaking guide. He was embarking on lands which St. Paul had never touched. Lucian, we have seen, complained how the "false prophet" and his snake had given replies to questions in Syriac and in Celtic, presumably for the benefit of nearby Galatians, whose names and inscriptions show a Celtic tenacity. The complaint had to seem plausible.
Did Christians preach in these spoken dialects? The absence of written Christian translations in these languages proves nothing, as they lacked any literary history and often any alphabet, let alone a literate public. Unfortunately, our written evidence throws very little light on the question of Christians' speech. There is only one reference to "barbarian dialect," and it occurs in the preface to the books on heresy which were composed in Greek by Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 180. Apologizing for his Greek prose style, he referred to his "exertions" in barbarian dialect, a remark which has long been upheld as a proof of his preaching in Celtic. The deduction is not justified. Even if Celtic was needed in the modest hinterland of Lyons, a Roman colony, Irenaeus was only making a lettered man's excuse for his literary style. His remark has even been referred to his use of "barbarian" Latin, current in the Latin-speaking colony. That extreme view is 'also unconvincing: no Greek of the period called Latin a "barbarian dialect." Instead, we should remember the witty apologies of Ovid, another man of letters who wrote on the edge of the classical world. In exile at Tomi, Ovid referred playfully to "speaking Getic and Sarmatian." The remarks were only the amused comments of a literary man lost in a sea of barbarity which he wished to emphasize: Ovid never bothered with dialect. Irenaeus's comment was set in the preface of his long work, where an apology for style was quite conventional. It was a literary disclaimer, not a genuine excuse.
This allusion has to be treated carefully because it is the only one to survive in all the evidence for the churches before Constantine. However, our written evidence derives from Christians who wrote in the bigger cities, and we cannot be entirely sure what a minor preacher in a small African or Pontic township may have tried for his missionary ends. We cannot rule out exceptional individuals, Christians like Ulfilas, whose parents had been taken captive by the Goths on a raid in Cappadocia, c. 260. Ulfilas then invented a Gothic alphabet in the 350’s and taught the people the Scriptures in his own translation, "omitting only the books of Kings because the Goths were already too fond of fighting. When we have wider evidence in the fourth century and later, we find monks who did allow for a wide linguistic diversity in their monasteries. Of many examples, the best is Father Theodosius, near Antioch, in the early fifth century. He used to herd four groups together to sing bits of the mass in their own tongues and in their own churches: Greek, Armenian, "Bessian" and that uncharted dialect, the speech of lunatics who were possessed by demons. This chorus of the cuckoo's nest ascended, men said, in perfect harmony. The sequel was less informal. The three sane choruses processed into one inner hall while the lunatics kept silence outside. Within, however, the final liturgy was read in Greek.
By the period of these monasteries, the countryside was being Christianized more widely and the problems of dialect had become inescapable. Even so, a strong note of snobbishness and contempt for barbarous speech remained in the sermons of urban bishops. We can even find it in the preaching of John Chrysostom (c. 390). At Antioch and Constantinople, he paid scant respect to the Gothic- and Aramaic speakers in his audiences while haranguing them in Greek. No doubt the same attitudes had colored many lesser men, leaders of urban churches in the years before Constantine.
Did these attitudes cut the Church off from many accessible converts? Here, we must be more careful, for the evidence of barbarian dialect is often accompanied by evidence of an easy bilingualism. At Lystra, the people were believed to have hailed Paul and Barnabas in Lycaonian and promptly to have understood a sermon in Greek. As a bishop, Augustine was aware of the value of Punic-speaking clergy and took pains to promote a young priest because of his linguistic gifts. Yet he also tells how farmers in the countryside round Hippo would translate a conversation to and fro between Latin and Punic. We should not pin a knowledge of dialect too closely to one social class: there must have been a degree of "shame-faced bilingualism" eve among educated Greek-speakers, not least among bailiffs and tenants who had to deal with their local work force. The Christians' use of Coptic and Syriac made Egypt and a great wedge of the Near East accessible to their teaching if they chose to follow up the opening. The likelihood of a bilingual audience was high in and around the towns and much lower, naturally, in the remoter villages and further countryside. The linguistic barrier thus merges into a wider one, the line between town and country.
Christianity's impact on the towns and countryside has been variously assessed. Before Constantine Christianity has been confined to the towns: it has been characterized as a "cockney" religion, which clung essentially to the humbler members of big cities; between c. 250 and 300, by contrast, it has been held to have "won the countryside" and made its promotion under Constantine more or less inevitable. The variety of views reflects the extreme scarcity of evidence, but also a varying conception of where a line between town and country can be drawn significantly. Like early Islam, Christianity was a faith which presupposed convenient places of meeting. Its congregations had to finance the continuing costs of a bishop and his staff. It is not, then, surprising that bishoprics were distributed by cities or that early Christianity, like early Islam, is essentially known in an urban setting. Throughout antiquity, the towns were the seats and agents of religious change.
There are, however, some hints of a wider presence. Pliny wrote as a provincial governor to his Emperor, Trajan, and told him that the Christian "superstition" pervaded the local "villages and fields" as well as the towns. He had encountered it on an assize tour, perhaps as far a field as Amastris in Pontus on the southern shore of the Black Sea (northern Turkey). Was he, perhaps, exaggerating? Recent persecutions, including his own, may have scattered Christians into the countryside, but the picture is not one of a narrow, urban faith. We do not know if the Christians concerned spoke anything other than Greek: further west, in Pliny's Bithynian district, the villages round Nicomedia are known as seats of the Greek language from their local inscriptions. His remark is of uncertain scope, but it does warn us that the line between town and village was not everywhere a strict one and that Christians, like others, could cross it, perhaps especially in times of persecution.
The evidence does not end abruptly with Pliny. 54 In 257/8, Eusebius refers to three Christian martyrs who, "they say," were living in the countryside before going up to be tried in the nearby city of Caesarea; between c. 245 and 270, we have the legends and oral traditions of a widespread conversion of "villages" in "inland Pontus," worked by one exceptional missionary; in 248, Origen does rebuke Celsus's sneer at Christian exclusiveness by referring to Christians who "have undertaken to go round not only cities but villages and farmsteads too, in order to win more believers in God"; in the first councils after Constantine, rules are laid down in the East for the duties and role of "country bishops," who must, it seems, have existed previously in Anatolia and Palestine; earlier, in North Africa, the acts of the council in 256 reveal four bishops out of more than eighty whose sees may have lain in village communities, not recognized towns or their constituent parts.
There is a difference, however, between a rural mission and a rural presence, and throughout the years before Constantine, Christians had a special reason for retreating to the countryside: they were liable to persecution in the towns. In 250, we already hear of Christians in Egypt retreating into the mountains and desert: Eusebius's three martyrs may only have taken refuge outside Caesarea, until their consciences pricked them and they returned and "volunteered" to die. While in retreat, this type of Christian may sometimes have persuaded other country people to become Christians too, but the results owed nothing to a deliberate "mission." The episodes in "inland Pontus" raise problems of historicity which we will have to examine later: their framework, however, is essentially the group of Greek-speaking cities which made up Pontus's provincial "league." The "country bishops" are more tantalizing. They are not securely attested until the years after Constantine's conversion, when Church councils in the East tried to regulate their duties. By 325, they existed in Palestine as well as in inland Anatolia and Pontus, and we also hear of local "country elders." In the under urbanized regions of Anatolia, there were few recognized cities for Christians to serve, and yet a strong Christian presence is obvious in the area by the mid-fourth century. Significantly, the "country bishops" are compared by one council with Jesus's seventy Apostles "because they serve the very poor." They did not operate entirely away from recognized towns, but they do seem to have been active in humble circles, presumably in villages, to account for their name: their same concern for the poor emerges from Bishop Basil's letters, written in the 380s to country bishops in central Anatolia.
When, though, did such "country bishops" begin? Here, Origen's remark is suggestive. He does not limit the activities of his rural missionaries to the past. He stresses their poverty and their willingness to travel with few goods; was he, perhaps, thinking of country bishops already serving the poor in Cappadocia and Anatolia, regions which he had visited? Perhaps he was also thinking of Christians in the Syriac-speaking Near East, around and just beyond other places which he knew. Here, as in Palestine, barriers of language did not divide so many townships from their territories. From other evidence, we can glean a picture of Christian "sons of the Covenant" in this area, wandering as "strangers" through the country and its roads, heirs to the Syriac tradition of holiness and a life apart.
Like the Christian presence in Anatolia, this evidence blurs the suggestion that Christianity was a religion solely of the bigger towns. How far, though, does it point towards a true rural mission? Once again, it is hard to draw a firm line between town and "country," when so many "villages" were themselves seats of a culture which reflected urban forms. At its most extreme, the worlds of peasant village and town were indeed separate worlds, as we can see especially in the Syriac evidence. Whether early Christianity went across this extreme dividing line remains highly doubtful: there was no missionary "winning" of the countryside around cities like Antioch and Apamea until a generation or more after Constantine's conversion. There was no specific appeal to the rural peasantry in anything which is known from the earliest Syriac sources. The four "rural" bishops known in Africa in 256 are not necessarily bishops outside a community which focussed on a village; only in the fifth century does a similar list reveal bishops of particular estates or country regions. When we do find evidence of a rural mission, its bias is still significant. In the later Christian Empire, the conversion of country people was often the work of monks or holy men. Here, there is none so telling as the little-known exploits of one Symeon, nicknamed the Mountaineer, whose life at the start of the sixth century was later written up in Syriac by John, his friend and, eventually, the bishop of Ephesus. John himself was remembered as a great converter of the countryside, so his comments on Symeon's mission are doubly revealing.
Around 510, Symeon had found himself beyond the territory of Claudias, in mountains on the very edge of the Euphrates's west bank. He was intrigued by a large sprawling village, visible in the hills, and on asking some visiting shepherds, he was appalled to find that they had little or no idea of Scripture. They had heard a few things from their fathers, but they had never seen a copy of a book. They never went near a church except to baptize some of their children: indeed, they confessed that as herdsmen "we live on these mountains like animals." "Well said, 'like animals,' my sons," Symeon was believed to have answered, "yet animals are much better than you ... " Symeon kept on pondering this meeting: "How is it that these men are like animals on these mountains?" A sense of divine mission entered him and he ascended to one of their places, "a sort of village. " He saw a small church, shaded by a vine, but found it filled with wood, stones and dust. The older men approached him for a blessing and revealed that they had no priest: "it is not our custom." Symeon took up residence in the church and, after inquiry, invited all the families to hear him. As he preached, they stared in amazement, "like some idiotic animal," John commented, "which only gapes and stares when a man tries to teach it." The older men, again, knew a little of the Scriptures by hearsay: the others had no idea. First Symeon scared them with tales of hell and then he told them to go away and fast. When he asked them why their children had not been made "sons of the covenant" and been taught in church, they told him, "Sir, they have no time to leave the goats and learn."
Touched by this admission, Symeon announced a great family service for the following Sunday. At the end, he told the parents to leave the church while he gave their children a special present. Ninety girls and boys stayed behind; Symeon and a friend forcibly segregated thirty of them, locked them into the church and cut off all their hair with a razor. When he let out these shaven children of God, their mothers were appalled. Symeon merely laughed and then warned them not to provoke his curses: rudely, they told him to "try cursing the Huns, who are said to be coming and wrecking Creation." However, two of his opponents died soon after Symeon's execrations, whereupon the others submitted and gave him their children. Symeon provided writing tablets and the Scriptures and taught the girls and boys to read and write, schooling them until adolescence. The hills echoed with their newly learned hymns, and for twenty-six years Symeon wielded authority in the mountain villages. The story is not only an excellent example of a holy man who forced himself on villagers against their will. It is told in a way which puts its hero's and narrator's views of rustics beyond doubt. They were brute "animals." John talked often to Symeon and heard him tell of the "savagery of that people, their subjugation and all the torments they had inflicted on him." We begin to see why totally rural missions were slow to start.
These attitudes do not belong with ideas of the Church's early winning of the countryside." Even the "country bishops" faced formidable difficulties. Although countrymen might sometimes pick up the new faith while visiting a nearby urban centre, there were difficulties in taking the faith out to them. Access to dependent workers on the bigger country estates relied on the connivance of the upper classes or their agents, people who had to be exhorted to build private estate churches and convert their farm workers far into the Christian Empire. Before Constantine, such access and support were rarely, if ever, available. Within the towns, meanwhile, bishops were hard pressed to maintain the Christian unity and discipline for which God held them personally to account. Their duties were thought to involve arbitration, not missionary conversion: in a pagan Empire, it is not surprising if they shrank from further expansion and attended to this responsibility. It is hard, too, to exclude altogether the priorities of Church finance. Mass preaching was most likely to attract poorer converts and increase the burdens 'on the Church's charity. The clergy, meanwhile, were paid from dividends off their congregation's offerings. Like it or not, there would come a point at which too many rustics and slaves would strain the Church's resources. It was more useful, though not more pious, to win three or four richer converts and thread them through the obliging "eye of the needle.”
The third century lies elsewhere on the scale between town and country. It does not concern the rustic peasantry, but many persons in small townships, people who had some contact with the forms of a higher culture. Here, Christianity is especially evident to us in the provinces of Egypt, Phrygia and North Africa. In 180, a group of martyrs in North Africa came from towns with outlandish titles, but even though some of them had Punic names, they all spoke Latin and read a Latin Bible. They were condemned to death by the penalty of beheading, which was becoming a privilege of the "more respectable classes," and if the governor was being precise, they must have been men of a recognized social status in their home towns. In 256, the bishops at North Africa's council are very frequently bishops from bizarre townships, strung out along the main roads, not always towns of recognized status but almost always identifiable from other evidence on the African provinces' map.
Phrygia, their texts identify their patrons as "Christians for Christians." This openness was not a proof of militancy or heretical belief. 65 The patrons of these monuments were using the same materials, even the same workshops, as their pagan contemporaries. The earliest dated text belongs in 248/9, and the series of these Greek epitaphs record their Christians among scenes of ploughs and oxen, vines, horses and shepherd's crooks. The women, both pagan and Christian, were shown with their spindles and their wool: some patrons also put up pictures of their pens and writing tablets, proof that they knew how to write. This significant constituency was neither rustic nor lowerclass, but it can be aptly compared with the evidence of Christian papyri of the later third century in Egypt. These texts derive from lesser townships as well as from the more prestigious metropole is: their Greek form and style have been classed with the "tradesmen and farmers and minor government officials, men to whom knowledge of, and writing in, Greek was an essential skill but who also had few or no literary interests.
In these smaller townships, Christianity was not giving direction to a new "rejection of classicism and a renewal of native, pre-Roman ways of life." There was no such "renewal" and no concern to preach in Phrygian or write Scripture in Punic. The art of these smaller townships has been best understood as the rise of a "sub-antique" style which grew from the debris of high classical forms. It sought to participate in a wider culture, not to reject it. As the faith of a "universal Church," Christianity sat well with this type of selfexpression. Its widespread presence in these smaller townships makes it something more than a "cockney" religion based essentially in the bigger cities. The significant point is not that it prospered in these larger, untypical city centres but that it was in them that it found its literary _expression. Of the major Christian authors between 100 and 250, all except Irenaeus wrote in one of the Empire's few great cities of culture, Rome and Carthage, Alexandria, Ephesus and Antioch. However, these well-educated authors are not necessarily the best evidence for early Christian life as a whole, especially if we only attend to the views which they express in their own persons. It is often more useful that they criticize explicitly the simpler views of the Christian majority, people who thought that Christ would literally return on a cloud, who believed that Peter had confounded Simon Magus's attempts to fly, who did everything to avoid martyrdom and who knew better than to heed moralists' complaints about smart clothing and the pagan games, athletics, hairstyles and the irresistible ways of women. In the smaller townships, higher education was not locally available, and in the larger cities, very few Christians could afford it. Christianity, then, was present in towns and cities of all ranks and degrees; its Gospels, by the mid-third century, were preached in the major literary languages, but not (so far as we know) in minor dialects; Christians were not totally unknown in the surrounding countryside, but they were very much the exception. There was certainly no "winning of the peasantry" in the Greco-Roman world of the third century. How, then, were Christians distributed round the other great barriers of the age: sex and class?
Paul had admitted to being "all things to all men," and our best account of a Christian mission, the Acts of the Apostles, bears him out. Paul's churches included slaves and people who needed to be told "not to steal": Paul himself referred to the "deep, abysmal poverty" of his Christians in Macedonia. Yet his converts also included people "in Caesar's household," slaves, presumably, in the service of the Emperor. At Corinth, he converted Erastus, the "steward of the city," another eminent post which was often held by a public slave: it is quite uncertain whether this man could be the Erastus whom a recent inscription in Corinth's theatre revealed as a freeborn magistrate, the aedile of the colony. He attracted women of independent status and a certain property, people like Phoebe, the "patroness" of many of the Christians at Corinth, and Lydia, the "trader in purple," a luxury commodity. These women ranked far below the civic, let alone the Imperial, aristocracies. 1 But Acts adds a higher dimension which we might not otherwise have guessed: Paul was heard with respect by one member of Athens's exclusive Areopagus and by the "first man of Malta." He received friendly advice from "Asiarchs" in Ephesus, men at the summit of provincial society, where they served at vast expense as priests in the Imperial cult. On Cyprus, he impressed the Roman governor, Sergius Paulus, by a miracle which he worked in his presence. This connection with the highest society was not Acts' invention. The contact with Sergius Paulus is the key to the subsequent itinerary of the first missionary journey. From Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas struck east to the newly founded colony of Pisidian Antioch, miles away from any Cypriot's normal route. Modern scholars have invoked Paul's wish to reach the uplands of Asia and recover from a passing sickness; Acts ascribed this curious journey to the direction of the Holy Spirit. We know, however, that the family of the Sergii Pauli had a prominent connection with Pisidian Antioch: an important public inscription in the city honoured a Sergius Paulus who is probably the governor of Cyprus's son. One of his female descendants, probably his granddaughter, married a very powerful man of the city, and it was perhaps through her family's support that he attained the great height of the Roman Senate in the early 70s. The Sergii Pauli's local influence was linked with their ownership of a great estate nearby in central Anatolia: it is an old and apt guess that these connections go back to the time of Paul's governor. They explain very neatly why Paul and Barnabas left the governor's presence and headed straight for distant Pisidian Antioch. He directed them to the area where his family had land, power and influence. The author of Acts saw only the impulse of the Holy Spirit, but Christianity entered Roman Asia on advice from the highest society.
In c. I IO, Pliny wrote to Trajan that Christians were to be found in Pontus among people of "every rank, age and sex." Around 200, Tertullian repeated the same phrase in an essay addressed to the provincial governor of Africa. Since the great studies of the 1890s, evidence for the social composition of the early Church has not increased significantly, but the topic has attracted an abundant literature. On a broader view, rather more has been added by continuing study of the first Christian inscriptions, known from c. 200 onwards. In Phrygia, we have the epitaphs of "Christians for Christians, " one of which is datable to the mid-third century. We know of Christians who served on the city council of a Phrygian town and of a Christian who paid for the expense of civic games as the official "agonothete" and also served as the "first magistrate" of a Bithynian city. These unexpected figures all belong in the third century. So, too, does a cultured Christian lawyer, Gaius,· whose elegant verse epitaph, around 250, stressed his contentment with relative poverty, his devotion to the Muses, his conventional views on death and pleasure and his ingenious concern for number symbolism. His tomb lay in Phrygian Eumeneia, the city where we know of Christians on the town council, and it also contained "Rouben," a Christian with a Jewish name whom Gaius evidently revered. "Rouben" remained a powerful figure, even after death. The epitaph of a neighbouring Christian's tomb invoked "God and the angel of Rouben" against anyone who disturbed it. These texts take us into the less familiar sides of Christian views on death: burial with or beside a respected Christian figure and faith in a dead man's angel as a continuing protector in daily life. If Rouben had once been a Jew, the picture is even more intriguing.
Also in Eumeneia, we find the unexpected figure of a Christian athlete, nicknamed Helix (again: "the Creeper"), who had won prizes in a whole range of pagan games from Asia to Brindisi. Like many athletes, he enjoyed citizenship in several cities, and in Eumeneia, he was a councillor and member of the body of elders (gerousia). If Christians in other cities had only put up as many inscriptions as these confident figures in Eumeneia, what curious diversity might we not discover? From an epitaph at Nicomedia, again in Bithynia, we know of a third-century Christian who was a wood-carver, originally from Phoenicia; in Phrygia, we find a Christian butcher; in Ostia, the Italian port, we know of a Christian whose names corr~ond suggestively with those of a member of the boat owners' guild in the year 192. This evidence is particularly valuable because it widens the range of Christians' activities beyond the constricting horizon of so many Christian tracts. It reminds us that their authors' ideals were not necessarily typical. It does not, however, show us the humblest Christians, people who did not pay for the expense of inscriptions. This type of evidence only concerns the better-off, but at least we are continuing to find a few Christians in their varying social contexts.
It is as well to begin a broader survey at the very bottom. The bottom, throughout antiquity, meant slaves, and in slavery, the Church met a social barrier which the Jesus of the Gospels had nowhere discussed. Paul's short letter to Philemon nowhere suggested that there was a Christian duty to free a slave, even a Christian slave:
Christian commentators on the letter took his silence for granted. His other letters confirmed the view that social status was not relevant to spiritual worth and that believers should remain in the status in which they were called. Slaves should "serve the more," honouring their higher master, or kyrios, Christ. However, it is worth dwelling on Christian views of slavery, less, perhaps, for the appeal of their faith among slaves than for its appeal among those classes who still relied on them. Slaves were essential to the households of the rich, the mines, the agriculture of both tenanted and directly farmed estates in many provinces of the Empire. It is in this sense that we can still describe it as a slave society: slavery was entrenched in the social order of most regions in the second and third centuries.
Christian leaders did nothing to disturb it. When Christian slaves in an Asian church community began to propose that their freedom should be bought from community funds, Ignatius of Antioch advised firmly against the suggestion. He feared, he wrote, that they would become "slaves to lust. " Like the Stoics, these Christian leaders began from a principle of the equality of man, yet argued that worldly differences of status should continue undisturbed. The greater slavery was man's slavery to his passions. As if to prove it, pagan slaves continue to show up in the ownership of Christians, even of bishops. In Africa, Tertullian 'discusses the interesting case of a Christian whose pagan slaves had adorned his house with the trappings of pagan worship for a celebration of the Emperor's successes. Though innocent himself, the Christian was "chastised" in a vision. However, the right type of religion could not always be enforced. In Spain, c. 320, acts of the province's first known Church council advised Christians to "forbid, so far as they could, that idols be kept in their homes. But if they fear violence from their slaves, they must at least stay pure themselves." This fascinating glimpse of tenacious paganism in the household is matched by an absence of advice that Christians should convert their slaves as a matter of course. Paul's letters already showed the varying practice: there were some "households" of Christians, but others where Christians lived in a non-Christian establishment. Paul had not left any encouragement for mass baptism in Christian masters' "families."
This silence is all the more telling because it contrasts with much Jewish opinion and a certain amount of practice. Jewish teachers cited biblical texts to support the view that a Jewish master should circumcise his Gentile slaves. If the slaves disagreed, it was a common opinion that they should be given a year to think the matter over. If they still refused, they should be sold to a pagan master. These opinions were not altogether ignored. After the Jewish revolt of 132-135, the Emperor Hadrian restricted the circumcision of Gentiles, a practice whose prime victims, presumably, had been the pagan slaves of Jewish owners. The circumcision of slaves had played an important part in the spread of the Jewish faith and the conspicuous numbers of Jewish freedmen. By circumcision, slaves were "brought under the wings of the Shekinah." The medical handbooks of pagan doctors are a reminder that the operation was extremely painful.
A Church order of discipline, deriving from the early third century, proposed that all potential Christians must bring references with them when applying for teaching and that the slave of a Christian master must be denied baptism unless his owner had given him a good testimonial. The slave, then, was not alone in needing a reference, but the burden lay on his master's good faith: only if his master permitted was he allowed to hear the faith. The advice resembles the rules of many pagan religious societies where slaves were only to be admitted with a master's prior approval. Christians, however, faced a further category of applicants: slaves of pagan masters who came, nonetheless, to be taught. Here, there could be no question of asking for permission, and instead, the slave was told to "please" his master in order to avoid the risk of "blasphemy " and trouble. Whenever we cite this order, the so-called Apostolic tradition of Bishop Hippolytus, we face the same set of problems: is it evidence for practice, and did anyone observe it? Even if they did not, its value for the-accepted attitudes of some Christian leaders is not in doubt. Its priorities are not those of a faith concerned to free slaves from their masters, or to urge masters to let them be released.
On the conduct of slaves, Christian texts were unanimous. The Pauline epistles stated very clearly that slaves must submit, and for most Christian authors their words sufficed. If they were expanded, they were emphasized: slaves must obey masters as the "image of God." The grammar of Paul's commands has been traced to Semitic influence, but it is quite unclear if orders of this type were already current among Jews in their synagogues. It is also unclear whether simpler Christians were naturally inclined to obey the advice. The repeated address to slaves perhaps suggests that some of them were minded to act differently. In a mixed household, disobedience could bring Christians into further disrepute: the orders to slaves in 1 Timothy address Christian slaves in pagan service and tell them to submit "the more" in order to avoid blasphemy. At most, Christian slaves were consoled and comforted. One hint of this attitude occurs in the apocryphal Acts of Thomas, the text we have explored in connection with Edessa. When Thomas saw slaves carrying the litter of a noble lady, he reminded them that Jesus's words of comfort for the "heavy laden" referred to them. "Although you are men," he said, "they lay burdens on you like animals without the power of reason; those with power over you suppose that you are not human beings, as they are." But he did not preach open disobedience.
Once again, we might isolate this Syriac evidence as untypical of the Greek world, but it does find a direct parallel in the writings of Clement, the educated Alexandrian (c. 200). When Clement attacked the idleness and lack of exercise of ill-behaved contemporaries, he ended by urging them "not to use slaves like beasts of burden." He was not only thinking of the unhealthiness of being carried in a litter. He went on to exhort Christian masters to show "patience, equity and philanthropy" when dealing with slaves. Moral advice to the master was not unknown in pagan philosophy, especially Stoicism, but Christians, this text reminds us, could add it to their spiritual ideals. Did the advice somehow humanize the relationship, as if a truly Christian master was no longer a slave owner, but a fellow man? Such a view puts too heavy a weight on ideals in the face of a debasing relationship. Christian masters were not specially encouraged to set a slave free, although Christians were most numerous in the setting of urban households where freeing was most frequent: our pagan evidence for the practice is overwhelmingly evidence for the freeing of slaves in urban and domestic service: the pagan authors on agriculture never discussed freedom for rural slaves, not even for slave bailiffs. Among Christians, we know that the freeing of slaves was performed in church in the presence of the bishop: early laws from Constantine, after his conversion, permit this as an existing practice. 16 This public act does not entail an accompanying encouragement to perform it. We do not hear of any, and indeed freeing did not presuppose an opposition to slavery. Many masters required slaves to buy their freedom or to leave a child in their place, so that a younger slave could be bought or acquired on release of an older, wasting asset. To free slaves for nothing was much rarer, and only once, in a work of advice to Christians in third-century Syria, do we find Christians being exhorted to spend money on freeing slaves. It took more than a random word of advice to stop Christians from using whatever slaves they could: pagan slaves were better value, economically, as they would not have to stop work on a weekly day of rest. In Sardinia, a collection of slave collars has been studied and dated to c. 400 A. D. Some of them were stamped with the sign of the cross and a telling name: "Felix, the archdeacon. "
In one particular, indeed, Christians narrowed antiquity's most travelled route to freedom. Before baptism, Christian men were required to marry or give up their concubines. If, as often, the woman was a slave, she would presumably be freed first. After baptism, sex with a slave was a promiscuous sin and strictly forbidden to Christians. Yet pagan masters' sexual interest in their male and female domestic slaves frequently led to their eventual freeing. To well-behaved Christians, this route was closed.
To the churches, we can only conclude, these niceties were irrelevant. Christian teaching was not concerned with worldly status, because it was inessential to spiritual worth. So far from freeing others as a spiritual duty, some Christians were prepared to enslave themselves voluntarily. In Rome in the 90S, one group of Christians sold themselves into slavery in order to ransom fellow Christians from prison With the proceeds. Not until the fourth century and the rise of monastic communities do we find clear hints of Christian attempts to better the slave's position. In the 340S, the Council of Gangra threatened excommunication and the dire "anathema" against anyone who provoked slaves into disobedience "under pretext of piety": we would much like to know whom the council had in mind. Monks, certainly, were cautioned against receiving fugitive slaves into their company, as many Christian leaders took a wary view of runaways. In the pagan Empire, slaves who had a grievance against their masters could seek asylum at any statue of the Emperor or within the precincts of certain specified temples. Their case was investigated and if justified, they were sold to another master or made into temple slaves of the god. In the Christian Empire, slaves could take refuge in church, but they were returned after inquiry to the same master. The only remedy was a rebuke to whichever party deserved it; Christians aimed to reform the heart, not the social order. The appeal of their faith did not lie in a reversal of the barriers which disfigured pagan society. When we find Christianity among the higher classes, we should allow for the effects of this welcome reticence.
Where, then, did its centre of gravity lie? Not, surely, among slaves, when such care was advised before accepting them into the Church and when no orders were given for teaching a Christian's slaves the Gospel as a matter of course. We should recall the social order which we sketched for all but the largest cities: the absence of clearly defined middle or "merchant" classes and the sharply tapering pyramid, in which a narrow group of benefactors and notables paid for the amenities of civic life for the "people," the "poor." In such a social order, a Christian community of any size cannot be equated with a broad "middle class" or only with its known converts of higher position. Two or three inscriptions which mention Christian town councillors do not make the Church into a faith predominantly for the higher classes. "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called, but God chose the foolish things of the world." So Paul told the Corinthians; we must do justice to the exceptions, while looking for a guide to the "foolish" majority. Outsiders had no doubt.21 "In private houses nowadays," claimed the pagan Celsus, c. 170, "we see wool workers, cobblers, laundry workers and the most illiterate rustics who get hold of children and silly women in private and give out some astonishing statements, saying that they must not listen to their father or schoolteachers, but must obey them. They alone know the right way to live, and if the children believe them, they will be happy. They whisper that they should leave their teachers and go down to the shops with their playmates in order to learn to be perfect ... " The Christian Origen did protest at this allegation, but his book answering Celsus assumed the existence of Christians superior to the simple majority in the Church. Other Alexandrians wrote in the same manner, and it was left to Tertullian to accept the low status of many Christians and argue from their crude faith to the "natural" Christian instincts of the human soul. Significant evidence lies in the gem of early Latin Christian literature, the Octavius by Minucius, a work whose date is best placed between Tertullian and Cyprian in the early third century, perhaps c. 230.
This dialogue reports the conversion of a prominent pagan, Caecilius, by the Christian Octavius. Set at Ostia by the seaside, it is imagined in the "summer recess," while the law courts were shut at Rome. Three eminent advocates meet and discuss their beliefs, agreeing finally on the Christian faith. The Ciceronian style and colour of the dialogue were themselves a demonstration that Christianity could appeal to a man of high culture. So, too, was the dialogue's conclusion: it is highly likely that Caecilius was a local dignitary from North Africa, known in inscriptions at Cirta. Yet when he begins by complaining that Christians assemble the "lowest dregs of society" and" credulous women, an easy prey because of the instability of their sex," the Christian Octavius cannot entirely refute him.22 He merely answers that everybody is capable of thinking and arguing, that the ordinary man can discuss theology too, that a rough literary style does not obscure clear thought and that "poor people of our rank have discovered the true wisdom." The assumptions in his answer are very revealing. In the writings of Clement, c. 200, we find a sharp awareness that Christians in Alexandria were divided between the simple, believing masses and those few who wanted a more intellectual faith without lapsing into heresy. This division, too, suggests a Church of many humbler Christians with a few educated and broader minds in their midst. In the Octavius, the impression is confirmed by a Christian author who attaches it to a social context: "most of us, " Octavius admits, "are considered to be poor."
The hard core of these churches' membership lay in the humbler free classes, people who were far removed from higher education and at most controlled a very modest property of their own. It is against this silent majority that the exceptions should be seen, although the exceptions generally wrote the surviving texts and addressed exceptional Christians. To find a text which emphasized the mission to the poor, but not the rich, after the earliest period, we have to look to the fictitious "Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles: It is thought to have begun as a text of the mid- to late second century. Where other apocryphal acts in Greek tended to place the Apostles in the highest provincial society and sometimes dropped very well-chosen names, this fiction told how Jesus dressed as a poor seller of pearls and went out into the cities. The rich heard his sales talk, looked down from their balconies and sneered at his pretensions. The poor and the destitute pressed round him, asking at least for a glimpse of so precious an object as a pearl: "We will say to our friends proudly that we saw a pearl with our own eyes, because it is not found among the poor." Jesus promised not merely to show one but to give it to whoever followed his route in poverty and came to the holy city. The seller of pearls then appeared as Christ, who sent the Apostles on their mission, ordering them to show no favor to the scornful rich. The story is best set in Christian Syria, where the values of poverty and dependence on God lived among the wandering "sons of the covenant." In Alexandria, by contrast, the intellectual Origen could write frankly that "not even a stupid man would praise the poor indiscriminately: most of them have very bad characters."
The bias of most of our early Christian texts inclined in his direction. A scarlet tradition of woes against the rich had lain to hand in the Jews' apocalyptic literature. However, the proper use of riches was a topic which no surviving letter by Paul had discussed. Educated Christians in Alexandria were heirs to the old allegorical skills of Philo
with Christians of similar tastes whom we can detect in the contemporary papyri. We began with the intriguing papyrus letter which a Christian in Rome sent to brethren in Arsinoe c. 265. It is no less intriguing that a subsequent Christian jotted the opening of the Epistle to the Hebrews in one of its margins and added verses from Genesis in another, using not one, but two Greek translations of the Bible. Clearly, he was a person with a particular interest in texts. Perhaps another was Hermogenes, magistrate and councilor in Egypt's Oxyrhynchus, who used the back of a page from a copy of Africanus's Miscellany to write his will, adding a special compliment to his wife's fitting conduct during their married life . .The page came from a Christian's text, and the compliment has been seen as a Christian's touch of courtesy. This interest in culture and philosophy was not confined to the grandest Christians. In Rome of the late 180s, we know of Greek-speaking Christians from Asia Minor who were led by one Theodotus, a "leather worker by trade, but very learned nonetheless. " They studied Euclid's geometry, Aristotle's philosophy, and "almost worshipped Galen," an author who had once remarked on the Christians' reluctance to argue their first principles instead of relying on blind faith. These Christians were a living reply to his criticisms, but in due course they were excommunicated by the bishop of Rome. A strong opinion held that heresies originated in the various Greek philosophies from which they descended like "schools. "
What, finally, of Valerian's other category, the "matrons," or women of respectable birth? Here we can be more positive. Not only were Christian women prominent in the churches' membership and recognized to be so by Christians and pagans: in Rome, c. 200, we have a precious insight into their social status and balance in the community. Bishop Callistus, himself a former slave, was reviled for a ruling which permitted Christian women to live in "just concubinage" with Christian men whom they had not formally married. Although his rule was mocked as a license to adultery, it must be understood through the marriage laws of the Roman state. If a highborn lady married far beneath her rank, she was deprived of her former status and legal privileges: Callistus's ruling belongs in a community whose well-born women outnumbered its well-born men. This impression meets us in other Christian evidence, in Tertullian's remarks on women who preferred to marry "slaves of the Devil" rather than humble Christian men, Valerian's rescript on Christian matrons" and the concerns of the first Church council in Spain to match an excess of Christian women to a deficiency of Christian men. Well-born Christian women were sufficiently familiar to attract a sharp comment on the Christians' "female Senate" from the pagan Porphyry c. 300; we know of governors whose wives were Christian sympathizers, as were female members of the Severan Imperial house; high-ranking women took good care of Origen in Alexandria; when Apollo spoke on the problem of Christian obduracy, he was answering a pagan husband's question about his Christian wife. In Rome, Bishop Callistus was trying to allow prominent women to take Christian partners without suffering a legal penalty. The problem was not unknown elsewhere in society. Marriages between women of high status and prominent slaves in the Imperial service were already familiar and had caused problems of legal disability: in a Christian community, men of high, free birth were rarer and Callistus allowed women their social mesalliances in order to evade the secular laws.
This conspicuous female presence in the churches can be taken further. Like the Jewish communities, the church offered charity to widows. Unlike the Jews, many Christian teachers followed Paul in regarding remarriage as a poor second best, while a minority declared it entirely sinful. One of the major demographic contrasts between an ancient and a modern population lies in the ancients' higher proportion of young widows. Because the age of girls at marriage was frequently very low, as low as thirteen, older husbands were likely to die first, leaving their wives to the second marriages which secular laws encouraged: under Augustus's rules, widows were penalized if they did not remarry within two years. In the churches, however, widowhood was an honored status and remarriage was often seen as a concession to the weak: an early council legislates strongly against women who marry two brothers, presumably in sequence, the natural course for a widow in many pagan families after one brother's early death. Christian teaching thus tended to keep widows as unattached women, and their presence became significant. Only a minority of the "fifteen hundred widows and poor people" whom the Roman church tended in 251 would have been widows of any property, yet this minority was not without effect. The rules of female inheritance in most of these women's home cities would allow them to control or inherit a proportion of their husband's property. The Church, in turn, was a natural candidate for their bequests. Before Constantine, we do not know under what legal title these bequests were made, but it is not one sample of a church's membership which we can appreciate in any detail between the Apostolic age and the conversion of Constantine. In the early fourth century, we have the records of an interrogation of church officers in the North African city of Cirta. Apart from its high proportion of female clothing, this church included a teacher of Latin literature, who was also a town councilor, albeit only in the second generation of his family; a fuller, who could nonetheless be alleged to have distributed a huge bribe; a woman of the highest status, a clarissima, whose bribes were twenty times bigger and had disrupted, people said, an entire election in her own Carthage; a sarsor, or worker of colored stones for decoration; an undifferentiated body of simple laymen, harassed by a crowd of "rustics" who were not Christians themselves but were alleged to include prostitutes and quarry workers, people who could be bribed and incited: there were also the loyal Christian gravediggers, underground heroes of the Christian cemeteries and catacomb tunnels, the diggers whom we can still see with their picks and lamps in wall paintings of the catacombs in Rome.
On one final point, we can be more confident. In pagan cities, young men were frequently organized in groups and societies of self-styled "youths," yet we never hear of Christianity spreading horizontally between people of the same age. In 203, the Carthaginian martyr Perpetua tells a graphic story of her own resistance to her pagan father's pleas. "He fell before me weeping," she recorded, "and I pitied him as he called me no longer his daughter, but mistress and lady." Yet Perpetua and her companions owed their faith to an older Christian, Saturus, just as Cyprian owed his to the older Caecilius, and Justin remarked on the decisive advice of an elderly Christian whom he had met by the seashore. In Edessa, a pupil recalled how the great Bardaisan had rebuked a fellow pupil, Awida, who had started to put theological questions to his own "age-mates. " "You should learn from somebody older than them," Bardaisan told him: Christianity did not open a generation gap in families. It tended to spread vertically, not horizontally, from older teachers, from a Christian parent or a Christian head of a household.
In the first Christian churches, amid all this social diversity, an ancient hope had been realized.1 During Creation, said the Book of Genesis, God had taken clay and fashioned man: then he "breathed into his face the breath of life and man became a living soul ... " By his very nature, each man possessed this personal puff of divinity. It resided in him and linked him potentially to God. This element had not been forgotten by its Jewish heirs. St. Paul's contemporary the Alexandrian Philo still maintained a lively sense of it in his many books on Scripture. A breath of divine Spirit, he believed, lived in all men from birth as their higher reason. It was allied to their inner conscience, the presence which "accused" and "tested" them and made them aware of their own misdeeds.
Would God ever send a second installment, a further gift? Once, he had given it to individual prophets, but by the first century B. C., surviving Jewish literature had little to say on the possibility. Philo did believe such a gift was available, but only to exceptional individuals who had engaged in a long and arduous progress through faith to self-knowledge. At last, through God's grace, they would receive a fresh gift of his Spirit which would "drive out" ~on and possess them with divine ecstasy. Philo himself had known a faint approximation to this state. He had felt it, he wrote, in the course of his studies on Scripture, when sometimes he was granted a slight inspiration, in a sudden "flash," we would say, the "bright idea" of a scholar. Careful study of Philo's writings shows how rare and faint these scholarly "flashes" were.
Only in one place do we find a strong sense of the Spirit's guidance and its imminent coming to a Jewish community at the Last Day: in the scrolls of the Dead Sea sect, awaiting the end of the world. In the first Christian churches, both Jewish and Gentile, this presence suddenly came true. While Philo hoped for a gift of the Spirit to the minds of exceptional men, humble Christians across the Aegean were experiencing this very contact in their hearts, a presence which made them cry out, "Abba, Father," in a sudden burst of immediacy. The Spirit, said Paul, was bestowed on their communities as a "deposit" or "advance payment" against the greater gift of the Last Day. It amounted to more than an empty "speaking with tongues," that recurrent experience in Pentecostal history: this "speech" is no sudden gift of linguistic skill, but a random jumble, as neutral observers have often demonstrated.
Among the first Christians, the Spirit belonged with a continuing change in personality and in people's understanding of themselves. It was attached, nonetheless, to the old Scriptural tradition. Though course, Christians knew how to hold their tongue and lie low when necessary, but at other times, they could try a little exhortation on a suitable friend. In an eighth of a rented room or a twentieth of a house in an Egyptian township, it was simply not possible or necessary to conceal one's prayers or worship of God from everyone's eyes.
Within the family, there was obvious scope for exhortation and dispute. Mixed marriages were not commended, but wives in an existing marriage might be converted and then an avenue opened for further conversions. In Christian opinion, backed by St. Paul, the wife should not leave her pagan husband but should try to win him over too. In higher society, she seldom succeeded, but there was hope for her subsequent children: fathers might object less to the mother's instruction of the girls or to her prudent baptism of infants at a time of sickness in order to stave off the stories of hell. Some, a very few, of these infants might survive, perhaps impressing the father with the power of his wife's new God. It is in this domestic context that many of the Christian exorcisms of non-Christians were probably worked. We should not be misled by the apocryphal legends of public "contest" or the later crowd scenes which gathered round Christian saints, blessing and cursing in the different setting of the later Christian Empire.
Above all, we should give weight to the presence and influence of friends. It is a force which so often escapes the record, but it gives shape to everyone's personal life. One friend might bring another to the faith; a group of friends might exclude others and cause them to look elsewhere for esteem. When a person turned to God, he found others, new "brethren," who were sharing the same path. Here, the earliest Church orders of discipline conform to a description by Origen and the precepts of the first councils. Interested parties would rank nominally as "Christians" from their first reception, but two or three years had to pass before an interested party could progress to baptism, advice which remained constant across the third century. No doubt there were shortcuts, and thus the advice had to be given, but Origen's words are proof that it was not a vain counsel. Christians were not made in a hurry, unless they happened to have been baptized as an insurance by one or other Christian parent. The Christian apprentice, or catechumen, was watched for signs of misconduct. He was taught the details of the faith by fellow Christians and allowed to attend the church services in a special group, with his fellow apprentices. At the community's meal, he was supposed to receive "bread of exorcism," which was distinct from the baptized Christian's bread. He had no place at the Lord's table when the baptized Christians met and dined and prayed mindfully for their host. During the years of instruction, he was not supposed to sin, and if he did, he would be demoted for a while to the status of a "hearer" who was not receiving instruction. When his preparation was complete, he was brought forward for the final weeks of teaching, accompanied by fasting, frequent exorcisms and confession of sins. Only then was he fit to be baptized.
Perhaps this pattern was shortened sometimes but it does not conform to some modern historical views of the Church. The understanding of conversion is not the understanding of an unrecoverable first moment when a person decided to go along to church and give the sect a try. It is certainly not a process dominated, or largely explained, by sudden miracles. Historically, it is less significant that Christianity could bring in a diversity of persons for a diversity of initial reasons than that it could retain them while imposing the long apprenticeships. The years of instruction and preparation became, in their turn, one of the faith's particular appeals. People felt that they were exploring a deep mystery, step by step. They were advancing with a group of fellow explorers along a route which required a high moral effort.
The length of this journey is one further reason for keeping the total number of Christians in perspective: their faith was much the most rapidly growing religion in the Mediterranean, but its total membership was still small in absolute terms, perhaps (at a guess) only 2 percent of the Empire's total population by 250. Within this small sample, was it especially likely to appeal to particular social groups? This dimension is one which we would now stress more explicitly than Gibbon. The social context and position of Christian converts does not allow us to lay down "laws" or to predict Christianity in this or that group, but it does suggest tendencies, especially negative tendencies, and it bears on the faith's more general appeal.
A simple theory of "social compensation" will not stand up to the evidence. The link between Christianity and victims of worldly oppression was neither simple nor obvious. The Church was not primarily a haven for slaves and least of all for slaves in the mines or dependent workers on the land, yet on these groups the burdens of the towns and the Empire lay most heavily. In contrast, recent social two orders which were most open to it, the Senate and the Imperial "household." Although we know of Christians among the Emperor's slaves, we lack their biographies and we cannot distinguish those who converted after a sudden advancement from those who had already brought their faith from their family backgrounds. We cannot, then, argue that social promotion encouraged these Christians' conversions in the first place. When Justin was brought to trial in the 160s, he was accompanied by Euelpistus, "a slave in Caesar's household," who had had Christian parents in Cappadocia, probably before he passed into the Emperor's service. His promotion did not influence or coincide with his faith: it merely brought him to our notice. Social mobility did not necessarily turn a person against prevailing traditions. If it distanced him from his humbler origins, it also made him embarrassingly keen, as always, to be accepted in the social circles to which he had aspired. The literature, the poetry and the inscriptions of the Imperial period are .eloquent witnesses to the efforts of the parvenu to copy traditions and be thought respectable. The Christianity of the new men at Constantinople should be seen in this light: by then, the court looked up to a Christian Emperor.
What, then, of the notion of "status inconsistency," the condition of people whose view of their status does not altogether agree with the status which others ascribe to them? The concept has been applied to Paul's first communities, to the "independent women with moderate wealth, Jews with wealth in a pagan society, freedmen with skill and money, but stigmatized by origin, and so on. "20 People's views of their own status are enchantingly complex and unexpected, and perhaps" consistency" is a rarer condition than its theorists imply. Yet even in these particular groups, "status" may not have been the inconsistent element. The "Jews with wealth" could find an ample role in their own synagogues; known Christian "freedmen with skill and money" are not easily found and their sense of "social stigma" can be exaggerated if we look only at the judgements of Rome's ruling class: here, any "status inconsistency" was short-lived. The children of freedmen are well attested in our Latin evidence for that socially accepted class: the councillors and magistrates of the towns. Their families' ambitions often lay in this conventional direction: freedmen are a primary source of public inscriptions in Latin, an accepted claim to honour by which they, too, could bid for public esteem. It was not, then, for lack of prospects that they adopted a persecuted faith. The "independent women" are better attested, but "status inconsistency" may not be the aptest term for their condition. Their sex universally denied them the social role which their economic position gave to its other possessors. Their status meanwhile, was only too clear, and we have no evidence that women did other than accept it. It is quite untrue that Paul and the teaching of his epistles coincided with an existing movement for "liberation" among women, which they curbed.
A person cannot be the victim of "status inconsistency" without some conscious awareness on his own part; for the condition to apply, he himself must hold a conscious variant view of his own social position. We do not know that any type of Christian convert held such views. Even if they did, we still have to fathom why they resolved the inconsistency by taking to Christianity rather than to any other cult. The Jew had his synagogue; the prosperous freedman, the cult of the Emperors; the woman, the priesthoods of other divinities, through which, already, she could enjoy a public role. Why, then, become a Christian? The view that such converts wished to dominate a new cult and earn "clients" is also implausible. The concern for "clientship" belonged in social orders higher than those of almost any known Christian convert. Nor was the Christian community designed for easy "dominance." The first churches had no fixed leaders, and when they did develop them, they adopted a system of leadership by life appointment. Unlike the pagan cult society, the Church thus kept apart the roles of benefactor and leader: dominance was not easily assured.
It is this aspect, rather, that we can usefully explore. By its own image and moral stance, the Christian community stood opposed to the open pursuit of power. It did not resolve "inconsistency" by offering a new outlet: rather, it claimed to sidestep status and power altogether. We would do better to view its appeal not against inconsistency but against a growing social exclusivity. Christianity was least likely to attract the people who were most embedded in social tradition, the great families of Rome, the upper families who filled the civic priesthoods and competed in public generosity for the gods. There were exceptions, but it was also least likely to attract the teacher and antiquarian who were steeped in pagan learning. It could, however, offer an alternative community and range of values to those who were disenchanted by the display of riches, by the harshness of the exercise of power and the progressive hardening of the gradations of rank and degree.
But in spite of all of this, we are still in a familiar world, where overachievers castrate themselves voluntarily, where pseudo-perfectionists claim to be living as "brothers and sisters" with the virgins in their house and where the majority gamble and go to the games, use sorcery and divination, pursue each other's wives or ask a Jew to bless the crops. Over them presided bishops who damned the theatre, the races and paintings inside church, who forbade women to write or receive letters in their own name and who were aware that Christian wives might be coaxed into lending their finest dresses for a procession of the pagan gods. Others simply joined the sinners, lending money, sleeping with the virgins and widows and laying slanderous documents against fellow members of the Church. The prime obstacle to Christianization lay in the Christians themselves, their clergy as much as their ordinary followers. A double standard had always been present in Christian ethics: after Constantine, it became entrenched for the first time in civic life.
Next, when Emperor Constantine became a Christian, he still fulfilled the public role of a pagan pontifex maximus and allowed the public cults to continue: he had begun as the patron of a small Christian minority, and he moved cautiously. In political affairs, he had to accept an army and a ruling class who were overwhelmingly pagan, and remained so throughout his reign. But his public language was unambiguous. Paganism was a false "error" and sacrifice a "foul pollution." Although both were probably allowed to continue for the poor souls who could not see the Christians' truth, the language which permitted them was not the language of a man tolerating equals. It was the language of a man suffering fools. The postscript to his Oration at Antioch was to be rather more robust: torture of pagans "in authority in the city" so that they admitted religious fraud. Constantine himself is not cited as responsible and here, perhaps, his Christian hearers outran his intention.
However, it took more than the Emperor's language to win a majority of pagans to the Church. We can see the Church leaders' initial hopes from the Acts of their first councils: at Arles, the bishops ruled that any Christian who held public office or who became a provincial governor should write and introduce himself to the local bishop. While he held power, he should then do whatever the bishop advised. This ruling did not show any grasp of the realities of power and it promptly needed revision at Elvira, a few years later. At Elvira, the council was also noticeably milder to Christians who became one of the senior "two magistrates" of a Roman town: they must stay away from church during their year of office, which involved pagan cult and shows, but they could return as good Christians afterwards. If the bishops had been any harsher, they would have lost all contact with the high officials of their cities. Here, we see the predicament of a Christian leadership given sudden prominence in a predominantly pagan society.
Constantine could not oblige the Christian leaders by abolishing pagan cult: Eusebius alleges that he banned all sacrifices by a law, but this claim is highly contestable and was certainly not fulfilled: most of the governors who would have had to enforce it were themselves still pagans. Nonetheless, Christianity did make notable progress in the Constantinian age, beginning a greater expansion outside the towns and attracting many more prominent converts. Here, more than any ban on paganism, the ending of persecution had its effect. Christianity's subsequent progress owed less to legal prohibition than to a subtler compound, composed of legal privilege, the faith's intrinsic appeal and a continuing use of force.
By Constantine, the long tension between "love and honor" and immunity from civic burdens was given a new twist: the Christian clergy were exempted from civic duties. The arbitration and judgment of bishops was given a new legal backing: on the likeliest interpretation of a complex law, Constantine allowed the parties in a civil or criminal suit to appeal to a bishop's final "judgment" and "testimony." The bishop's decision was then binding on any other judge. Perhaps this law only covered disputes between Christians, but it was a remarkable recognition of the Christian ·"state within a state." So, too, was the recognition of the legality of bequests to the Church, even if they were made in a person's dying wishes. These privileges were a strong inducement to join the Church: in 320 and again in 326, Constantine already had to legislate against pagans who were claiming to be clerics in order to avoid their civic duties. This type of claim did not belong with a robust pagan "opposition."
At the same time, the new faith became a great source of economic benefit. Not since the last year of Alexander the Great had a ruler spent so lavishly. Constantine built and endowed a series of huge new churches, projects which were very dear to his own person: in a letter, we find him ordering the bishop of Jerusalem to build a new church on Golgotha at public expense, and twice asking him to report promptly to the Emperor in person. The many who benefited from the new circulation of funds will have found little to challenge in the prominence of the new religion. Pagan shrines, meanwhile, lost funds and treasures which were diverted or melted down to pay for the Christians' publicity.
As part of this new circulation, the Christians received and redistributed huge donations, some from Constantine himself. Whereas the corn doles of pagan cities had been confined to citizens, usually to those who were quite well-off, the Christians' charity claimed to be for those who were most in need. Swollen by the Emperor's gifts, it helped the sick and the old, the infirm and the destitute. By the later fourth century, it had led to great hostels and charitable centers, most visible in the under urbanized province of Cappadocia, where the Christian fathers encouraged and practiced its ideals. It is no coincidence that paganism ceased to trouble them in their letters, written in the 370s and 380s. In the East, a similar function was being met by the great monasteries which grew up near places of pilgrimage.
In this new climate of Christian favor and pilgrimage, Constantine was not alone in having decisive Christian dreams. In Cappadocia we learn from Gregory of Nazianzus how his father, a great landowner, was converted to Christianity by an opportune dream in the year 325: he had a Christian wife already and ended his days as the powerful bishop of the family's home town. Others, too, were sensitive to the new opportunities: at Elvira, the bishops began with four strong rulings against Christians who entered temples and sacrificed to the gods after baptism or who served after baptism as pagan priests. It is easier to credit this double life if the council met after Constantine's conversion: prominent citizens were already willing to make a show of being Christians, while continuing to lead their home towns in pagan cults. Others were adept at playing the two loyalties against one another: they included the ingenious scoundrels who were pretending to be Christian clerics in order to claim exemptions from the expense of civic duties.
These judicious "conversions" did not make immediate Christians but they did bring the new faith into yet more households, where it could take root and become the natural loyalty of the next generation. Christianity had not lost the appeal of a scriptural religion: it united cult and philosophy and still promised the various rewards and certainties which we have seen in it from the start. Conspicuously, it was able to hold many of the people whom it first attracted, and its bitter internal quarrels did not blind outsiders to its ideals. Here, we can share the views of Ammianus, a pagan from Antioch and the great historian of the fourth century. In his histories, he deplored the failings of many bishops and the savage hatred of Christians for each other, but he still saw Christianity as a 'Just and gentle" religion.
As the new patronage made Christianity more confident, the "just and gentle religion" could turn round and answer pagan religiousness on its own terms. So far from keeping things going, the pagan gods had brought their "usurpers" to miserable ends. The Christian God now gave victory to the Emperor and helped him to bring an end to conflict: life did indeed go no worse with a Christian Emperor and no sudden calamity called in question his new faith. Christianity could thus destroy the strongest of all arguments for pagan worship, that it had always been practiced and that its abandonment would be very foolhardy. The argument from success became joined to the growing impact of patronage for the Church in civic life. In 325, Constantine legislated against gladiatorial games and withdrew imperial support: eventually, they died in every province of the Empire. Public occasions became increasingly Christian occasions, as a new calendar of festivals and commemorations rivaled the old sequence of pagan games and festivals. Newly built churches became alternative centers of urban life, offering legal "asylum" to fugitives, becoming places where slaves, too, could be legally freed, where big crowds could meet inside buildings for worship and where people could even expect to find a suitable girlfriend. The churches were not the only new centers. In a pagan city, the adult dead, traditionally, had been buried outside the city's walls. In the Christian Empire, the dead acquired a new importance, through the building of shrines on the bones of past martyrs. Constantine built a huge church to honor the martyrs of Nicomedia: gradually his own capital, Constantinople, came to have martyrs' shrines within and without the walls. Like the churches, these new centers of power changed the focus of the cities and their social existence.
Even so, the pagan cults were not quick to die away: they had been the religion of the majority at the time of Constantine's conversion and not for another century did the balance tip decisively in the Christians' favor. They were, however, put under strain, quite apart from their loss of supporters to the Church. Lavish pagan cult had been intertwined with particular values and a particular social order in the cities' upper classes. During the fourth century, those classes narrowed further, while service to the home town lost almost every connection with the old "love of honor," spread widely within a competitive local elite. Pagan cults found their funds reduced and their ceremonies threatened, while the old forms of civic education no longer survived to support them. After 325, we hear no more of the training of a city's youth as "ephebes" with the accompanying pagan ceremonial. By the 380s, nothing more is heard of the civic gymnasium and its officials. The reduction in the cities' incomes may have influenced their disappearance, but Christian attitudes may also have played a part. "The physical side of education languished in a Christian environment": in the cities, it had been linked with naked exercise, paganism and consenting homosexuality. The eventual "collapse of the gymnasia, the focal point of Hellenism, more than any other single event brought in the Middle Ages."
While "love of honor" and "love of the home town" no longer impelled the competitive buildings and "promises" of so many pagan benefactors, Christianity released the ostentatious patronage of its supporters. They gave not merely for worldly fame but to further their own eternal life, and in turn, these gifts helped to keep their religion at the centre of public life. It is more important that prominent support for the Christian religion can be traced to distinctive patrons at the Imperial court than that individual laws can be cited prohibiting pagan worship, yet needing always to be repeated. Between c. 380 and 450, this patronage was particularly influential. In the 390s, Ossius of Cordova found his heirs in courtiers of Spanish origin who gathered round Theodosius I and showed a conspicuous Christian piety. From 423 to 451, the sister and the Empress mother of Theodosius II competed in an extravagant rivalry, citing Constantine's mother, Helena, as the model for their charity. They patronized relics and holy men; they favored pilgrimages and monasteries; their rivalry even advanced the fateful creed at the Council of Chalcedon (451), which was to split the Church still further.
Pagan cult had benefited from the buildings and "love of honor" of its donors, but their gifts had been made from somewhat limited motives. By contrast, Christianity combined the exercise of patronage with a sense of spiritual progress, an ethic against sin and hopes of superior treatment in the world to come. It offered this combination to upper-class females as well as to men, and in Constantine's own lifetime both sexes were quick to take it up. In 326, the execution of Constantine's son and the "suicide" of his wife were immediately followed by the pilgrimage of his mother, Helena, to the Holy Land and her conspicuous spending on the holy sites of the Gospels. Between the 380s and the 450s, extravagant patronage by both men and women publicized the Christian faith and greatly extended its scope.
This ever-increasing prominence was backed by a distinctive rise in the use of force. Constantine's Christian successors tended to invert the thrust of his legislation. Their laws tended to curb the Christians' privileges, while acting more directly against pagan cult. Constantine's extreme favor for the bishops' "testimony" as a court of appeal had to be revised when they failed to live up to expectations. The laws on bequests were also reviewed. In 370, a strong law attacked Christian men, especially ascetics, who tried to win legacies for themselves or their churches from innocent women. In 390, it was abandoned as unworkable.
Meanwhile, Christian intolerance of pagans had made gradual, but steady, progress. Against the Jews, intolerance could hardly have gone further than the attitudes Constantine inherited: they were a "deadly sect," said the laws in his reign, parricides, 'murderers of God's own Son. By his successors, it was made a crime for Christians to marry them (Codex Theodosius, 8.8.1;3.7.2.).
Pagans, too, were not spared abuse in the Emperor's letters, but only six of their sites are known to have suffered in his reign. Perhaps the list was longer, but each of the known places was a special case. One, at Mambre, was a site of great holiness in the Old Testament; another, a shrine of Aphrodite, stood on the site of the Crucifixion and the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. A third, at Aphaca, was an offensive Phoeniciap. centre of sacred prostitution. The other three told a different story. At Didyma, Christians seized a prophet of Apollo and had him tortured, as also at Antioch. At Aigai, in Cilicia, they are said to have razed the shrine of Asclepius, a misfortune, however, from which it partially recovered.
Why were these latter shrines singled out so promptly? At Aigai, the pagan wise man Apollonius was believed to have "turned the temple into an Academy": this temple, or a nearby shrine, had been honored with a fine pagan inscription in honor of "godlike" Apollonius, perhaps as recently as the reign of Diocletian. In the last phase of the Great Persecution, Hierocles, a prominent governor, wrote a book exalting Apollonius as the pagan superior to Christ. Not so long before him, Porphyry had compiled the books of Philosophy from Oracles, which publicized texts from Didyma. At Didyma, the Emperors then underwent the encounter which set their Great Persecution on its course. When Constantine conquered the East, Christians therefore struck at Didyma and Aigai, the two shrines which were closely linked with the origins of their recent suffering: at Antioch, oracles from the local shrines had also embittered Maximin's persecutions and there, too, the prophets were duly tortured and obliged to confess "fraud." These reprisals are the counterpart to two written works by Eusebius, his polemic against the book on Apollonius and his "Demonstration of the Gospel," which disproved Apollo's oracles by quoting them against themselves.
In the early 340s, we find the first surviving Christian text which asks for something more, the total intolerance of pagan worship. It was addressed by a recent convert, Firmicus, to Constantine's sons. In it, he pleaded for the persecution of pagans, but as a former pagan astrologer, Firmicus was perhaps protesting his Christianity with a special fervour. Nonetheless, contemporary bishops were already turning temples into churches, and by the 380s, we find them taking the initiative openly, abetted by monastic leaders and their followers. From St. Martin in Gaul to the fearsome Shenoute in Egypt, there is a robust history of Christian temple- and statue breakers. The laws could never move so fast: they relied for application on a class of governors who were often pagans themselves.
Force alone could not make converts, but it did weigh heavily with the undecided, and by the lack of divine reprisals it did show that the "anger" of the gods was no match for Christ. Importantly, the use of force was not usually mobilized by pagans in the first instance against Christians. There were some ugly incidents, essentially under Julian's pagan restoration, but pagans were capable of offering Christianity a mutual coexistence. As one pagan told Augustine, their gods were accustomed to "concordant discord. " While Christians worshipped their particular God, some pagans could simply see this worship as one more way among others. The old argument that Christian atheism caused divine "anger" had been refuted by events, while the pagan gods' own oracles had called their Supreme god "unknowable": who was to say if the Christians' way was not as acceptable to him as many others? Their piety, at first glance, was of the elevated, bloodless type which pagan philosophers commended: relics and martyr cult were perhaps aberrations. Intolerance had never been rooted in the long history of pagan philosophy and religious thought. After exclusivity refused to extend to them.
Pagan attacks on Christianity were attacks on its prominent "heroes": the virgins and holy men, monks and clergy. Such attacks made martyrs, and the victims were always replaceable. Christians, by contrast, did not attack individual pagans, after the torture of the oracular prophets at Didyma and Antioch. They attacked places to which the presence of the 'gods was attached. These attacks did more permanent damage, yet to ban sacrifices or close or demolish temples was only to limit cult acts. It was not to defeat the pagan beliefs. In fact not even the entire army could have covered each cave of the Nymphs, the many caves which claimed Zeus's birthplace, the underground shrines of Mithras, the caves of Cybele and Attis or the many cavernous entries to Hades.
Long after Constantine, the old Cretan caves still drew pagan visitors, couples like Salvius Menas and his wife, who climbed to the Tallaean cave every year: when his wife died, Menas came alone to make a double sacrifice on her behalf, "honoring the divine concerns of the gods." The persistence of this subterranean pagan piety emerges clearly from two fourth-century inscriptions which were found in Attica's old cave of Pan at Phyle. One sophist recorded how he had climbed to Pan's cave "for the sixth time" to honor a pagan friend; another text marked the eleventh or twelfth visit of one Nicagoras, kinsman, perhaps, of the Nicagoras whom Constantine had sent to Egypt. These pagans were still pilgrims, as Claros had once known them. The fifth century saw persistent potholing by pagan men of letters and philosophy, in search of their old gods' "presence" belowground.
Those other sources of "epiphany," the pagan statues, were also subjected to Constantine's demonstrations: Eusebius tells how his agents broke up divine statues and exhibited their stuffing as mere rubbish. Yet there were far too many statues for such action to be more than demonstrative, and most of them survived, not least them as "demonic" survivals beside its own new centers of religion.
The age of Constantine has been aptly described as an "age of hiatus": we can carry this notion to our major theme, the "presence" of the gods. This theme attracted heavy spending by the new Christian Emperor, under whom the sites of the gods' "presence" took a new, Christian turn. In 325, Constantine had been foiled of any hopes he may have had for the phoenix in Egypt; in the immediate aftermath of Nicaea, he amazed the Christian world by revealing something more spectacular. In response to local requests, he encouraged excavations to discover the site of Jesus's tomb. After finding a range of ancient burials, the workers were able, by some unknown criterion, to pick out one example as the "Holy Sepulchre." Plans for a vast new basilica were promptly announced and were joined by similar plans for shrines at Bethlehem and the Mount of Olives. There, caves" connected" with the Gospels' story had been seen by the Empress mother Helena, visiting the Holy Land as a pilgrim after the scandals in her family.
Shortly afterwards, Constantine's mother-in-law, Eutropia, reported yet another "presence." She had been visiting Mambre, one of the supreme sites in the Holy Land according to Jewish and Christian tradition. It was at Mambre, in the Book of Genesis, that Abraham had met the three mysterious strangers, one of whom was the "third" whom nobody identified. Some of the Jews had already understood the scene as a meeting of their patriarch with God and his two powers; Christians understood it in terms of their own Trinity. At Mambre, Eutropia reported that the holy place of encounter was being defiled by pagan superstition. Jews and pagans were holding fairs and markets on the site. Constantine built a Christian shrine by the oak tree, scene of the biblical meeting, and adorned it with gold and precious stones. Characteristically, he did not suppress the Jews' and pagans' fair by legislation. It continued throughout the century, and the site's holy well continued to receive offerings, if anything in greater numbers.
This patronage of caves, sepulchres and holy oak trees had a focus which was altogether different from the easy world of pagan "epiphany." It owed much to the "discoveries" of suggest a marked contrast with pagan art and sculpture. This "hiatus" related to the contrast in religious experience of the earlier popular, “Christian visions.” In the Constantinian age however, Christians still looked to one supreme epiphany, the Second Coming. They looked back, meanwhile, to the biblical epiphanies whose sites were being marked by fine new buildings. Their "oracles" were the old historical texts of Scripture; when Eusebius wrote five books called Theophany, he discussed the relation of the Creation to the Incarnation, not the continuing appearances of God to men. God did not "stand by" ordinary Christians as an "evident" helper: in Constantine's reign, there were no longer any martyrs for God's special company, except for the unhappy Christians whom "orthodox" Christians put to death. Instead, God's constant "companion" was said to be the Emperor himself. On Constantine's thirtieth anniversary, Eusebius aired the theme in his speech of honor, delivered in the Emperor's presence: "perhaps, Constantine," he inquired, "you will agree at your leisure to relate for us the abundant evidence of his presence which your Saviour has granted to you alone. Perhaps you will relate the repeated visions of himself which have addressed you during the hours of sleep " Eusebius hinted politely at his ruler's supreme guidance, but he was flattering him in a speech. Neither he nor Constantine was specific about any vision's content after the vision of the year 312.
Fellow Christians still acknowledged their unseen and imperceptible guides: the constant presence of their Holy Spirit and the vigilance of their angels who came, as Origen had believed, to share their meetings in church. In the new Christian Empire, however, this "age of hiatus" was not to last for long. By c. 330-340, 'a portrait of a young beardless Christ had been set in a fine floor mosaic at Hinton St. Mary in Dorset: probably, it derived from a church's decoration, a portrait, perhaps, in its dome. As yet, it is the one mosaic portrait of Christ which is known in a private house at this date, but if one existed in distant Britain, there were probably others elsewhere. As the century advanced, the Christian sense of "epiphany" was heightened by further allies: the development of the liturgy and the rise of shrines of the saints.
In the large, permanent interiors of the new churches, the Christian liturgy could be held with a greater ceremony and visual impact. In the Greek East, by c. 400, the idea of an "angelic presence" during Church services was being emphasized by the sitting and form of the Eucharist. As Christians looked on at the ceremony beyond them, they sensed, and even saw, angels who had come to attend the magnified rite. By c. 380-400, some of the greatest shrines of Christian saints were already in existence, to be joined by many more in the course of the next centuries. By the early fifth century, we know of the ownership of private icons of saints; by c. 480-500, we can be sure that the inside of a saint's shrine would be adorned with images and votive portraits, a practice which had probably begun earlier. By now, the image of Christ and the saints had become fixed in a portrait art which was also portable: as a result, the old relationship between art and dreams came once more into play.
Like the old shrines of Asclepius, the saints' shrines were becoming packed with works of art; like a pagan sacrifice, the Christian liturgy was drawing a heavenly presence to its offerings. Some of the saints' new shrines were placed deliberately as counters to old pagan temples of epiphany: on the coast of Egypt, St. Cyrus and St. John "replaced" a nearby shrine of Isis, just as St. "Therapon" replaced a famous Asclepius on Mytilene. Once, pagan men of letters had "answered back" to the Asclepius who appeared to them in his shrine at Aigai; by the 380s, Christian men of letters were enjoying dreams and advice from "scholarly" St. Thecla in her shrine on a nearby hillside. Yet these shrines were not merely "pagan" counterweights. They brought their own Christian piety to a continuing culture pattern, the "epiphanies" which still occurred to the unified human mind. In sickness or in sea storms, in moments of stress or sadness, Christians continued to "see" their "helpers," as pagans had also seen theirs. While Christians accepted the pagans' experience and described it as demonic, they traced their own to God and his saints. In the past, Homer and religious art had enhanced what pagans saw; by the fifth century, the legends of the saints and an emergent portrait art were helping to focus the Christians' sense of a divine presence.
The age of Constantine has been seen as the final "ending of a debate" whereby Christians, especially the Christian monks, turned their backs on the pagans' easy access to the divine. Yet the same needs and tensions endured, around which so many of the types of epiphany have always cohered. Finality was not so likely, and the history of oracles, visions and appearances does not have a tidy ending.
Like the "epiphanies" of the gods, the arts of pagan divination had also been grounded in human wants and experience. As the many statues of Hermes show, these arts had their attractions for Christians, too. The Christian Empire saw their absorption by Christians, not their rejection. Although the sites of inspired pagan oracles were classed as seats of the demons, the "neutral technology" of divination was promptly revised in Christian dress. The best evidence for its absorption lies in the continual attempts of fellow Christians to penalize its use. Business at the Council of Antioch had already included rules against Christians who practiced divination. The rules continued to be affirmed, and if we look at our texts we can see why. In the third century, pagan clients had consulted the wisdom of "Astrampsachus's" book of oracular answers. They asked about their careers and marriages, their property and whether they were victims of a spell. By the fifth century, Christians were using the same book, although they had changed a few of the questions. Whereas pagans asked, "Will my first wife stay with me?" Christians asked, "Will I remain a Presbyter?" Pagans had inquired if their running away would be detected; ambitious Christians now asked if they would become a bishop, to which the answer was "yes, but not quickly."
In Egypt, we can watch another old oracular technique being pressed into Christian service. In Christian Egypt, God began to receive questions which were submitted on papyrus as alternatives for his choice: similar petitions had been offered to the pagan gods, requests whose grammatical form did not alter across seven centuries.
In Christian company, the social range 'of the surviving oracular questions is very revealing. They concern people who might become bishops, who feared the collectors of taxes and the burdens of civic office. They also include monks, for whom this old approach to a god was not improper. Here, no "debate on the holy" had ended: on this topic, there was no "debate" in the first place. Like epiphanies, futurology was grounded in human experience and its arts were much too precious to be rejected. By the sixth century, astrology, too, had established itself again with many Christians, despite the strong opposition of Christian teaching. Its art was the study of God's "signs," not his "causes," a view which pagan practitioners had also accepted. The arts of the horoscope and the old "books of fates" thus passed usefully into the Middle Ages.
The history of epiphany also wears a familiar face. A century after the "age of hiatus," Christian saints were appearing freely to Christians, "standing beside" them as "manifest protectors" in that exquisite Greek language which is as old as Homer. This continuity of language tempts us to see them as "pagan" intruders who kept alive a type of religious experience that was older than any revealed religion. The temptation should be resisted. These "protectors" were no longer gods, but men with fictitious biographies, friendly "helpers" with well-known faces who had attained to the court of heaven. They were unpredictable and angry, like pagan gods and minor divinities, but they were also "patrons" before a Supreme God. They could intercede for their mortal clients, as a powerful noble might intercede for his dependents in earthly society.
These new "patrons" were not only present through their portraits: unlike any pagan god, they were "manifest" in their bones and relics. Christian beliefs about resurrection had first made these fragments into living, "manifest" tokens of power. Before them, visitors experienced a new "epiphany." Visitors did not "see" their saint, as pagans had once seen Pan on the noonday hillside. Instead, they "saw" pieces of skin and bones, phials of blood and milk, which they greeted with, the language of a revelation.
Above all, saints worked in a context of belief and explanation whose echoes had sounded so clearly in Pionius's prison diary. Like most pagans, Christians explained their misfortunes by God's anger, but this anger was aroused by the Christians' own sins. These beliefs, in turn, bred new public forms and practices. The saints in their healing shrines were not Asclepius in a thin Christian dress: they pinned sickness and failure on undisclosed sins and they prescribed cures which had a sacred and symbolic content. No client at pagan Pergamum could have been referred to anything so holy as the Christian "oil of the saints. In their recorded miracles, the saints did not grant new and continuing revelations: whereas Apollo might speak like a Platonist, they quoted Scripture and the recorded words of Christ. The ceremonies and experiences at their shrines had a different intensity and psychological range. We can contrast the miracles of Cyrus and John with the cures enjoyed at Pergamum, the responses of pagan oracles with the answers which Christian solitaries gave to their clients, the scenes at processions of Christian relics with the urbane poems of Callimachus which had evoked the "arrival" of a god and the "exodus" of his statue through a city.
The new, Christian context showed clearly in men's response to misfortune. When God's anger seemed particularly evident, Christian cities and men of the world now turned to intercessors and begged them to plead for its relaxation. The justified wrath of God bred a new class of intermediaries, heirs to the Christian confessors in the old days of persecution. In the Near East, people appeale1r'to the prayers of the "holy men," solitary Christian overachievers; in fifth-century Byzantium, they turned to the Virgin herself, the advocate for the city in the awesome court of heaven. When natural calamities wracked the Mediterranean world in the mid-sixth century, they were met by the invention of Rogation Processions, beseeching God for human sins. The choirs for Apollo at Claros seem far away. Sin was a new explanation of universal scope and relevance: when the Arab armies finally swept across the Near East, Christians were encouraged to feel that they had only their own sins to blame for the catastrophe.
After the mid-fourth century and the pagan revival of Julian, the major pagan oracles disappear from our evidence. The torturing of prophets in Constantine's reign must already have weakened Apollo's willingness to continue speaking: by the 360s, little shrines for the bones of Christian martyrs had impinged on Apollo's ancient precinct at Didyma and were interfering with reception on the old pagan frequency. The walls of the great pagan temple are scratched with Christian crosses, spidery signs which neutralized an older presence. By the late fourth century, it is doubtful if any maintained pagan prophet could be found at the major sites: subsequent references to pagan oracles as if they functioned are erudite and literary.
In the early fourth century, two ageing Christian authors had shown possible ways of "defusing" the words of the pagan gods. Eusebius had dismissed them as demonic and used them to refute their authors, whereas Lactantius had quoted them with Christian improvements and claimed them as proofs of the Christian faith. The future lay with Lactantius's method, as the Christians gained in confidence. In the first flush of the "new Empire," it must have been on the Christians' initiative that torture was applied to Apollo's prophet at Didyma and to others at Antioch, "people taken from the magistrates of the city." They were not humble, ignorant people, Eusebius asserted proudly: they were people of " wonderful and noble philosophy," at Antioch civic notables, at Didyma a "prophet and philosopher," last of the long line of cultured voices who had kept philosophy running in oracles, the voices of Polites, Theophilus, Macer and the rest. Philosophic oracles had begun when Apollo's wisdom advanced with the culture of his prophets. They ended when Christians tortured the prophets who had recently helped to torture them too.
The Christians' reprisals silenced this type of continuing wisdom from the gods, and in due course, they could exploit its other aspects. Before long, their age of change was being eased, as so often, by being attached to an unrelated past. Anyone who wondered how so many great pagan thinkers had achieved so much without Christianity could now be reassured by a simple fiction: the pagans had been predicting it all the while. Around the year 500, as the world was expected to end, the postscript to this type of history was written by the Christian author of the book On True Belief, to which our knowledge of late pagan oracles has owed so much. It only survives in an epitome, but even so, the preface to its books of oracles is very telling. "I have often noticed," it began, "the generous nature of theosophy," a word which was itself, it seems, a Christian coinage. It stood for the "wisdom of God" as opposed to the wisdom of mere philosophers. "The testimonies of pagan wise men must not be thrown away. It is not possible for God to appear and converse with men, but by inspiring the thoughts of good men, he gives them to the common crowd as teachers ... " As a pendant to seven books of Christian orthodoxy, the author added an eighth of texts from the pagan gods, among whom spoke the old Apollos of Didyma and Claros, answering Poplas and Polites, Theophilus and the long-lost Oenoandans.
pagan oracles and pagan epiphaneia was Christian property, maintained on sufferance in Christian books. In the 530S, just after the world had failed to end, we see the point made firmly in art. 50 When the Emperor Justinian founded a new city in Christian North Africa in honour of his wife, Theodora, a mosaic floor in his city showed the new priorities. Its design is all the more revealing because it was drawn, it seems, from a conventional pattern book. In the centre reclined the old Castalian spring of Delphi, dimmed and muted. In either corner flowed four livelier streams, the four Christian rivers of Paradise, new streams of the wisdom of God.
Henceforward, encounters with figures from the pagan past were encounters with". the particular prophets whom Constantine had honoured in his Oration: Virgil and the Sibyl. They had first been publicized as Christian proofs by Lactantius, a man who had left North Africa to teach Latin rhetoric at a pagan court and had ended as the tutor to a Christian Emperor's family. Favoured by the Emperor, Virgil survived as a Christian guide, a "Christian before his time" who had sensed the Fall and the Christian remission of sIbs,. If he had erred on the impregnability of Hell and the truth of the Incarnation, his grasp of the underworld did entitle him to lead the poet Dante 'On his travels through Purgatory.
meanwhile, not even the fall of Rome, could cause the Sibyl to die. She had
prophesied for Greeks and had spoken, too, for Jews; her books guided the
Romans, and she survived as a witness to Christ. Among the pagan prophecies
which Christians absorbed during the sixth century, there was already a story
that the Sibyl had met Augustus on Rome's Capitoline hill and had prophesied
the birth of Christ. Sibyls had always flourished on fiction, and centuries
later the pattern was repeated; this literary fiction gave the Sibyl a lasting
monument. On the site of her Christian prophecy, Christians built the Church of
Maria in Ara Coeli, which was to loom above medieval Rome. The Sibyl's future
was assured, from the Capitol to the great floor scenes in Siena's cathedral
and so to the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. The centuries of pagan epiphany
survived, but only through their legacy of prophecy, as a new phase had started
in the history of "manifest presence." In the past, epiphany had
multiplied the forms of pagan religiousness; from such a presence, the
Christian religion itself had been born. When it ceases, religious experience
will cease with it, yet "not to everyone do the gods appear."