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in the footsteps of paul
 Rome
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 Home | History | Series
 Introduction
 Tarsus (Birth - 30CE)
 Jerusalem (30-34)
 Antioch (34-43)
 Spreading the Word (43-48)
 The Wider World (49-50)
 Corinth (50-52)
 Ephesus (52-56)
 Into the Fire (56-70)
Rome: Heart of an Empire
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I found Rome a city of brick, and left it a city of marble.
–Augustus, quoted in Suetonius Life of Augustus 28

Paul wrote to the congregation in Rome
Paul wrote to the congregation in Rome
(historical recreation)

Our apartment block is a tottering ruin. The manager bids us sleep safe and sound in his wretched death trap. Oh! To live where there are no fears in the dark of night! Even now I smell fire and hear a neighbor cry out for water as he struggles to save his measly belongings. Smoke pours out from the third story as flames move upwards. But the poor wretch who lives at the top with a leaking roof and roosting birds is oblivious to the danger and sure to burn.
–Juvenal, Satire III.

For too long now the Orontes has dumped this scum into our beloved Tiber. Carrying with them their language and habits, their flutes and ridiculous stringed instruments. What a travesty! Foreigners just blown into Rome get a better deal than I do; I, who drew my first breath in the city!
–Juvenal Satire III


t
raveling inland, the seven hills on the Tiber River rose to meet Paul and his centurion escort. Paul had come to plead his case before the emperor. Behind the city walls, Nero ruled the Empire. This is the period in which Acts places Paul's arrival in Rome. There is no corroborating evidence that Paul in fact ever reached Rome.

If Paul did reach Rome, it would have been overwhelming. Three times larger than any of the cities Paul had visited, the city was a testament to the power and wealth of a living empire, and its streets teemed with people. Immigrants from Rome's territories and provinces flooded into the capitol. While the city provided unparalleled opportunities for social mobility, there were also tensions between ethnic groups and social classes, as expressed in the satires of the poet Juvenal. The majority of Rome's population lived in crowded apartment complexes, and spent the better part of their days outdoors -- in the markets and the public forums, attending meetings of professional associations, gathering at the public fountains, or at spectacles in the theaters, arena, or the Circus Maximus. Unlike the carefully planned grid pattern of the streets in the colonial cities, Rome was a jumble of sacred precincts, public works, and crowded apartment complexes. For over eight hundred years it had grown from a rural village to an urban metropolis. Water was pumped in on massive aqueducts, while palaces, wealthy residents and public buildings had private plumbing, public fountains provided water for the citizens' daily needs, and a place to exchange the news of the day, to discuss elections, or the latest fashion. It was a city of public display. There were few places where public benefactions would not have been visible. Everywhere Paul looked he would have seen proclamations of status and pride, from grand temples to small dedicatory plaques, from colonnaded porticoes decorated with fine paintings and statues adorned with paint, jewels and precious metals to the scrawl of graffiti endorsing political candidates. The grander monuments were often paid for with the spoils of war, and all were marked with the names of those who placed them.

Most notable of all were the buildings erected by Augustus Caesar, and their proclamation of his divine heritage as the son of the deified Caesar, whose family tree included Venus, and Romulus, the city's father. Beginning with Augustus, each emperor would deify his predecessor. The emperor's family was given similar honors, and divine status was inscribed on buildings and impressed on coins. Altars and temples received sacrifices to the cult of the emperors, and the cult quickly spread throughout the empire. There was no surer way to demonstrate one's allegiance with -- or submission to -- Rome. In this mix, the Jesus followers would have been very much a fringe group. As around the empire, the Jews of Rome were granted special immunity from certain requirements of Roman citizenship and residency. The antiquity of Judaism as a religion and a people inspired great respect. But the upstart Jesus followers, claiming their own Son of God, and practicing strange rites in congregations that met in private homes, were cause for disdain.

Acts says that Paul was allowed to lodge privately, with guards, when in Rome. He had communicated with the congregation in Rome by letter, where he expressed his wish to visit. He was allowed to accept visitors, and he continued his missionary work even under house arrest. This is where Acts ends -- with Paul awaiting his audience with the emperor after two years in Rome.

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