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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)
Into the Fire
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1234

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Into the Fire

However well intended, his relief measures were in vain. Because a rumor had spread that while fire ravaged the city, Nero was on his private stage, singing. … To suppress the rumor, Nero shifted the blame for the fire onto that band called the Christians, hated for their shameful practices. …The cult had erupted, not only in Judaea, but also in Rome where shameful atrocities fester and spread.
–Tacitus Annals 15.39-44

Arrest of Christians in Rome
Arrest of Christians in Rome
(historical re-creation)

The first arrests were self-proclaimed Christians who informed on many others. They were convicted, not for arson, but for hatred of mankind. Their executions were public spectacles--they were covered in animal skins and torn to pieces by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or burnt as lamps at night. Even though they were guilty and deserved harsh punishment, they evoked pity since they were being sacrificed, not for the public good, but to the cruelty of one man.
–Tacitus Annals 15.39-44

Jerusalem was under siege. Roman strength was irresistible. What land had escaped the Romans? Fortune's favor had turned to Rome and God was now in Italy. The legions came flooding into the Temple, and neither reason nor threats could restrain their violence. Most of those killed were unarmed citizens. Around the holy altar, corpses piled up and slid in a river of blood down the steps.
–Josephus Jewish War 5.362-367, 6.257-271

The Second Temple in flames
The Second Temple in flames
(historical re-creation)


i
n 64 CE, a catastrophic fire swept through Rome, leveling some of the city's most central, and most valuable, real estate. Nero announced plans to build a magnificent palace on the ashes, and rumors that the emperor had started the fire himself began to swirl through the city. Although he arranged for food and shelter for the crowds left homeless, he appropriated the land, began construction on his palace, and erected a bronze colossus of himself, rumored to have been 35 meters high. Whether or not Nero was responsible for the fire or its unchecked spread, it seems he shifted the blame to the city's Christians, and exacted his murderous rage on the fringe group. This appears to be the first state persecution of Christians. Although Jews like Priscilla and Aquila had been compelled to leave Rome in earlier expulsions of Jews, this was the first time Jesus followers were singled out for punishment. Later traditions maintain that Paul was beheaded at this time. The account of the persecution by the historian Tacitus betrays the distaste with which mainstream Rome received the Christian movement. But it expresses even greater disgust with the emperor Nero.

With Nero's forced suicide in 68 CE, the city was plunged into chaotic civil wars. Over the course of the next year, four separate military generals would march into the seat of Empire and claim authority. Near the end of a bloody year of war, murder and reprisal, the legions of Egypt, Judea and Syria proclaimed their commander Emperor. His name was Vespasian, and he had been sent east to put down revolts in Judea in 66 CE when the indignity of the Jewish people under foreign rule had passed its breaking point. Rome was determined to impose order. Vespasian had been successful throughout Judea, but he did not enter Jerusalem. With the support of the legionnaires and the officers, Vespasian made a bid for Emperor. He sent a force into Italy to take the capitol, but stayed in Egypt to hold up the grain supply and starve his opposition out. His plan worked, and the Senate recognized Vespasian's claim. In the years to come, Vespasian would use his war spoils to replace Nero's palace with a building that could be enjoyed by all of Rome's citizens. He gave the appropriated land back to the Roman people in the form of a great arena, the Colosseum of Rome.

Meanwhile in Judea, the citizens of Jerusalem had continued to wage a full-scale war of independence against Rome. In 70 CE, it would be Vespasian's son, Titus, who finally accomplished the deed. He marched on Jerusalem, and soon laid siege to the city. The walls collapsed, and the legions flooded into the city. They looted and burned the Temple; they decimated the population. Whether Paul was alive when the Temple was destroyed is impossible to know. But the movement he had been so elemental in spreading around the empire would have been deeply affected. Some may have sheltered refugees from the smoldering ground of Judea; others might have disavowed any connections with the rebels. At some point in the future, they would break away from their origins in Judaism completely. Rome would rebuild a temple on the site of Jerusalem's scorched ruin, and demand that the Jews continue payment of their annual tax to it, but it was not a Temple to the god of the Jews. It was a Temple to Jupiter Capitolinus, a manifestation of Jupiter associated specifically with Rome.

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