I need your help! Here’s the challenge: I’m working on a video that summarizes the history of the Bible in six minutes. Below, I’ve posted the script so far—and I’d be interested to know what you think needs to be included and what might be left out. The narration for the video is already six minutes long, so nothing can be added without taking something out. What that means is that, if you suggest any additions, you’ll need to point out some possible deletions as well!Continue reading.
This week, in the year AD 64, a fire began in the city of Rome that changed the course of history.
The fire raged six days before being brought under control. When the smoke cleared on July 23, seven of Rome’s fourteen districts had been partly destroyed and three districts were completely obliterated. Then came the rumors that changed everything.
How the Persecution Began
In the aftermath of the inferno, the Emperor Nero had—according to the Roman historian Tacitus—
food brought from Ostia and neighboring towns, and the price of corn was reduced. … Yet these measures, for all their popular character, earned no gratitude. For a rumor had spread that, while the city was burning, Nero had gone on his private stage and…had sung of the destruction of Troy.
Unable to stop the spread of rumors that he had sung about Troy while his henchmen torched the city, the Emperor Nero—again, in the words of Tacitus—
falsely charged … and punished … the persons commonly called “Christians,” who were already despised. … Those who confessed they were Christians were arrested; … a vast multitude was convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city as on the charge that they were “odious to the human race.” In their deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and mauled by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned as torches for the evening lights. … A feeling of compassion arose towards the sufferers because—though they were indeed guilty and deserving of exemplary capital punishment—they seemed to be being executed not for the good of the public but because of the ferocity of one man.
Why Nero Couldn’t Have Fiddled While Rome Burned (and Probably Didn’t Play the Lyre Either)
The saying that survives from the accusations leveled against Nero is that the emperor “fiddled while Rome burned.”
But Nero couldn’t have fiddled while Rome burned.
The violin wasn’t invented until the sixteenth century, so not even someone as crazy and corrupt as Nero could have played a violin while his city smoldered. He probably didn’t play the lyre or flute during these events either. According to the most reliable reports, Nero was miles away, in Antium, when the fire broke out. Soon after hearing about the fire, Nero headed to Rome. As soon as he reached the city, Nero “opened the Field of Mars and even his own gardens for the relief of the homeless,” according to Tacitus.
The persecution of Christians that resulted from Nero’s false accusation was severe—but it seems to have remained limited to the city of Rome. Later persecutions of Christians broke out in other areas of the Roman Empire for more than two centuries. These persecutions erupted and faded in a variety of places all the way into the fourth century AD. That’s when the Emperor Constantine claimed to have become a Christian. It was Constantine’s confirmation of Galerius’ edict of toleration that finally brought the Roman persecutions to an end.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Christianity, take a look at the book and video series Christian History Made Easy.
Discuss in the Comments:
Watch this video about Emperor Nero and the fire in Rome. What did you learn about the early history of Christianity that you didn’t know before?
Open your Bible to the table of contents and take a look at the list of books in the New Testament. There, you'll find the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John leading the list. But did this quartet of early Christians actually have any connection with the books that bear their names? Were Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John really the ones who wrote the Gospels? If so, how do we know?
Two years after the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, Macrina the Younger was born. She—as Coleman Michael Ford has pointed out—
lived between two worlds. One world was the age of Christian persecution by the likes of emperor Diocletian and others. For many Christians in the three centuries before Macrina’s birth, persecution leading to death was an ever-present reality. At best, Christians were merely tolerated. At worst, they were brutally executed. The second world was the emerging Roman empire of Constantine, an empire in which Christianity was officially recognized and privileges towards churches and leaders grew steadily.
Two of her brothers—Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa—became known, along with their friend Gregory of Nazianzus, as “the Great Cappadocians,” due to their contributions to the widespread establishment of an orthodox view of the Trinity in the eastern half of the Roman Empire. Basil was a man of action, Nazianzus was a great orator, and Nyssa was a deep thinker—but Macrina is rightly revered alongside these three.
After the family’s wealth was divided among the children, Macrina convinced her mother to establish a religious community for women on the family’s property in rural Annesi in the province of Pontus, on the banks of the River Iris. The family’s slaves were freed and the former maidservants became members of the new religious community, where Macrina chose to work alongside them as an equal. In the words of her brother Gregory,
Now that all the distractions of the material life had been removed, Macrina persuaded her mother to give up her ordinary life and all showy style of living and the services of domestics to which she had been accustomed before, and bring her point of view down to that of the masses, and to share the life of the maids, treating all her slave girls as if they were sisters and belonged to the same rank as herself.
Basil established a men’s monastery across the river from Macrina’s community, but Macrina’s served as the spiritual leader of both communities. On July 19, in the year 379, Macrina died in the religious community that she and her mother had founded.
“Truth Is to Be Found Only In That Upon Which the Seal of the Witness of Scripture Is Set”
In the days leading up to Macrina’s death, her brother Gregory of Nyssa listened to her and learned much from her about life, death, and the resurrection. He later developed these dialogues into a treatise entitled On the Soul and the Resurrection. In one section of this treatise, Gregory and Macrina eloquently affirm the binding authority of Scripture in the life of the Christian. According to their dialogue, when determining what is true, believers in Jesus Christ
are not entitled to the liberty … of affirming whatever we please; instead, we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon Scripture, and approve Scripture alone and that which harmonizes with the meaning of Scripture. … Who could deny that truth is to be found only in that upon which the seal of the witness of Scripture is set?
If you’re interested in learning more about different personalities and events throughout the history of Christianity, take a look at my book and video series Christian History Made Easy.
Discuss in the Comments:
Read this article about Macrina. Consider carefully how, in light of her example, godly woman can use their gifts more effectively in their churches. How might you and your family celebrate the feast day of Saint Macrina on July 19?
With few exceptions, even the most skeptical scholars admit that Jesus was crucified—and with good reason. Not only the authors of the New Testament but also later Christian writers, the Roman historian Tacitus, and quite likely the Jewish historian Josephus mention the crucifixion of Jesus. And it’s highly unlikely that first-century Christians would have fabricated such a shameful fate for the founder of their faith. In the first century A.D., crucifixion represented the darkest possible path to death, after all.
In fact, it is almost impossible for contemporary people to comprehend the full obscenity of crucifixion in the ancient world.Continue reading.