Christianity--Church History/Paul's persecution of Christians
QUESTION: Dr. Rose,
Is there any evidence of Paul's claim that he persecuted Christians on behalf of the Jews in Palestine? The story has really never made sense to me. Paul studied under Gamliel, a high ranking Pharasee, yet claimed to work for the High Priest, a Sadducee. To say that these two groups were at odds would be an understatement. It would be somewhat like Jimmy Carter working for Rush Limbaugh. Further, none of the Jewish or Christian historians mention anything about it while the early Christian historians do mention the Roman persecution of the Christians. Could this be an anachronism given the authored date of 65-90 CE? Finally, it doesn't seem from my reading of history or the New Testament that the Jews would have been in any position or had the power to persecute anyone nor would they have had any reason to. Thank you in advance,
ANSWER: Dearest in Christ thank you for such great questions. It is always exciting to receive questions that probe the mysteries and depths of scripture. Yes, there is evidence that Paul persecuted the early church. He received written authorizations, almost like arrest warrants issued by the Sanhedrin and or the High Priest. The Jews had, as part of the hierarchy and structure of the temple, guards that were a cross between para-military and police. It was their job to bring people before the tribunal or court, enforce judgments, etc. Paul got his start in persecution of Christians at the stoning of Steven as detailed for us in Acts. It was at that "court appointed" judgment that Paul known a Saul at the time, held the garments of those actively participating in the stone throwing. He got to see the ultimate judgment against a Christian being carried out which just served as a catalyst for his already zealous compliance and enforcement of the law. Paul was in many ways, a fanatic and consumed with the belief that his actions were righteous. he truly believed he was doing God's work by punishing the heretics and confounders of the law of Moses. The followers of Christ in that period were sorely despised and considered enemies of God and the Jewish religion. By the way, at least a large portion of acts was about events that took place long before the temple was destroyed and could place the dating of the book well before 70 AD based on this alone. This is also true of the book of Hebrews and others that mention the temple sacrifices being accomplished. In other words the temple services were still being conducted during the writing of some of the books. Anyway,as you stated Saul's politics was that of a Pharisee, and he was very well learned in the scriptures. However the structure of the Jewish legal system and the authority of the High priest rose above the opposing belief systems and controversies of theological viewpoints. The rights and authority for all aspects of the Jewish "government" were set about is the law - particularly in Exodus and Leviticus with certain rites and responsibilities affirmed in Deuteronomy as well. It was structured and everyone knew who had authority; the hierarchy was well established and strictly followed regardless of political affiliation. Incidentally this was one of the serious contentions the Jews had with Rome because Rome replaced the High priest with someone not of the traditional priestly family. This was the Hercanus / Hasmonean (read about the Maccabean revolt) and the controversy that truly divided the people and was a deep source of hatred toward the Roman rule. Now, getting back to authority, the Jewish legal system prohibited execution by crucifixion, but employed other means of execution as a routine - primarily stoning. Jesus, for example, intervened when a crowd was about to stone a woman for adultery. Paul was stoned and so were other apostles. Anyway, yes the Temple government provided for everything up to and including capital punishment. The 613 precepts of the Mosaic law were the foundation of the Jewish theocracy and legal system. In my book, "Christian Antiquity", the legal system and authorities, as well as the leaders and the "movers and shakers" of the period is explained and discussed. One other factor that interplayed with the formal legal system was that of royalty and the rich. Not all people were treated the same. Money and social status made a difference then as is does today. So, Paul did persecute and execute written orders under authority of the High Priest and Sanhedrin that sometimes crossed political lines. But the authority was absolute and the system was staunchly adhered to by the people in power and if necessary forcefully imposed on the people. The Temple system was the authority and could not be challenged. That again was one of the reasons Christ and His followers were viciously attacked and hated. Jesus openly attacked the Jewish leadership and the system of government that we being shoved down the throat of the average Jew. It was corrupt and oppressive and of course not the system God designed and intended when He gave Noses the precepts of the law. It is difficult sometimes for us to understand the level of dedication many had for the law and the legal system of the day. Paul is just one example of how enthusiastic some were to execute justice and punish those said to have violated the law. What they referred to as zeal, we commonly call fanaticism today. It is interesting that after Paul was converted that he was equally zealous to teach and spread Christianity...
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QUESTION: Would you kindly provide extra-Biblical references to these persecutions? Also, since Paul studied under Gamliel why would he not heed his advice? Thanks again
ANSWER: First the writings of Eusebius, his "Ecclesiastical History" and then Josephus, his "Collected Writings", then we also have Tacticus, Pliny, Plutarch, Clement, and many more. Eusebius and Joseph were both 1st Century writers and Josephus witnessed the destruction of the Temple as well as the persecutions and exiles by the Romans. Another good resource is "Justin's Book of Martyrs".
I'm sure Paul did take Gamliel's advice into account, but Paul did things the way Paul wanted to. If Paul was convinced of a course of action it didn't matter what others said or thought - especially when he was younger. That is one of the personality traits of a zealot, and especially one who was raised a Roman Pharisee. He was a bit privileged, as you might guess, as well as well educated. Also, since Paul was not part of the temple service, he was from the tribe of Benjamin, he really did think and act for himself in many respects.
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QUESTION: Dr. Rose,
Not trying to be obstinate here but I've read a number of the source you quote and have never found any mention of the Jews persecuting Christians. Yes, the Roman persecutions are well documented. Could you kindly briefly quote one source and give me a small snipet here that mentions Jewish persecution of Christians, outside the New Testament? Thanks again
Dearest in Christ,
sometimes there are subjects where I tend to stay away from specifics because its just not a good practice in discussions. But since you did ask for specifics, and I can truly offer many more, I thought the following example would be enough. There are other examples from the earlier periods, but honestly it would take a few days of re-reading some material to locate exact quotes. But it is a fairly well accepted fact that the Jews did persecute the Christians. Even turning Christians in to the Roman authorities is a form of persecution. However many examples of much stronger physical actions are documented throughout the early centuries. Even some Jewish writings aside from Josephus and other well known historians have recorded such events.
According to Antiochus Strategos, a 7th-century monk in Palestine, shortly after the Persian army entered Jerusalem in 614, unprecedented looting and sacrilege took place. Church after church was burned down alongside the innumerable Christian artifacts, which were stolen or damaged by the ensuing arson. Given that Khosrau II generally practiced religious tolerance and did deem Christians respectfully, it is not known why Shahrbaraz ordered such a massacre. One reason could simply have been Shahrbaraz's rage at the resistance that had been offered by Jerusalem's Christian populace. Accounts from early Christian chroniclers suggest that 26,000 Jewish rebels entered the streets of the city. Some Jerusalem Christians were taken captive, gathered together and murdered in mass by Jews. The Greek historian Antiochus Strategos writes that captive Christians were gathered near Mamilla reservoir and the Jews offered to help them escape death if they "become Jews and deny Christ". The Christian captives refused, and the Jews in anger had purchased the Christians from Persians and massacred them on spot. Antiochus writes: Then the Jews... as of old they bought the Lord from the Jews with silver, so they purchased Christians out of the reservoir; for they gave the Persians silver, and they bought a Christian and slew him like a sheep.