AuthorSimmons, Thomas E.
  1. AN INTRODUCTION 318 II. BACKGROUND: ROMAN PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS 320 III. DISCUSSION: THE NARRATIVE AND THE PSEUDO-NARRATIVE 331 A. Luke, the Third Gospel, and his Acts 331 1. Addressing Theophilus 331 2. Acts' Themes 335 3. Roman Persecution of Jews 337 B. Paul's Trial (Act I) 341 1. Prelude to Arrest 343 2. Before Lysia (in Jerusalem) 345 3. Before the Sanhedrin (Still in Jerusalem) 347 4. Before Felix (in Caesarea) 349 5. Before Festus (Again in Caesarea) 351 6. Before Herod (in Caesarea Yet Again) 352 7. Before Nero (in Rome) 353 C. The Pseudo-Paulines: First Timothy, etc (Act II) 357 IV. AN ANALYSIS 359 V. A CONCLUSION 367 VI. AN APPENDIX 369 A. An Approximate Timeline 369 B. The Pauline Corpus 369 I. AN INTRODUCTION

    Professor Jonathan Van Patten's stirring South Dakota Law Review article titled The Trial of Jesus is being published in this issue. (1) This essay is intended as a response to that article and a modest extension of it. Professor Van Patten studied the trial of Jesus Christ in the Gospels' texts and the venue issues associated with it. For my part, I would like to probe the extended trial of the apostle Paul as reported in the Acts of the Apostles and related sources. (2) Herein, that is what I attempt.

    The trial of Paul in Acts pairs suitably with the trial of Jesus. In both narratives, the trial occurs near the end of the story. But neither narrative concludes with the announcement of a verdict. In Jesus's case, the trial and speedy conviction begin the arc of the Paschal narrative. (3) In Paul's, the trial is interrupted first by a long recess, then by a lengthy journey by sea and preaching in Rome; ultimately, Paul's trial never reaches a verdict. (4) The four Gospels each finish with Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection. (5) Saint Luke, the author of Acts, omits the conclusion of Paul's trial. Luke caps Paul's trial with what initially seems either a rosy ambiguity or a downright misleading mendacity: Acts ends with Paul preaching when in fact, Paul was convicted, then beheaded. (6) Still, the parallels between the Sanhedrin/Roman dynamic inherent in both Paul's and Jesus's trials are striking. Professor Van Patten has previously noted how trials often contain more than the mere progress and culmination of a proceeding. (7) And upon reflection, the rosy and incomplete judicial ending in Acts might be something else; not a resurrection, certainly, but another kind of transformation, or at least the beginnings of one. (8)

    In the pages which follow, I will first conduct an abbreviated assessment of the context and legal methodology for Roman persecution of early Christians, such as Paul in the years following Jesus's death and resurrection. (9) The relationship of Rome to Judea will be touched on, as will the ways in which polytheism intersected with monotheism in classical antiquity. (10) The anti-semitic strands in the biblical text will also be examined. (11) Next, after briefly surveying the primary source materials, I will retell Paul's trial as it is described in Acts. (12) Finally, I will unpack the shadowy suggestions in the sources about Paul's final journeys and his execution, the second arc or act of Paul's legal proceedings which are omitted from Acts. (13) I will conclude with a re-examination of whether Acts' ending pretermits something important or whether it emphasizes what is more cardinal to its narrative. (14) Spoiler alert: it's the latter.


    Roman persecution of first century Christianity is a recurring motif in popular culture retellings. (15) We know the Romans as intolerant, thick-headed villains who would thrust before the lions any Christian who refused to deny their membership in the church. (16) The trial, battery, and bloody crucifixion of Jesus Christ under Pontius Pilate is a very familiar narrative. Were it accurate to describe Christ himself as a Christian, he would have been "the firstborn of many brethren" in the long line of Christians condemned by Rome. (17) Many of them were condemned on the same criminal charges as Jesus faced and in courts similar to Pilate's court. (18)

    Paul's trial shares commonalities with Jesus's trial. (19) In both trials, two cultures intersect: Judea and Rome; the governed and its master. Rome oversaw its client states such as Judea--which it had conquered in the first century B.C.E.--with a sort of modified home rule; a puppet state regime. (20) The accommodation and conciliation of local feelings was critical. (21) The Jewish kings and priests were the puppets. Local riders were incorporated into Roman governance structures. Thus, a Herod would remain on the throne and a significant degree of local autonomy was preserved. (22) The Sanhedrin would continue to administer the Temple and enforce religious law; the chief priest would remain in power. (23) The Temple (that is, the Second Temple) was largely unmolested. (24) A primary duty of the Roman principate was to satisfy his subjects'--and his superiors'--insistence upon stability; to guarantee both security and tranquility. (25) If these aims were achieved, it meant that local Roman troop levels could be drawn down, even eliminated, in certain parts of the empire. (26) Collaboration with local leaders such as the chief priest and Herod could theoretically maintain order at a relatively low cost. If tranquility were disrupted, Rome's army could quash the cause, but that was expensive. Indeed, the eventual decline and fall of the Roman Empire, it can be argued, "began when the principate came to rely above all on its troops to impose order and unity on the provinces." (27) Relying on local help was both cheaper and more effective, but it took political savvy. It took skill and smarts.

    Thus, local civil authority continued to operate after the kingdom of JudEa had been conquered, subject to Roman oversight so long as calm and obedience prevailed. Religious authority enjoyed a continuity as well. The Jewish Sanhedrin priestly caste's jurisdiction was constrained (it seems to have lacked the authority to inflict a death sentence, for example) but their influence was sizable. The typical Roman procurator tended to ratify the inclinations of the Sanhedrin whenever doing so would reduce the likelihood of dissent and disturbance. (28) If an accused were arrested for instigating a riot or treason, then his accusers would enjoy Roman endorsement of a Sanhedrin decision without a terribly high standard of proof. (29) Paul's proceedings might have gone similarly (i.e., summarily), and yet they didn't

    To maintain popular support, Roman procurators also needed to avoid decisions that looked arbitrary or weak. Pilate may have failed this test. But Paul might have been even more easily convicted of blasphemy under Jewish law than Christ given Paul's detailed expositions on curtailed expectations of Moses's law. (30) Moreover, Paul was arrested in the middle of a near-riot; Jesus had been arrested while in prayer. For Paul to be convicted under Roman law he--like Jesus--could be proven guilty of the charge of majestas: vague, comprehensive, and flexible to the circumstances, it would fix itself against anything from disrespect for the Emperor to tax fraud. (31) It would fix itself against deeds or even mere speech. (32) The penalties for majestas were either banishment or death: (33) crucifixion for a slave or other non-Roman, death by sword for a citizen of the Empire such as Paul. Relatively easy convictions dovetailed with the Roman aim of tranquility without troops.

    So wherefore the Roman animosity towards early Christians? Roman discomfort was generated by more than political agitation in the provinces. Since Christian persecution was expressed by Rome over a two-hundred or two-hundred-and-fifty year period of history, the answers are complex. At the risk of oversimplification, a handful of etiologies can be sketched. Before the Romans could begin to persecute Christians, Rome would have to recognize them as Christians, and not simply another band of Jewish zealots. (34) Initially, the apostles were Jews who testified that the Jewish Jesus had risen. They were Jews testifying about the resurrection of the dead, Jesus, in particular. (35) They would not have appeared to be anything other than Jews with a particular viewpoint and fervor. (36) As Greg Woolf notes, "It is difficult to imagine what life was like for the first generation of Christians: they had no scriptures, most had been born Jews, and perhaps many still thought of themselves as Jews." (37)

    Here, Paul entered the picture. As his ministry took hold, two camps of Christians quickly emerged--one within the synagogues and one without: Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. (38) Both camps were doctrinally distinct from other variants of Judaism. Paul would preach within the synagogues, but he also ministered widely to the Gentiles. (39) The Jewish Christians tended to concentrate in Judea, Samaria, Galilee, Caesarea, and Joppa. (40) The Gentile Christians were mostly located farther north, in Syria and Cilicia. (41) Many early Gentile-Christian churches also took root in Greece. Generally speaking, James and Peter ministered to the former; Paul to the latter. (42) As the contours of these two separate groupings emerged from the background of Judaism, the Roman authorities would be able to fix certain churches as something new under the sun. Once Christianity was identifiable as a new religion, persecution of the adherents could be pursued.

    There were several subsets within the Jewish-Christian branch of Christianity. There was the Nazoraeans. There were the Osseans and the Sampseans. (44) But the longest lasting were certain Syriac Christians known as the Ebionim (the poor) who practiced poverty and the full Jewish law for five centuries. (45) For the most part, the early church fathers in the decades after Paul's life simply ignored these various...

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