Why was Jesus crucified? Why were the Christians thrown to the lions? Douglas Adams began his epic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by saying people didn’t want to be kind
And then, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change…
While Juanna Hates sees something in the Christian message that the Temple found obnoxious
Surely it was because of these outrageous claims that the leaders of the Jewish community succeeded in having Jesus killed. His real claims struck at the heart of their religion, the identity of their nation.
Both these answers are too easy. They make people feel good about themselves, knowing how foolish and short-sighted their opponents were. But Caiaphas was wise and far-sighted. Diocletian was one of the greatest Emperors in history. Why did they make their decisions?
Joseph Caiaphas, Hellenized Jew, Roman political appointee, and High Priest of the Temple for 18 years, agitated against Jesus to his fellow priests.
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
Joseph Caiaphas ruled as high priest for nearly two decades, and other family members would reign for most of the century. He was a smart man. He wanted Jesus dead.
Centuries later, Emperor Diocletian banned Christianity
“It was the nineteenth year of Diocletian’s reign [AD 303] and the month Dystrus, called March by the Romans, and the festival of the Saviour’s Passion was approaching, when an imperial decree was published everywhere, ordering the churches to be razed to the ground and the Scriptures destroyed by fire, and giving notice that those in places of honour would lose their places, and domestic staff, if they continued to profess Christianity, would be deprived of their liberty. Such was the first edict against us. Soon afterward other decrees arrived in rapid succession, ordering that the presidents of the churches in every place should all be first committed to prison and then coerced by every possible means into offering sacrifice
But Diocletian was not a cruel man. He was an autodidact, a world-system thinker, and a genius. He separated the Roman foreign policy system into what we would call a “Department of Defense” and a “Department of State. He further subdivided DOD into an “Army” and “National Guard.” He defined a system of executive political appointees that would allow for the Constitutional succession of Emperors for the first time in history. When his economic reforms caused rapid inflation, he changed them so they wouldn’t. Diocletian was a very intelligent man able to learn from mistakes. Diocletian was a smart man. He wanted Christians dead.
These men may not have “known” why, but Caiaphas and Diocletian had a fingerspitzengefÃ¼hl — a gut feeling — that something was wrong with Christianity. Interrogating witnesses who had heard Christ, Joseph Caiaphas saw a threat that could destroy his nation. Emperor Diocletian saw a force that could destroy his Empire.
The Empire believed in a steep vertical world. Romans believed that the State ruled men, that men ruled their families, and that this relationship was decided by virtue. Women, children, and slaves were without virtue. They were naturally property of the pater familias — the father of the family — to do with as he pleased. And just as the pater familias has life-and-death power over his dependents, the State had life and death power of its citizens. Socrates’ execution of Athens was seen to prove Socrates’ virtue, because he submitted to an unjust execution.
State has life-and-death power over Citizens
Citizen-Fathers have life-and-death power over Women, Children, and Slaves
Another way to see this is that the Romans believed that religions should be state cults. Want to found temples to some crazy god? No problem — as long as you worship the Emperor too. Jews were granted a special exemption because of the personal friendship of Julius Caesar and Herod the Great, but even then the Jerusalem Temple worked closely with Roman authorities.
Because religions were state Churches, power flowed from the churches to the State, while authority flowed from the State to the churches
Christians did not accept that Christianity should be under Roman control. Christians did not believe the Church was under the State. As The Apostle wrote
And [God] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment, to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
Paul (Ephesians 1:10)
Or more clearly, in a different translation
letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in [Christ], everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.
The Christian world would be worse than inverted: not only did Christians want their faith to guide the State
The Christian Goal of Subverting the State-Network to Christian Ends
Romans 13:1 “…there is no authority except that which God has established…”
Romans 13:4 “[The Ruler] is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer…”
They also lumped the State into a “Mystical Body of Christ” with all other things, flattening the world and making the State only a subset of Christ’s mystical body
Christ, Head and Body
Note that the State, and the Church, are merely subsets of the Mystical Body
As a 4GW religion — a netfaith — Christianity empowers individuals and weakens other bonds
And compound it by stating that women and slaves should obey the pater familias, and that subjects should obey the State, because of the authority of God, not the authority of the State
And, to that, the Christians believed that women, children, and slaves were just as important to God — had just as much virtue — as free men
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Paul (Galatians 3:28)
To the Romans, this was a nightmare. Christianity was a giant moral isolation attack against the Roman elite, making their women, children, and slaves see themselves as Christians first, dependents second.
This is why Christianity had to wait until the Empire was weak to become the State Religion. Christianity would never oppose the state — that much is clear from its strategy of co-option. But Christianity could only become an energizing force for the State if the State recognized the intrinsic value of every human life.
That is what Caiaphas and Diocletian saw. If Christianity would spread, a peaceful society built on some humans being morally worthless would be impossible. The only proven method of social peace would have to be abandoned.
Caiaphas and Diocletian weighed the value of social peace on one hand with the lives of a carpenter and a few thousand fanatics on the other. They understood that violence is distasteful but sometimes necessary. They chose what they saw as the greater good. As, or Priest Joseph Caiaphas put it
“You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish!“
It would centuries before Muslims found the secret to deforming Christianity and nearly eliminating it as a threat. But that is a post for another time…
Jesusism-Paulism, a series in six parts
1. Love Your Enemy As You Would Have Him Love You
2. Caiaphas and Diocletian Did Know Better
3. Every Man a Panzer, Every Woman a Soldat
4. The Fall of Rome
5. The People of the Book
6. Embrace and Extend