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Against the Christians

The Rise of Early Anti-Christian Polemic- Second Printing


Jeffrey W. Hargis

Against the Christians examines the anti-Christian polemic works of Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian the Apostate. The first book to analyze the phenomenon of early anti-Christian literature in depth, it chooses the critics' objection to Christian exclusivism as its starting point. The evolution in the polemic, from a rhetoric of radical distinction to one of «rhetorical assimilation,» reveals a sophisticated attempt to expose contradictions and inconsistencies within Christianity, while at the same time reflecting the process of fusion between Christianity and the culture of late antiquity.


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2. Celsus and the "Revolt Against the Community" 17


2 Celsus and the "Revolt Against the Community" The late 170s was a time of crisis for Christianity; the last half of the decade had seen the most violent of the persecutions of the second century. But by decade's end, the public and sometimes illegal ex- ecutions had ended; there would be no more mob-inspired persecutions for the next seventy years. Although rumors of Chris- tian cannibalism and incest still circulated, they were no longer the staple of anti-Christian propaganda. The proliferation of Christian apologetic seems to have subsided as well. Some of the apologies had been addressed directly to Marcus Aurelius, the "philosopher- emperor," perhaps in the hope that an emperor with a philosophic cast of mind would be sympathetic to their pleas for toleration. His death in 180 may have removed any hope for such toleration, much less official recognition; as it happened, he had not at all been sym- pathetic to the Christians' plight. The only reference that the Christians received in his Meditations was an inconsequential note about the irrationality of their martyr instinct. Even though the uglier rumors subsided, persecution contin- ued. In place of the shouting mob, local magistrates conducted official proceedings under more carefully controlled conditions. At Scilli near Carthage in 180, for example, the trial of a dozen Chris- tians was a relatively quiet affair. The proconsul Vigellius Saturninus engaged in patient debate with the accused, affirmed that "we too are a religious people," and gave the prisoners thirty days to change...

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