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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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4. Porphyry and the Polemic of Universalism 63


4 Porphyry and the Polemic of Universalism Celsus' criticisms went unanswered until about 248 CE, when Origen composed contra Celsum at the request of his friend Ambrose. By that time, however, the relationship between Christians and the dominant pagan culture had undergone enormous changes. Gone for good were the lingering rumors of cannibalism and ritual sex. If a wave of conversions had indeed occurred in the late second and early third centuries, their children and grandchildren were now swelling the ranks of the church. A few of these, Origen himself among them, were enjoying access to the imperial court. According to the philosopher Porphyry, whose criticism of Christianity is the subject of this chapter, Origen was also at one time a colleague of Plotinus, the founder of Neoplatonism. To be sure, only the Chris- tian elite possessed such philosophical sophistication; the greater part of the church still consisted of the uneducated, and Celsus' criti- cism of the Christian underclass maintained some degree of validity through the third century. However, Christians had not only begun the process of appropriating Greek philosophy for themselves, they were also making converts among the upper classes. Over the course of the third century the church was becoming a more respectable, as well as permanent, fixture in Roman society. From the perspective of many pagans, such respectability de- manded new forms of opposition; in their view Christianity had become a serious problem to the empire. Popular resentment was expressed in 249 with anti-Christian riots in Alexandria,...

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