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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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7. Negotiating the Pagan-Christian Divide 129


7 Negotiating the Pagan-Christian Divide This book has been a study of boundaries. Boundaries are what separate "them" from "us" in the discourse of everyday living as well as ritual, of prejudice as well as reason, of rumor as well as intellectual exchange. In the first three centuries of the church, Chris- tian exclusivism was an important element in all of these contexts. In many ways exclusivism represents the boundary par excel- lence. A dividing line defined largely by negation, Christian exclusivism was easily identifiable in the "pluralistic" religious world of the Mediterranean basin. It took on many forms, the most obvi- ous of which, at least until the end of the second century, was social; theological exclusivism was merely the impetus for its more visible manifestations. The Christians' refusal to participate in civic and domestic cult made them stand out prominently. From the pagan perspective, meetings held in secret, strange rites, and other "bound- ary markers" simply accentuated the differences. Before Celsus, social exclusivism was the primary pagan objection to Christianity; expressed in terms of accusations of gross immorality, these charges constituted "boundary reinforcements" from the pagan side, pro- paganda whose purpose was to strengthen the characterization of Christians as radically "other." Beginning with Celsus, however, theological and philosophical considerations began to assume a more important role. Discussions regarding the reality and providential activity of the gods, the na- ture of the supreme deity, issues of epistemology, and the relationship of Christianity to Judaism, to name a few, took...

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