Monday, February 4, 2013

Genesis 29 and The Martyrdom of Polycarp 2-4

Genesis 29 – Jacob hurries on to Paddan-Aram and sees a well in the distance surrounded by livestock waiting for the stone to be moved from the mouth of the well. The covering stone so heavy (it says) that only when all the shepherds are assembled at the end of the day are they able to move it away.  But here, when Jacob sees Rachel—the girl he falls in love with—he alone moves the stone back so she can water her father’s livestock (29:10).

At Laban’s invitation, Jacob stays. Laban has two daughters; the older one, Leah, “[has] no sparkle in [her eyes]” but Rachel “had a beautiful figure and a lovely face” (29:17). Jacob falls in love with Rachel and promises to work for Laban for seven years if he will give him Rachel for his wife (29:19).

When they time comes for the marriage, Laban deceives him and gives him Leah instead (with her maid Zilpah); but after another week, Jacob gets Rachel too (with her maid Bilhah) – but for seven more years of labor in Laban’s fields.

“When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he enabled her to have children, but Rachel could not conceive” (29:31). Leah becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son – Reuben. She has a second son – Simeon, a third – Levi, and a fourth – Judah. Then she stops having children – for a while. 

The Martyrdom of Polycarp
More Introduction:
Just to give a little background in this subject area, I’ve check out a few sites, but the one at was very concise and easy to follow. Most of what follows comes from that site:

In general the Roman Empire was fairly tolerant of non-Roman religions, absorbing local deities into the Roman pantheon with little concern. They permitted Jewish monotheists to have liberty to exercise authority over their own adherents as long as they did not threaten overall Roman authority. The article says that out of 54 emperors, only about 12 took any interest in persecuting Christians. Persecutions tended to be of a more local nature, instigated by crowds that felt threatened by this very different approach to religion.

We know that the earliest persecutions described in the New Testament resulted from local Christian battles with Jewish authorities.

Nero was the first Roman Emperor to persecute Christians, trying to make it look as if they had been the cause of the great fire that devastated Rome in 64 AD.

Most of the emperors who engaged in the infamous persecutions saw themselves as protecting Roman family and community values.

Nero made it a capital crime to be a Christian, though pardon was always available if one publicly denounced Christ and made a routine sacrifice to the traditional gods.

Domitian (r.81-96) is recorded by Suetonius, a Roman historian, as having executed Christian members of his own family “on charges of atheism and Jewish manners.” 

Under Hadrian (c.124 AD), Christians could be brought to trial but only for specific acts seen as “treasonous.” More surprisingly, he made “slanderous attacks” against Christians illegal.

Christianity continued to be outlawed under Trajan (112-117), but Christians are no longer to be sought out. It is under Trajan that the famous letter of Roman governor Pliny the Younger was sent to the emperor asking about how to deal with Christians who distanced themselves from their faith publicly at least.  The “emperor responded that Christians should not be sought out; anonymous tips should be rejected as ‘unworthy of our times,’ and if they recanted and ‘worshipped our god’ they were to be freed. Those who persistent, however, should be punished.”

Marcus Aurelius (r.161-180) was emperor when Polycarp was martyred. Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, notes: “Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher on the throne, was a well-educated, just, kind , and amiable emperor, and reached the old Roman ideal of self-reliant Stoic virtue, but for this very reason he had no sympathy with Christianity. . . regard[ing] it as absurd and fanatical superstition.” He also had several “new decrees” issued, which made it easier for Christians to be accused and have property confiscated. In 177 AD, 48 Christians were martyred in the amphitheater in Lyons.

Septimus Severus (202-210) was not personally antagonistic to Christianity, but local animosity to the faith led to persecutions in Carthage, Alexandria, Rome and Corinth. Many students of Origen were martyred in Alexandria.

Under Decius (250-251), Christians were actively sought out and made to offer public sacrifice. You could buy certificates (libelli) that were a way of skirting actual performance of the traditional sacrifices that Romans saw as fundamental to public peace. The bishops of Rome, Jerusalem and Antioch were martyred during this time.

The persecutions under Decius had lasting consequences in the church. Some local churches refused to re-admit members who had “lapsed” under fear of death. And, more seriously, they denied the validity of any baptisms performed by clergy who had given way under pressure. In the 4th c. AD, St. Augustine would battle with an influential group of such hard-liners called the Donatists, who broke away from the Catholics because the latter thought their “lapsed” brothers and sisters should be embraced.

Under Valerian (257-259), Bishops Cyprian of Carthage and Sixtus II of Rome were executed. Edicts were passed requiring all Christian clergy to make the standard sacrifices to the gods. High-ranking families in the Empire were the focal point of these persecutions, but after Valerian’s capture by the Persians, his successor Galienus, revoked the Edicts.

There were persecutions under Maximinus the Thracian (235-238) and under Aurelian (r.270-275); but the “Great Persecution” came under Diocletian and Galerius (303-324). Galarius, a co-emperor at the time, was “a fanatical adherent of Roman religion” and a follower of Porphyry, an anti-Christian Neoplatonist who wrote: “How can people not be in every way impious and atheistic who have apostatized from the customs of our ancestors through which every nation and city is sustained? What else are they than fighters against God?” The persecution under these “enlightened” rulers was so extreme it “caused the faith of the martyrs to blaze forth instead” (Encyclopedia Britannica, “Diocletian”),

Persecutions ended with Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313 AD. And in 381, Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official Roman religion.

The word martyr means “witness” and Tertullian actually converted because of the faithfulness of Christian witnesses. He said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The persecutions prompted a series of Christian “Apologies” or defenses of the Christian faith against the accusations of those who thought Christianity dangerous. It seems likely that the accusations of anti-traditionalism was at least one reason why mainline Christians felt it was important to keep Christianity closely tied to its ancient Hebrew roots, because the ancient Hebrew traditions were even more “ancient” that the traditions the Romans thought should be at the core of what their society was about.

Chapter 2 – The writer says that there are many martyrs that we must see as “blessed and noble” (125). They must be ascribed to the governance of God for they all showed “high-hearted endurance . . .[and] love for their Master” (125).

The details here are gruesome: “Some of them were so cut to pieces by the scourges that their very vitals were plainly exposed to view, down to the inmost veins and arteries; and yet they still bore up, until even the bystanders were moved to tears of pity for them. Others displayed such heroism that not a cry or a grown escaped from any of them” (125). This seems to the writer to be proof “that in that hour of anguish those martyr-heroes of Christ were not present in the body at all—or better still, that the Lord was standing at their side” (125). They “made light of the cruelties of this world, and at the cost of a single hour purchased for themselves life everlasting” (125). And “looking up they beheld with inward vision the good things in store for those who persevere” (125-126).

Chapter 3 - He mentions a martyr I am unfamiliar with - Germanicus. Apparently, he was a very young Christian – a boy. "He confronted the savage beasts with the utmost gallantry, and when the Governor [Lucius Statius Quadratus] attempted persuasion, urging him to have pity on his own youth, he even used force to drag the animal towards him, in his desire for a speedier release from that world of unjust and lawless men. It was then that the whole crowd, taken aback by the heroism which this brood of Christians, in their love and fear of God, were displaying, broke into yells of 'Down with the infidels! [so the Christians were called because of their rejection of the Roman deities]. Go and find Polycarp!'"

Chapter 4 – Another early Christian, a Phrygian by the name of Quintas, also faced “the beasts,” but his “courage failed him” (126). A note says that Phrygians had a reputation for cowardice in ancient times. Phrygia was in central Anatolia – west central. It was the legendary home of some famous kings like King Gordias of the Gordian knot and King Midas.

Quintas had actually “compelled himself and some other to surrender themselves voluntarily” (126), hoping perhaps to win the glories of martyrdom. But he was eventually induced to “offer incense” to the Roman gods to prove he was not a threat to Roman authority.

It is for this reason that early Christian leaders encouraged their people NOT to “offer themselves” voluntarily. They should attempt to avoid persecution, not seek it for glory’s sake.

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