Many of the pagan religions were not really polytheistic, as they had one supreme god, a kind of secluded omniscient universal force. A kind of omniscient universal consciousness, manifested through all living things (Freke & Gandy 1999). This supreme God had a variety of different deities representing different aspects of the supreme god, and acting as mediators between the believers and the governing force. These deities usually come in the form of personified gods and goddesses, with responsibility for different “departments” so to say. Even if Christianity is considered monotheism, we have the wacky notion of the trinity, three gods in one. We have the Father, the Son and the ingenious theological invention of the Holy Spirit. Judaism and its offspring Christianity differ from the pagan religion by having a personified supreme God– and thus this God have a very fixed modus operandi. When the pagan supreme gods are like actors who can play every conceivable role for their believers, the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim God (who actually are the very same God) has just one role to play. In this sense Judaism, Christianity and Islam are a lot more crude, apathetic and primitive religions than many of the earlier religions of the Antiquity. And they have no room for change or development, nor have their deity.
All the different gods and goddesses in Antiquity were representatives for one supreme God or kind of universal consciousness. They had different names in different regions, but they all represented the different aspects, or faces, of the supreme God. The Jews, however, got this bad idea to personify their small local and ignorant tribal god, Jehovah/Yahweh, and to elevate him into a universal supreme God –in the anthropomorphic shape of a man. And the result was an extraordinary primitive and intolerant monotheism, and a Lord Almighty without the divine multitude, flexibility and complexity usually associated with supreme Gods. Instead we got a supreme God with a very limited repertoire indeed, - obviously very intellectually and spiritually challenged, and completely without empathy and basic knowledge of the human nature.
Over the almost two thousand years of Christianity, Christians were persecuted by others only in the first three centuries. In early Christendom the Jewish establishment in Roman Palestine sometimes persecuted the Christian sect. Many of the early Christian sects were considered as troublemakers and conspiring rebellion against the Jewish religious establishment. After the big fire in Rome in 64 AD, Emperor Nero executed several Christians as arsonists. According to Roman sources, the Christians were not a very popular group in Rome at this time. They were considered a small, uneducated group of religious troublemakers from the lowest social classes, operating in the shadowy sides of society. Emperor Nero’s persecutions of Christians on this occasion had very little to do with religious persecutions (Deschner 1990). According to even the Nero hostile historians Tacitus and Suetonius, the prosecutions against the arsonists after the big fire in Rome were just and fair. The fact that several of the arsonists were Christians was probably of insignificant importance to both Nero and to the Romans at large (ibid).
Who persecuted whom?
The Romans were usually very tolerant in issues of faith and religion. After all, Rome was the biggest city in the world and the capital of a vast empire. Rome was the world’s foremost metropolis and a melting pot of people coming from all corners of the world. The Christians were allowed significant religious freedom and benefited from a very liberal religious politics. Usually the Christian sect was treated with great patience by the Roman authorities. By the way, Emperor Nero’s reputation among Romans was far more amiable than the reputation the later Christian Church historian's propaganda have given him as a perverted bloodthirsty and raving mad goblin.
More systematic persecutions of Christians by the Roman authorities were mainly happening within a short period of two years (249-251 AD) and between 303 and 311 AD. The persecutions were also periodical and not widely enforced between 303 and 311. Emperor Diocletian (c 243-316) was initially tolerant of Christianity. However in 303 he issued an edict in Nicomediam in which he prohibited it. Christians got executed, got their property confiscated, and several of their churches were destroyed. But the real reason for the persecutions was not because of their faith itself, but because the Christians refused to offer sacrifice to the Roman deities and to the emperor as a God, thus jeopardising the prosperity and divine protection of the Empire. Usually they got to chose between making the offering or be executed. And with the martyr craze at the time, it became quite popular to become martyrs of the faith. For suffering an hour on earth martyrs were guaranteed an eternal and prominent place in heaven. It was very similar to the fanatic Muslim suicide-bombers of today. When people are willing to get themselves killed for religious reasons, the threat of death penalty will not work as intended.
All in all, persecution of Christians only happened within five years in the first three centuries AD. According to recent research the total number of Christian “martyrs” is only around 3000, and ca 1500 of these from the first three centuries. This is approximately the same number at the average number of Jews the holy Church killed during a year in the Middle Ages, - or sometimes, on just one single day (Deschner 1986). Most of the Church martyrs and martyr stories are holy forgeries and blatant lies. And after the first three centuries the now mighty Christian Church started its own persecutions against pagans and deviating Christians, and these persecutions lasted for 1700 - one thousand and seven hundred - years!
Raging Christians go berserk
When the Christians risked being persecuted themselves, the message of unbounded tolerance was central in their teachings. However, when the Christians rose to power in the fourth century, the attitude changed quite drastically. As a strict monotheism, Christianity did not tolerate other Gods at all. According to the Bible, there are no other Gods; Jehovah is the only true one. But the Christians haven’t obviously been completely convinced of this, so they felt it necessary to fight other religions and believers with raw violence. Just to be on the safe side and maybe since Jehovah himself had stopped his direct intervening scheme, wiping off the unbelievers with his fabulous divine locust-swarms, plague, brimstone and lightning techniques several centuries ago. From the fourth century and forward, the now mighty Christian Church, used harsh measures to suppress other faiths.
With pious enthusiasm the ancient pagan temples, works of art and libraries were destroyed, and trampled by rampant Christians in a frenzied religious demolition craze. Under the command of bishops and abbots Christian monks were often the most active. The Greek called them “swinish black-cloths”, because “they looked like men but lived like pigs”. A contemporary writer tells us “armed with clubs or stones and swords they ran to the temples, some without these weapons only with their bare hands and feet” (Libanios “Pro temples” 389 AD). As soon as they had destroyed one temple, they dashed away to the next. They toppled over walls, smashed idols, statues and art-objects and altars, and stole the temples wealth for themselves.
Bishop Theophilius of Alexandria participated personally in levelling pagan temples and altars. This busy bishop is personally credited with destroying a huge statue of Sarapis with an axe in 391 AD, a statue made by the great Athenian artist Bryaxis. The Christian demolition craze destroyed a huge parts of antiquity’s religious artworks and written texts. Numerous priests and bishops made a name and a career for themselves as temple-destroyers. A bishop named Marcellus distinguished himself in this area, he demolished among other things the big Zeus temple in Apameia. Among the ravaging Christians it soon became popular to gather souvenirs and trophies from the holy pagan places they levelled. Bishop Theophilius organised boisterous mocking-processions with these trophies through the streets of Alexandria.
Some were more drastic than others. Particularly in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, pagans, priests and priestessses were exiled or massacred during the temple destructions, or chained to the ruins and left to starve to death. The East Roman Emperor Theodosius 2 (401-450) executed even children for playing with pieces of a broken pagan statue. An early Church historian tells us that Theodosius 2 “exceeded everyone with his kindness and humanity”. Right!
Theodosius 2 became emperor in the age of seven, and he was thoroughly indoctrinated by the priests and became a very effective instrument for the Church. He removed all non-Christians from official positions, and introduced in 434 the death penalty for the practice of all pagan religions. The reason given for this was, funny enough, all the natural disasters the pagan gods caused(!).
Not all temples were destroyed but transformed into Christian Churches instead. The ancient pagan idols, altars and religious art were removed and smashed, and a cross was nailed up on the wall instead. By destroying the pagan temples, torching the libraries and with them huge parts of antiquity’s rich written literature and accumulated knowledge, - the Church were responsible for turning of the lights off and sending Europe into a darkness of superstition and ignorance. They destroyed a flourishing civilisation, set science and progress back centuries and created a Dark Age that crippled Europe intellectually for over a thousand years. And we have still not fully recovered.
As we have seen, real systematic persecutions
of the early Christians by the authorities happened within a timeframe of
only five years in the first three centuries. When the Church itself rose
to power and became an authority, it has been merciless persecuting thousands
of people, both non-Christians and Christians alike, more or less constantly,
for seventeen hundred years. They have started wars, crusades, the Inquisition,
burned people as heretics and witches, they’ve killing Jews since the
very beginning, slaughtered Indians in the New World, and most of their “martyrs”
Who is the bad boy here? Oh, yeah, it is Emperor Nero.
(c) R.L. Børsheim