15 Nov 2015
The Roman era marked the distinguishing of a unprecedented new era. Roman culture was complex, but through their empire, something even greater then Roman privileges emerged.
Prior to the famed and illustrious Roman Empire, there was a hard-won Roman Republic. This achievement (back as far as 509 BC) was built upon the partnership of families. Established by deep bloodline alliances, they pushed through conquest in Italy and achieved dominance of the peninsula from their adversaries, the Etruscans. They began advancing further, adopting the surrounding cultures they had conquered. The core element that makes any community strong is some preeminent president that is above any one person. The Romans had absorbed the Greek pantheon and Augustus had restored a traditional method of worship in the later empire. It was the picture of gods, goddesses, and eternity that kept the soldiers enduring long, and exhausting battle.
The Roman culture had clearly won a prestigious landmark in history. Previously, the Persian Empire had achieved great control over a vast region, but there remained a chief emperor, and monarchy ultimately leads to corruption and dismantling. Romans had produced a political and geographical “eye-of-the-storm” scenario. They had won peace by conquest. But those conquered didn’t feel very peaceful. Once the Romans had lost their sharp eye on the great border they now had, their foes would close in. Their strength was what kept the peace, but a community cannot thrive in a purely mechanical society. There must be room for alliances out of from within the empire. There were no diplomatic alliances. They simply conquered. Truthfully, it is surprising they were able to swell to the size they did. They not only had to develop a well-trained military, they needed to develop a simultaneously exemplary society by which their subdued geography could exist and still experience full and fruitful lives.
The Jews are probably the clearest mark of exemption in the Roman Empire. Their geographical location was paramount to the ongoing survival of the empire, as the Parthinian Empire, as well as the Arab tribes were to the east. Although Alexander the Greek (originating from a northern Mediterranean peninsula) had conquered and occupied lands as far as India, he had tragically died early, leaving many officials to govern the wide and diverse lands. While Greek would have reached a great populous, the societies to the East did not retain the Hellenization that would have been hoped. Thus, the Romans keyed in the region of Israel with distinct interest. Rome would have known more structure would come from the east, and holding the front line at Judea would have been essential. But in Israel, divisions were present that were entirely foreign to the interests of Rome.
The Jews didn’t like the Romans. It was the quintessential culture clashing. The advent of Jesus of Nazareth may have exaggerated the later quakes, but it didn’t change the fact that Jews would try and revolt. But what actually happens is more surprising then what should have happened. Christianity took over the empire! If it were reality, it would be almost comical. After all, this obscure little cult of Judaism hardly took much interest in Israel for a while. When Jesus was reported to have risen again, there arose a new kind of peace that Roman peace could only dream of. According to the Biblical account in Acts, as many as 3000 people were converted to Christianity. And since this was during a ceremony where people from all over the region would make an annual pilgrimage, those 3000 individuals would return home with a message of hope. Where Rome grew through conquest, Christianity grew through peace. Consider the contrast! It is no wonder that this massive idealistic explosion took over the empire. Of course, true Christianity is a status of the heart, not of title.
Constantine would make a tragic decree that is characteristically unchristian. He would actually march an entire army into the water for baptism! Were their hearts changed? Did they even have a choice? So Rome had legalized the religion of Christianity, but what of the freedom that supposedly that at the very of Christianity? The religion would be tainted with the same despair would later decimate the empire. But where Rome fell, Christianity lived on, it advanced, because unlike the external strength of Rome, the power of Christianity was in the heart. It had no headquarters, and it had no earthly leader to fall to corruption…