Project Title

Christian "Atheism": A New Perspective in Light of Second Temple Judaism

Presenters

Academic department under which the project should be listed

RCHSS - History & Philosophy

Faculty Sponsor Name

Dr. Brian Swain

This research project was completed for This research project was completed for Twilight of Antiquity under Dr. Brian Swain. This was not approved by KSU's Institutional Board, but it was approved for me to present at the 2018 Biennial Phi Alpha Theta Convention in New Orleans.

Abstract (300 words maximum)

The dominant scholarly position holds that the Roman state condemned Christians as atheists because of their refusal to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. This explanation needs further refinement as it fails to account for this heretofore unnoticed fact: Jews also faced charges of atheism, but received no such accusations between 27 BC and 66 AD while the Second Temple still stood. During this time, the Roman state did not consider Jews to be atheists even though like Christians they eschewed sacrifice to Roman deities. The very fact that Jews performed daily sacrifices to their god and explicitly on behalf of the emperor demonstrated their commitment to the prosperity of Rome, thereby rescuing Jews from accusations of atheism. Rabbinic Judaism was later established in the 90s AD as a way for Judaism to continue to function without a temple. It became a religion that spiritualized and replaced temple sacrifice. While Judaism went through this evolution, Christians historically have spiritualized sacrifice, where belief in Jesus’s sacrificial death functioned as a final sacrifice. As a result, both Jews and Christians did not offer sacrifices on behalf of the emperor and were thus deficient in outward displays of religiosity and loyalty to the Roman state. In the eyes of Rome they were “spiritual, but not religious;” they were atheists. In light of this, I argue that Christians were condemned as atheists not simply because they failed to participate in pagan sacrifices, but because they did not sacrifice at all.

Project Type

Oral Presentation (15-min time slots)

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Christian "Atheism": A New Perspective in Light of Second Temple Judaism

The dominant scholarly position holds that the Roman state condemned Christians as atheists because of their refusal to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. This explanation needs further refinement as it fails to account for this heretofore unnoticed fact: Jews also faced charges of atheism, but received no such accusations between 27 BC and 66 AD while the Second Temple still stood. During this time, the Roman state did not consider Jews to be atheists even though like Christians they eschewed sacrifice to Roman deities. The very fact that Jews performed daily sacrifices to their god and explicitly on behalf of the emperor demonstrated their commitment to the prosperity of Rome, thereby rescuing Jews from accusations of atheism. Rabbinic Judaism was later established in the 90s AD as a way for Judaism to continue to function without a temple. It became a religion that spiritualized and replaced temple sacrifice. While Judaism went through this evolution, Christians historically have spiritualized sacrifice, where belief in Jesus’s sacrificial death functioned as a final sacrifice. As a result, both Jews and Christians did not offer sacrifices on behalf of the emperor and were thus deficient in outward displays of religiosity and loyalty to the Roman state. In the eyes of Rome they were “spiritual, but not religious;” they were atheists. In light of this, I argue that Christians were condemned as atheists not simply because they failed to participate in pagan sacrifices, but because they did not sacrifice at all.