Skip to content Judaism, Paganism & Christianity in the Roman Empire

From the beginning Christianity had different views on its relation with Judaism. By the middle of the 2d century AD most Christians were Gentiles who had rejected Jewish laws and customs like circumcision. Te majority of Gnostics were for a complete separation between Christianity and Judaism, and for rejecting the Jewish God Jehovah and replace him by a more mystical concept, the Supreme Oneness, similar to the god of Plato and the Pagan Mysteries.

Most Literalists also rejected Judaism but they wanted to keep the Old Testament that they regarded as historical and not mythical and which prophesies announced the arrival of Jesus. It would also allow them to claim that literalist Christianity was based on the ancient books of the Jews, books older that any Pagan’s. As the Jews did not recognise Jesus, the Saviour sent by God according to the Literalists, the Jews had renounced to their cultural heritage, which now belonged to the Christians. To justify their rejection of Judaism the Literalists blamed the Jewish nation for the death of Jesus instead of the Roman Pontius Pilate who was even made a saint in the 4th century. To destroy Gnosticism and create a centralised religion based on common dogmas, the Literalists had to get rid of all the Gnostic Gospels. They created a limited cannon of chosen scriptures and dismissed all the others as heretical. The choice was not easy as each Christian community had their own books, and wanted to keep them. This battle lasted from the second to the fourth century and ven later. During that time, even the books finally chosen were at some point declared heretical. Finally the books that could be interpreted as historical were retained and became the New Testament, while all the others, although very often more popular at the time, were banned or purged of their Gnostic parts. The Gnostics and the Literalists reacted differently at their persecution by the Romans. For the Literalists Jesus had been a martyr, and they too accepted, and even sought, martyrdom that was assumed to guarantee a place in heaven. The Gnostics, on the other hand, could not accept that martyrdom led to salvation, they accepted their fate, even if this meant martyrdom, but they did not seek it. This was due to the fact that they did not believe that Jesus literally died on the cross. The Roman Empire had a love/hate relationship with the Mysteries, the mystics, the philosophers, and religious cults. At some times they were well accepted, and at other they were rejected and their members persecuted. This happened to the followers of Osiris/Dionysus and, later on, to the Christians.