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About us Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies Organization Staff PhD Research Jewish, Christian and Islamic Origins

Birgit van der Lans

Defining Jewishness and Christian Identity in Claudian-Neronian Rome: Impacts of State Intervention
Roman coin with Claudius’ image struck at the time of the expulsion of the Jews (49-50 CE). The reverse side commemorates the emperor’s triumphs in Britannia.
Roman coin with Claudius’ image struck at the time of the expulsion of the Jews (49-50 CE). The reverse side commemorates the emperor’s triumphs in Britannia.

This project examines the role of the Roman state in Jewish and Christian self-definitions under Claudius and Nero. The effect of Rome's destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD on Jewish self-definitions and on the ‘parting of the ways’ between Judaism and Christianity has been well researched. This project, however, explores the hypothesis that the Roman state had already been a determinative factor in the self-definitions of Jewish groups and in the emergence of a Christian identity at two earlier occasions: in 49 when Claudius banned the Jews from Rome and in 64 when Nero blamed a group described as Christians for the fire that destroyed Rome. It focuses on the exciting period before 70, when the category ‘Christian’ did not yet exist: both ethnically Jewish and non-Jewish, ‘gentile’ Christians somehow belonged to a variegated Judaism. Towards the end of this period, however, it was possible to identify the Christians in Rome as a separate group.

This research explores the role of the Roman state in this transition. Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians is used as a source of particular relevance by relating it to the historical context of its addressees in a situation of migration from and return to the centre of the Empire. In this way, a new perspective is gained on the letter to the Romans and on the position of Jews and Christians vis-à-vis the Roman state in the first century.

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Roman coin with Nero's image minted between 64-66 CE, the time of the great fire that devastated Rome and occasioned the persecution of the Christians.
Roman coin with Nero's image minted between 64-66 CE, the time of the great fire that devastated Rome and occasioned the persecution of the Christians.
Last modified:20 November 2019 7.28 p.m.