Birgit van der Lans
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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