Study Guide

Day 2: Beginnings

Christian Tradition, Spring 2016

Important people, terms, and concepts; know their significance for Christianity

From the first day’s mini-lecture
Roman social world
Roman Emperor
Roman Governor

From the second day’s readings and lecture


In addition to looking at a map and reading some background information online and in one textbook, we will be reading the earliest references to Christians in pagan sources:

  1. Roman historian Tacitus’ account of the persecution of the Christians by the emperor Nero in 64 CE
  2. Roman historian Suetonius’s brief mention of the persecution of the Christians by Nero & the persecution of the Jews by Claudius
  3. Pliny’s correspondence with the Emperor Trajan

Questions for class discussion:
What do Suetonius and Tacitus actually tell us about earliest Christianity?



What is the nature of the persecutions mentioned by Tacitus and Suetonius?  How widespread are they, who is affected, what happens, etc.?



What is Pliny’s problem with the Christians?  Are they doing anything to bother him?  What is the source of his confusion?




How does he know these people are Christians?


What does he do with the people who are accused of being Christians?



Imagine you are Trajan, and suppose for the purposes of discussion that you have never encountered a Christian before and don’t know anything about the religion.  Based on what Pliny says, what do you think of them?


What does Trajan’s response tell us about the Emperor’s policy on Christians?  Does he have one uniform policy?  What does he think of Christians in general?



You are welcome to bring any other questions/discussion topics to class as well.