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From Rome to Christianity


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Rome

Rome and Christianity   We are going to take a lengthy break from the Western tradition and won't be returning until the last day of the fourteenth week. However, we are stopping right in the middle of the story, for dead center in Roman history a new world view inauspiciously began in the east. In the Age of Augustus, a tremendously obscure religion, Christianity, arose among the Judaeans and quickly died out (with only a few people hanging on). This Jewish religion was, however, very quickly translated into a non-Jewish religion and spread very quickly among the Africans and among the Greeks and Romans.
   Two things aided the spread of this religion in the Roman world. At some level, aspects of the foundational religion accorded with the values, culture, and historical experience of Romans and Greeks. At another level, the religion was transformed into something more akin to Roman and Greek world views. In other words, it became less Jewish and more Roman.


The Good Shepherd   As we discussed in class, the Romans spent a great deal of energy "talking to themselves" about what it means to be Roman in terms of values, identity, and historical experience. One of the most common ways that Romans represent their experience and ideology is the genre of "the good shepherd," which has both literary and artistic representations. You will see below a statue of the "good shepherd." This is the single most common motif in domestic Roman art; as such it represents what the Romans thought of themselves and it articulated Roman values. The "good shepherd" is the ideal Roman. When the Romans "translate" Christ into their own culture, they draw on this pictorial tradition of the good shepherd, representing Christ in exactly the same terms as they represent the ideal Roman (so ingrained is this aspect of Roman Christianity that western Christianity still focusses on the nature of Christ as the "good shepherd" as a predominant aspect of the nature of Christ. I'm not going to tell you whether this statue is pagan Roman or Christian Roman, but look closely at it.


Your Argument   I want you to look closely and in detail at the painting of the good shepherd. I want you to identify what Roman values this painting represents and then use that explanation of those values to write a speculative paragraph on how you think those Roman values would change the nature or affect the Roman understanding of Christianity. That the Romans transformed Christianity is undisputable; I want you to speculate on how they might have transformed Christianity.


The Materials of Your Argument   You are going to use the painting to describe how it represents Roman values. To do so, you need to use terms that are specifically about Roman values. You should define those terms and show how the painting represents those terms. I also want you to include historical information derived from either your textbook or the on-line readings or to include cultural information that you've gleaned from your readings (such as, say, Roman literature). Read that last sentence again. These are the materials you'll use to describe Roman values represented in the painting: Roman terms or concepts, Roman history or cultural history.
On the second part of your argument, you're going to use your discussion of Roman values in describing how the Romans might have understood Christianity. Since you haven' studied Christianity, you can't write an informed essay about Christianity, but rather you're going to use what you know about Rome (values and history) to guess at what the character of Roman Christianity might have been.

Richard Hooker



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