James Corke-Webster: The Persecution of Christians in the Ancient World: From the Ground Up (50th Episode)

One of the perennial questions in society is how we should deal with difference. In particular, the issue of religious difference has vexed societies around the globe: this is true not just for our present times, but also for ancient civilisations such as the Roman Empire. In its heyday, the Roman world spanned Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and inevitably it included people of various faiths and convictions, notably Jews and Christians. Often when we think of Roman persecution of the latter group, we think of the systematic targeting of Christians as a religious minority. But with new advances in scholarship, a much more complex picture is emerging of the interactions between Romans and Christians in the ancient world.

In the landmark 50th episode of The Provocateur, I talk to James Corke-Webster, lecturer in Roman history at King’s College London, about the persecution of Christians in the ancient world. We discuss how James came to be interested in the subject, the history of scholarship on the persecution of Christians, how James argues for a more ‘bottom-up’ approach, the documentary evidence for persecution from both the Christian and the Roman sides, the various punishments that were meted out to Christians and the differences between the reality of persecution and the memory of it. We also discuss the significance of James’ work for later Roman history and even the present day. 

You can listen to the podcast here:

Further Reading:

Barnes, Timothy D. (1968) “Legislation Against the Christians”, JRS 58: 32–50.

Corke-Webster, J. (2017) Trouble in Pontus: The Pliny-Trajan Correspondence on the Christians Reconsidered”, TAPA 147.2, 371-411.

de Ste Croix, G. E. M. (1963) “Why Were the Early Christians Persecuted?”, Past & Present 26.1, 6–38.

Moss, C. (2013) The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom. San Francisco: HarperOne.

Rives, J. (1999) “The Decree of Decius and the Religion of Empire”, JRS 89: 135–54.

Shaw, B. (2015) “The Myth of the Neronian Persecution”, JRS 105: 73–100.

Max Price: Pork, Prohibitions and Power: A Short Cultural History of the Pig in the Ancient Near East

As with many other animals in society, pigs have occupied an ambiguous status throughout human history. On the one hand, we are highly dependent on them because of their importance as both a domesticated creature and a source of food; on the other, they are reviled even to the extent that in the Abrahamic religions it is considered sacrilegious to eat pork. The pork taboo as expressed in Leviticus has been a constant source of fascination to anthropologists, as well as scholars of religion, and various explanations have been put forward for how and why this taboo came into existence in early Mesopotamian civilisations.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Max Price, a postdoctoral fellow at Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel in Germany, to discuss the pork taboo in the context of the cultural history of the pig in the ancient Near East. We explore the uniqueness of the pig as a domesticated animal; the reasons for pig domestication; and the origins of and reasons for the pig taboo. Towards the end of the programme, we also touch on the continuing significance of pigs in Middle Eastern societies today. Max is also contracted with Oxford University Press to write a book dealing with these issues from 1 million years ago to the present, which will certainly be worth looking out for in the near future!

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Albarella, U., K. Dobney, A. Ervynck, and P. Rowley-Conwy (eds.) (2007) Pigs and Humans: 10,000 Years of Interaction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Diener, P. and E.E. Robkin (1978) ‘Ecology, Evolution, and the Search for Cultural Origins: The Question of Islamic Pig Prohibition’, Current Anthropology 19: 493-540.

Essig, M. (2015) Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig. New York: Basic Books.

Hessler, P. (2014) ‘Letters from Cairo: Tales of the Trash’, The New Yorker October 13, 2014.

Ottoni, C. et al. (2012) ‘Pig Domestication and Human-Mediated Dispersal in Western Eurasia Revealed through Ancient DNA and Geometric Morphometrics’, Molecular biology and evolution: mss261.