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.

Robin Hamon: Paradise Revisited: Ecocriticism and the Eden Narrative

The Biblical story of the Garden of Eden is one of the most central narratives in Western civilisation (if not the central narrative). As part of the account of creation contained in Genesis, it is a cornerstone of both the Jewish and Christian religious traditions. Moreover, it has exerted a powerful influence on secular culture, ranging from the seventeenth-century epic Paradise Lost to modern-day advertisements. Yet scholarly critics have tended to overlook the significance of natural resources and the environment in the Eden narrative, choosing instead to focus on the agency of the human characters. While ecocriticism is gaining ground as a popular approach in contemporary literary studies, Biblical scholars have generally paid little attention to it and how it can be usefully applied to their field.

Today on The Provocateur I talk to Robin Hamon, a PhD student at the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Bible Studies, to discuss the Eden narrative from an ecocritical perspective. We start by thinking about the origins of Biblical Studies and ecocriticism as separate disciplines, before looking in-depth at Genesis as an example of how the two fields can be fruitfully merged. We also touch on notions of paradise and wilderness and how these might have affected interpretations of the narrative, as well as the significance of trees in the text.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Primary text: Genesis 2:4b-3:24 (in the New Revised Standard version).

Secondary reading:

Glotfelty, C. and H. Fromm (eds.) (1996) The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology. Athens: The University of Georgia Press.

Hamon, R. B. (2018) ‘Garden and “Wilderness”: An Ecocritical Reading of Gen. 2:4b-3:24’, The Bible and Critical Theory, 14.1.

Habel, N. C. and S. Wurst (eds.) (2000) The Earth Story in Genesis (The Earth Bible, vol. 2). Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.

Zevit, Z. (2013) What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden? London/New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Tim Grayson: God Without Religion

Religious freedom in an age of cultural diversity is an extremely pressing issue of our times. But perhaps we would be better off if we moved away from institutionalized religion while still retaining the concept of a divine or higher power? This week on The Provocateur, I talk to poet and author Tim Grayson to discuss his conception of God without religion.

You can listen to the podcast here: