On Tuesday 17 January, the Classical Society hosted Professor Tim Whitmarsh of Cambridge University to answer Why Did Romans Became Christians? His talk began with a quick journey through time, telling us how the disciplines of Theology and Classics have arrived at their current state, given they seem not only wholly unrelated but also at odds with one another. Professor Whitmarsh then argued that the apparent conflict between these disciplines was most unfortunate, as, for most of time, they have in fact had a flourishing and interconnected history.
Transitioning into the main focus of the talk, Professor Whitmarsh was quick to explain the truth behind some commonly held beliefs concerning the maltreatment of early Christians in the Roman Empire, admitting that while certain Christians had been persecuted they were not specially targeted for their beliefs.
Professor Whitmarsh then argued that the pivotal moment in the rise of Christianity was the work of Saul of Tarsus, who was able to translate early Christianity – what was a fringe cult within Judaism – into something that could take its place in the world of the Roman Empire. Christianity, thus adapted to Roman culture, began to emerge as a mainstream religion, offering, among other things, financial and spiritual security, especially during the third century, for example, when the Roman Empire was in political turmoil. Finally, Professor Whitmarsh explained that the highly entrepreneurial nature of the early Church was another key reason why Christianity emerged over other religions and cults that rose and fell during the same time period, and, ultimately, why Romans became Christians.
The Classical Society was enormously privileged to have been given such knowledge and expertise, and we thank Professor Whitmarsh for coming, as well as all those whose efforts made the evening possible.