Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Darkening Age

From The National Review:
One of Nixey’s attempts to blame Christians for death and mayhem is simply dishonest. In Antioch in the early 370s, Roman imperial agents arrested and tortured prominent citizens and burned their libraries. This episode is recorded by the late Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus, who also states that several pagan philosophers were executed. Nixey pulls a fast one when she presents this incident as an example of Christian repression.

A check of the relevant sections of Ammianus (29.1–2) reveals it to be nothing of the sort. An informant told the authorities about some nefarious “magical” goings-on. Certain prominent citizens had suspended a pendulum from a tripod and swung it so that it pointed to a series of Greek letters on a circular metal plate; the result was thought to be the name of the successor to the the current emperor, Valens. When Valens arrived in Antioch after overseeing a campaign against the Persians and learned of the report, he flew into a rage and ordered a crackdown. (None of these details are recounted in The Darkening Age.) When questioned under torture, the participants in the ritual were quick to implicate others. As usually happens in such cases, many innocent people were caught up in the hysteria and punished.

The only link between these events and Christianity is that Valens was a Christian (albeit of the heretical Arian variety). But any Roman emperor, always on the lookout for conspiracies, would have objected violently to an attempt to conjure up his successor (regardless of the means employed to do so). Hence pagan emperors had also tried to ban magical and divinatory practices, seeing in them a prelude to treason.

There was one notorious case of a murder committed by Christians in late antiquity, and Nixey milks it for all she thinks it’s worth. In Alexandria in 415, the mathematician and Neoplatonist philosopher Hypatia was brutally lynched by a mob of Christians — slashed to death with potsherds and her body burned. The relevant chapter in The Darkening Age presents Hypatia’s murder as the culmination of a straightforward Christian-vs.-pagan conflict, when it was something more complex. (Read more.)

No comments: