Thursday, January 28, 2016

Kyle Smith's "Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia"

Kyle Smith is Assistant Professor of Historical Studies and Religion at the University of Toronto and the translator of The Martyrdom and History of Blessed Simeon bar Sabba'e.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia: Martyrdom and Religious Identity in Late Antiquity, and reported the following:
Every reader of this blog knows one thing about Constantine: he was the first Christian Roman emperor.

His decision to embrace Christianity certainly had a profound effect on the history of western Europe. But how did it affect Christians living outside of the Roman Empire?

Many believe that Constantine’s conversion in the early fourth century politicized religious allegiances, that it divided the newly Christian Roman Empire from the Zoroastrian Persian Empire. Some think that it even led to the persecution of Christians in what is now Iraq and Iran and that this, in turn, sparked a war between Rome and Persia.

On page 99, I explain that although we do indeed have a lot of stories about the persecution of Persian Christians we need to radically revise how we read these texts and, with it, how we understand fourth-century history.

There was no religious war between Rome and Persia. There was no persecution either.

Upon closer inspection, the many ancient texts that claim otherwise present an evocative and evolving portrait of the first Christian emperor. The literary memory of Constantine was undoubtedly very useful for shaping the political and religious identities of ancient Christian communities, but these texts have wrongly cast how we have understood the waning years of Constantine’s reign and, indeed, the emperor’s subsequent legacy.
Learn more about Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue