Church History
1st Cent. (001-100 A.D.)

Last Update: Sept 1, 2007




Pontius Pilate is appointed as the prefect of Judaea.


John the Baptist is executed by Herod Antipas, son of King Herod in Judaea.

32 - 36

Estimated date of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

32 - 313

The Age of the Martyrs (33-313 A.D.)

The Christian religion developed rapidly in Rome and all over the world since the 1st century, owing partly to the testimony of fervour, of brotherly love and of charity shown by the Christians towards everyone.

The Roman authorities were at first indifferent to the new religion, yet very soon, incited also by the Jewish authorities, became hostile to it, because the Christians (like some Jews) refused to worship the ancient pagan deities of Rome, as well as the emperor. The Christians were accused of disloyalty to their fatherland, of atheism, of hatred towards mankind, of hidden crimes, such as incest, infanticide and ritual cannibalism; likewise they were held responsible for all natural calamities, such as plagues, floods, famines, etc.

The Christian religion was proclaimed "strana et illicita - strange and unlawful" (Senatorial decree of the year 35); "exitialis - deadly" (Tacitus); "prava et immodica - wicked and unbridled" (Plinius); "nova et malefica - new and harmful" (Svetonius); "tenebrosa et lucifuga - mysterious and opposed to light" (from "Octavius" by Minucius); "detestabilis - hateful" (Tacitus); therefore it was outlawed and persecuted, because it was considered the most dangerous enemy of the power of Rome, which was based upon the ancient national religion and on the emperor's worship.

The first three centuries constitute the age of Martyrs. The persecution was not always continuous and universal, nor equally cruel and bloody. This period officially ended in 313 with the Edict of Milan, by which the emperors Constantine and Licinius gave freedom to the Church. Periods of persecution were followed by periods of relative peace.

Some persecution continued after this however, through the use of Imperial power against various 'heretics' whose beliefs differed from the official and accepted version of Christianity, sanctioned by the Byzantine State.

Christians faced persecution with courage, a very large percentage with heroism, but they did not submit to it without opposition. They defended themselves with great strength by confuting the accusations of those crimes as being false and groundless and by producing the contents of their faith ( What we believe) and describing their identity (What we are).

In the "Apologies" ("defences"), prepared by the Christian writers of the time, and often addressed to the emperors, the Christians protested vigorously against their being condemned unjustly, without being known and without being convicted. According to the Apologies, the principle of the senatorial law "Non licet vos esse- you have no right to exist" is unjustifiable and unlawful, because Christians are honest citizens, respectful of laws, loyal to the emperor, hard-working and exemplary both in their private and public life.


The Christian religion is proclaimed 'strana et illicita' - "strange and unlawful" by Senatorial decree, at the instigation of the Jerusalem authorities.


Birth of the historian Flavius Josephus, in Jerusalem.


Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus ('Caligula'): 37-41 A.D.

Gaius (Caligula) represents a turning point in the Roman Government. Unfortunately, his is the most poorly documented reign of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. The literary sources are meager, and universally hostile. As a result, many events are unclear, and Caligula himself appears more as a caricature than a real person.

A.D. 37: Backed by the Praetorian Prefect Q. Sutorius Macro, Gaius took over. He had Tiberius's will declared null and void on grounds of insanity, accepted the powers of the Principate as conferred by the Senate, and entered Rome on 28 March amid scenes of wild rejoicing.

His first acts were generous in spirit: he paid Tiberius's bequests and gave a cash bonus to the Praetorian Guard, the first recorded donativum to troops in imperial history. He honored his father and other dead relatives and publicly destroyed Tiberius's personal papers, which no doubt implicated many of the Roman elite in the destruction of Gaius's immediate family. Finally, he recalled exiles and reimbursed those wronged by the imperial tax system. His popularity was immense. Yet within four years he lay in a bloody heap in a palace corridor, murdered by officers of the very guard entrusted to protect him. What went wrong?

During his reign, Mauretania was annexed and reorganized into two provinces, Herod Agrippa was appointed to a kingdom in Palestine, and severe riots took place in Alexandria between Jews and Greeks. These events are largely overlooked in the sources.

Two other episodes, however, give insight: Gaius's military activities on the northern frontier, and his vehement demand for divine honors.

His military activities are portrayed as ludicrous, with Gauls dressed up as Germans at his triumph and Roman troops ordered to collect sea-shells as "spoils of the sea." Modern scholars have attempted to make sense of these events in various ways. The most reasonable suggestion is that Gaius went north to earn military glory and discovered there a nascent conspiracy under the commander of the Upper German legions, Cn. Lentulus Gaetulicus. The subsequent events are shrouded in uncertainty, but it is known that Gaetulicus and Gaius's brother-in-law, M. Aemilius Lepidus, were executed and Gaius's two surviving sisters, implicated in the plot, suffered exile.

Gaius's enthusiasm for divine honors for himself and his favorite sister, Drusilla (who died suddenly in A.D. 38 and was deified), is presented in the sources as another clear sign of his madness, but it may be no more than the young autocrat tactlessly pushing the limits of the imperial cult, already established under Augustus.

Gaius Trys to Install Idol in Jerusalem Temple

Gaius's excess in this regard is best illustrated by his order that a statue of him be erected in the Temple at Jerusalem.

A.D. 40: As a result of riots between Jews and "Greeks" in Alexandria, Caligula is turned against the Jews. (This initial political problem is discussed by Josephus, Antiquities, Book 18, Chapt. 8., and Philo) He then proceeds to spurn them and finally provoke them with a display of power.

We are rarely told what prompted Gaius to attempt to install his statue in the Jerusalem Temple: But in fact, he was provoked by the Jews, when in Jamnia in 40 A.D., they tore down an altar erected to him. In anger at their defiance, he then ordered a statue of himself to be installed in the Jerusalem Temple.

The JewishEncyclopedia online gives the following version of these details:

"The heathens of Jamnia, a seaport largely peopled with Jews, provoked the latter and exhibited their own loyalty by erecting an altar in honor of Caligula. Forthwith the Jews demolished it. Herennius Capito, the procurator, reported this to Caligula, who, infuriated, sent an order that his image be placed in the Temple at Jerusalem."

Obviously, even when acknowledging that the Jews of Jamnia destroyed public property, and openly defied and disgraced the Emperor, somehow "the heathen provoked" the Jews, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia. Jamnia was in fact a town of mixed peoples although it had a significant Jewish population.

Jamnia was a central city of Philistia (the Philistines): the Bible refers to its walls being destroyed by Uzziah. It was pillaged by Judas Maccabaeus and later rebuilt. In the last years before the sack of Jerusalem (A.D. 70), Jamnia had come to host a large Jewish cultural center. At the prayer of Johanan ben Zakkai, Vespasian spared Jamnia and permitted Johanan to settle there as leader of the Jewish community after the fall of Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin (Jewish Council or surviving Jewish ruling class) was moved to Jamnia, and the city then became the capital of the Jews until the rise of Simon Bar Kokba (70-135 A.D.).

The JE continues:

"Petronius, the governor of Syria, was ordered to mobilize half of his army in Palestine in order to enforce this command (39-40). Petronius, anticipating a serious conflict, endeavored either to gain the assent of the Jews to the imperial command or to secure the revocation of the latter. When the news of Caligula's intention spread through Palestine, it occasioned general mourning. A large delegation appeared before Petronius at Ptolemais, his headquarters, and their mournful petition produced a deep impression on him. Later, a similar deputation came before Petronius at Tiberias and was joined by Aristobulus, Agrippa's eloquent brother. In the mean time, however, Agrippa had arrived at Rome, and at a banquet given by him to the emperor, he succeeded in inveigling the latter into a virtual revocation of his order.

Afterward the letter of Petronius, asking the emperor for an annulment of his order, arrived; Caligula was incensed at the audacity of the governor, and regretting his former action, laid plans for introducing his statue into the Temple surreptitiously, and sent an order of immediate suicide to Petronius. This message did not reach its destination until after the receipt of the news of Caligula's assassination at the hand of Cassius Chaereas. It is possible that the day of his death (22 Shebat.) was instituted as a memorial day at Jerusalem."

One may also rightly be suspicious of the claim that Agrippa had actually succeeded in persuading Gaius to change his mind. Dead men tell no tales. It is equally possible that Agrippa went to Rome to arrange the assassination of Gaius.

We are told by Philo and Josephus,

"Only the delaying tactics of the Syrian governor, P. Petronius, and the intervention of Herod Agrippa, delaying the installation, prevented riots and a potential uprising in Palestine."

This is only one side of the story, presented by the Jewish sympathizers. The subsequent history of the region shows that in the end, the Jews were destined to revolt in any case. They were determined to try to establish self-rule, and also to stop paying taxes to Rome.

Gaius is Assassinated

A.D. 41: (Jan.24th) - However, he is murdered by the Praetorian Guard, who were possibly bought off at this point by the Jews. (Nine years later, Emperor Claudius (49 A.D.) ordered the expulsion of all the Jews from Rome: This probably gives an indication of their political power and the danger they posed to Roman rulers up to that time.)

The main ancient sources for Gaius's reign are: Suet. Gaius; Dio 59; Philo In Flaccum and Legatio ad Gaium; Jos. AJ 19.1-211. Tacitus's account of the reign is lost. However, he makes occasional references to Gaius in the extant portions of his works, as does Seneca. All of these sources have reason to be hostile to Gaius's memory: Seneca's style was roundly abused by the emperor (Suet. Gaius 53.2; Dio 59.19.7-8);

Philo and Josephus, as Jews, resented Gaius's blasphemous demands for divinity which almost caused a revolt in Palestine: And the later sources inherited traditions about Gaius that are known to be biased and exaggerated.


Emperor Caligula orders that a statue of himself is to be erected in the temple at Jerusalem. Herod delays implementation long enough to prevent wide-spread revolt in Judaea.


Caligula is assassinated by the Praetorian Guard. Claudius, becomes new Caesar.


Judaea is annexed as a Roman province after the death of Herod Agrippa.


Saul (pre-conversion Paul) begins his persecution of the "Christ cult" in Jerusalem and throughout Palestine.


Claudius passes an edict expelling all Jews from Rome.


Paul the Apostle writes: 1 Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, Philippians, Philemon... Paul's writings appear to be the earliest NT writings, of those accepted into the canon.

James (Jacob) to the 12 Tribes (c. 60 A.D. ?), mentions "Love thy neighbour", but doesn't explicitly name it as a quotation from Jesus. The letter seems to be a response to exaggerations of Paul's teachings by early heretics using them as excuses for permissive practices and lax attitudes regarding Torah and personal behaviour.


Death of Claudius. Nero ascends to the throne.


Birth of the great Roman historian Tacitus, probably in Rome.

56 - 57

Nero expels actors from Rome and dictates reforms of circuses/festivals.


The first signs of volcanic activity are recorded in Mt. Vesuvius, when an earthquake damages some nearby Campanian towns. (Much of which damage would never be repaired prior to its eruption some 18 years later.)


Herod's Temple is completed. It has taken almost 80 years. Now many skilled tradesmen are out of work.


The Great Fire of Rome speculated to have been started by Nero to make room for his palace. The Christians (Jewish Messianists) are persecuted as scapegoats. The first official and specifically Christian persecution by the Romans.


1st Jewish/Roman War

In 66, Emperor Nero needed money, and ordered his representative in Judaea, Gessius Florus, to confiscate it from the Temple treasury. The governor was not amused when some Jewish jokers passed the hat round for 'our poor procurator Florus' (Flavius Josephus, Jewish War, 2.295). He demanded their punishment, but when his policemen could not find the mockers, he had some passersby arrested and crucified.

Of course this was tactless and brutal, but it it would not have led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple if there had not been one or two deeper causes. One obvious reason why this incident led to war was the religious tension between the Jewish populace and the Roman government. However, the Roman governors and the Temple authorities had found practical solutions in the past to deal with these problems.

Another reason for the war was the impoverishment of the Jewish people. Sixty years of Roman taxation had meant only one thing: the Jews had to pay money, which was spent in Italy and on the border. Judaea had become substantially poorer and many ordinary Judaeans had been forced first to mortgage and then to sell their land. Besides, in Jerusalem many people had become unemployed when the renovation of the temple was finished in 63. The workers and artsians had reasons to fight, and they were willing to do so.

For some time, the Temple authorities had been able to check the people's anger. But in the third quarter of the first century, most people considered the high priesthood corrupt. The war of 66-70 was not just a war between the Romans and Jews, it also involved economic and class struggles.


Death (Martyrdom) of Paul the Apostle.


Widespread revolt apparently causes Nero to commit suicide, sparking a civil war.


In Rome, a fire breaks out on the Capitoline Hill, destroying much of Rome's archives.


Vespasian is proclaimed emperor, and while consolidation would take another 6 months, his reign marked the end of the civil war (The Jewish War raged on).

Revelation (Apocalypse of John the Seer) - a prophetic work similar to Daniel, it refers to Jesus as 'Firstborn of Heaven' (iii,14). It appears to have been written at least in part before the destruction of the Temple (cf. Rev.15:8 etc.)


Titus, the son of Emperor Vespasian, captures Jerusalem after a four month siege.


The 2nd Jewish Temple (Beth-HaMikdash) of Jerusalem is destroyed (it was originally enlarged by Herod the Great). Many records are lost, but some scrolls are hidden at Qumran (the Dead Sea Scrolls).

Flavius Josephus had fought as a Jewish rebel general, but had now surrendered and switched sides, working with the Romans against the Jewish rebels.


The final Jewish stronghold, Masada, is captured after a long seige. 1st War ends.


Letter to the Hebrews, - anonymous, attributed to Paul by some. Possibly written after the Destruction of the Temple (70 A.D.).

Colossians (?) contains poem at 1:15-20.


Death of Vespasian. Ascension of his son, Titus.

Mt. Vesuvius erupts burying the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Pliny the Elder suffocates by getting too close in order to record the event.


1st John Apparently same author as the Gospel. Definitely from the same Johannine Community.

The Fourth Sybilline Book perhaps written in the early 80s.


The Flavian Ampitheatre (Colosseum), begun by Vespasian, is completed by the Emperor Titus.


Arch of Titus is built at the eastern edge of the Forum in Rome, to commemorate the capture of Jerusalem. It was used as one of its principal entrances. Soldiers returning from victories in war or battle paraded through this arch and the forum to cheering crowds.

The arch is carved with relief sculptures of the victory in Jeruselum. One of them shows a parade with the victors carrying spoils from the Temple, including the Minorah. It appears to have zodiac signs around its base, possibly representing the 12 tribes of Israel.


Death of Titus, possibly at the hands of his brother Domitian. Domitian succeeds Titus as Emperor.


Ephesians - includes a poem that seems to be a climactic prayer from the initiation ritual in the Christian Mysteries

1 Peter - some think written by Silvanus (5:12)


The Jewish Council of Jamnia

Jews introduce the 'curses' against heretics (Christians) into the synagogue service, effectively banishing Jewish Christians from the Synagogues.

The Jewish canon of the Old Testament may have been codified or altered [e.g. see Origen (c. 250) on Susanna for discussion] in this period at Jamnia (Jabneh), by the Rabbinical Sanhedrin (under Gamaliel?).

Christians continue to use the LXX (the Greek O.T. translation made betweeen 500 and 200 B.C.)

93 - 96

The 'Reign of Terror' of Domitian.

c. 94

Flavius Josephus, originally a Jewish rebel general during the 1st Jewish/Roman war, but who switched sides, writes his Jewish Antiquities, a compiled history of the Jewish people.

Although it is an apologetic work, attempting to improve the reputation of Jews, he is still despised by many Jews, first for his betrayal, and now for revealing Jewish history and scripture to his Roman readers, scandalizing them.

c. 95

Clement of Rome writes his 1st Epistle to the Corinthians in Rome. He refers to The Old Testament (LXX) many times, to Greek/Stoic writings; to NT epistles. Clement says the Apostles 'preached the Gospel', in the sense of repeating the sayings of Jesus. He does not mention the Gospels explicitly, or quote directly from them - yet he does know the tradition of the Sayings of the Lord and gives some variant but generally recognisable sayings. Clement distinguishes between the OT which he calls "scripture" and the writings of Paul, which he describes as "wise". He seems not to know the whole Gospel story - 17:1 speaks of those who heralded the Messiah - but he omits John by name.


Assassination of the Emperor Domitian. The 'Reign of Terror' ends.


The alimenta (a form of social welfare for poor children and aid for farmers) is instituted.


Cerinthus (heretic) - claimed Jesus was mortal man on whom a separate Christ descended.

Menander, becomes a student of Simon Magus.