2022-05-23

The Doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolaitans

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by Neil Godfrey

This post begins to set out the main points of Thomas Witulski’s discussion of the situation facing the Christians in Pergamon as described in Revelation 2:12-17. This account, following his discussion of the two beasts in Revelation 13, is part of the larger argument to place Revelation in the time of Hadrian. The numbers in brackets are the source page numbers in Die Johannesoffenbarung Und Kaiser Hadrian.

Reconstructed view of Acropolis of Pergamon by Friedrich Thierch – 1882.

Revelation 2:12 To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

Noting what the passage says:

The Pergamene Christians live (at the time of the writing of Revelation) where Satan’s seat is located. (238) (The identification of Satan’s throne will be the subject of the next post in this series.)

At some time before this was written, the Pergamene Christians were shaken but remained steadfast when Antipas had been killed for his faith.

Since the apocalyptist describes the death of one μάρτυς [martyr/witness] Antipas as the climax of the hostilities acting from without on the Christians living in Pergamum, it can be assumed that his death was the only case of a Christian killed for the sake of his faith in that city at the time of the writing of Revelation. This means, however, that up to this time there can be no question of a comprehensive or general persecution of the Pergamenian Christians. (239, translation)

No details are given to enable us to know whether the death of Antipas was the result of a lynching or a formal trial. Both are conceivable. (239)

But there’s a problem. Among these Christians are false teachers whose teachings match those of Balaam whom we know from Numbers 25. Since the comparative adverbs translated above as “likewise” and “also” identify the teaching of the Nicolaitans, plural, as being the same false doctrine that is identified with that of Balaam, we can conclude that some members here called “Nicolaitans” are teaching the same false doctrine of the Old Testament’s Balaam. (240f)

So what was the teaching of Balaam?

While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them. – Numbers 25:1-3

They [the Midianite women] were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident. – Numbers 31:16

The false teaching consisted of seducing the people to commit apostasy. The sexual sin was not the point. That was only “the means” to the goal. It was what the sexual sin was designed to lead to — idolatry — that was the issue. (I am reminded of that old joke: Why do Methodists not have sex while standing up? Because it might lead to dancing.)

Paying attention to details:

— Israel was enticed into participating in a joint cultic meal. Israelites are eating food offered to pagan deities as they participate in that cultic meal.

— Revelation 2:14 echoes Numbers 25:1-3. That is, there are members who are said to be participating in a cultic meal in honour of pagan deities. Sexual immorality is therefore a metaphor for the enticement to participate in that pagan worship. Among the several works cited to support this view, W. includes the English language Commentary of Caird. I quote from Caird more completely than does W.:

It is [Balaam as the father of religious syncretism] traditions … that John is following. But is he ascribing to Balaam two errors or only one, idolatry and sexual licence or only idolatry? This is a difficult question, because the verb porneuein (to commit fornication) is regularly used in both Old and New Testaments to mean either sexual licence or religious infidelity; and since pagan religion frequently involved sexual immorality, it could sometimes be used in both senses at once. A good example of this is found in the story of Baal-peor, where the Israelites had intercourse with Moabite women; for the real offence of this action was that they were foreign women, who enticed them to eat meat which had been offered in sacrifice to pagan gods. On the basis of that story John could obviously use the word in either or both of its senses. But in every other case except one in which he uses the verb porneuein or the noun porneia he uses them metaphorically, and it is best to assume that this is his intention here. There might indeed be some doubt about those at Pergamum whom John calls adherents of the teaching of Balaam, but there can be no doubt about the woman at Thyatira whom he calls Jezebel, and to whom he ascribes the same teaching; for nobody ever accused Ahab’s wife of harlotry except in a metaphorical sense (2 Kings ix. 22). The sum total of the Nicolaitans’ offence, then, is that they took a laxer attitude than John to pagan society and religion. Because we hear only one side of the argument, it is easy for us simply to accept John’s verdict without considering whether his opponents might have had a defensbile point of view. (Caird, 39 bolding in the original; the sentence in red is quoted by W.)

The same point is reaffirmed in Giesen’s German-language commentary:

With the “teaching of Balaam” the Nicolaitans, in accordance with this tradition, seek to seduce the Christians of Pergamum into fornication and the consumption of meat sacrificed to idols. The consumption of meat sacrificed to idols probably stands for participation in public events of a religious character, especially since meat was often distributed at such festivities in Hellenistic times, financed by the state or wealthy citizens (Mounce 98; Müller 112). Fornication is considered a major pagan vice (cf. 1 Cor. 6:8-20, etc.). The fact that meat sacrificed to idols is actually served during the pagan feasts could lead us to understand fornication in a literal sense (F. Hauck-S. Schulz, ThWNT VI 594; Wikenhauser 41; Ladd 48; Roloff 54f.; Beasley-Murray 86f.; Mounce 98; Karrer, Letter 200f.; Ruiz, Ezekiel 314).

Against such an interpretation, however, is the fact that the pseudo-prophetess Jezebel, according to 2:20 (cf. v. 22), also entices the congregation to “commit fornication and eat meat sacrificed to idols”. “To commit fornication” here, according to prophetic usage (Hos. 2:4-17; Isa. 1:21; 57:7-13; Jer. 3:1 – 4:4; Ez. 16:15-22; 23 et al.), means apostasy from God and turning to the gods (Caird 39.44; Schüssler Fiorenza, Religion 267; Kraft 65; Woschitz, Renewal 202; Giesen 44; ders., Reich 2534f.; Zimmermann, Christus 190; Ritt 28; Vögtle 41f.; Wengst, Pax 151; Holtz, Werke 352f.; Thompson, Book 122). This is by no means an “interpretational emptying” of the “terms used here of their concrete sense in favour of a merely figurative sense of fornication as engaging with foreign gods” (cf. Karrer, Letter 200). For it is precisely in this sense that Babylon/Rome is called “great whore” (17,1f.5; 19,2). This interpretation is supported by the fact that participation in meals sacrificed to idols is also seen as an affirmation of the pagan gods (Ladd 47; Collins, Vilification 317). A literal and figurative understanding at the same time is also not obvious (gg. Lohmeyer 31; Schüssler Fiorenza, Apocalyptic 117; Mounce 98; Müller 113.118f.). (Giesen, 102 f. translation; my bolding)

Philo, Vita Mosis 1.48-55 and Josephus, Antiquities IV 126ff are further evidence for the Jewish traditional interpretation that the Balaam episode was primarily about the sin of worshipping pagan gods; the sexual seduction was the means to that end and not the crime for which God punished the Israelites. (243)

In the context of the preceding discussion about the two beasts, W interprets the passage as an attack on those Christians who joined in with the cult festivities and related practices associated with the worship of the “Zeus-Emperor” Hadrian.

The followers of the διδαχή Νικολαϊτών [= teaching of the Nicolaitans], to be located within the Pergamenian community, apparently attempted — at least according to the apocalyptist’s accusation — to soften the exclusivity of Christian worship of the one God of the Old Testament and his ἀρνίον[=lamb] Christ and to bring about a greater openness to participation in the worship of pagan deities, here especially to participation in pagan cultic feasts. From this, it follows for the understanding of the terms φαγεῖν εἰδωλόθυτα [= to eat things sacrificed to idols] and πορνεῦσαι [= to commit sexual immorality] as catchwords to characterize the διδαχὴ Νικολαϊτῶν [= teaching of the Nicolaitans] currently prevalent in the Pergamenian community: The assumption that the apocalyptist intends to “emphasize” with these terms a participation in the cultic-religious worship of pagan deities merely indirectly and unconsciously through the purchase of meat sacrificed to idols on the market is hardly probable. It is far more likely … that he is concerned here with conscious and direct participation in the corresponding (cultic) events. With the expression φαγεϊν είδωλόθυτα [= to eat things sacrificed to idols] he either emphasizes the participation of Christians in pagan-religious (cult-)events, cult-fairs and festivities in general, or in particular their participation in such (cult-)events within which also publicly distributed meat sacrificed to idols was consumed. By the term πορνεῦσαι [= to commit sexual immorality] he intends to refer metaphorically to a worship of pagan deities practiced by the followers of theδιδαχὴ Νικολαϊτῶν [= teaching of the Nicolaitans] in addition to the worship of the God of the Old Testament and his άρνίον Christ. This is quite consistent with Old Testament usage and the metaphorical use of the term πορνεία [porneia] etc already present there. In the context of this explanation, the φαγεϊν είδωλόθυτα [= to eat things sacrificed to idols] as participation in pagan religious (cult) events constitutes a partial aspect of the charge of πορνεία [porneia] aimed at the practice of pagan worship as a whole. (243 ff., translation, my bolding)

Other possibilities proposed:

Does “eating food sacrificed to idols” simply address the same question we find in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: should a Christian worry about purchasing meat from a butcher if there is a suspicion that it comes from an animal that had been sacrificed to an idol?

No, replies W., because in Revelation we read of Christians succumbing to a “teaching of Balaam” perpetuated through “Nicolaitans”. The association with the cultic feast in Numbers 25:1-3 and 31:16 speaks against the interpretation that the author was responding to the mere question about the origin of meat sold in the market.

This suggests that when he used the term Φαγεϊν είδωλόθυτα he was not thinking of the consumption of meat sold in the market which had previously been used in sacrificial rituals dedicated to pagan deities, but of the consumption of meat sacrificed to idols within public ceremonies dedicated to pagan deities. (246)

Some scholars have suggested that “baros” in Acts 15:28 might in some way be associated with “bathea” in Revelation 2:24 (“the depths of Satan”) but W. elaborates on the quite different contexts in which each word is used.

What about Acts 15 where the Jerusalem church led by James made a ruling about the necessity to avoid eating meat sacrificed to idols?

“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. — Acts 15:19-20

Again, any attempted comparison fails on the grounds that Acts is addressing the coexistence of Jewish and Gentile Christians in the one assembly. That has nothing in common with the point in Revelation which is about the relationship of Christians with their gentile environment, specifically in relation to cultic-religious worship. (246)

The key in any interpretation is the emphasis in Revelation 2:14-15 on the teaching of Balaam (which brings to mind the Numbers 25 account of seducing Israelites to participate in idol worship) and the implication in “the teachings of Nicolaitans” that members of the Pergamene congregation were advocating participation in a pagan cult as a complement to their Christian worship. (247)

Are the guilty parties in Pergamon “radicalized Paulinists”? Are they teaching an “enlightened scepticism” by reminding any who would listen that idols are nothing so if one sees a good time or tasty meals associated with them, Why not? Is the author attacking what he takes to be Paul’s teachings? (248)

Unfortunately, the passages in Revelation are too cryptic, too terse, to help us towards understanding the motives of those described as Nicolaitans. As another commentator on Revelation writes,

It is very tempting to imagine in the background of our text the controversies opposing the Judeo-Christians to the disciples of Paul. Such an argument should not be overruled, on the condition, however, that we note that the backdrop appears radically different here. . . The heretical Christians mentioned here are perhaps the heirs of Paul on the question of food sacrificed to idols, but they are illegitim­ate heirs because of their extremism. (Prigent, 175)

Even though Church Fathers wrote of Nicolaitans they are not much help with what we can know about them. Their information was often taken from interpretations of what they themselves read in Revelation 2 and not all of them agreed that they were “gnostics” or “pre-gnostics”. (249)

What is clear from “John’s message” is that these false teachers were part of “the church”. They were still Christians. They were therefore called upon to repent.

Next in the series: a look at “Satan’s throne”.


Caird, G. B. (George Bradford). A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine. New York: Harper & Row, 1966. http://archive.org/details/commentaryonreve0000cair.

Giesen, Heinz. Die Offenbarung des Johannes. Regensburg: Pustet, 1997.

Prigent, Pierre. Commentary on the Apocalypse of St. John. Translated by Wendy Pradels. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001.

Witulski, Thomas. Die Johannesoffenbarung Und Kaiser Hadrian: Studien Zur Datierung Der Neutestamentlichen Apokalypse. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007. pp. 238-250


 

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22 thoughts on “The Doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolaitans”

  1. In 1 Cor 8:10 NRSV we read,

    “For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols?”

    When “others see you .. eating in the temple of an idol”, Paul doesn’t fault the Christian for so eating, but cautions that being seen doing so might lead others astray. This “eating” of food in the temple of an idol has to be literal, right? Does the second invocation of the word “eating” switch to the same euphemistic sense as is being proposed for Revelation, i.e., actually participating in cultic practices and idol worship? It is okay to eat food actually sacrificed to an idol and to eat it in the idol’s own temple because we know idolatry is nonsense, but don’t do it when it leads weaker Christians to actually worship idols.

    Paul and Revelation can be in conflict on this point even if only because Paul might draw the line differently than John, while sharing the same concern. Paul cautions strongly, but seems only to be suggesting to be mindful of these things. He doesn’t forbid. In the final verse 13, he only hypothetically swears off eating meat “if food is a cause of their failing”. Paul claims liberty beyond allowing meat to be eaten regardless of it source. In other words, Paul’s liberality on this issue could very well be counted by John as falling within the things condemned in Number 25.

    1. I don’t think Paul was writing about participating in a cult feast or meal. I always understood him to be referring to the question of eating meat (meat from animals originally sacrificed to an idol) sold in the market. The difference is surely significant.

  2. Fascinating posting. I hadn’t clearly seen how fornication was a biblical (OT/NT) metaphor for idolatry, but you bring that out quite clearly through the secondary sources you quote.

    I don’t exactly see what stands in the way of more-or-less equating the bad guys with followers of Paul’s doctrines. I don’t see what marks the Nicolaitans et al as extremist or radicalized Paulinists. It seems like a straightforward James (Jewish Christian) vs. Paul (fully Gentile-accommodating Christian) style controversy. Perhaps the sequel will shed more light on the issues in Asia Minor.

    1. As per my reply to Don — is there not a significant difference between eating meat as part of a cult festival different from eating meat that may have come from a sacrificial ceremony but is sold in the market and meant to be eaten as a normal meal?

      1. In the controversy between (“Pharisee”) Jewish Christians and Paul over whether converts were required to undergo circumcision and observe the Mosaic law, James was said to have ruled they must “abstain from pollutions of idols and fornication and things strangled and blood” (Acts 15:20) = “meats offered to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication” (Acts 15:29). This seems virtually identical to Rev. 2:14, “to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication.” There also seems to be strong verbal parallels between Romans 14, 1 Cor. 8, and Rev. 2:14. Paul seems to be saying in 1 Cor. 13 that eating “things offered in sacrifice to idols” is OK since we know idols are not real [arguably the “inner” or real/original Pauline theological view], but that we shouldn’t do it because that poses a stumblingblock to those whose conscience is offended and perceives it as worshipping idols [the “outer” view]. This is very similar to the logic laid out in Romans 14. I think Romans 14:5-6, where some regard/observe certain days and eating on them as special while others do not may actually refer to “pagan” cult celebrations, which Paul says is a matter of individual conscience and of no real significance, but not to offend others concerning meat. The outer [Jamesian/”Pharisee”] view condemned all this as idol-worship. So Paul seemingly allowed [Gentiles] eating meat offered to idols as a matter of personal conscience, probably especially pre-Acts 15 (if one accepts Acts 15 as roughly reflecting historical events), but post-Acts 15 said people should abstain from doing so anyway (flipping or walking back his original position, in line with the agreement with James) since it was perceived negatively by outsiders (Jewish Christians). I simply see Rev. 2:13 as reflecting the latter “outer” position against those with a proto-Pauline originally liberal attitude towards this issue (despite Paul’s formal agreement to the conservative Jamesian rules). Technically, Rom 14 and 1 Cor 8 adopted virtually the same language as Rev. 2:13, but Paul had already laid out (and continued to endorse) the basic theological arguments that permitted eating meat offered to idols, and elements of the Gentile Christianity he established agreed with his original arguments and continued in the objectionable practices Acts 15 and Paul’s compromise epistles were supposed to have ended. So the Nicolaitans would represent “original” Paul as opposed to “reformed outwardly Jamesian” Paul. Anyway, that’s my hypothetical reconstruction.

          1. I’m not by any means a fundamentalist on Luke. He does appear to draw on Josephus, and he makes historical mistakes. I consider Luke’s identity and sources and literary models currently to be unsolved problems. Everything Luke writes has to be considered case-by-case. I’m familiar with the proposal that he constructed Luke based on Paul’s epistles, but I’m open to the possibility that Luke also drew on some historical traditions. Not that the case for Acts being fictional has not been respectably argued, but I’ve read many genuinely fictional, novelistic ancient accounts, and to me Luke doesn’t quite fit the pattern to me. The language of Acts 15 corresponds so closely with Romans, Corinthians, and other materials that I consider it basically accurate, and reflective of historical Jamesian vs. Pauline Christian controversies, though I don’t know where Luke obtained his information.

        1. Thanks for the detailed response.

          My response: When in Acts 15 we read of the forbidding of “fornication”, I can’t help but see that as a ban on literal sexual immorality. (I also find it difficult to place the Book of Acts earlier than the middle of the second century — after Revelation.) On the other hand, in Revelation, I think W. has a good case to read “fornication” as a metaphor for participation in feasts as part of idol worship. The author of Acts 15, it would seem to me, has taken the reference in Revelation 2 and “literalized” it. (In Acts it is hard to imagine the converts continuing to join in feasts to idols.) If we think of the Acts 15 conference as an intertextually inspired narrative and rewrite of the conflict we read of in Galatians, then I think it is harder to imagine it reflects any historical “core” event at all.

          In Paul’s letters we read of “food sacrificed to idols” but without any association with some kind of “Balaamite fornication”. Paul’s letters therefore are closer in their message to Acts 15 rather than Revelation with its sexual metaphors.

          (My next project is to dig a bit deeper into the case for Paul’s letters also being second-century products — à la Detering.)

        2. Ah, I need to revise my first response, Russell. Familiarity with the scriptures is a dangerous thing and it is easy to overlook details unless we maintain our half-hour daily bible study. (An old habit that I have neglected of late.) Yes, you are right since Paul does explicitly speak of eating in a pagan temple — 1 Cor 8:10 “For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, sitting (at table) in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, since of course he is weak, then be “encouraged” to eat meat sacrificed to idols?” (Conzelmann’s commentary). One would have to be a very fast thinker to try to argue one is not participating in a feast in honour of the idol if one were caught inside the temple feasting.

          But this same discussion in 1 Corinthians is also a reminder of the problem with accepting Paul’s letters at face value. Paul is not addressing all members of a church. He is addressing those readers whom he considers knowledgeable and strong in the faith. He is not addressing the “weak” but is talking about the “weak” to the “strong”. That’s not a letter written to strong and weak alike. It’s not a genuine pastoral letter. How are the “weak” meant to respond to it? Next time they see one of their brethren in a pagan temple eating away, do they say to him or her: Hey, remember me! I’m weak and don’t have the knowledge you have so cut it out! What is in the form of a letter is surely a treatise directed to a limited audience. It is not an authentic address to all and sundry in the church at Corinth.

          1. I’m by no means ruling out that Acts is a 2nd century composition (written at Antioch, as the argument goes) or that Paul’s letters are late. Both are very respectable positions, and/but I haven’t delved into the literature on the subject to be decisive on such issues, due to my prolonged focus on the Hebrew Bible. Yet however it sorts out as to which are chickens and which are eggs–and I’m not ruling out confirmation bias on my part–I still see virtually no difference between Rev. 2:13, Acts 15 and Paul’s alleged epistles on meat offered to idols.

          2. Just curious…
            “One would have to be a very fast thinker to try to argue one is not participating in a feast in honour of the idol if one were caught inside the temple feasting.”…”He is not addressing the “weak” but is talking about the “weak” to the “strong”…”
            Question – any evidence that going to temple feasts costs money? Considering that the poor have lack of money, lack of food, and especially lack of meat, it would seem a free feast of meat would be attended by everyone, regardless of religious belief or guilt in eating at a temple. I have no evidence, but it seems like the feasts would only be attended by the rich, so it might be more “rich and poor”, than “weak and strong”. In their society, meat would be a highly sought-after commodity – and I assume expensive.

            1. Or is it, bring your own meat, for admittance? Which would automatically pre-select the rich. I guess I’m confused as to how these feasts go down. If you bring your own meat to sacrifice, then eat, then why not just do it at home? They talk about Temple feasts, but is there any documentation about the details of the feast? Seems like an obsession of the rich and famous of the community.

              1. S. R. F. Price in Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor goes to lengths to address what he calls the anachronistic view that there were two tiers of people – elites and lower classes – celebrating those religious feasts. The whole town came out to enjoy the festival as a single gathering.

                People would come in from surrounding areas to the city and the rich residents would take pride in hosting them for the duration of the festivals. Rich hosted the poor.

                The sacrifices were public expenses. Part of the cost of the imperial cult was in rearing and breeding the animals that were destined for sacrifice. People didn’t have to supply their own pet lambs.

        3. Time for another revision. Having picked up the Conzelmann commentary again I read on page 148:

          He does not forbid the visiting of temple restaurants,31 which could be visits of a purely social kind.32

          31 Robertson and Plummer are wrong in saying that “this was per se idolatrous,” and arguing that Paul is merely reserving censure. Against this, cf. Schlat­ter, 263.

          32 We know of invitation cards to the table of the “lord” Sarapis; P. Oxy. 110: δειπνήσαι εις κλεινήν τοΰ κυρίου Σαράπιδος εv τω Σαραπείῳι, “to dine at the table of the lord Sarapis in the Serapeum.” ειδωλεῖον, “an idol’s temple”: cf. μυσέίον, “a temple of the Muses,” Σαραπέιον, “serapeum, temple of Sarapis,” etc.; Blass-Debrunner §111(5); neverthe­ less Blass-Debrunner (cf. also §13) prefer the form είδώλιον, with it A B etc. LXX: 1 Esd 2:7; Bel 10; 1 Macc. 1:47; 10:83.

          Further judgment suspended pending more study.

          1. “anachronistic view that there were two tiers of people”…
            “Rich hosted the poor”…
            If true, I find THAT simply hard to believe. Ain’t true now. Ain’t true then. But I’ll let it go. I have nothing to refute it.

            1. I did not say that there were not two tiers of people, period — the evidence we have tells us that there were not two levels of celebration: one for the poor and another for the rich or elites.

              It was not capitalist America. It was a matter of civic pride for a wealthy person to contribute to the welfare of his community and its people. The more he was known to contribute the more prestige he gained as a virtuous person deserving of high standing.

            2. I should add that the custom of powerful and rich persons lavishly spending of their wealth to feed the less fortunate on special occasions is a widespread one throughout history. It has been commonly found among pre-literate societies and survived into many other cultures including the Mediterranean world of the Roman era. One illustration of this is the client-patron relationship: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patronage_in_ancient_Rome

              1. Perhaps so. But the obvious question – this patron/client relationship existed in the outskirts of the empire (Turkey), among the Jewish and Christian communities – so much so that it impacted the author of Revelation and Paul’s letters? I know the Circus was provided free to Roman citizens to keep them happy, and diverted from the politics of Rome.But temple feasts including Christians and Jews?? Just hard to imagine.

              2. Have you ever read Homer’s Odyssey? We see there one of the earliest narrated accounts of the rich opening their household at meal time to all and sundry so that even beggars could enter and at least hope for some scraps.

                The situation to imagine is one where a new ruler is considered extremely popular in a community and the whole community is filled with excited anticipation, say, with an imminent visit from that ruler. If you weren’t part of the excitement you were considered strange, odd. Perhaps it would be easy for others to become suspicious about you. If your house was the only one in a street that did not have an altar to the emperor on display you would most certainly be viewed with some misgivings — especially after the decree had gone out that all households were to erect such an altar (with a designated script) at their entrances. We know that the Jewish community was among those who were excited about the presence of the new emperor and expected him to look on them with some favour so they, too, donated money to contribute towards the building needs of the new cult for emperor worship. If you were one who was convinced that Jupiter was not a real god anyway, and Hadrian was just a man, then there was no harm in you joining in with your friends and neighbours and watching the processions and dances, attending some of the games (though perhaps you’d stay clear of the gladiator contests), and joining in the meals offered as part of the festival. If you were a Jew who refused to join in and by your actions let it be known that you condemned your fellow Jews who participated, one can well imagine some of the offended party denouncing you as disloyal to the emperor.

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