Rome ideal cradle for religion, professor says

By Meghan Hendrickson

The Roman Empire: the perfect storm?

One professor thinks so. Dr. Karl Galinsky,the Floyd Cailloux Centennial professor of classics at the University of Texas, gave a lecture Monday in which he said a series of factors created the ideal situation for a new religion to develop and spread.

Galinsky’s lecture, “Why God chose the time of Caesar Augustus for the birth of Christ,” was a public event sponsored by the religion department and Baylor’s Office of the Vice Provost for research. It was held in Miller Chapel.

Galinsky said in his lecture the reign of Caesar Augustus set the perfect stage in history for the development of a new religion. The Roman Empire at the time was a stable society with easy communications, which enabled new ideas to spread. He compared the spread of Christianity in the Roman empire to a modern-day network like the Internet.

“The time Jesus was born, the time of Augustus, was very conducive to the development of a new world religion,” Galinsky said. “It was a network […] that provided a favorable environment. In so many words, the choice that God made was divine, and that’s what we would expect anyway.”

Distinct physical, social and moral conditions characterized the time of Augustus, paving the way for Christ to come and spread his message, Galinsky said. For example, Roman morality emphasized monotheistic religion, putting others first and contributing to one’s community — which provided a basis for Christians to build upon, he said.

Although the grand architecture and historical literature may spawn the idea that all was well in the time of Augustus, Galinsky emphasized that hunger and injustice plagued the empire.

“Due to the enormous strains, dislocations, travails, whatever you want to call them, at that part of the world at that time, the hopes for a savior were at a fever pitch,” Galinsky said.

Galinsky said the new religion was comparable to a large-scale social justice movement against the injustices of the empire.He also shared what he believes was the perspective of the apostle Paul: that because the Empire was global in its make-up, modern Christians’ mindset must be the same.

St. Louis, Mo., junior Robrion Sills attended the lecture and said he was interested in the different opinions people offered about God.

“It’s cool to just listen and get another perspective, and it helps to formulate your own perspective,” Sills said.

Jason Whitlark, an assistant professor of a New Testament colloquium and biblical heritage in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, said Galinsky’s lecture provided a valuable resource to those interested in early Christianity, introducing Galinsky as one of the foremost authorities on Augustus and the Augustan age.

“I thought he was very engaging and stimulating while helping us to see those factors in Augustan context that really enabled Christianity to grab a hold in the world and spread,” Whitlark said. “He raised interesting questions to think about.”