Tertullian and Chrestians

Tertullian, in his Apologeticum bears witness to the fact that even by the third century, little was known about the Christians. Interestingly enough, several people, including Tertullian, attest to the fact that Christians were constantly called the wrong name – ‘Chrestianus’, as Tertullian says:

Sed et cum perperam “Chrestianus” pronuntiatur a vobis… (Apologeticum, 3.5)
“And even when it is said wrongly ‘Chrestian’ by you…”

It’s interesting that Suetonius notes, in his life of Claudius, that the ‘Jews’ were expelled at the ‘instigation of Chrestus’ (Iudaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantis). However, in his life of Nero, he gets the name right (Christiani), which I find odd. I wonder if there’s any textual variation in that part.



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4 responses to “Tertullian and Chrestians

  1. phil-style

    does the expulsion of the jews at the ‘instigation of Chrestus’ mean that that
    1. jews were expeled because the christians caused problems and the jews were scapegoated
    2. rome confused the jews for christians and expelled the wrong group
    3. rome expelled the jews becasue the christians insisted the jews be expelled?

  2. Joshua McManaway

    Great question. My guess would be that these were early Christians who weren’t yet seen as separated from the Jews, but I would be open to different interpretations.

  3. phil-style

    interesting, be nice to dig a little deeper on this one. If the romans couldn’t distinguish the two groups, after ~250 years of christianity being established it might pose some interesting questions about either A)how good the romans were at knowing what was going on, and/or B) how differnet xtain and jewish religious practices appeared to outisders.

  4. Joshua McManaway

    By Tertullian’s time, the groups were certainly known to be different. Suetonius’ quote shows that in the first century, under Claudius’ rule, the Christians were still seen as Jews, but I don’t think we can say that remained the case for very long.

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