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The Romans allegations against the Christians for practicing human sacrifice and cannibalism.

How do we account for such allegations and will a comparison with allegations made by Roman authors against barbarians help clarify the issue? It is a difficult task to reconstruct the Greco-Roman world, with its variety of religions, mentalities, and its images of the others. Concerning the allegations mentioned in this papers main title two theories are suggested by scholars. The first is that the allegations were linked to particular characteristics of the Christians: the ritual of the Eucharist could be perceived by outsiders in a literal sense as the sacrifice of a son, the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood1. This view could be supported by the argument that outsiders were expelled from the service before the celebration of the Eucharist, and secret gatherings and rituals could be suspected to be of an evil nature. The second theory suggests that we should find the explanation by looking at those making the allegations, the Romans. McGowan argues that a sociological mechanism lay behind the allegations, that it is simply typical of humans to be making such allegations against people from other groups, for example serving the purpose of identity formation. Similarly according to James Rives the scholars Dlger and Edwards argues, that the Greco-Roman people believed the stories about cannibalism and human sacrifice related to Christians, based on previous images of foreigners2. In my paper, I will discuss these two theories by comparing the allegations against the Christians with allegations of human sacrifice and cannibalism, made by two Roman authors against barbarians. That such allegations were also made against

Dlger proposes five possible origins for the allegation of cannibalism and human sacrifice, see Lanzillotta 2007, 98 2 ives 199!, "7

barbarians would indicate that McGowan3 is right, but we will need to make a closer comparison and see if the allegations against the different groups contain details that point to specific aspects of those groups rituals. The relevant passages concerning the Christians found in Plinys correspondence to Trajan, and in Minucius Felix Octavius, will be discussed and then compared to passages concerning barbarians in in Caesars Bellum Gallicum, and in Tacitus Germania. Other passages written for instance by Plutarch, Strabo or Lucan and describing barbarians performing human sacrifice could have been included in the discussion were it not for limited space4. Caesar and Tacitus provide a good basis for a comparison with Pliny and the passage in Minucius Felix Octavius because they, like Pliny and the inspiration behind the cannibalism allegations in the Octavius, Fronto, wrote in Latin and belonged to the Roman senatorial elite.

1. The Romans allegations against the Christians for practicing human sacrifice and cannibalism Rumors and stories of the people outside of Rome, such as the Greeks, Germans, Gauls, Carthagians and many others, who interacted with the Romans5, were circulated and together with personal encounters formed the perception of elite Romans of foreigners. When Pliny had to face the Christians for the first time, he states that he was in doubt about some things, but it is also clear that he had heard something about them previously6. One particular passage is especially important for us. After having investigated the Christians, he concluded and reported to Trajan that the Christians were eating an innocent (innoxium) meal when gathering (letter X.96). This statement shows that it was necessary for him to clarify that the
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Christians, whom he did find to be punishable, were at least not guilty of cannibalism. He provides thus evidence that some Romans were not convinced that the Christians were cannibals, but he also provides evidence that the rumor of Christian cannibalism was known among Romans, in the early second century. In conclusion, we can say that the text testifies to the existence of cannibalistic rumors about Christians, but we cannot conclude on what these rumors were based. The second source of our debate is the Octavius of Minucius Felix. The Octavius is presented as a dialogue between the pagan Caecilius and the Christian Octavius, with Minucius Felix (the author) as a moderator7. In chapter 9 Caecilius accuses the Christians for practicing both cannibalism and incest and in so doing he paraphrases and quotes from the senator Cornelius Fronto, who in the late second century wrote a now lost speech against the Christians. Were these allegations specific for the Christians and based on the rumors generated by secrecy and misinformation8; or were they mainly based on Roman prejudice against foreign religion and culture? It might be difficult to clearly separate between the two above mentioned theories9. But with that reservation the Octavius does allow us to conclude more than what was possible based on the short passage in Pliny. The allegations of cannibalism and deviant sexuality addressed to the Christians are being sustained by Caecilius, based on the view of Cornelius Fronto. The attack is detailed and it is evident that Caecilius/Fronto carefully and intentionally described a sinister ritual which was molded on a misrepresentation of the Eucharist10. The victim is presented as innocent and the two elements of blood and bread are highlighted. It would appear that the allegation of cannibalism here has a specific content that attach itself to the group described, its rituals, in other words the
,en-o 198', !" ,en-o 198', !" 9 /ven $c%o&an 199', '1! admits, &hile he tried to e4clude the literal sense of the /ucharist, that there are poor evidences to completel0 reconstruct the image of ancient 10 ,en-o 198', !9("0
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specific content of the allegation cannot be explained simply by looking at the one making the allegation. But still I would tentatively award similar importance to both approaches, namely McGowans social labeling on the one hand, and the misinterpretation of the Eucharistic meal on the other, both as possible explanations for the polemic concerning cannibalism and human sacrifice against Christians, at least until we have seen if Roman critique of alleged barbarian cannibalism and human sacrifice contain specific points different from or similar to those advanced by Caecilius/Fronto. I also agree with McGowans argument, that the supposed cannibalism of the Christians could most probably be seen not as the origin of the clash of the Greco-Roman world and the Christians, but as a result of it11. Moreover, McGowan takes into account the criticism to his standpoint, and constructs his approach not only on the analytical system of opposed signs, similarly to Levi-Strauss approach, but he goes further and links the human body to the social realities (the suggestion of Mary Douglas)12. In agreement with Lanzillottas classification concerning the origin of allegations against the Christians (see note 1), and based on McGowans approach, I would: - add the social perspective (a top-down approach, as isolated cases have not been envisaged13), and - argue that Christian apologists turn the tables, and refute the allegations of Christian cannibalism by claiming that the Romans are practicing cannibalism and human sacrifice14, this turning of tables lends support to McGowans theory that such allegations simply belonged to hostile religious discourse.

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According to McGowan, the paradigm of Greco-Roman mythology, ethnography, history and philosophy, served to supply the stories and rumors related to the same practices of the Christians. The specific content of Caecilius/Frontos polemic poses a difficulty for McGowan, but even with this difficulty it is possible to produce arguments that make his position defendable. In order to discuss the matter further we will now move to Roman sources describing alleged barbarian human sacrifice and cannibalism and discuss possible similarities and differences. If this polemic contains specific points not found in the polemic against the Christians and corresponding to the knowledge about rituals in these societies that may be perceived through other sources, for example archeology, this will pose a further difficulty for McGowan. If on the other hand the polemic is found to be either unspecific or very similar to the polemic of Caecilius/Fronto, then his position would be stronger.

2. The Romans allegations against the Barbarians for practicing human sacrifice and cannibalism The Roman senator Tacitus wrote a geographical and ethnographical work called Germania. Three passages in Germania are relevant when we discuss the possible similarity or dissimilarity between Roman allegations against Christians and barbarians concerning human sacrifice and cannibalism and what this indicates concerning the origin of these allegations against the Christians. Tacitus, Germania 10 describes how the Germans predict the future, by organizing a fight between a war prisoner and a man chosen from the local tribe15. Clearly Tacitus describes this to be a form of divination. The description is non-polemic and it is specific and with details totally different from those given by Caecilius/Fronto in the polemic against Christians. In chapter 12, Tacitus enumerates different crimes and legal
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penalties, mentioning that the capital penalty was preferred and how some criminals were drowned and held down by branches; the social impact of public punishment is also dealt with. From archeology it is known that humans in the Germanic areas were deposited in wet areas and held down by branches. It is often presumed that we are dealing with human sacrifice, so it is noteworthy that Tacitus gets some details right, but that he does not describe this polemically as human sacrifice, but neutrally as criminal justice. In another context he do claim that a particular German tribe practice human sacrifice (chapter 39). This passage is very hostile, but also specific and Tacitus is describing a ritual in a forest with no similarity to the Christian ritual described by Caecilius/Fronto. The same applies to Caesar in his descriptions of human sacrifice in Gaul in the De Bello Gallico 6.16-19. The tone is not polemical and Caesar is rather detailed in his description of the rituals, which are totally dissimilar from the ritual described by Caecilius/Fronto in relation to the Christians. Even further he describes the underlying motives for these rituals: they are performed in times of war and sickness and on behalf of the whole society. A Roman reader would likely be appalled by the human sacrifice, but he would understand such motives as suitable. So far the passage would indicate that the critique against the Christians was specifically aimed at them and not simply copied from an idea of human sacrifice among barbarians as we for example find it in Caesar. According to Rives however, the discourse of Caesar is based on predecessors, such as for example Posidonius. This is interesting because Caesar would have been in a position to give a description of Gaul based on his own experience. Such a preference for copying descriptions from older authors would make it more likely that the critique of the Christians was similarly molded on such older discourse. The cases of Gauls and Germans described as barbarians practicing human sacrifice could represent a paradigm in establishing the image of Christians.
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In any case and returning to Caesar there is a delineation between the Roman religio and the superstitio of the outsiders16, illustrated in 6.16, which relates deviant practices of human sacrifices, performed by the Druids17. According to Rives, the attitude of the Romans toward those religious deviant practices is, on the one hand, tributary to the geopolitical motif of the Gauls who encountered the expansion of the Roman Empire, and on the other hand, it is tributary to the reaction of Romans toward to the outer groups18.

. Conclusions There are many debates among scholars regarding the explanation of allegations made against the Christians claiming that they performed rituals involving human sacrifice and cannibalism. There is on the one hand an explanation arguing that the allegation was based on a misunderstanding of the Christian Eucharist, an explanation that focus on the victims of these false allegations; on the other hand there is asocial and cultural approach, launched by Rives and developed by McGowan, which focus on those making the allegations and argue that they are based in stereotype perceptions of outsiders, perceptions and descriptions also serving the purpose of identity construction. The reasons behind the allegations against the Christians are provided by the stories of Barbarians related to cannibalism and human sacrifice. Besides, Christianity had to face the Judaic heritage, which was not always working in their favor19. While the Romans had to deal with the Barbarians in their expansion, the Christians were encountered within the Empire and the Christians were likely for years considered a Jewish sect.

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ives 199!, 77 obertson 1891, '' 18 ives 199' ma-es a parallel bet&een the position of omans to&ard the individuals and different groups 19 )ee 3laudius7 /dicts, during the 0ears '1 to '9* 8or details /ngberg 2007, p*90(9!

I strongly believe and have above argued that both approaches, namely 1) the traditional scholarship arguing that it was a misunderstanding of the Christians assembly and the Eucharist, which caused the rumors and allegations in the GrecoRoman world, and 2) the social labeling sustained by the new scholarship, are valuable when trying to understand how such allegations against Christians emerged and developed. The problem is that of internal differentiation of the allegations concerning the groups or individuals, or the manner in which the authorities had to face particular cases.

Bibliography PRIMARY SOURCES 1. Caesar. De Bello Gallico. Books 5 and 6. Introduction, notes by J. C. Robertson. B.A, Toronto. The W. J. Gage Co`y LTD. 1891. 2. Complete Works of Tacitus. Edited by Moses Hadas. The Modern Library. New York. 1942. 3. The Geography of Strabo. Translated with notes by H.C. Hamilton ESQ. The Remainder by W. Falkoner, M.A. In three volumes. Vol.1. London MDCCCLIV. 4. Selected Essays of Plutarch. Vol.2. Translated with introduction by A.O. Prickard. Oxford at the Clarendon Press. 1918. 5. Tertullian. Apology De Spectaculis. With an English translation by T.R. Glover. Minucius Felix. With an English translation by Gerald H. Rendall, B.D. based on the unfinished version by W.C. A. Kerr. London William Heinemann LTD Cambridge. Massachusetts, Harvard University Press. MCMLXVI.

6. The Pharsalia of Lucan. Literally translated into English prose with copious notes by H. T. Riley, B. A. London: Henry G. Bohn, York Street, Covenant Garden. MDCCCLIII.

SECONDARY SOURCES 1. Benko, Stephen. Pagan Rome and the Early Christians. Indiana University Press. Bloomington and Indianapolis. 1984. 2. Dale, B., Martin. Inventing superstition. From the Hippocratics to the Christians. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England. 2004. 3. Engberg, Jakob. Impulsore Chresto. Opposition to Christianity in the Roman Empire c.50-250 AD. Translated by Gregory Carter. Early Christianity in the context of Antiquity. Edited by David Brakke, Anders-Christian Jakobsen, and Jrg Ulrich. Vol.2. Peter Lang Frankfurt am Main. 2007. 4. Lanzillotta, Roing, Lautaro. The Early Christians and Human Sacrifice. The Strange World of Human Sacrifice. Edited by Jan N. Bremmer. Peeters 2007. 5. McGowan, Andrew. Eating People: Accusations of Cannibalism against Christians in the Second Century. Journal of Early Christian Studies. Volume 2. Number 4, winter 1994. Pp. 413-442 (article). Published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. 6. Rives, J. Human Sacrifice among Pagans and Christians. The Journal of Roman Studies. Vol.85 (1995), pp. 65-85. Published by Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies. 7. Rives, B., James. Tertullian on Child Sacrifice. Museum Helveticum. 51(1994) Heft 1, Zurich.

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