For Christians, the persecution of the early church is generally accepted as fact. So much so that we rarely seem to consider the possibility that this is not the case. The martyrdom of saints for their faith is taken for granted as historically accurate. Furthermore, we admire them, looking up to the strength of their faith during the most challenging of times. But are we believing in a false history?
Popular suspicion rather than imperial policy, writes Bruce S. Eastwood, was responsible for making Christians the scapegoats for natural catastrophes in the Roman Empire. In its first two centuries of existence Christianity witnessed the persecution of many of its members by officials of the Roman Empire; the causes of these persecutions have been and continue to be investigated by various scholars. The purpose of this paper is to review the general setting of the persecutions in order to offer some modification of current opinions concerning their causes. Two different aspects of the persecutions are presented below and brought together in support of the conclusions. The rather familiar picture of mutual suspicion and recriminations between Christians and pagans is presented in some detail as the background for a consideration of the strictly legal causes of the persecutions.