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emperor worship

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A Dictionary of the Bible What is This? Contains accessibly written entries for topics covering the religious, historical, and social aspects of the Bible.

    emperor worship

    The cult of Roman emperors, living and dead, became the State religion throughout the empire, though it originated as a simple act of thankfulness for the peace and stability brought by Rome. Temples were erected in honour of Julius Caesar soon after his death (44 BCE) and to Augustus in his lifetime, e.g. at Pergamum. This explains the reference to ‘Satan's throne’ (Rev. 2: 13). In this city, as elsewhere, the cult developed because local people wanted it not in order to flatter the establishment but out of genuine gratitude for the benefits brought by Rome, and it was not felt to be a substitute for existing religions. Nevertheless, as the feelings of gratitude faded, the imperial cult became more and more a test of loyalty to the regime. The consequence was that refusal to perform the outward rituals was bound to incur penalties. Both Jews and Christians were conscientiously unable to burn incense to any human being: Jews, after some initial persecution, got exemption from Claudius; but Christians suffered when the Church's numbers expanded sufficiently to attract the State's hostile attention (1 Pet. 4: 16). Failure to give divine honours to the emperor or ‘to swear by the genius of Caesar’ was not the only ground for persecution; but the anti‐Christian writer Celsus (about 178 CE) warned Christians of the perils of their lack of civic sense and of their disloyalty to an empire from which they derived many material benefits.

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    Oxford University Press

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