Monday, November 19, 2018

Mathetes to Diognetus: Chapter 1 Part 1

In the 1st Chapter of the Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, our author seeks to distinguish Christianity from both Paganism and Judaism. From a world-building perspective this means that we have three main religions within the Empire:

  • Paganism, which is the state-sponsored religion.
  • Judaism, which is tolerated by the Empire.
  • Christianity, which is seen as a threat by both the pagans and the Jews

Historically, Rome saw their Emperors as gods and it was a civic duty to offer sacrifices (usually incense) at the idols of the emperor. This is what got so many Christians in trouble — they were accused of being traitors to the empire.

As a side-note, if one reads the hagiographies of the Great Martyrs from the first three centuries of Christianity, the most common means of death was beheading. This is significant because death by decapitation was the death of a citizen — because it was seen as swift and merciful. Thus, when a Roman official had a martyr beheaded, there was an implicit admission that the Christians were falsely accused of being traitors — they were citizens.

Judaism was tolerated by Rome because the Jews had no real political aspirations that were seen as a threat. Indeed, Jews sought to separate themselves from the general population and were happy to live out their lives with as little interference in the workings of the Empire as possible. Of note, the word “holy” literally means to set apart. So, the Jews understood their non-participation in the culture around them as an integral part of living a religious and holy life.

Christianity was a threat to the pagans not only because they refused to burn incense at the idols of the emperor, but because one of the titles of Christ is King. Thus, unlike the Jews, Christians were perceived to have political aspirations that were in direct conflict with the empire at large.

Christianity was a threat to the Jews for both political and religious reasons. Politically, the manner in which the Christians interpreted Scripture (which largely meant the O.T. during this period) threatened the power structures of Jewish society. Gone were the ritual laws that kept the priestly and political class flush with money and power. From a religious perspective, the Christians were actively seeking converts among the Gentiles. This flew in the face of the entire concept of what they understood to be holy. Additionally, should the empire ever have conflated Christianity with Judaism, the tolerance enjoyed by the Jews from the Empire could have rapidly eroded.

This opens up three distinct approaches to framing a campaign:

  • The characters are primarily pagan. One of the main background noises would be the rise of the Christianity/Church analogue. As players investigate the rumors, they come to find that the rumors are almost entirely false. I could easily foresee a moment when the party looks at themselves and asks, “Are we the baddies?”
  • The characters are primarily Jewish. This would largely involve discovering and dealing with threats to the protected status that Jews have within the empire. I could see this being a mission oriented campaign largely filled with information gathering and even some spy work.
  • The characters are primarily Christian. This campaign would turn my usual archetypal campaign structure on its ear. I normally run (Christian) Civilization vs. (Demonic) Wilderness that fits nicely into the Law vs. Chaos alignment structure of B/X. In this case it would be (Christian) Wilderness vs. (Demonic) Civilization. This could potentially see an urban environment-as-megadungeon structure with the dungeon areas (catacombs) being the safe havens.

It should be noted that while Christian characters could fit reasonable well within all three campaigns, that can’t really be said about pagan or Jewish characters.

As a final note, as I write this, I am finding the need to come up with names for the various fantasy analogs that are making up this campaign. I don’t want to do that willy, nilly, however. I would prefer to use the text of the Epistle to inspire. I’ll wait and see what the text prompts me to do.

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