35 Ibid., X:97.

Trajan responds that Pliny was generally correct in his actions. If confessed Christians persist in their faith, they must be punished. However, three restrictions are placed on Pliny.

(1)Christians should not be sought out or tracked down.

(2) Repentance coupled with worship of the gods sufficed to clear a person. Pliny expressed doubts as to whether a person should be punished in spite of repentance and only recounts the pardoning of persons who had willingly given up their beliefs prior to questioning. (3) Pliny was not to honor any lists of Christians which were given to him if the accuser did not name himself.

These conditions imposed by emperor Trajan give us some insight into early official Roman views about Christianity. While persecution was certainly an issue and many Christians died without committing any actual crimes, it is interesting that, contrary to popular opinion, the first century was not the worst period of persecution for believers. Trajan’s restrictions on Pliny at least indicate that it was not a wholesale slaughter. Nonetheless, the persecution was real and many died for their faith.

Emperor Hadrian

The existence of trials for Christians, such as the ones held in the time of Pliny, is confirmed by another historical reference to Christians. Serenius Granianus, proconsul of Asia, wrote to emperor Hadrian (AD 117–138), also in reference to the treatment of believers. Hadrian replied to Minucius Fundanus, the successor as Asian proconsul and issued a statement against those who would accuse Christians falsely or without due process. In the letter, preserved by third century church historian Eusebius, Hadrian asserts: I do not wish, therefore, that the matter should be passed by without examination, so that these men may neither be harassed, nor opportunity of malicious proceedings be offered to informers. If, therefore, the provincials can clearly evince their charges against the Christians, so as to answer before the tribunal, let them pursue this course only, but not by mere petitions, and mere outcries against the Christians. For it is far more proper, if any one would bring an accusation, that you should examine it.

Hadrian explains that, if Christians are found guilty, after an examination, they should be judged “according to the heinousness of the crime.” Yet, if the accusers were only slandering the believers, then those who inaccurately made the charges were to be punished.^37

From Hadrian’s letter we again ascertain: (1)that Christians were frequently reported as lawbreakers in Asia and were punished in various ways. (2)Like Trajan, Hadrian also encouraged a certain amount of temperance, and ordered that Christians not be harassed. (3)If Christians were indeed guilty, as indicated by careful examination, punishments could well be in order. (4)However, no undocumented charges were to be brought against believers and those engaged in such were to be punished themselves.

36 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, IV:IX. 37 _Ibid.

Other Jewish Sources

The Talmud

The Jews handed down a large amount of oral tradition from generation to generation. This material was organized according to subject matter by Rabbi Akiba before his death in AD 135. His work was then revised by his student, Rabbi Meir. The project was completed about AD 200 by Rabbi Judah and is known as the Mishnah. Ancient commentary on the Mishnah was called the Gemaras. The combination of the Mishnah and the Gemaras form the Talmud.^38