As I read more of Greco-Romans sources, I’m increasingly convinced that the gospel would have been perceived as counter-imperial. Paul’s colleagues in Thessalonica were mobbed because: “They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:7). This story reminds of an an episode from Caligula’s life described by Suetonius (Caligula 22):
“Upon hearing some kings, who came to the city to pay him court, conversing together at supper, about their illustrious descent, he exclaimed,
Eis koiranos eto, eis basileus.
Let there be but one prince, one king.
He was strongly inclined to assume the diadem, and change the form of government, from imperial to regal; but being told that he far exceeded the grandeur of kings and princes, he began to arrogate to himself a divine majesty. He ordered all the images of the gods, which were famous either for their beauty, or the veneration paid them, among which was that of Jupiter Olympius, to be brought from Greece, that he might take the heads off, and put on his own.”
Evidently, Caligula did not like the idea of their being other kings in other lands. So one must wonder what his response would have been to the first Roman Christians who believed in King Jesus. Would the birth narratives of the Gospels that establish Jesus’ Davidic and Divine credentials be a potential rival to Roman claims about the origins of their Emperors?