Hadrian as Chrestian
|Bust of Antinous from Patras, (National Archaeological Museum of Athens)|
When I began drafting the new entry for Hadrian, I was still undetermined on my approach, other than to try to lay out the facts as best I could. Describing his military campaigns against Jews, starting in Mesopotamia with Trajan, changed my mind, for Hadrian was continuing the same objectives as Chrestians in the early-first century.
Whereas Saul provoked the First Jewish-Roman War, so Hadrian with the Second and Third. This realisation shocked me, as it forced me into the position that Hadrian was either Chrestian, or at the very least, accepted and adopted the Chrestian position - not just with riverine baptism/resurrection (Antinous), but with an imperial need to destroy messianic Judaism wherever it was in the world.
I think that the key to understanding Hadrian fully is his grecophilia: he had been an ardent Grecophile from his childhood. This was, to him, a lot more than just admiring Greek culture; he accepted panhellenistic theology, as developed in Alexandria by the Ptolemies in syncretism with that of pharaonic Egypt; he accepted the Greek political position there (Alexandria particularly), that messianic Judaism was a threat to the empire.
Temple of Emperor Hadrian at Philae Island, Egypt
On the lintel of the gate Hadrian stands before Osiris, Isis and Harsiesis. Within the gateway, Marcus Aurelius stands before Osiris and below this scene, he offers grapes and flowers to Isis.
His early life and contacts with Greek thinkers, and his later travels from Greece to Alexandria put him in touch with the leading panhellenists. I think that the minutiae of his life reveals the people from whom he gained this perspective, - from Plutarch in Greece and the descendants of the Ptolemaic dynasty, including the family of the Alabarch in Alexandria.
His grand strategy was consolidation through Romanisation and from his perspective, this was Greco-Roman and more particularly, colonial - panhellenistic.
I don't see Chrestian archaeology across the empire at this time - it seems to be still centred in the Levant; I therefore doubt there were Christian churches for Hadrian to attend in Rome, so I am not sure we can say he was a card-carrying member of the Chrestian Church, but in his life and rule, he acted as a Chrestian.