This article offers a new approach to the study of the persecution of the early Christians. Past scholarship on this topic has offered explanations built around inter-religious animosity, which are here exposed as the inevitable result of unquestioned assumptions about those responsible. It offers instead a hypothesis that the driving agency for the violence Christians suffered came from their immediate communities, and even from their fellow Christians. It tests this via three case studies spanning the first three centuries CE and the extent of the Roman empire. In closing, it explores the wide-ranging consequences of a new model — based on local, social tensions rather than homogenized, antagonistic religious ideologies — for early Christian persecution (both its rationale and its reality), early Christianity more widely (scholars’ continuing commitment to binary distinctions between both ‘Rome’ and ‘Christianity’, and the pre- and post-Constantinian periods), and the history of religions as a whole (our assumptions about the dynamics between minority groups and the state, and our privileging of religion in explaining historic violence).