CH 510 – The History of Christianity 1. UNIT ONE – Early Christianity Slides based in part on The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez. Components of Historical Inquiry. Records (written & oral) Matters of fact, items of tradition, eye-witness accounts, hearsay, legend
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CH 510 – The History of Christianity 1 UNIT ONE – Early Christianity Slides based in part on The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez
Components of Historical Inquiry • Records (written & oral) • Matters of fact, items of tradition, eye-witness accounts, hearsay, legend • histories, court records, conciliar documents, decrees & proclamation, sermons, treatises, apologias, polemics, correspondence
Components of Inquiry • Cultural developments • Art, architecture, technologies, language, religious movements, philosophy, commerce/trade, travel, political realities, migrations/conquests, legal codes
Components of Inquiry • The Interpretation of History • Contemporaneous • Subsequent interpretations • Reconstructions: hypotheses or “corrections” of our understanding of history based on new findings and discoveries
The Complications of Historical Inquiry • Incomplete accounts • Prejudiced records or accounts • Inequities (what might seem important to the historian may not be as important as he thinks!) • Emotional disfavor of certain authors • Distrust of historical inquiry
The Historian’s Task • Determining the significance of what is written and why it was written • In part, this involves the inevitable “reading between the lines” and other subjective judgments on the part of the historian.
The Historian’s Task • Discerning the motivation of the writer • Same problem as above though not as pronounced.
The Historian’s Task • Defining the basic concepts and sifting out the principles that account for them • Applying history to the present realm of life and work
The Historian’s Task RESULT: In the final analysis, the best historians are those who are able to tell the most convincing story of the past and draw the most applicable lessons from that story for the present and future.
Palestine • Geography – Crossroads of the great trade routes that joined Egypt with Mesopotamia • Alexander the Great (4th century BC) – empire dismembered after his death • Back and forth rule between Egypt & Syria • Hellenism – provided cultural unity; mixed blessing • Jewish reaction to Hellenism, eventually led to rebellion and to self-rule under the Maccabees (2nd century BC) • Hasmonean accommodation of Hellenism • Pompey’s conquest of Palestine (63 BC), deposing the last of the Maccabees, Aristobulus II.
Palestine • Roman policies in general were very tolerant, allowing the descendants of the Maccabees to serve as High Priests and Ethnarchs • Herod the Great, appointed King of Judaea (40 BC) • Continuous rebellion throughout the land due to Herod’s Hellenizing policies, which continued under his son, Archelaus • Roman governorship set up in Judaea after the deposition of Archelaus; Some of Herod’s descendants continued to reign as ethnarchs and tetrarchs (e.g. Herod Antipas) • Great rebellion (AD 66), leading to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70.
Religious Partisanship • Pharisees – enjoyed support of the populace at large • Saducees – Temple was their power base • Essenes – ascetical group • Zealots – various groups that sought to overthrow foreign powers through force TWO FUNDAMENTAL TENETS HELD BY ALL: • Ethical Monotheism • Eschatological hope (messianic)
The Pharisees • Best equipped to survive after destruction of Temple • Roots went back to the time of the exile when it was not possible to worship in Jerusalem • Religious life centered on the written Torah • The same was true for the Jews of the Diaspora, who lived in distant lands • Center of religious life: the Synagogue • While the Sadducees received a mortal blow with the destruction of the Temple, the Pharisees continued to bloom into modern Judaism.
The Diaspora • “Diaspora” means “Dispersion” and refers to the increasing number of Jews who lived outside of Palestine • Since OT times, numerous Jews lived in Mesopotamia (Persia) and Egypt • After the Roman conquest, many followed the trade routes and settled throughout the empire • Jews of the Diaspora forced to come to terms with Hellenism • Philo of Alexandria (1st century BC – 1st century AD) • The LXX – Greek translation of the OT • Crucial importance to the spread of Christianity
The Roman Empire • Brought unprecedented political unity to the Mediterranean basin • Tolerant of local laws and customs, yet greatly encouraged as much uniformity as possible • The Romans were admirers of (and thought of themselves as successors to) Alexander the Great • Roman legal system and Hellenistic culture (synthesis) • Unprecedented freedom/safety of travel (road system and safe sea passage) • Paul’s missionary journeys enjoyed all of the benefits of Roman society: common language, legal system, culture and safe travel
Rome’s Religious Policy • In order to achieve greater unity, imperial policy sought religious uniformity by following two routes: • Religious syncretism • Emperor worship • Rome had a vested interest in having her subjects from different lands believe that, although their gods had different names, they were the same as the gods of the Romans. • Roman Pantheon – Temple of “All Gods” • Combined with Emperor Worship, religious syncretism amounted to the “state religion” (or state-control of religion) • Jews and Christians regarded as unbending fanatics who insisted on the worship of their one God
Religious Context • Cults of Antiquity: traditional gods of the Greeks and the Romans (& conquered peoples’ “equivalents”) • “Mystery” Cults: both old and new • Old: Horus, Isis, etc. (Egyptian) • New: Mithraism (Indo-Iranian origin) • “Mystery” refers to the fact that these cults were “initiatory” cults rather than geo-ethnic ones • The Judeo-Christian God (Monotheism) • Collegialicita – legal societies (Jews) • Collegiaillicita – illegal societies (Mithraism, Christianity); generally speaking “new” religions were frowned upon
Emperor Worship • The “glue” that kept religious unity in society • The intermingling of religions meant that one could possibly be an adherent of many; creates confusion for historians • Emperor worship (worship of the state in the person of the ruling imperator) was the measure of unity and test of loyalty • To refuse to burn incense before the emperor’s image was a sign of treason and/or disloyalty. • Christian refusal to burn incense before the emperor’s image was a witness to their faith; hence, a cause of their persecution
Philosophy • Two philosophical traditions lent themselves well to the articulation of Christian teaching in a Hellenistic culture • Platonism • Stoicism
Platonism • Plato was the student of Socrates, who was seen as a martyr for teaching truth • Plato had criticized the ancient gods, and taught about a supreme being, perfect and immutable; also believed in the immortality of the soul and a higher plane of truth • At first used to articulate the faith to outsiders, Platonism (especially as reinterpreted by Plotinus and repackaged as Neo-Platonism) began influencing the very manner in which Christian understood their faith.
Stoicism • Early Stoics (3rd century BC) were materialists and determinists; also critical of the religions of the time • Trained themselves to assent to the inexorable laws that ruled all events • High moral standards; appeal to wisdom to guide course of events • Believed that the purpose of philosophy was to understand the law of nature and to obey it • Goal: apatheia(life without the passions) • Universality of the law; citizens of the world • Austerity, appeal to the law, and universality had its appeal on the emerging Christian consciousness.
The tendency to “idealize” the earliest Christian communities • Evidence of conflict and tension even within the New Testament itself. For example: “The Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution” (Acts 6:1) • Conflict between two groups of Jews • Appointment of the seven “to serve tables” • Earliest persecutions seem to have been aimed mostly at the “Hellenistic” Christians (i.e. converted Jews of the Diaspora) • Saul seems to ignore the apostles in his efforts to persecute the early Christian movement.
What were the earliest Christian communities like? • Primarily Jewish communities (i.e. followers of Christ who were Jews) • Did not consider themselves followers of a new religion • Centered in Jerusalem, though forced to spread out • Apart from the NT, only fragmentary evidence • The NT is an important historical source (e.g. Book of Acts) • Epistles like the Book of James provide intriguing glimpses of the Jewish-Christian communities; but an incomplete picture • The earliest strata of the NT are the Pauline Epistles, which deal mainly with the so-called “Gentile Churches”; though the interaction between “Jews and Gentiles” in Paul’s letters is instructive of the attitudes that the former had for the latter.
Book of Acts • A primary historical text • However, affected by bias and theological agenda; objectivity and historicity in question
Some assumptions that can be made Characteristics of the early Jewish-Christian communities: • The conviction that their faith was not a denial of Judaism, but its messianic fulfillment • The earliest Jewish-Christians continued to observe the Sabbath and Temple rituals
Assumptions… • Communal life seems to have centered around a “synagogue” approach to instruction and the sharing of common meals • The custom of gathering on the first day of the week to celebrate the resurrection is probably very early • Authority invested in the original twelve apostles; though James, the “brother of Jesus,” took an important early role (later considered the first “bishop” of Jerusalem)
The new Faith’s propensity to spread via “bridge groups” • Hellenistic Jewish-Christians (Acts 6:5-6 – Appointment of seven “to serve tables” presumably from the Hellenist party) • The Samaritans (Acts 8 – Philip’s mission) • God-Fearers (Acts 10 – Household of Cornelius) • The Pauline communities: • Caused a degree of concern and consternation within the Jerusalem church • Paul’s ongoing conflict with the Jewish-Christians (Acts 15; Galatians 2) • Paul nonetheless continues to support the Jerusalem church financially (1 Corinthians 16)
The waning of the Jerusalem Church • The martyrdom of James, brother of John, under Herod Agrippa (grandson of Herod the Great); imprisonment of Peter (Acts 12) • Martyrdom of James, brother of Jesus (AD 62), attested to by Josephus • Christian community in Jerusalem moved to Pella, beyond the Jordan, shortly before the destruction of the city by Titus’ legions in AD 70 • Jewish nationalism reached a boiling point • Christians were followers of one who was of the “line of David” and had been crucified by the Romans for claiming to be “King of the Jews”; too risky to stay in Jerusalem • Simeon (successor to James) was later killed by the Romans, probably because of his claim to Davidic lineage
Jewish-Christians in exile (post-Pella migration) • The ancient Jerusalem church found itself isolated from the rest of the Christian world; leadership had passed to Gentile Christians (i.e. the Pauline communities of the Mediterranean) • Theologically unable to adapt to a changing political and religious world • In desolate regions beyond the Jordan, Jewish Christianity came into contact with esoteric (unorthodox) Judaism • Probably influenced by these views and ideas • Gentile Christianity did not regard these isolated remnant Jewish-Christian sects very highly; considered their views and customs as heretical • Faded out of history in the fifth century.
Ebionite views… • Considered Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah • Revered “James the Just” (brother of Jesus); rejected Saul of Tarsus • Affirmed one “Jewish” gospel • Aramaic version of Matthew or “Ur-Matthew”? • Q-Document? • Gospel of the Nazarenes? • Placed special value on voluntary poverty; may have been vegetarians (and possibly argued that Jesus and John the Baptist were vegetarians as well) • Accused by detractors of denying the deity of Jesus and of being heretical Judaizers
Early Jewish-Christian reluctance to “cross-over” • Philip’s mission to the Samaritans and Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8) • Peter and John sent from Jerusalem; Simon Magus Episode • Acts 9 tells of Saul’s early ministry and the spread of the Christian faith beyond Judea, but limited (at first) to speaking only to Jews • Acts 10 tells the story of Peter’s encounter with the household of Cornelius (a god-fearer), and the coming of the Spirit upon the uncircumcised • Acts 11 tells of Peter’s report to the Church at Jerusalem, and begins the story of the Church at Antioch’s missionary endeavors (Paul & Barnabas) • Acts 15 – the “Jerusalem Council”
Paul’s work • The Book of Acts describes “three” journeys of Paul, first with Barnabas, then with others • Cyprus, Asia Minor, Greece, Rome (possibly to Spain) • Paul was not necessarily the first evangelist to the regions where his influence became paramount (e.g. Rome) • Barnabas, Mark, Apollos, and even Cephas (i.e. Peter) • Paul’s influence on Christianity was not primarily in the number of communities that he founded, or converts that he made, but rather in the literary legacy he left behind (epistles). • Paul’s methodology: preach first at the synagogues • Attracted many Hellenistic Jews and God-fearers this way • God-fearers were Paul’s primary converts among the Gentiles
The Apostles: Facts & Legends • New Testament intriguingly silent on the work and fate of most of the apostles • James, brother of John (martyred, Acts 12) • Book of Acts ends with Paul preaching in Rome • Two earliest and best-attested traditions: • Peter suffered martyrdom in Rome under Nero (mid-60s); one tradition has him crucified upside-down • Paul suffered martyrdom in Rome during the same period; by beheading (which befits a Roman citizen) • Paul may have had a fourth missionary journey that took him as far as Spain
The Apostle John • Many legends and confusing references to the Apostle John • Active in Asia Minor after the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul • Organized the “Pauline” churches; operated out of Ephesus • Purported to have been the teacher of Papias and Polycarp; However, Papias affirms that there were two persons by the name of John: the apostle and the “elder” who lived in Ephesus. • Tradition has John living well into Domitian’s reign (end of 1st century) • One tradition has him martyred by being placed in a pot of boiling oil; another has him exiled to Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation; some combine the two traditions • Unanimous opinion that John lived into extreme old age
Other legends • Most legends of a church’s “founding” by an apostle arose from the desire for a church to have apostolic pedigree (especially from the 2nd century) • Need arose to counter the influence of Rome and Antioch • Alexandrian Church founded by Mark • Byzantine Church founded by Philip • Spain missionized by Paul, Peter and James • Thomas visited and missionized India • Joseph of Arimathea visited and missionized Britain
Christianity’s conflicted beginnings… • The “Lord” whom Christians served had been condemned as an insurrectionist, usurper, and self-proclaimed “king” by the Romans • Conflict with the leaders of the very nation to whom Jesus had come to proclaim the “kingdom of God” • Stephen, first martyr, stoned before a council of the Jews (Acts 7) • James, brother of John, beheaded by Herod Agrippa • Conflict with Zealots during Jewish uprising (60s) • Fled to Pella (ca. 66)
A New Jewish Sect? • Early Christians (Jewish) were insistent that their good news was not intended to undermine Judaism, but rather to proclaim that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah • Outsiders (Jews & Gentiles) were invited to participate in the promises made to Abraham and his descendants • Judaism had long held that the advent of the Messiah would be good news for all nations • Point of conflict: what would this look like? (Circumcision or no?) • Initially, Jews who rejected Christianity saw it as simply another sect within Judaism; a heresy • Jewish nationalists feared that this new sect might bring the wrath of God upon the nation and/or incite suppression of the nation by Rome
Acts 18:14-15 “This man [Paul] is persuading men to worship God contrary to the law.” “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, I should have reason to hear you, O Jews; but since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves; I refuse to judge these things.” (Gallio) • As long as things were relatively orderly, the Romans preferred to stay out of Jewish controversies.
Expulsion of the Jews under Claudius • Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome around AD 51 • Mentioned in Acts 18:2, but does not explain the reason • Mentioned by the Roman historian, Suetonius, who states that the reason for the expulsion was “because of Chrestus” • Perhaps a reference to “Christus” (i.e. Christ) • If so, the Jews were in dispute over the claims of Christians
Seutonius’ “The Twelve Emperors” • Julius Caesar • Octavian (Augustus) • Tiberius • Gaius (Caligula) • Claudius • Nero • Galba • Otho • Vitellius • Vespasian • Titus • Domitian