|The Origins of Christianity|
The Jewish people were very different than their Roman conquerors. They believed in one God. The Romans on the other hand believed in many gods like the Ancient Greeks.
During the time when the Roman Empire ruled the Mediterranean, the Hebrew people were also ruled by Rome.
During this time Jesus was born, grew up and taught among the Hebrews, or Jews, and was executed by Roman soldiers. His teachings gave rise to the new religion, Christianity, which was destined to one of the major religions of the world.
The origins of Christianity spring from Judaism. Christianity originally developed as an offshoot of Judaism with the followers believing that Jesus of Nazareth was the messiah.
Judaism of the Roman era was comprised of four distinct sects:
(A) Sadducees; aristocratic Jews who cooperated with the Roman government.
(B) Pharisees; Strict adherents to the Jewish law.
(C) Essenes; Messanic group which lived a communal lifestyle and wrote many books including the "Dead Sea Scrolls".
(D) Zealots; Militaristic group which was openly hostile to the Roman state and led the revolt of 66 AD which resulted in destruction of Jerusalem and the massacre at Masada.
The teachings of Jesus are unusual for the period of time and appealed to all segments of Roman society.
Jesus of Nazareth
Jesus was martyred. He angered the Pharisees by his teachings. Charges of heresy were brought against Jesus by the Pharisees during Passover Week. The Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate, was pressured by the Pharisees to execute Jesus after the Jewish court (Sanhedrin) refused to try him. Jesus was crucified by the Romans (C. 30 AD).
He was labeled the "Christos" (Anointed One) after his followers claimed he was resurrected.
The immediate followers of Jesus (Apostles) are also martyred for their beliefs.
1. Andrew; crucified on an X-shaped cross in Greece.
2. Bartholomew; Skinned alive.
3. Simon Peter; Crucified upside down in Rome.
4. James the Just; throat was cut by Herod Agrippa.
5. John; Beheaded at Ephesus.
6. Mathew; Crucified in Greece.
7. Thomas; Martyred in India.
8. James the Lesser; stoned to death.
9. Judas Iscariot; committed suicide.
Paul, a converted Jew, is the man most responsible for spreading the Christian faith throughout the Roman empire.
Almost 1/3 of the books of the New Testament is attributed to him. Born Saul of Tarsus, he had a conversion on the road to Damascus. His special mission became the conversion of the non-Jew (Gentile) to Christianity.
Early Church organization copied the leadership pattern of the Roman Empire.
1. A "Deacon" led each local congregration.
2. A "Bishop" oversaw several Deacons.
3."Archbishops" developed to see large Bishoprics.
4. Eventually the Bishop of Rome became the unofficial leader of the church and gained the title of "Pope".
5. The first Bishop of Rome was Simon Peter, the apostle.
Early persecutions of Christians, although sporadic, were cruel.
1. The Roman government and citizenry was generally tolerant of early Christianity since they posed no threat to their government.
2. The most vocal opponents of the early church came from the Jewish religion.
3. Only when Christians refused to participate in Emperor Worship did they begin to be persecuted in large numbers.
4. Nero was the first emperor to persecute the Christian followers on a large scale.
5. Persecution reached its height during the reign of Diocletian who attempted to systematically eliminate the followers.
6. Christianity finally became legal during the reign of Constantine with the Edict of Milan in 312 AD.
The reasons why Christianity succeeded while others failed:
1. The church doctines of the Trinity, Virgin Birth, Resurrection, Ordination and Salvation appealled to the common masses.
2. The time of appearance was opportune; Romans were dissatisfied with the old Roman religion and the immorality of the emperors.
3. Message of the church taught Equality for all and Love.
4. The church was open to all including men, women, rich, poor, free and slave.
5. The Christian religion assimilated the Roman culture rather than opposed it.