On the Origin and Spread of Christianity

Nov 2016
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This is an attempt to analyze the social and psychological conditions under which Christianity developed. I distinguish between a Christianity I (for the poor class) and a Christianity II (for all social classes).

In Jewish Palestine during the Augustan period, the population consisted of three strata.

At the bottom were the proletariat, the impoverished craftsmen, peasants and impoverished beggars. The peasants suffered so much from the tax burden that many fell into debt bondage or lost their property and became part of the urban proletariat. The suffering of these poor, especially in Jerusalem, was greater than that of the Roman proletariat because, unlike the latter, they did not have Roman citizenship and could not enjoy grain donations and circus games. Jerusalem had probably the most extensive urban proletariat after Rome in the entire Roman Empire.

The next higher class was a bourgeoisie which was materially in just enough condition to be able to come to terms with the existing conditions. Above it stood the thin layer of aristocracy, composed of nobility, priests, and rich merchants.

The three layers can be assigned to the three politico-religious groups of the Saduceans, Pharisees and Zealots. The Saduzees represented the ideology of the upper class. According to Josephus, they were few in number, but together they belonged to the rich and powerful. The representatives of the middle class, the bourgeoisie, were the Pharisees, even though they partly sprang from the proletariat. According to Josephus, they determined the religious-cult practices of the people and taught the interassociation of divinely placed destiny and personal choice.

The Pharisees, and even more of course the Saducees, had nothing to do with the proletariat. There was even blatant enmity between the poor and the Pharisees. Of the women of the proletariat, for example, the Pharisees said that they were like animals and should not be married under any circumstances. In the Talmud there are many expressions of this kind. Correspondingly great was the hatred thrown at the Pharisees from the proletariat.

No less great was the hatred of the poor for the Romans, with whom the middle class and especially the upper class collaborated. Thus from the first decade CE. the Zealots' Party emerged with the aim of forcibly driving the root of social evil, the Romans, out of Palestine. In particular, the imperial cult was a thorn in the side of the Zealots - and of the poor in general - because the Emperor formed the centre of the system that oppressed the poor.

In addition to the military-politically oriented Zealots, some religious groups also tried in their own way to cope with the socially oppressive situation, which they found unbearable. In contrast to the Zealots, they propagated what can be modernly called ´escape into imagination', drawing on the old Jewish idea of the 'Messiah', who liberates the oppressed people and leads them to divine salvation. Among the representatives of the messianic movement was the group around John the Baptist, who was historically documented by Josephus. The Messiah fantasy, which had developed under the excessive political pressure of hostile powers such as the Assyrians and the Babylonians, had become highly topical again in times of the Roman occupation, and the number of candidates applying for recognition as Messiah was correspondingly large. Josephus calls them "swindlers" and distinguishes them from the "robbers", i.e. the Zealots. Some messianic groups were classified by Romans as political danger, as their anti-Roman hatred was unmistakable, and violently suppressed. The Zealots, in turn, radicalized themselves in part ("Sicarians"), assassinated Jerusalem middle-class citizens, and destroyed entire villages if they did not want to join them.

What role does the Jesus movement play in all this? I want to leave open here whether this figure has historical character or whether it was perhaps the fantasized hero of a Jewish secret cult, because this is secondary for the development of Christological ideas. It is well known that even Paul (if historical) did not care about biographical details of his idol, his Jesus is hardly distinguishable from a fantasy figure and seems to serve only as a vehicle for Pauline ideas. The fantasy as a religious factor is to be estimated so highly with the given topic because the social reality in the form of the insurmountable Roman power made every concrete action for the improvement of the situation appear as hopeless, so that the fantasy offered itself as liberating valve.

It is crucial that the idea of a man raised ('adopted') by Yahweh to son-God, who delivers the Jewish people from their suffering, met the need of the proletarian masses one-to-one. For the attractiveness of this figure two components combined: on the one hand the desire for liberation from a socially awkward situation, on the other hand the hatred for the Roman imperial authority and its imperial cult as well as for the Pharisees. The figure of Jesus, crucified by the Romans (real or fictional) like thousands of others from the ranks of the poor who rose up against Rome, and ascending to heaven as the post-mortem adopted Son of God to judge the world at the Father's side — through this fantasy the earthly oppressed could excellently come to terms with their emotional suffering. Through his suffering on the cross Jesus was an ideal object of identification, whose elevation to son-god moreover compensated the father-hate which the poor, quite consciously, harbored for the emperor (the overpowering father figure of the kingdom) and, rather unconsciously, for Yahweh, who obviously had no interest in the welfare of the poor. Through Jesus as the world-governing Christ, the imperial power is disempowered — of course only in the imagination — and a representative of the oppressed class is set aside for the Yahweh, who until then had been the sole ruler in heaven, and his power is thus curtailed, for the judgment of the people at the end of time will be brought by Jesus, not Yahweh.

In the course of this heavenly palace revolution 'Jesus' becomes the heavenly Son-Christ and Yahweh the Christian Father-God. Two characteristics of the Christian faith stand out here: the end of the world or the appearance of the kingdom of heaven is expected within a few decades (so-called near expectation), and Jesus is not originally the Son of God, but is raised by God to sonship with God only after his death on the cross (so-called adoptionism).

What made the cult of Christ so attractive in the Jewish environment, namely the rebellion against social oppression enjoyed in imagination and thus against the authority of the emperor, could of course also find support among the oppressed outside Palestine, namely gradually throughout the entire Roman Empire. The members of the Corinthian community, for example, are certified in 1 Cor 1,26 f. to be "foolish", "weak" and "despised" in the eyes of the world:

27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.


(to be continued)
 
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(continuation)

For easily recognizable reasons, this version of Christianity (= Christianity I) with its social rebellious note could hardly have spread and established itself in the Roman Empire outside the lower classes. Should a Roman nobleman worship a crucified criminal who only becomes a god post mortem? No, several changes had to occur in order for Christianity to become compatible for higher classes.

1)
The dogma of near expectation had to fall away. By the middle of the 2nd century at the latest, no one could believe in the near end of the world, it had been too long in coming. According to Harnack this problem was solved by reducing the importance of the end-time arrival of Christ and postponing it to his (alleged) arrival at the beginning of the 1st century. Instead of bringing salvation only at the end of the days of the world, Jesus did this in the new view already in the course of his first appearance. The harmony of the world, thrown out of joint by the Fall, is restored by the death on the cross and the ascension to the side of the Father. Everything is as it should be. Instead of hoping for a change in social conditions, the believer looks inward; it is his trust in Christ that redeems him as an individual, regardless of external conditions.

2)
The original moral severity of the way of life is loosened. It is no longer decisive to lead a pious life inwardly and outwardly; it is now sufficient to bind oneself inwardly to Christ, even if one pursues outwardly activities which — according to Christianity I — contradict the true faith, e.g. a service for the state. In this way Christianity becomes acceptable also to people who do not want to give up their bourgeois identity. This change from the rejection of the state to the recognition of the state (whose order is now considered God's will) is carried out by Christianity from the beginning of the 3rd century. Accordingly, the Church has evolved as an authoritarian system that contradicts the anti-authoritarian tendency of the original doctrine (as far as reconstructable). The church structure has thus adapted to the state structure.

3)
Particularly important: the transformation of the Jesus figure from a man elevated to God (adoptionism) to the (pre-existent) Son of God existing since the beginning of time, who came from heaven at his (first) arrival in order to be born as a human being through Mary (in virgin mode). This doctrine, even if already present in beginnings earlier, established itself as Christian dogma (in the fight against the differently thinking Arianism) only with the Council of Nicea 325 CE.
In Rom 1,3-4, for example, it still says quite adoptionistically:

3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

A pre-existent sonship with God is not to be regarded as an original teaching. Rather, it crept into Christology after the fact, e.g. by adapting the Logos doctrine of the Philon of Alexandria in the Gospel of John. Through the imperially forced decisions of the Council of Nicea, Jesus Christ is now finally established as a fully-fledged God, i.e. as God 'from birth', namely through the Father God, with whom he is now being (homousios). Only this enables the worship of the Jesus figure as a genuine God, instead of as a man elevated to God.

The well-known paradox of the Nicene faith formula — 'Jesus is true man and true God' (two-nature doctrine) — is explained by the different circumstances under which Christianity I and Christianity II developed: For Chr. I Jesus had to be a person who invited the oppressed to identify; for Chr. II he had to be a god from the start (preexistence doctrine), whom also the Roman upper class could worship without hesitation. In addition, the preexistence doctrine removed the originally rebellious aura that clung to the human being Jesus, who becomes a God to rule at the side of another God.

With these innovations the Christian religion was excellently suited for a state religion. Whether Constantine's turn to Christianity was based on a political calculus cannot be decided. He was only baptized shortly before his death and tolerated non-Christian cults during his reign, which in sum speaks against the fact that he felt completely Christian. In any case, the ideology of Christianity II enabled the emperor (and his successors) to exercise mental control over his subjects to an even greater degree than through a polytheistic religion. Why?

Christianity II propagated, see above, that the world is already in an ideal state. In polytheistic religions, the world is never in an ideal state, but constantly endangered, which is why the gods who hold the structure of the world together are to be kept happy by sacrifices. From the new Christian point of view (Chr. II), however, the ultimate sacrifice of the Son of God had transformed the sinful world into a stable harmony for all time. Augustine coined the term 'ordo' for the Christian concept of order in the 4th century (the God-ordered order of the world in which every human being has his place desired by God, the emperor no different from the slave). Paul already held the same view. The Christian orientation towards the inwardness of faith provided an outlet in the event of emerging dissatisfaction with external conditions. People who are convinced that God has arranged everything for them as it should be are very easily governable. In addition, Christian teaching generates in man an even greater sense of guilt than was customary in the polytheistic faith. People who are blocked by feelings of guilt are also easy to govern. For the ruling elite Christianity could thus serve as an instrument of power politics of the first order.
 
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@Tammuz i would like to add some things. Moral severity was loosened in fourth century. Monastic orders however were seen as some kind of manifestation of moral severity. So from that time on people for which classic church life was not enough were separating from the world even the world under christian rulers. Also in 2nd century very important christian bishops like Papias were writting about the arrival of earthly kingdom of Chist known as Thousand years kingdom from the book of Revalation, after this earthly kingdom heavenly kingdom will follow with the final judgement first. Augustine and even some before him in 4th century as you said did not write about this in previous way. But some apocalyptic sects like that of anabaptists in Munster revived the old beliefs. Today this belief is also present in parts of christian world or churches.

Papias fragments about earthly kingdom of Christ

The Lord used to teach about those times and say: "The days will come when vines will grow, each having ten thousand shoots, and on each shoot ten thousand branches, and on each branch ten thousand twigs, and on each twig ten thousand clusters, and in each cluster ten thousand grapes, and each grape when crushed will yield twenty-five measures of wine. And when one of the saints takes hold of a cluster, another cluster will cry out, "I am better, take me, bless the Lord through me." Similarly a grain of wheat will produce ten thousand heads, and every head will have ten thousand grains, and every grain ten pounds of fine flour, white and clean. And the other fruits, seeds, and grass will produce in similar proportions, and all the animals feeding on these fruits produced by the soil will in turn become peaceful and harmonious toward one another, and fully subject to humankind.… These things are believable to those who believe." And when Judas the traitor did not believe and asked, "How, then, will such growth be accomplished by the Lord?", the Lord said, "Those who live until those times will see."


About pre-Nicean views on deity of Jesus. You had some groups of bishops which played an important role in Nicea. There were not so much Arians, but you had many followers of Origen and his looks on the question. Followers of strict Nicene creed were gathered around Hosius of Corduba and Alexander from Alexandria. Arius who caused the council with his teachings was however not claiming that Jesus did not exist before all other things. He was like created even before time. Maybe Arius tried to gain support from followers of Origen because he was accussed also to claim that he said there was a time when there was no Word (Christ). That he denied. Origen was writting about Trinity but maybe he was taking also some kind of subordinationism. It is a belief that asserts that the Son and the Holy Spirit are subordinate to God the Father in nature and being. However bishops followers of Origen turned against Arius in Nicea.

History of the church, book 1, published in Ljubljana, 1988, pages 252-254.

Controversial claims of Origen on one way claiming Trinity is eternal but on another that it is in the nature of Trinity that Son and Spirit are subordinate to Father:

For it is the Trinity alone which exceeds every sense in which not only temporal but even eternal may be understood. It is all other things, indeed, which are outside the Trinity, which are to be measured by time and ages....
It seems right to inquire into the reason why he who is 'born again through God' to salvation has need of both Father and Son and Holy Spirit and will not obtain salvation apart from the entire Trinity, and why it is impossible to become partaker of the Father or the Son without the Holy Spirit. In discussing these points it will undoubtedly be necessary to describe the activity which is peculiar to the Holy Spirit and that which is peculiar to the Father and Son.

The God and Father, who holds the universe together, is superior to every being that exists, for he imparts to each one from his own existence that which each one is; the Son, being less than the Father, is superior to rational creatures alone (for he is second to the Father); the Holy Spirit is still less, and dwells within the saints alone. So that in this way the power of the Father is greater than that of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and that of the Son is more than that of the Holy Spirit...



 
Nov 2016
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i would like to add some things.
Thanks for the additions. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to go into all the points in detail. My article above is already several years old, today I wouldn't have the time to write it.

Papias fragments about earthly kingdom of Christ

The Lord used to teach about those times and say: "The days will come when vines will grow, each having ten thousand shoots, and on each shoot ten thousand branches, and on each branch ten thousand twigs, and on each twig ten thousand clusters
I also wrote several pages about the Papias fragments two years ago, especially about the question whether he knew some apostles personally (if at all historical), but the text is so complicated that it could hardly be received here except by very few. Only so much that the text you quote is, in terms of content, not originally Christian, but a plagiarism from Baruch 2:29:

(...)
29:5 The earth will also yield fruits ten thousand fold. And on one vine will be one thousand branches, and one branch will produce one thousand clusters, and one cluster will produce one thousand grapes, and one grape will produce a cor of wine.
29:6 And those who are hungry will enjoy themselves and they will, moreover, see marvels every day.
(...)


Controversial claims of Origen on one way claiming Trinity is eternal but on another that it is in the nature of Trinity that Son and Spirit are subordinate to Father
I have also written something about the Trinity and could post it here, but I am afraid that a moderator will slide in, pointing out that it is theology and not history.
 
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Nov 2016
1,314
Germany
There were many bigger cities than Jerusalem in the Roman Empire.
My text is, as I said in my previous post, several years old, I still have to look for the source of the statistics you doubted.


During the First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE), the population of Jerusalem was estimated at 600,000 persons by Roman historian Tacitus, while Josephus estimated that there were as many as 1,100,000 who were killed in the war.

(...)

Jerusalem's population during the final Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 70 (CE) has been variously estimated to be around 70,398 by Wilkinson in 1974,[8] 80,000 by Broshi in 1978,[9] and 60,000–70,000 by Levine in 2002
 
Nov 2016
1,314
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Well, now I've found it. Small correction: Jerusalem had proportionally the second largest proletariat after Rome, thus in relative numbers, not in absolute numbers.
 
Nov 2016
1,314
Germany
His success is so astonishing that it can only be explained as a divine process.
Nah. Christianity spread because "God done it"
Great, if all highly unlikely developments can be explained so simply, then 'God' also had a finger in the pie when a shy half-orphan with overbite and a nose too long named Norma Jeane Mortenson became the sex goddess Marilyn Monroe.

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pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,780
My text is, as I said in my previous post, several years old, I still have to look for the source of the statistics you doubted.


During the First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE), the population of Jerusalem was estimated at 600,000 persons by Roman historian Tacitus, while Josephus estimated that there were as many as 1,100,000 who were killed in the war.
Well Wikipedia aint perfect and historical sources are often laughable wrong about numbers.

600,000, Isnt credible. It's laughably ridiculous. It's preposterous. Simply not possible.Not remotely so.


Personally I'd go with rather low estimates 20,000 - 30,000

"again, this period is very well documented archaeologically, but estimates of the city’s population at the time of the Roman destruction vary widely. One scholar estimated the number at nearly a quarter million, another at more than a 100,000. Several put the number around 75,000. A number of others estimated between 25,000 and 75,000. Geva, always the population minimalist, estimates the number at 20,000."

 
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