By April 8, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

Overview: The Rise of Christianity (circa 4 BCE-330 CE)

Rembrandt Birth of JesusThen Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying- “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. –The Gospel According to Matthew, 23

Jesus of Nazareth was born in obscurity around 4 BCE, apparently during the rule of Herod the Great. He was later crucified by the Romans around 30 CE on the charge of sedition against the Roman Empire by claiming to be “King of the Jews.” The short lifetime of this Galilean peasant turned messianic figure changed the course of world history. Jesus was the leader of a small Jewish sect during the turbulent first decades of the first century CE, one that resembled the Pharisees, the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Essenes. According to the Gospels, Jesus was in close contact with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, as well as with a group known as the Herodians. His sect most resembled the Pharisees, with whom he disputed more than any other Jewish group of his age.

Our knowledge of Jesus and his earliest followers is derived almost completely from the so-called Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke—and to a lesser extent the later Gospel According to John. These books are reflections by various groups of Jesus’ followers on the life, death and continuing meaning of Jesus within the earliest Christian communities. They reflect the religious perspectives of each community and were compiled between thirty to a hundred years after the crucifixion. Mark and Matthew’s followers were probably observant Jews, Luke cared deeply for the Temple and the synagogue, while John adhered to a high Christology and was likely not Jewish. Each of these extended homilies includes important evidence for the history of Jews and Judaism in first century CE, as refracted through the person of Jesus. The Gospels interweave evidence for the “common Judaism” shared across the Jewish social spectrum, Jesus and his earliest followers, and the earliest Christian communities.

The letters of Paul of Tarsus were written between the thirties and fifties CE. Paul’s letters, together with Luke’s somewhat later Acts of the Apostles, provide important evidence for the transition of the followers of Jesus from a Jewish apocalyptic sect to a gentile religion. Both sources, as well as traditions within the Gospels, portray the gradual inclusion of gentiles in the apocalyptic mission of the Church, and the slow distancing of the Christian community from the norms of Jewish practice and belief. The New Testament presents the fascinating portrait of a Jewish sect and its eventual departure from Judaism, and of the transition of one man from Jesus of Nazareth to Jesus the Christ.

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