History of Christianity
History of Christianity
Both Christianity and Judaism came from the same God. Both Judaism and Christianity share the same Old Testament as our holy scriptures. The foundations of faith in God are rooted in the Old Testament, so also that of the Jews, for their history and their laws are all in the Old Testament. Moreover, the entire Old Testament was written by Jews. ‘The New Testament was also written by Jews with the exception of Luke.
Judaism is the name that men have attached to the formative stages of biblical faith (Old Testament) and Christianity is the name that men have attached to the completing stage of biblical faith (New Testament). Mojzes & Swidler, 2002) Christianity as a religion was an offshoot of Judaism. It has been said that Judaism does not need Christianity to explain its existence, but Christianity needs Judaism both to explain its existence and what it believes. Hence, Christianity has also been termed historically as the Judeo-Christian faith. In the early years of the Christian faith, Christianity was regarded as just another sect of Judaism known as the sect of the Nazarenes. The early disciples and the 12 Apostles were all Jewish.
Apostle Paul even took a Nazarite vow to prove to his critics that he was a Torah-observant Jew. The term ‘Christians’ surfaced only in AD 42 when the disciples were first called that in Antioch. The term gradually was adopted to differentiate believing Jews from unbelieving Jews and over time, it became a separate identity altogether. “…don’t boast as if you were better than the branches! However, if you do boast, remember that you are not supporting the root (Israel’s forefathers), the root is supporting you (Church). (Neuhaus, 2001)
The exact origins of the Jewish faith are hard to pinpoint, and most of what is known comes from the Torah, the five books that make up the Jewish holy text and are also part of the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. According to the Book of Genesis, the father of Judaism was a man called Abraham, who lived between about 2000 and 1500 BCE (Christianity and Islam also claim Abraham as an important religious figure). Abraham was born in Mesopotamia and later living in Egypt, was the first man according to Jewish religious texts, to promise to worship one god, Yahweh.
Abraham spread this faith among his followers, and led them to settle in the land of Canaan. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, was renamed Israel by Yahweh, and he fathered twelve sons, who led what would come to be known as the twelve tribes of Israel. These Israelites, according to Judaism’s religious teachings, were taken as slaves into Egypt, and led out of slavery by Moses. Moses was a Jewish Egyptian, who according to Jewish texts spoke directly to Yahweh. The freed Jewish slaves were recorded to have wandered for forty years in the desert of the Arabian Peninsula before settling back in the land of Canaan some time around 1200 BCE.
One of the groups displaced by the establishment of Jewish kingdoms was a group called the Philistines. The Philistines called their lands by the name Palestine, a name for the lands once claimed by the Jews. The term Palestine came from the Roman Empire, which renamed the area as a punishment for a Jewish revolt against Roman rule around 135 CE. The term Palestine had long been favored by those who did not recognize the Jewish claim to the area. Perhaps as early as the fall of Judah in 586 BCE, Palestine became a term to deny the political claims Jews made in the region.
From the fall of the early Jewish kingdoms, Jews lived as a minority population in Palestine and the Middle East at large. Depending on who exerted control over the region, and how stern they were about expressing that control, Jews experienced varying levels of freedom and persecution. Under the Persians, Jews were allowed to return to the region and to practice their religion freely, and were accorded a great deal of respect. During this time, Jews built a Second Temple on the site of the First, which had been destroyed by Babylonians. Under the Romans, however, they fared poorly.
They were allowed to practice their religion, but were asked to declare their political allegiance to the Roman Empire. When Jews revolted against Roman rule in 66 CE, Roman troops ransacked the city of Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish Second Temple. Conditions for Jews became even worse after the Jewish revolt of 135 CE, when Roman troops killed or enslaved thousands of Jews and destroyed numerous Jewish villages. Jews were forbidden to enter the holy city of Jerusalem, and thereafter the Jewish population was centered in the region called Galilee. The conditions experienced by these early Jews had a deep impact on their worldview.
Jews expressed the feeling that only under Jewish rule would their rights, including access to their religious sites, be protected. This brought them into much conflict with other people living in the region. The Jews’ worship of a single god made theirs a minority religious viewpoint in the region during much of the rule of the Roman Empire, but the spread of Christianity, the religion created by the followers of Jesus Christ (c. 4 BCE–c. 29 CE), soon changed the religious balance. Jesus was a man of the Jewish faith who offered new interpretations of the role of God and the need for individuals to devote themselves to God.
His teachings challenged some of the Jewish beliefs and often caused civil unrest that challenged Roman rule. Around 29 CE, Jesus was arrested by Jewish religious leaders who suggested that his teachings were disrespectful to God and were causing civil disobedience among his followers. Jesus was brought before a Roman governor in Palestine named Pontius Pilate who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus, a form of execution in which a person is nailed on a cross and left to die. According to Christian religious teaching, Jesus later rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, taking his place as the son of God.
Most of the accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings are found in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. Their exact historical accuracy has long been a source of disagreement. Whether or not the man Jesus actually existed in the way the Bible states, his followers believed that he was the son of God, sent to give a message to all mankind. They created a religion based on his teachings. Though it was based on the Jewish faith and claimed one god, Christianity stressed the role of personal salvation acquired through the acceptance of Jesus Christ as the son of God.
It was, like Judaism, a monotheistic religion. Unlike Judaism, however, Christianity was an evangelical faith, which meant that its followers dedicated themselves to converting others to their faith. Over time, Christianity gained many followers who embraced the religion’s single god. Sometime around 312 CE the emperor Constantine, who ruled over what was then known as the Eastern Roman Empire (which controlled over half of the Middle East), embraced Christianity. Constantine proclaimed Christianity as the official religion of the empire, which later became known as the Byzantine Empire.
The rise of Christianity dramatically changed the role of Palestine. Like Jews, Christians revered the holy places in Palestine, and especially in the city of Jerusalem. Christians also made holy places out of sites associated with the life and death of Jesus. But sharing holy sites did not necessarily mean that Jews and Christians got along. According to Charles Smith, editor of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, “Christians considered Jews to be rivals in Palestine, as well as a people who rejected Jesus as the savior sent by God.
As a result, the Byzantines applied existing Roman laws limiting Jewish activities more rigorously and created new ordinances aimed at isolating the Jews. ” Though a monotheistic religion was now the dominant view, religion continued to be a source of conflict in the region. Christianity has one of the largest and most rapidly growing religious followings in Asia. The end of the Cold War and the Asian economic liberalization has encouraged both the flourishing of Christian evangelism and the rising prominence of Christianity in the public sector.
There is a substantial shift in the balance of Christian populations from the North to the South. A few decades ago 70 percent of all evangelicals were in the “North,” primarily in the United States, today 70 percent are in the churches of the global South. The Catholic Church, which is projected to lose 20 million members in Europe in the first quarter of this century, will gain 100 million members in Africa, 50 million in Asia, and 140 million in Latin America. At the beginning of the 20th century, 81 percent of Christians were white. By the century’s end, that number was 45 percent.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 21 September 2016
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