Rise of Christianity

After the death of Jesus there were two distinct factions of his followers in Jerusalem—the Aramaic-speaking Christian Jews and the Hellenized, Greek-speaking Christian Jews. The Aramaic-speaking Christian Jews were confined largely to Jerusalem; they were conservative, legalistic, and exclusive, still practicing Jews in all ways except that they believed that Jesus was the Messiah. They did not seek wider missionary activity but worshipped in the Temple and in each other's houses. The Greek-speaking Hellenized Christian Jews considered themselves part of the intellectual and cultural environment of the larger Greco-Roman world. They met in the synagogues throughout Jerusalem and they read the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures. Paul, the Greek-speaking Pharisee who later became a Christian missionary to the Dispersion Jews and to the gentiles (from the Latin gens, "people," which to the Jews meant anyone who was not a Jew), initially harassed those early Hellenized Christian Jews. He zealously persecuted uncircumcised converts, and he was present at the stoning in 35 C.E. of the proto-martyr Stephen, a Hellenized Christian Jew who claimed that Jesus was the prophet of Moses. After a dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus in 37 C.E. (Acts 9.119), however, Paul traveled through the cities of Syria, Asia Minor, and Greece to preach the message of Jesus to Jews and gentiles. It was just after the early Christian churches had been established there in 40 C.E. that Paul and his followers at Antioch were first called Christianoi, "men of Christ."

By 40 C.E., the Christian movement had expanded and not only did these two distinct groups of Christian Jews disagree on several practical and theological issues but the Jews more generally were at odds with the Romans. The Hellenized Christian Jews following Paul did not think that conversion should require the traditional Jewish practices of circumcision, the observance of the Sabbath, and dietary laws. According to Acts 15, this argument about circumcision between Paul and the Aramaic-speaking Christian Jews was settled in 50 C.E. at the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem. Gentiles who converted to Christian Judaism no longer had to be circumcised. In a short time and largely through the missionary work of Paul and his followers, Christianity became a separate form of Judaism. Morality and ethical conduct, if not circumcision, still bound Jews and converts alike to the Torah. But the central shared Christian rite of the Eucharist (from the Greek eucharistia, "thanksgiving"), "communion," which represented Jesus' death, was now the only sacrifice necessary in their worship of God.

Despite the decision of the Apostolic Council to allow uncircumcised gentiles to become Christians, Paul's proselytizing continued to offend some Jews in the synagogues where he preached. He had replaced the Torah with faith in Jesus whom his followers now called the Christ. Many Jews felt that if Paul was right then Moses and the scriptures were wrong and so they were hostile to his teaching. Herod Agrippa I, who ruled in Jerusalem from 41-44 C.E., persecuted Christians in an effort to appease the traditional Jews who were not followers of Jesus and who were suffering under the increasing hostility and religious intolerance of local Roman governors. Often when Paul preached, local Jews rioted and stoned him, to force him to leave their synagogues and their cities. Both at Philippi in Greece and in Judea, Roman officials had to step in when the rioting became too serious. In Judea, fellow Christians feared for Paul's life and he was spirited away and brought before the Roman governor in Caesarea. There he was kept under house arrest for over two years. At that time he appealed his case to the emperor, a privilege reserved for Roman citizens, rather than stand trial against his accusers in Jerusalem. In 58 C.E., just before leaving Caesarea to go to Rome, Paul had an audience with Agrippa II, King of the Jews, and his sister Berenice at which Agrippa is reputed to have interrupted Paul's discourse to concede that he would soon make a Christian of him if he kept up his preaching. En route to Rome, where his case had been transferred, Paul was shipwrecked on Malta. Upon arriving in Rome, he was under house arrest but seems to have continued preaching until at least 64 C.E. This was the period of the great fire in Rome under Nero for which Christians have sometimes been blamed; Paul is traditionally considered to have been martyred then along with other Christians charged with starting the fire.

The impact of Paul's organized ministries in synagogues throughout the Diaspora was strengthened by the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 C.E., under the Flavian emperors Vespasian and his son Titus. This war is considered by many to be the clear break between Judaism and Christianity: while the destruction of the Temple profoundly altered the nature of Judaism, Paul's message that salvation was possible without the law simultaneously hastened Christianity's transformation from a reform movement within Judaism into an adversus Judaeos, "against the Jews," religion. Christianity was a challenge to Judaism. For example, Christians conceived of Jesus as God and they believed that the prophecies of scripture were fulfilled in him, but this was something no Jew could accept; and although Jews and Christians both awaited the Messiah, the Christians considered Jesus the Messiah and expected his return. By the early second century, Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, had written a series of letters while traveling to his martyrdom in Rome in which he drew a clear line of separation between Christians and Jews, claiming that it was monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ and to practice Judaism.

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