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Brief summary of Christianity

The main founders of the "Jesus
movements" -- a.k.a. primitive Christianity

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Note:

There are currently on the order of 30,000 Christian faith groups in the world. Many regard themselves as being the only true descendents from "The Way" as the early Christian movement was originally called. Unfortunately, many present-day denominations have wildly differing understandings of the early history of Christianity. Three examples are:

  • The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Jesus formally ordained his twelve disciples who became the first bishops. Peter was the first pope. The bishops then ordained priests, some of whom were later consecrated as other bishops. This has continued to the present day in an unbroken "Apostolic Succession." They regard the pope in Rome as being infallible under certain conditions.

  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- popularly called the Mormons, or the LDS Church -- and about 100 other religious denominations -- trace their spiritual ancestry back to the founding of the Church of Christ by Joseph Smith in 1830. They teach that the Christian Church went astray from Jesus' teachings when the last apostle died. "Over time doctrines were corrupted and unauthorized changes were made in Church organization and priesthood ordinances." 5 These denominations believe that God worked through Joseph Smith to restore Jesus' original church.

  • Many religious historians believe that it was never Jesus' intention to found a new church. Rather, he considered his message as being for Jews only and regarded his mission as promoting the teachings of the 1st century BCE Jewish philosopher Hillel the Elder.

In the following essay, we will rely on the conclusions of religious historians rather than the teachings of any specific modern-day faith group.

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Origins:

Yeshua of Nazareth, Paul of Tarsus, and James the Just were the central figures in the early years of the "Jesus Movement." This was before the followers of Jesus were called Christians. They still considered themselves to be Jews, and often referred to themselves as followers of "The Way."

bullet Yeshua of Nazareth, is commonly referred to as Jesus Christ. "Jesus" is the Greek form of his actual Hebrew name "Yeshua." "Christ" is Greek for "Messiah" or the "anointed one." Thus, Jesus Christ is not Yeshua's actual name; it is a combination of a translation of his first name and a statement of his role.

Yeshua appears to have been born sometime in the fall, probably between 7 and 4 BCE. The lunar month can be roughly calculated from the priestly rotation sequence in the Jerusalem Temple. The range of years is based on internal evidence in the Gospels: Herod's death and the timing of a census.

Modern-day Christians are divided about the location of his birth. The main contenders are Bethlehem in Judea, Bethlehem in the Galilee, and Nazareth in the Galilee.

  • Bethlehem is mentioned in the Book of Samuel as the location of David's anointing as king circa 1019 BCE. 6

  • Bullae -- stamps or seals use to seal tax shipments in Judah -- dated in the late 8th century or the 7th Century BCE from Bethlehem were found recently near the Western Wall in Jerusalem. 8

  • But Aviram Oshri. writing in Archaeology Magazine, reported that:

    " 'Menorah,' the vast database of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), describes Bethlehem as an 'ancient site' with Iron Age material and the fourth-century [CE] Church of the Nativity and associated Byzantine and medieval buildings. But there is a complete absence of information for antiquities from the Herodian period--that is, from the time around the birth of Jesus. 8,9

Repeated archeological excavations have not found any artifacts during the first centuries BCE and CE. Bethlehem in Judea was abandoned for at least a century before and after Yeshua's birth.

Oshri suggests that Yeshua was born in the other Bethlehem -- in the Galilee, which is only 7 km (4 miles) from Nazareth. He said:

"I think the genuine site of the Nativity is here, rather than the well-known site near Jerusalem. Bethlehem in the Galilee was inhabited by Jews at the time of Jesus, whereas the other Bethlehem? There is no evidence that it was a living site, an inhabited area in the first century. It makes much more sense that Mary rode on a donkey, while she was at the end of the pregnancy, from Nazareth to Bethlehem of the Galilee which is only 7 kilometers rather then the other Bethlehem which is 150 kilometers." 10

Most Christians believe that he was born of a virgin because of references in the Gospel. Little is known about his childhood or his early adult life. As he approached the age of 30, he joined an apocalyptic group obsessed with what they believed was the imminent end of the world. The group was headed by John the Baptist, a cousin of Yeshua. After John's execution, Yeshua struck out on his own. He assembled about a half dozen very close followers -- about half of whom were men and half women -- along with over 60 less prominent students. According to the synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) his ministry was in the Galilee and lasted a year. According to the Gospel of John, it lasted three or four years and was in Judea.

Yeshua was an Orthodox Jew, and a follower of Hillel the Elder -- the founder of the more liberal of the two schools of Jewish philosophy that were active at the time. Yeshua did deviate from his teacher's beliefs in one area: he favored more restrictions on divorce, presumably to give greater protection to women.

After having committed aggravated assault in the Jerusalem temple close to the time of Passover, he was arrested by the Roman Army, tried, and sentenced to death as an insurrectionist. He was executed in Jerusalem by the Roman occupying authorities, perhaps on a Friday in the spring of the year 30 CE (possibly 0030-APR-07 CE). Christians do not observe the precise anniversary of his death, Instead, they observe Easter each year, at a date between March 22 and April 25th, depending on the nominal date of the Spring Equinox, MAR-21, the phases of the moon, and the sequence of days in the week.

The Bible has two conflicting accounts of his bodily resurrection. One implies that he was dead for about a day and a half and came back to life sometime during Saturday or very early Sunday morning. Another says that he was dead for three days and three nights. The Bible describes his ascension into the clouds towards Heaven either one day after his resurrection or some 40 days later. Again, the biblical references differ. At the time, Jews believed in a three-layer universe with Heaven located above a dome -- called the firmament -- that was suspended over a flat Earth. They believed that Hades was located below the Earth. So to get to Heaven in this design of the cosmos, Yeshua would have had to ascend upwards through the air.

During their ministries, both Yeshua and Paul taught that the end of the world was in their immediate future. They were both wrong. It didn't happen, but many Christians ever since have been convinced that the end will come sometime in their own lifetime. So far, all of them have been wrong as well.

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Shortly after Yeshua's execution, many followers of The Way organized a reformed Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem under the leadership of Jesus' brother James. They believed that Yeshua was a human prophet adopted by God to reform Judaism. This group, often called Jewish Christians, followed the Mosaic Law, including the dietary restrictions. They observed Jewish holy days, circumcised their male infants, and sacrificed in the Jerusalem temple. Most of the Jewish Christians were slaughtered by the Roman Army after the latter's attack on Jerusalem. The rest were scattered.

bullet

Paul of Tarsus: He was originally named Saul and was an orthodox Jew who persecuted followers of The Way. The Bible records that he was present during the stoning of Stephen who is believed to be the first martyr of the Jesus Movement. The Bible describes a vision that Saul had of the risen Christ, circa 34 CE. At the time, Saul he was on the road to Damascus where he had intended to arrest Jesus Movement followers and return them to Jerusalem. His vision had a profound affect on him. He adopted a new name, Paul, left the area for a few years -- apparently to develop a consistent theology that is often referred to as Pauline Christianity, returned to Jerusalem, went on a number of missionary journeys, founded many churches and became the greatest theologian and missionary of the early Christian movement. He wrote a number of epistles -- letters to the churches that he had founded in Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome. Some of the epistles were incorporated into the Christian Scriptures/New Testament. They did not deal primarily with Jesus' life and message; he had already explained these topics when he founded the groups. Rather, he dealt mainly with problems that had later arisen within these communities. Other epistles in his name were written by his followers long after his death and also were accepted into the Scriptures as if they had been written by Paul.

Paul was executed in Rome, probably during the 60's, again by the Roman Empire.

Paul's missionary journeys, and those of his followers, resulted in the establishment of many local churches throughout the Roman Empire that followed his teachings -- often referred to as Proto-Christianity. Paul's version of Christianity abandoned many of the requirements of Judaism, like strict dietary laws, circumcision, etc. His churches flourished in spite of sporadic persecution by the Roman Empire.

Christians in the 4th century CE were divided concerning the relationship between Yahweh, Yeshua and the Holy Spirit. This was finally resolved by votes at various church councils which established the doctrine of the Trinity. Most Christian faith groups ever since view the Trinity as consisting of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These are viewed as three separate persons, all eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibeneficient, etc. who form a single, unified deity. Most Christians believe that Jesus co-existed with God the Father before the creation of the universe.
 

bullet James the Just: He is a.k.a. James of Jerusalem, James Adelphotheos, James the Brother of God, and James the Brother of the Lord. Various Christian denominations consider him to have been the full brother, step-brother, cousin, or friend of Yeshua of Nazareth. Paul mentions in Galatians that James, Cephas (a.k.a. Peter) and John were the three pillars of the Jerusalem "church." 3 According to Wikipedia:

"Tradition, supported by inferences in Scripture, holds that James led the Jerusalem group..."

"In describing James' ascetic lifestyle, Jerome, De Viris Illustribus, quotes Hegesippus' account of James from the fifth book of Hegesippus' lost Commentaries:

'After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem. Many indeed are called James. This one was holy from his mother's womb. He drank neither wine nor strong drink, ate no flesh, never shaved or anointed himself with ointment or bathed. He alone had the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies, since indeed he did not use woolen vestments but linen and went alone into the temple and prayed in behalf of the people, insomuch that his knees were reputed to have acquired the hardness of camels' knees.'

"Since it was unlawful for any but the high priest of the temple to enter the Holy of Holies once a year on Yom Kippur, Jerome's quotation from Hegesippus indicates that James was considered a high priest. The Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions [also] suggest this." 4

The Jewish historian Josephus records that the High Priest Ananus ben Ananus assembled a Sanhedrin -- a Jewish high court -- and arranged to have James stoned to death in the year 62 CE. 4

Reference used:

  1. Mentioned in Acts 9:2.
  2. Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan, "The First Paul: Reclaiming the radical visionary behind the church's conservative icon," Harper One, (2009). Read reviews or order this book safely.
  3. Galatians 2:9.
  4. "James the Just," Wikipedia, 2009-MAR-20, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  5. "What happened to Christ's Church?, New Era, 2005-FEB, at: http://lds.org/
  6. "Elo - Solomon Chronology," The Interactive Bible, undated at: http://www.bible.ca/
  7. Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, "Discovery Proves Bethlehem Part of Kingdom of Judah," Israel National News, 2012-MAY-23, at: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/
  8. Aviram Oshri, "Where was Jesus born?," Archaeology Magazine, Vol 58, #6, 2005-NOV/DEC, at: http://archive.archaeology.org/
  9. book cover imag Bruce Chilton, "Rabbi Jesus," Doubleday, (2002). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store The book is described by one Amazon.com reviewer as: "... as a book of reasonable inferences authored by a scholarly theologian."
  10. "Archaeologist claims Jesus was born in another Bethlehem, real site of Nativity mistaken," 2012-DEC-27, at: http://rt.com/

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Copyright © 2005 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2013-OCT-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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