Introduction to early church history of Catholic Church 2

Introduction to early church history 2 
 Jean Paul

Dates in this period are often open to interpretation - based on tradition rather  than firm historical fact.

Christ was probably born around 6 BC, as Herod had died by 4BC.
25th December is the feast of the Nativity - as this is a Christianised use of the old pagan feast of the unconquered Sun - the strengthening of the sun after the Solstice, 6th January was used in a similar in Egypt and in that area this date was originally used for the celebration of Christmas.  With time these dates were amalgamated so that the feast of Christmas was 25th December and Epiphany 6th January.  Previously Christmas, Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord were all celebrated together as all show the manifestation of the Lord.

Judaism in the 1st Century.

In 70AD the Jewish uprising was defeated, and the temple was destroyed (10th August) it was never rebuilt.

A leading figure in the re-organisation of Judaism after this was Johanan bar Zakkai (he had escaped the fall of Jerusalem in a coffin - pretending to be a corpse).

At a sea-side town called Jathne (or Jamnia) he led the re-organisation of Judaism into Rabbinic Judaism, the temple and Jerusalem no longer existed so there was no place for the Saducees and temple priesthood - essentially the only group was the Pharasees.

The Sanhedrin was replaced by the Bet Din  this is translated as House of Judgement

Why House of Judgement?  The Pharasees in the New Testament were custodians of the oral law - which was a series of  laws and stories built on the teaching of the Torah .  Bet Din made judgements based on this tradition.

Rabbinic Judaism was organised around the oral law - which was seen as a way of organising and interpreting the written law.

This group made decisions about which books belonged to accept as inspired scripture - the books that were accepted were written in Hebrew - books originally written in Greek or books originally written in Hebrew but at that time read from the Greek were excluded, hence the term the Hebrew Scriptures.

Essentially this was a Canon of acceptable inspired scripture - it was not limited to the Torah but also included the prophets and some of the wisdom writing.

This re-organisation is at the basis of modern Rabbinic Judaism centred around the Synagogue using teaching based on the oral law.

Judah ha-Nasi (Judah the Prince) encouraged the writing down of the oral law - this is known as the Mishnah (derived from a word meaning to repeat as it is a repetition of the comments of Rabbis - both from the past and teaching at the time on various subjects).

The overall aim was an attempt to build a fence around the written law to protect it , and the special place that the Torah has in Judaism.  The Mishnah made sure that the regulations of the written law (the Torah) were kept by the people by providing additional laws to enforce them, an example being Kosher food - a list of the food types and ways of cooking that would make sure that food was acceptable to the teaching of the Torah.

This was complete around 100AD.

In 250 - 300AD the Jewish Academies of Babylonia and Palestine made an effort to provide a commentary on the Mishnah - using their traditions - this led to the creation of the Gemorah.  This is published with the text of the Mishnah in the centre of the page and around it the comments.  As both Acadamies had different traditions the comments were different so there are two versions of the gemorah.  The combination of the Gemorah and the Mishbah together are known as the Talmud - today Rabbis study the Talmud as a way of understanding the Mishbah.

As well as the  group at Jathnae there was the wider Jewish population that had lived outside Israel before the fall of Jerusalem:

In the East based around the descendants from the deportation to Babylon - this group were very traditionalist and used Hebrew in their worship.

In the West there were largely economic migrants in places like Egypt and North Africa - these were heavily influenced by the Greco-Roman culture around them.  This group used the Greek language and this led to the translation of the Old Testament in Greek organised by Ptolomey  - the version was called the Septuagint (sometimes shown as LXX) - from the Greek word for seventy, this was based on the legend that 70 scholars had worked on it for 70 days and all arrived at the same version.  This version did include the books and passages found only in Greek - making it different to the Hebrew scriptures.

The tradition in Christianity from the early days was to use the Septuagint version - this continued until the time of Martin Luther who accepted only the books in the Hebrew Canon - this has led to Catholics and Protestants having different versions of the Bible.  If additional texts are included they are in Protestant Bibles they are in a separate section called the Apocrypha (note: this term has a different meaning in Catholicism).

In 130 - 135AD there was a further uprising mainly by the Zealots (this was crushed and the leaders committed suicide rather than surrender to the Romans).  During this uprising the Christian communities fled to areas outside of Jewish control and so were free to use the Septuagint version of the scriptures.

Greco-Roman Empire.

Alexander the Great’s reign (325-323BC) led to a change in the Greek world - from classical Hellenism into a new Hellenistic era which they sought to impose Greek culture on the rest of the known world, away from the classical Greek world centred around Sparta and other centres.  Influences can be seen as far away as India were some statues have Hellenistic characteristics, and indeed with the Hebrew peoples and their translation of the scripture into Greek.  This trend influenced the actions of the Roman empire.

An important concept in Hellenism is Polis (meaning city) as the centre of culture and life.  The Latin equivalent is Urbs - although there’s only one urbs which is Rome - other centres are referred to as Civis, this concept can still be seen in the Urbis et Obis blessing given by the Pope on special feasts (to the City and the World).

Rome adopted the Polis concept - as it was already organised as a City-State. 

In the Greek-Roman concept of Polis there is a strict connection between City-State and religion - leading to the idea of a State-Religion.  In the polis the welfare of the city and its rulers were dependant on the correct worship of the gods. 

Worship was strictly regulated and defined - victims for sacrifice had to be perfect, or replaced if an imperfection was found, any mistakes by the priests in the rituals meant that a ritual had to be restarted, etc.

Everyone was expected to take part - unusually Judaism was tolerated as Jewish bankers had financed Julius Caesar and other emperors so were allowed to practice their religion provided they offered sacrifice for the Emperor.  However this would cause problems for Christianity - as Christians couldn’t take part in the worship of pagan gods.

A civic religion (civis) existed - and as the Roman Empire increased it became more and more syncretistic - this means it associated  Roman gods with gods in the local religion (syncretistic equivalence) - so in Greece the god Jupiter was regarded as another name for Zeus.  The Romans also incorporated Greek mythology as there was no real mythology in the Ronan religion.

In this way Rome was assimilating religions in the areas that it had conquered - and this allowed the conquered peoples to continue practicing their own religion.  There are still elements of this today - in the re-use of pagan  platforms and alters in Christian Churches, or shrines that have been Christianised to have the same function as in pagan times.

It was this approach that Antiochus IV was trying to use when he set up the statue of Zeus in the temple - he was saying that the Jewish God was the same as Zeus (didn’t go down very well with the Jewish people).

So a state religion existed that you had to take part in the rituals of - however there was no compulsion to believe in it, you could worship other gods or be totally sceptic as long as you took part in the religious rituals.  With the coming of the empire worship of the Emperors as divine was also included.  The practice of the religion was a way to show your loyalty and reverence to the state (and emperor).

If people didn’t have to believe in the state religion how did they satisfy their religious cravings - there were different ways of handling this:

a)  Worship of ancient gods that had survived in folk memory - gods of caves, water, trees, etc, to whom sacrifice was offered for things like a good harvest.

b)  Superstition - rites and rituals to affect fate and destiny - to create good fortune or deal with bad fortune.
This includes things like augury (reading the future from animal entrails), astrology, basically different sorts of magic which allowed people to not take responsibility for their own actions and destiny.

c)  Mystery religions - various religions that offered some form of salvation in the form of an after-life,
There were a number of them examples are: Isis-Osiris, Greek version of Egyptian myths, Astare and Attis (or Adonis),  Mithras - all offer some form of life after death - the original was Dionysius - which offered a permanent state of inebriation in the next life!

d)  Philosophy - largely from religious and moral philosophy (not metaphysics) - the various schools provided instructions for a moral life - giving an inner peace and moral values to live by.  The most popular form of this was neo-platoism - based on the teaching of Plato on moral issues (not the metaphysics) with an emphasis on reasoning and meditation.

Christianity arises in the middle of this, which was to lead with conflict with the state-religion and the other existing practices.

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