Christian Origins

Christianity is based on a series of claims about what God has done in the past, as revealed both in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament. Some of these claims intersect with the ordinary world of historical facts, and in a way that makes it vulnerable to them; a demonstration that Jesus had never lived would have much more profound consequences for Christianity than would a similar demonstration that the Buddha had never lived for Buddhism. Furthermore, the authority of the apostles, in that they knew Jesus, has given the practices of the earliest Christians enormous prestige—those which left no or few traces within the New Testament were held by Protestants to have no value as precedents. The relationship between “the Christ of faith” and “the Jesus of history” is thus a question of vital importance for believers no less than for scholars, and the literature devoted to it and other issues of Christian origins has become enormous, controversial, and exciting.

Virtually every current in the world of late European antiquity played within—and against—early Christianity. Knowledge of the Hebrew Bible, and of the writings that were done in Palestine during the 400 years BCE, is essential for any study of Christian origins. However it, and even a knowledge of the New Testament, is not sufficient, since Christian theology from the beginning was influenced by Greek philosophy and by its initially hostile and finally collaborative relationship with the Roman Empire. Thus the story of Christian origins is, among other things, the story of how it was able to become a world-wide religion.