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Overview of Christian Scriptures: Christianity overruns the Empire

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Major points:

  1. Pagan cults (Isis, Mithraism) influence Christianity.
  2. Nag Hammadi library reveals literature from early Christian era.
  3. Pliny the Younger writes Trajan (112) and Roman policy toward Christians is established.
  4. Christianity, having lost its sectarian attachment to Judaism, becomes a seditious religious cult, a superstition.
  5. Stories of the martyrs strengthen the faith and make Christianity well-known.
  6. Proliferation of Christian gospels and teachings; Gospel of Thomas; Gnostic Christianity, Marcion.
  7. Orthodox response (Irenaeus).
  8. Christianity provides a welfare system, competing with Rome in providing religious and secular benefits.
  9. Christianity becomes perceived as a threat to Rome; widespread persecution.
  10. Constantine. Battle of the Milvian Bridge. “By this, conqueror”.
  11. Persecution of heterodox Christians.

Learning objectives covered:

Explain the criteria process of canonization as it applies to the Christian Scriptures. This video's extensive discussion about the proliferation of Christian gospels and teachings and the response by Irenaeus demonstrates how the church responded by limiting which writings would become part of the canon. See 28:30 to 33:50.

Major concepts:

Cult. A religious group with no attachment to the established religion or culture and without any social standing. Cults are always without social standing, vulnerable to attack by the religious/political establishment. In the case of Christianity, the Jesus Movement began as a Jewish sect. As a sect, it was somewhat protected by its association with Judaism. When Christianity and Judaism parted ways, it was perceived as a superstitious cult and its members became vulnerable to persecution. This phenomenon is no different today. Unity, when perceived as an "educational movement inaugurated by Jesus Christ" functions as a Christian sect. When it is perceived as abandoning it's tie to Christianity, it is often condemned by the establishment as a cult.

Orthodoxy. The need for a consistent message for a religious movement. Can a community with a spiritual smorgasbord provide religious benefits?

Religious strictness and religious commitment. Religious movements which impose strict behavior on their members tend to weed out the uncommitted and therefore become more attractive to those who are motivated by religious benefits. This explains why the stories of the martyrs strengthened the Christian movement.