How Christianity Conquered Rome

Famine and war had recently afflicted Caesarea, so when the plague hit in the early fourth century, the populace was already weakened and unable to withstand this additional blow. The populace began fleeing the city, one of the larger ones of the Roman Empire, for safety in the countryside.[i] However, in the midst of the fleeing inhabitants, at least one group was staying behind, the Christians. Bishop of the city and historian of the early church, Eusebius, recorded that during the plague, “All day long some of them [the Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.”[ii]

Cities in the ancient world were even more overcrowded than the densest population centers today. With few sewers existing, cities were filthy beyond imagining and became a breeding ground for disease. Major catastrophes were not uncommon, including fires, plagues, conquests by armies, and frequent earthquakes.[iii] Even though the cities were unpleasant places to live, they were the population and intellectual centers of the empire, and they provided Christians with opportunities for numerical growth and cultural influence. Indeed, Christianity eventually dominated the empire by taking root in almost all the major cities of the ancient Mediterranean world, from Alexandria in North Africa to Cordova in Spain.[iv]

However, the Christian conquest of the Roman Empire came not by the sword, but by the preaching of the gospel joined with acts of compassion. Eusebius goes on to state that because of their compassion in the midst of the plague, the Christians’ “deeds were on everyone’s lips, and they glorified the God of the Christians. Such actions convinced them that they alone were pious and truly reverent to God.”[v] A few decades after Eusebius, the last pagan emperor, Julian the Apostate, recognized that the Christian practice of compassion was one cause behind the transformation of the faith from a small movement on the edge of the empire to cultural ascendancy. Writing to a pagan priest, he said, “[W]hen it came about that the poor were neglected and overlooked by the [pagan] priests, then I think the impious Galilaeans [i.e., Christians] observed this fact and devoted themselves to philanthropy.”[vi] To another, he wrote, “[They] support not only their poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.”[vii] In fact, Julian proposed that pagan priests imitate the Christians’ charity in order to bring about a revival of paganism in the empire.

Julian’s program failed because the polytheism of ancient Rome was unable to sustain the kind of self-sacrificial love and compassion that Eusebius observed in Caesarea. Christianity presented to the ancient world two theological truths that were not to be found in the pagan religions. The first is that the God of Jesus Christ is a God worth dying for, since He had first demonstrated His love for humanity by sending His Son. The second truth was a “new conception of humanity,” that is, the idea that all human beings have special dignity and should therefore be shown compassion.[viii] These two ideas slowly but surely transformed the culture of the Roman Empire. Today, as the West appears to be returning to paganism, the distinctiveness of the Christian doctrines of God and of man will once more stand in stark contrast to the surrounding culture by Christians demonstrating the love of Christ in acts of compassion.

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Endnotes

[i] Caesarea had a population of about 45,000. There were only thirty-one cities in the empire whose populations were greater than 30,000. See Rodney Stark, Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 35-36, 60.

[ii] Eusebius, The Church History, trans. Paul L. Meier (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), 293. In other editions, see IX.viii.13-15. Eusebius records that the famine was so severe that a single measure of wheat was sold for 2,500 drachmas, one drachma being the daily wage of a skilled worker (292). Eusebius interprets the tragic events as divine punishment upon the city for its zeal in carrying out the government-sponsored persecution of the Christians initiated by Caesar Maximin. Shortly after these events Maximin died, Constantine became emperor, and Christianity was legalized throughout the empire.

[iii] Stark, Cities of God, 26-29.

[iv] See Stark, Cities of God, 35-59, for a brief overview of the Christian presence in each of the thirty-one largest cities of the empire.

[v] Eusebius, 293. In other editions, see IX.viii.13-15.

[vi] Julian, “Fragment of a Letter to a Priest,” in The Works of the Emperor Julian, vol. 2, trans. Wilmer Cave Wright (New York: MacMillan, 1913), 337. Julian is not referring to the specific instance that Eusebius cites, but is referring to Christian charity more generally. Elsewhere, Julian stated regarding the Christians, “It is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism” (“To Arsacius, High-Priest of Galatia,” in The Works of the Emperor Julian, vol. 3, trans. Wilmer Cave Wright [New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1923], 69). He went on to say that “I believe that we [i.e., the pagans] ought really and truly to practise every one of these virtues.” Julian’s program of moral reform forbade priests from going to licentious theaters and to sacred games at which women were present. He also encouraged priests to demonstrate hospitality by establishing hostels for travelers and distributing money to the poor. As a former Christian, Julian knew the Christian ethic well. Echoing the words of Jesus about the greatest commandment, Julian summarized the requirements for appointment to the pagan priesthood as love for (the pagan) gods and love for man (“To Arsacius,” 69-71; cf. “Fragment of a Letter to a Priest,” 335-337).

[vii] Julian, “To Arsacius,” 71.

[viii] Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1997), 214.

The Date and Pharaoh of the Exodus?

Have you ever wondered how the details of the Exodus as described in the Bible line up with other historical accounts of the Pharaohs and the building of the pyramids?  When did the Exodus actually occur? These kinds of questions are often asked.  There has been much study and scholarship on early Egyptian history that help us to see how biblical accounts do indeed match up with other historical findings.

To give you an example, we provide you an article from BibleMesh’s The Biblical Story Course on “The Date of the Exodus.”

Synopsis
Because scholars disagree over the date of the Exodus and the identity of the pharaoh, some question the reliability of the story. But the leading theories concerning the Exodus are perfectly compatible with the biblical account.

Date of the Exodus
Virtually all study Bibles, biblical commentaries, and Bible encyclopedias discuss the question of when the Exodus occurred and who was Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus. Though some favor an “early date,” namely 1446 B.C., others suggest a later date, 1290 B.C. or 1260 B.C.[i] In the final analysis, none of the arguments on either side is decisive. Either theory could be true.

Those favoring the early date appeal to 1 Kings 6:1 and Judges 11:26, which name spans of time since Exodus-era events. These scholars also point to archaeological findings at Jericho in Palestine and Amarna and Thebes in southern Egypt.

Those who choose the later date think that reference to the Egyptian cities of Pithom and Raamses in Exodus 1:11 is crucial. They also treat a key number symbolically and argue that the earlier date would have put Israelites in conflict with Egyptians in Canaan, but Joshua and Judges make no mention of this.

Identifying Pharaoh
Since Exodus does not specify Pharaoh by any name other than his official title, identifying the ruler of Egypt at this critical juncture relies almost entirely on the dating issue. Those who hold to the earlier date (1446 B.C.) often argue for Amenhotep II. He was known for his military excursions, including campaigns into Canaan, but after 1446 B.C, his military activities in the area abruptly ceased, consistent with the Egyptian army’s Red Sea disaster. Also, his oldest son did not inherit the throne as would have been customary; he would have been a victim of the horrifying tenth plague.

The later date for the Exodus suggests Raamses II (Raamses the Great). He ruled Egypt from 1279-1213 B.C., gaining fame for his military excursions. But he is particularly renowned for his great building projects, which could easily have included the work mentioned in Exodus 1:11. While some argue that Pharaoh must have died in the Red Sea with his army, the Bible does not say this explicitly, so Raamses could have lived many more years, matching the dates attributed to his reign.

Influence on the Biblical Story
Though the Exodus account makes reference to two Egyptian cities, it does not go into much detail concerning this nation and its rulers. Instead, the work of God and His servant Moses is central – and not the work of Pharaoh. The same was true in Genesis, where Joseph was named, but not his Egyptian ruler.

Not surprisingly, no clear Egyptian record of the enslavement and Exodus can be found, for it was a matter of great national humiliation. In a land where the ruler enjoyed divine status, a story showing that he had feet of clay was not likely to endure.

BibleMesh
As Creator and Lord of the universe, God could have made His holy book, the Bible, a million pages long, for He knew every detail about everything. But He was quite selective. What He supplied in Exodus, in the Gospels – indeed, in all 66 books – was no more and no less than what the reader needs to know. Many questions remain open, but they are secondary. Everything in Exodus is essential; and everything in Exodus is true. It is God’s Word, and when He speaks, He does not mislead.

For Further Study
Ian Shaw, ed., The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); John D. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997); Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008); S. R. K. Glanville, ed., The Legacy of Egypt (Oxford: Clarendon, 1942).

 


[i] See, for example, The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan); ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 33-34; The Apologetics Study Bible (Nashville: Holman, 2007), 83-85; R. Alan Cole, Exodus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 40-43; W. H. Shea, “Date of the Exodus,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 230-238.

Honor, Live Long, and Prosper

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Exodus 20:12 (NIV)

Americans are obsessed, or so it seems, with living a long and healthy life. It should come as no surprise then that products promising the same enjoy widespread popularity. For example, Kevin Trudeau’s Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About, a book that suggests herbal remedies can cure diabetes and cancer, sold five million copies by the close of 2005. Reflecting on the phenomenon one doctor has said, “Some people appear to be under the assumption that they’re going to be the very first person to cheat death.” Now certainly there is nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy. But for all of the time and effort spent on vitamins, whole foods, and Pilates instructors, relatively fewer folks seem to pay attention to a more traditional and time-honored path for long life: honoring one’s parents.

The Fifth Commandment holds a unique place within the Decalogue. As the first directive in the so-called “second table” of the commandments, the Lord prioritized this act of obedience as the foundation of all righteous human-to-human relationships. The Hebrew verb for honor (kabad) carries with it the connotation of “making something weighty.” In other words, in God’s eyes, it is a very serious thing to give your parents the respect—or gravitas—they deserve. This act of obedience is even to be done without reference to the quality of a parent’s parenting. The Fifth Commandment is to be followed at all times and all places and especially when a child becomes an adult. Even when a parent provokes his son to anger or asks him to do something wrong, God will always provide a way for the child to honor the parent, even if obedience, strictly defined, is not an option.

Honoring one’s father and mother provides the necessary support for creating a culture of life. For the parent, it secures the right not to be humiliated by his offspring in the prime of his life, nor to be abandoned or left destitute in his senior years. For the child, the rewards are even more compelling. The Apostle Paul calls the fifth injunction in the Decalogue “the first commandment with a promise” (Eph. 6:2); namely, that “you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” The text means exactly what it says. Vibrant life and spiritual prosperity characterize those who live in accordance with God’s word in this respect. Anyone who embraces this divine vision for reality should expect to experience the “good life” in its fullest and most satisfying sense.

In a culture that despises both the very old and the very young, citizens of the modern world need to hear the lessons of the Fifth Commandment afresh. Commitment to the family does not end when one leaves home. This means that children, particularly when they are grown, must diligently work to protect and care for their father and mother. Never should it be said that saints of God just wasted away in quiet desperation and loneliness, cut off from their children.

When the world looks upon the sons and daughters of the kingdom of God, they should be able to see a host of blessed and honored parents. There are certainly not many guarantees in this life, but the Bible promises a rich and fulfilling existence to those individuals who place the needs of their mothers and fathers above their own.

The Quaint Pony Express Pledge

As Mark Twain remembered in his account of a stagecoach trip through the West,

Stamp_US_Pony_Express_25cHere he comes! Every neck is stretched further, and every eye strained wider. Away across the endless dead level of the prairie a black speck appears against the sky and it is plain that it moves. Well, I should think so. In a second or two it becomes a horse and rider, rising and falling, rising and falling—weaving towards us, nearer and nearer—growing more and more distinct, more and more sharply defined—nearer and still nearer, and the flutter of the hoofs come faintly to the ear—another instant, a whoop and a hurrah from our upper deck, a wave of the rider’s hand, but not reply, a man and a horse burst past our excited faces, and go winging away like a belated fragment of a storm.[i]

It was a Pony Express rider, one of over 200 who carried mail on the 2,000-mile route between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California—men with names like Lafayette Bolwinkle and G. G. Sangiovanni, and with nicknames like “Irish Tom” and “Pony Bob.”[ii] Though it ran for little more than a year (trumped by the telegraph, which could deliver a message in seconds rather than days), it became a treasured item of American lore.

Less well known is the religious devotion of a partner in the parent firm—Alexander Majors—and his efforts to instill a high moral standard in his company.[iii] Consider the riders’ oath:

I . . . do hereby swear, before the Great and Living God, that during my engagement, and while an employee of Russell, Majors and Waddell, I will, under no circumstances, use profane language, that I will drink no intoxicating liquors, that I will not quarrel or fight with any other employee of the firm, and that in every respect I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful to my duties, and so direct all my acts as to win the confidence of my employers, so help me God.[iv]

Furthermore, each rider and each way station was issued a special, calf-bound[v] edition of the Bible, supplied by the American Bible Society.[vi] Of course, riders were known to “backslide” from the pledge, the Bible was not typically at the forefront of their reading list, and enforcement was difficult in the sparsely populated wilderness,[vii] but Majors gave it his best, and it helped.

Prior to the Pony Express, Majors was a successful “freighter” in the West, with 100 wagons, 1,200 oxen, and 120 employees. Each worker had to pledge he would “treat animals in his care with kindness, use no profanity, stay sober at all times, and behave like a gentleman while in his employ.” Majors “rested his oxen and men from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning, and held worship services for his men on Sunday.”[viii] He noted, “When they saw I was willing to pay them the same price as that paid for work including the Sabbath day, and let them rest on that day, it made them feel I was consistent in requiring them to conduct themselves as gentlemen.”[ix]

“Buffalo Bill” Cody, himself a rider, featured Pony Express reenactments in his “Wild West” show. Praising his former employer, Cody reported, “Every man, from wagon-boss and teamster down to rustler and messenger-boy, seemed anxious to gain the good will of Alexander Majors and to hold it, and to-day he has fewer foes than any one I know.”[x]

Of course, these quaint pledges and practices would run afoul of lawyers and stockholders today, but there are new enforced pieties in the land, legal codes normalizing homosexuality and requiring funds for abortifacients. And biblically-sensitive companies such as Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby (both of which, following Majors, honor the Lord’s Day) take a beating from the commissars of political correctness, whether the head of HHS or the mayor of Chicago. Majors may have made it tough for ruffians to get a job in his company, but now the government is making it tough for committed Christians to field a company in the first place.

 

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Endnotes

[i] Mark Twain, Roughing It, 1872 (New York: Airmont Books, 1967), 39.

[ii] “Pony Express Riders,” Pony Express Museum Website, http://ponyexpress.org/pony-express-riders/ (accessed February 4, 2013).

[iii] “A Calvinist, Majors was a deeply religious man, a fundamentalist who read the Bible daily” [Christopher Corbett, Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express (New York: Broadway Books, 2003), 22].

[iv] “Pony Express Historical Timeline,” Pony Express Museum Website, http://ponyexpress.org/pony-express-historical-timeline/ (accessed February 4, 2013).

[v] Alexander Majors, Seventy Years on the Frontier: Alexander Majors’ Memoirs of a Lifetime on the Border, ed. Colonel Prestiss Ingraham, with a Preface by “Buffalo Bill” (General W. F. Cody) (Chicago and New York: Rand, McNally & Company, 1893), Kindle edition, location 2732, 58%.

[vi] “Did ABS Print a Special Pony Express Bible?” Record Online: Digital Magazine of the American Bible Society, http://record.americanbible.org/content/bible-qa/did-abs-print-special-pony-express-bible (accessed February 4, 2013).

[vii] Corbett, Orphans Preferred, 101.

[viii] Anthony Godfrey, Historic Resource Study: Pony Express National Historic Trail (United States Department of the Interior/National Park Service, August 1994), 32.

[ix] Majors, Seventy Years on the Frontier, Kindle edition, location 989, 21%.

[x] William Cody, Foreword to Majors, Seventy Years on the Frontier. Kindle edition, location 89, 2%.

All the (Future) President’s Men—John Adams (1735-1826)

John AdamsIn 1774, as Britain and the American colonies verbally sparred over the issues of taxation, representation, and national identity, John Adams wrote a chronology of the conflict entitled Novanglus: A History of the Dispute with America from Its Origin to the Present Time. The future President of the United States realized that a corrupt people could never sustain a moral debate with King George III, much less a civilized society. Directing his comments specifically to his local context, Adams called upon the obvious source of rescue: he called upon pastors of his day to address the sins of both the state and individuals while simultaneously calling them to articulate a vision for public virtue.

It is the duty of the clergy to accommodate their discourses to the times, to preach against such sins as are most prevalent, and recommend such virtues as are most wanted. For example,—if exorbitant ambition and venality are predominant, ought they not to warn their hearers against those vices? If public spirit is much wanted, should they not inculcate this great virtue? If the rights and duties of Christian magistrates and subjects are disputed, should they not explain them, show their nature, ends, limitations, and restrictions, how much soever it may move the gall of Massachusetts?

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Endnote

John Adams, “Novanglus: A History of the Dispute with America, from Its Origin in 1754, to the Present Time”; cited in Norman Cousins, ed., “In God We Trust”: The Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), 89-90.

Losing the Faith in One Generation

7 And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel. 8 And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of 110 years. . . 10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel. 11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger.

Judges 2:7-12 (ESV)

ParentingGertrude Himmelfarb’s Marriage and Morals among the Victorians traces the abandonment of Christianity by certain descendants of the evangelical Clapham Sect, whose members included Henry Thornton and Hannah More. Indeed, so far did their offspring move from Christ that within two generations, Thornton’s great-grandson and More’s goddaughter’s great-nephew, E. M. Forster was a member of the socially dissolute Bloomsbury Set, which included Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf.

Israel knew all about the failure to pass on God’s ways across several generations. Having brought the people into the promised land of Canaan, led them through many victories, and set a good example of trust in God, Joshua died when he was 110 years old (v. 8). After his death, other contemporaries lived on for a while, but then they too died out (v. 10a). God’s people served God faithfully as long as these eye-witnesses of God’s goodness to Israel preserved the memory of God’s greatness (v. 7). But when Joshua’s generation died out, their descendants lacked that personal knowledge of God and promptly forgot all that the Lord had done for their nation (v. 10b).

The new generation’s ignorance led them into idolatry that kindled God’s anger against them (v. 11-12), beginning a cycle repeated throughout Judges (cf. 2:14-19). Somehow Joshua’s generation failed to keep the record of all that God had done for them alive. They had forgotten that the first responsibility of parents after loving God is to store God’s word in their hearts and pass it on to their children (Deut. 6:4-9; 11:18-19). Hence, the parents’ failure to pass on to their children a testimony to the reality of God’s grace and power (cf. Joel 1:3) resulted in a “generational gap.”

If God’s people do not constantly ponder and pass on the good news of salvation, their children’s faith will last no longer than the morning dew. The Bible contains no guarantee that salvation automatically transfers from parent to child, a fact that should sober even Christ’s most faithful servants. Certainly, a mother or father’s life of holiness and biblical instruction are means by which boys and girls come to know the Lord. But family religion alone is not enough. One becomes a Christian by faith and grows as a Christian only through a deeply personal walk with Jesus, and a life that is hidden in God. It is a lesson so obvious that it is easy to forget. And it most definitely is a leading reason why Europe—once a thoroughly Christian continent—now copes with the emptiness of secularism’s spectre and countless young people who embrace no belief save nihilism.

Parents and pastors know within their own families and churches how easily people presume to live on their parents’ spiritual capital. While the Clapham evangelicals are praiseworthy for their gospel stand on many social ills in Victorian England, not least child labor and the slave trade, their descendants stand as reminders that Christ cannot be received by osmosis.