In this paper we are going to examine the question of emergence of Christianity, paying special attention to the social, religious and philosophical origins of its appearance. Under the origins of Christianity (rather multi-valued concept), we understand the social phenomena (both spiritual and material), which influenced the origin, development, establishment of the Christian religion and, consequently, its main ideas.
Religious origins of Christianity
Like any new religion Christianity did not come out of nowhere. It absorbed the ideas and concepts of other religions, especially Judaism.
In general, we can point to an important continuity, always existing between the early forms of religion – myths, with their polytheism, rites, and religion itself, which arises from them.
Christianity was born first among the Jews of Palestine and other Middle East countries. Connection of the new religion with Judaism emerged particularly in the fact that the scripture of Christians – the Bible, included true Christian works, which formed the New Testament and also the holy books of Judaism followers – the Old Testament.
Judaism is the first serial monotheistic religion. Contradictory traditions of ancient tribes with sacrifices, violence, cruelty combined inconsistently in it with the new features in spiritual and moral spheres, paving the way for Christianity.
Judaism was a religion of people who considered themselves the elect on the basis that God through Moses gave them the law. By adopting this law, the Jews entered into a special relationship with God, concluded a contract with Him, which provided them divine protection if they meet all its requirements.
Shoots of the new in the ancient Jews religion were in special imaginations of history – in the Bible history is treated as a forward motion. Jews believed in coming of Messiah, the savior, revealed by God to establish justice.Christianity borrowed from Judaism a few basic ideas: firstly – the idea of monotheism, i.e., recognition of one God, who created the world and controlled it, and secondly – the idea of messianism, in the third – eschatology, i.e., the idea of the existing world death as a divine intervention result. It should be noted that in Christianity they were significantly transformed: monotheism was subsequently weakened by the doctrine of the divine trinity, messianism turned into a doctrine of all men salvation through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Eschatology, i.e. teaching about the end of the world, was associated with the idea of second coming of Christ.
Among the religious teachings, groups, sects, mass occurrence of which was conditioned by the atmosphere of uncertainty and waiting for the end, prevailing in the society, there was one doctrine which organization was relevant to the origins of Christianity. We are referring to the Qumran community and its teachings. Collins (2009) argues that the influence exerted by Qumran on the early Christians religious teaching was great. According to Edwards (2004), Qumran doctrine played a kind of intermediary role between Orthodox Judaism and Christianity.
Qumran lived in a closed community, characterized by community of property, compulsory labor of all community members, common meals, religious texts learning. Qumran life was strictly regulated. According to Williams (2007), each new member of the community had to give the community “all knowledge, labor, and property”. How not to hear the same calls in the early Christian communities!
Edwards (2004) indicates the great similarity between the ideology and practices of the Qumran community, reflected in the Rules of the early Christian communities.
We, unfortunately, can not dwell on all the possible comparisons between the Qumran and Christian ideologies. We mention only some important similarities.If we talk about the fundamental aspects of the Qumran community religious philosophy – the doctrine of dualism (light and darkness, good and evil, etc.) and predestination, it is known that these doctrines were also circulated among early Christian communities. Brown (1982) mentioned that echoes of the dualistic motives of light – darkness opposition abound in the New Testament writings, and especially ascribed to John (“the spirit of truth and the spirit of error”. It is known that one of the main and at the same time the original provisions of Christianity is the prescription not to evil for evil. According to Williams (2007), an indication of this is found in Community Rules: “I will repay nobody evil and pursue good … because God belongs to all living things on the court, and he owns a reward.”
Finally, we can find similarities in the social principle, philosophy of poverty, indicating the result of general factors acting in similar historical circumstances. Edwards (2004) notes that the expectation of Messiah is not only a religious and mythological idea. The social meaning of messianic aspirations is in the thirst for change, the dream of the world reorganization. At the same time it is an indication of desperation caused by the awareness of impossibility to eradicate evil and social injustice on earth only on the own.
From all this, some scientists have made a logical conclusion that the teachings of Christianity and its historical role, social principles, social organization and daily religious practice of the early Christian communities are not new and entirely original, but only a divine person of Christ, his saving exploit gives Christianity a new entity.Along with the many similarities between the New Testament literature and Qumran’s one many differences are found. The main difference is that the Qumran community was limited to belief in the future coming of Messiah, while the rise of Christianity itself is associated with the belief in the already held coming of Messiah-Christ. In Qumran literature Messiah isn’t yet endowed with specific features of a savior, while the New Testament Christ is first of all the deliverer and savior of the world, who came into the world to sacrificially take all sins on him and redeem them with his blood. Understandably, therefore, that in Qumran texts there is no even hint at such Christian doctrines as the embodiment of people original sin by him, the doctrine of the trinity.
Philosophical origins of Christianity
As to the philosophical origins of Christianity we should mention Marx and Engels (1966). He raised the question of concepts and ideas origin which Christianity developed into a kind of system. We have almost answered this question having considered the religious background of Christianity. In order to answer completely, it is necessary to consider the relationship of Christianity with the philosophy, the lot of the intellectual elite. Marx and Engels (1966) noted the merit of B. Bauer, who showed the association of Christianity with some ancient philosophical currents. Philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who was the first to apply the ideas of the philosophy of Platonism to interpret the Old Testament, was called by Engels “the father of Christianity,” and the representative of the Roman Stoics Seneca – “Uncle” of Christianity. It is also necessary to specify the ethical direction of Greek philosophy, originating with Socrates, who declared contrary to the views of that times, that virtue was the only source security of happiness. He meant by happiness the state of mind of earthly life.
Social origins of Christianity
As to the socio-political situation of that time it should be said that Christianity came at a time when a great empire was torn apart by profound social and political antagonisms, as the movement of the oppressed: it acted first as a religion of slaves and freedmen, the poor and powerless, subjugated and scattered by Rome people.
Marx and Engels (1966) gave the following description of the spiritual and material condition of the society: “the present is unbearable, the future is, perhaps even more menacing. No way out!” In situations of this kind the poor were willing to believe any appeal, promising to release.
As the material state strengthened the running away from the outside world into the inside world strengthened, too.
So, according to Marx and Engels (1966), from this situation of general economic, political, intellectual and moral degradation a way out was found, “but not in this world.”
However, it should be noted that in that position this way out could only be in the field of religion. This religion was Christianity.
Having emerged Christianity came into sharp conflict with all religions existing before. It became the first possible world religion. Why? Firstly – Christian religion denied rites inherent to all the other religions. Secondly, it becomes a supranational religion.
Old religions that existed on the territory of the empire, were ethnically limited (a vivid example is Judaism) and were unable to unite the slaves and oppressed people of different ethnic origin, and moreover, they severed them.
As a conclusion it should be said that Christianity was born as a religion, addressed to all nations. It corresponded to the conditions of the time when there was a mix of various ethnic groups, the natural boundaries between them were destroyed by the Roman conquest. That is the unity of peoples under the shadow of the Roman power contributed to the success of such a universal religion as Christianity, especially since that government found a particular representative in the person of the Roman Emperor.
Brown, R. E. The Epistles of John. Anchor Bible, 30. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982.
Collins, J. Beyond the Qumran Community: The Sectarian Movement of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2009.
Edwards, D. R. Religion and society in Roman Palestine. Old questions, new approaches. NY, 2004.
Marx, K. and Engels F. On Religion. Progress Publishers, 1966.
Williams, T. F. Biblical, Theological, and Religious Studies. Retrieved from http://biblical studies.ca, August 2, 2007.