Listers might be interested to learn of Rodney Stark's latest foray into the
earliest centuries of the Christian movement. His Cities of God traces and
seeks to explain the growth of the early church beginning in the East and
moving West by taking root initially in the more Hellenized port cities. He
1. Paul's missionary activity, in spite of being characterized as directed
to the Gentiles, was largely to Hellenized Jews, and probably had no
significant impact on the rate of penetration overall. (He repeats his
argument that the mission to the Jews was not unsuccessful with many "more
Hellenized" Jews over the next several centuries being attracted to a
version of their faith that enabled them to hold on to their ancestral
scriptures with the added benefit of being less marginalized.)
2. the earlier spread of Cybele and Isis cults in some measure prepared
these same ports cities for otherwise unusual Christian ideas.
3. that "Gnosticism"the name should be abandoned since it is so broad as to
be next to uselessinstead of being a more enlightened form of Xty was a
disparate collection of marginal and largely insignificant groups or
individuals that attempted to absorb aspects of Christianity into a largely
pagan outlook. Where they have been tested the fathers have been remarkably
accurate in their recounting of such beliefs and generally did not
misrepresent them to suit an apologetic agenda. Given the beliefs attested
in the canonical NT, of course such views would be regarded as heretical and
it is therefore specious to accuse the church fathers of being intolerant.
4. the oft-cited state-sponsored Christian suppression of paganism under
Constantine and his successors is a myth. Those emperors regularly continued
to appoint pagans to high positions, and were generally quite tolerant of
paganism (there are a couple of minor exceptions, but nothing like pagan
persecution of Xty) which eventually after a long and slow decline
eventually faded away.
5. Mithraism was never really a threat to Xty being found largely only among
the military and primarily at the borders of the Empire.
As always, a stimulating and provocative (and in this case short) read.