A History of Christianity- Before Christianity - A Study Project
A History of Christianity by Diarmaid MacCulloch (2009).
This will be the first post in what I hope will be a series of posts simply writing up my thoughts and findings as I progress through this monumental piece of History by Dairmaid MacCulloch. When I was in sixth form, at the urging of my history teacher, I head his fantastic book “Tudor Church Militant” and fell in love with English Reformation history.
I am afraid to say then, that apart from the odd chapter here and there for research purposes, I’ve never since read any more of his work. Until now. This huge history was published in 2009 and has a BBC documentary series (which I’ve not seen) to go with it.
I am a modern historian by training and temperament so most of what is covered in this book is new to me. I have had a lifelong fascination with Christianity, with the chief catalyst being a semester long student exchange at the University of Arkansas in 2005. Coming from ‘Red Essex’ (as it was once known) going to ‘Redneck’ territory was certainly something of an eye opener! I left with a quiet admiration for the way their society had been shaped by the faith – but a longing to discover ‘how’ this came into being. Being from the Old World, it took a stay in the New World to make me look again at my own society and culture. This is of course the very purpose of travel!
I hope these notes and findings can be of use to the casual reader but I will admit I am writing and posting them mainly as a mechanism to track my own thoughts. If you have stumbled across these posts and wish to leave any comments or start a conversation on twitter (@pbgrange) then I would love to hear from you.
I also intend (‘intend’ being the word here – life will inevitably throw up some distractions) to accompany this reading and study with a simultaneous and similar approach to learning more about the Bible itself – using the fantastic videos on the New Testament found at https://bibleproject.com/explore/ .
They seem to take an encouragingly matter of fact and broad approach to explaining the doctrines that have so fascinated me ever since I was invited to say grace at an Arkansan family dinner (a thoroughly uncomfortable experience for an (at the time) out and proud heathen).
Let’s see what happens:
Chapter 1: In what culture and climate did Christianity emerge? (my chapter title).
Firstly, Jesus Christ is actually Joshua the Anointed One.
Homer, was a big cheese apparently. Greek chap, wrote Iliad (about the siege of Troy) and Odyssey (a journey around the Med). His writings became a template for Greek thought and expression – and therefore a building block of the traditions that shaped the religious philosophies of Christianity.
The Greek city states are the first recorded example of authority to govern being justified by something other than a connection to a deity.
Socrates à Plato à Aristotle.
Socrates emphasis on logical argument, the ‘Socratic Principle’ – combined with Plato’s view of their being a ‘universal perfect’ that all things are aspiring towards were vital in the shaping of religious thoughts.
Indeed, Plato’s belief in God representing ‘Goodness’ and ‘Perfection’ CONFLICTS with Socrates and Aristotle’s belief in more evidenced based approaches to researching answers. These two threads make their way into Christianity and become one of the central divisions within the faith also.
“Christian debate about faith and the world involved a debate between two Greek ghosts, Plato and Aristotle, who had never head the name of Jesus Christ”.
NOTE TO SELF: The Persian v Greek war of 499BCE sounds like something well worth researching at a later date!
Classical Greece (the democracies with BEAT Persia!) were swept away by Alexander the Great (from Macedonia, and who captured most of the Middle East, Egypt and Persia). However, he was a great admirer of Greek culture and did not change much, indeed actually spread the Greek culture throughout his new Empire. When the Empire collapsed what was left in place across this region was a series of Greek themed monarchies. So despite ending the Classical Greek period Alexander the Great established a new era of ‘Greek-iness’ which is known as ‘Hellenistic’ across this region.