10 Unexpected Facts About Early Christianity

I shared an article written by Candida Moss on my personal Facebook page today, and couldn’t help but write an accompanying diatribe about underlying facts that inform my interpretation of articles and books such as these. I thought I’d modify it and post here, as well.

Saint_James_the_Just

This is a more superficial glance into early Christianity than I usually give here, and it also avoids straying too much from scholarly consensus…but I still think these facts make it much more difficult to believe the traditional narrative remembered about early Christianity:

1. The Gospels aren’t written in the right language. Most of the earliest manuscripts are in Greek, but some exist in other languages, as well, such as the Egyptian Coptic language. There were rumors of early Gospel manuscripts written in Aramaic and Hebrew, but no such manuscript has ever been found
2. The Gospel authors didn’t use the right version of the “Old Testament”. References to the Old Testament in the Gospels were readings from the Greek version of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint. One would expect the Gospels to make reference to the Hebrew Old Testament, but they don’t.
3. Despite it appearing first in the New Testament, Matthew was not the first Gospel written. Rather, the first Gospel appears to be Mark, or some version of it. This is to say, the first Gospel lacked a virgin birth. Some early Christian sects were adamant that Jesus was not born of a virgin. The earliest manuscripts of Mark also lack a resurrection.
4. According to some of the earliest Christian writers, Christian sects tended not to use multiple Gospels; rather, they used a single Gospel (AH iii.11.7). The Gospels were not compiled into a multi-text “canon” until the late 2nd century. Some combinations were “harmony Gospels”, but the prototype for the current New Testament was assembled by a bishop named Irenaeus, Circa 185.
5. The earliest Christian to compile a multi-text canon was named Marcion, a native of Northern Turkey. One might expect Marcion was an ardent follower of the Jewish Apostles, but he was not. Rather, he saw the Apostles, such as Peter, James, and John, to be inferior to the person he considered to be the true revealer of Christian knowledge, the Apostle Paul. Marcion’s name translates to “Little Mark.”
6. Despite the geography referenced in the New Testament, there is not much evidence Christianity was actually popular around Jerusalem. The Gospel of Mark even seems unfamiliar with geography, having Jesus walk some 50 unnecessary miles on foot to a city called Tyre.
7. Christianity was very popular in Turkey, Syria, and Egypt, before it moved into Rome.
8. According to some early Bishops, some Christian sects believed Jesus lived 100 years earlier than tradition states. There is also a Jewish anti-Christian text called the Toldoth Yeshu which makes reference to Jesus living at this time.
9. There was a contemporary and competitor of Jesus, named Simon – a magician, who referred to himself as “the Standing One”. Some “radical” scholars in the late 19th and early 20th century believed that the person we remember as the Apostle Paul was actually an encryption of this Simon. Many words were written about Simon by early Christian writers, and he even shows up in the New Testament, in Acts of the Apostles 8. Though the Paul=Simon theory never became popular consensus, one can build an interesting narrative around it.
10. There are references throughout Mark’s Gospel to magic. Jesus is clearly a magician in Mark. He uses saliva to restore hearing and sight to people who were without. Such practices were common for 1st and 2nd century magicians. An interesting detail about the Gospel of Matthew is that it removes such magical references. This makes sense, given what we know about the Matthew community; in particular, they were more attached to the day’s Jewish Orthodoxy than was Mark’s community. The rest of Christianity followed suit, but it makes the question of who originally authored and used Mark much more intriguing.

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Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

15 thoughts on “10 Unexpected Facts About Early Christianity”

      1. I’m constantly surprised how this isn’t a bigger thing. I mean, come’on people, the earliest version of the story failed to mention the most important part.

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  1. I do hope you got her permission to edit her work.

    I didn’t find anything on the list that I wasn’t aware of already, but I suspect most Christians are not and probably wouldn’t care if they were made aware.

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  2. It should be added that the actual references to our canonical gospels as we have them didn’t appear until the middle of the 2nd century, and that the first time it was cited by anyone verbatim is at the last quarter of the 2nd century. I think there are a few scholars who argue about the Aramaic/Hebrew origins of the NT but that isn’t supported by the majority of conservative and liberal scholars because we don’t have the originals and the extant manuscripts doesn’t bear any trace that it was translated to Greek.

    Despite the geography referenced in the New Testament, there is not much evidence Christianity was actually popular around Jerusalem. The Gospel of Mark even seems unfamiliar with geography, having Jesus walk some 50 unnecessary miles on foot to a city called Tyre.

    I agree. That’s why even the Talmud is a pitiful reference when it comes to Jesus’s existence. The earliest strata of the Talmud called “Mishna” doesn’t even mention Jesus Christ at all. Also, most of the Taldmudic references about Jesus are commentaries about what is in circulation about him and not an actual eyewitness testimony. Of course, someone will then bring up bone boxes in Talpiot, skull of the apostle John, Shroud of Turin, etc but those are even more pathetic and is based on wishful thinking.

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  3. We have the orthodox narrative which takes the gospel narrative as literal with all miracles and a belief in the impossible. It is interesting that in academic circles such a position could actually be given any credence. Nevertheless, there is also the variant of this which props up the former, which is to assume that if you remove the impossible from the stories, you are left with a historical narrative about how Christianity began. It is extraordinary that agnostic scholars do not see any flaw in this position.
    The non-miraculous orthodoxy still has no explanation for how Christianity had become so diverse in theology and cosmology within only one hundred years. These psuedo-orthodox scholars are quick to rubbish mythicism for grasping onto straws, yet offer nothing to explain the chaotic state of Christianity in the 2nd century.

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    1. The letter of the Syrian Mara bar Serapion is probably one of the worthless evidence of Jesus’s existence (including Thallus, Phlegon, Talmud, etc) who allegedly wrote from 73 ad/ce all the way to the 3rd century. In his letter, he was talking about a “wise king” of the Jews, whose after his execution his kingdom got abolished. The problem of course is that he could be talking about anyone. Who is this wise king bar Serapion talking about?

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