Thirty million people, give or take. In less than four hundred years. That’s the mark of Christianity, according to Ehrman. Christianity didn’t have to become a massive moment. It could have been like the Sadducees or Essenes – simple footnotes in history. Instead, it was the massive movement that neither the Jews or Romans wanted at the time. Ironic, in a way. Christianity, the early hated religion, became the largest influence and transformation in the world, touching art, philosophy, ethics, and so much more.
During my early doctoral thesis work, I stumbled upon the historical facts of Christianity that clashed with my faith. Even further, the theological assumptions I made unraveled when I tried to prove my own beliefs beyond reasonable doubt. That is what led to my abandonment of the evangelical fold and walk to return my family line to an Orthodox Jewish observance. Soon after fateful meetings with local rabbis and a move into the community, I discovered Bart Ehrman. My dissertation is littered with his impact as I critically evaluated the impact of Christianity and its triumph, including how it simply fails to address the Jewish needs or complete a Jewish theological view of a messianic era. All this just to say that Ehrman is an academic that logically and masterfully weaves his works to explore the topic at hand and reveal his renowned expertise in the field. This work is no different.
The timeline starts at 0, the “reset” that the Gregorian calendar follows. That’s around 3760 on the Jewish calendar. The conversion of Constantine marks where Christianity made the leap to the big screen, so to say: national religion. Most of Ehrman’s work focuses on the thesis: how Christianity became an empire. He looks at the pagan beliefs at the time and the political upheaval that enabled the unlikely success of a small religious sect. Ehrman even spends time discussing Christian martyrdom and persecution on the path to nationwide election. At the end, though, the book is about the triumph of Christianity as a nationwide religion and major player in history to become one of the “big three” religions of contemporary times (Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism) and monotheistic faiths (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity).
Suffice it to say, evangelicals will outright dismiss this work. Some will even write apologetics against it. None, however, will successfully refute the archeology and anthropological history that Ehrman metaphorically and literally digs up. Then there’s the other side of the scale: those who outright support the book without deep evaluation and those who consider and weigh the facts and arguments. Ehrman isn’t perfect, and he makes mistakes. His mistakes, though, help prove the point of humanity and our need to grow throughout history.
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