RE: The Nature of Belief

Jim Whitehead (
Mon, 22 Sep 1997 23:01:47 -0700

On Monday, September 22, 1997 8:38 AM, Robert Harley
[] wrote:
> Ron Resnick wrote:
> >[...]
> >At 11:10 PM 9/14/97 -0700, Ernie wrote:
> >[...]
> >>Further, I believe that the most logical explanation for both the
> >>written record and the incredible transformation which swept the first
> >>century Roman Empire was that:
> >>- There was a man named Jesus who claimed to be the Jewish God

A few corrections to historical facts are in order.

1) In the first century AD, Christianity was, for the most part, a rather
marginal religion within the Roman empire, with adherents among mostly the
lower classes. The inroaads of Christianity varied from city to city -- in
ancient Ostia (by the 1st century AD, the primary seaport for Rome,
situated right on the Tiber), for example, Mithrianism was the dominant
religion in the city in the first century AD, and there is only evidence of
a single christian center in the entire city of 50,000. A more accurate
picture of early Christianity is of a scrappy, persistent, diffuse
organization which slowly won converts from other religions. But, given
that other religions included orgiastic elements in their services, I
imagine that Christianity was a hard sell. It isn't until the middle of
the 2nd century AD that Christianity starts to pick up large numbers of
converts (as a percentage of the total Roman population), and even in 313,
when Constantine issued the edict of Milan, Christianity was by no means so
firmly entrenched that the edict was a mere rubber stamp of existing

2) The official religion of Rome included worship of past emperors. I
believe this started with the son of Julius Caesar, who wanted to deify his
father to further improve his power base. Future emperors continued this
trend, eventually ending up with living emperors being claimed as gods (why
wait for the beneficial effects?) In my opinion, I suspect that the
emperors themselves were all too aware of their mortality, and cynically
perpetuated the godliness of emperors as a political tool (the Romans were
masters of propaganda). I also suspect that most citizens of the empire
didn't believe in the godliness of the emperors, but went along with it to
further their commercial interests.

- Jim