The Early Growth of Christianity

Under the leadership of the apostles Peter and Paul, who both died around the year 64 CE, the early Christian community grew from Jerusalem to Rome, from a Palestinian Jewish sect to a more universal group that included Gentile non-Jewish people, all around the Mediterranean area.  The travels of Paul as found in the Acts of the Apostles and his letters give a glimpse into what was happening back then.  The followers of Jesus Christ began to differentiate themselves from the Rabbinic Judaism that was developing at the same time.

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The two-source theory

Dating an ancient document is never an exact science.  However, today general scholarship about the New Testament books holds that the short Gospel of Mark was the oldest Gospel.  The first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians was the oldest document, from around the year 50 CE.  Mark, with a hypothetical other source (Q=Quelle) that is now lost, became the source for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  The Gospel of John was generally considered to be the last of the gospels, around 90 -100 CE.

Criteria for the sacred Christian books

The first collection of these Christian books (biblia) was the Pauline letters and the Acts of the Apostles around the year 100 CE.  The collection of the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John was present by the year 200 CE.  By 367 CE, Christians had arrived at a consensus about the twenty-seven books of the New Testament that we have today.  The criteria for the sacred books of the biblical New Testament were a connection with the apostles and one of the major Christian communities, while being orthodox in its views.

Should they continue to mourn (Zech 7:2-7:3)

“Now the people of Bethel

Had sent Sharezer

And Regem-melech,

With their men,

To entreat

The favor of Yahweh.

They were to

Ask the priests

Of the house of Yahweh of hosts,

With the prophets,

‘Should I mourn?

Should I practice abstinence

In the fifth month,

As I have done

For so many years?’”

The people of Bethel, from the old northern kingdom of Israel sent a couple of representatives to Jerusalem.  The two men were Sharezer and Regem-melech, both with Assyrian sounding names.  They had come to Jerusalem to find favor with Yahweh.  Thus, they went to his priests and prophets.  They wanted to know if they still had to mourn and abstain in the 5th month of the year as they had done for many years.  Apparently, the 5th month was when the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in 587 BCE.  Was the time of mourning for the old Temple over?

A new vision (Zech 1:7-1:7)

“On the twenty-fourth day

Of the eleventh month,

The month of Shebat,

In the second year

Of King Darius,

The word of Yahweh

Came to the prophet Zechariah,

The son of Berechiah,

The son of Iddo.”

This apparently is the first of 8 visions that Zechariah had.  This oracle of Yahweh took place on the 24th day of the 11th month in the 2nd year of King Darius, either late 520 BCE or early 519 BCE.  This month was called Shebat.  Once again, there is a mention of Zechariah’s lineage, via Berechiah and Iddo, with Iddo the most well-known.

Title (Hag 1:1-1:1)

“In the second year

Of King Darius,

In the sixth month,

On the first day

Of the month,

The word of Yahweh

Came by the prophet Haggai,

To Zerubbabel,

The son of Shealtiel,

Governor of Judah.

It also came

To Joshua,

The son of Jehozadak,

The high priest.”

There is a precise date to this prophetic happening, August, 520 BCE, the second year of the great King Darius of Persia (522-486 BCE).  During his reign, he ruled over nearly ½ of the known world, over 50,000,000 people.  The word of Yahweh came through the prophet Haggai, although there is no mention of his family.  Perhaps he was one of those returning from the exile in Babylon.  In the Book of Ezra, chapter 5, Haggai and Zechariah were explicitly mentioned as prophets.  There was also a eunuch servant Haggai in the Book of Esther, but there seems to be no connection to this Haggai.  This Haggai was to prophesize to Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, who was the grandson of one of the last kings of Judah, King Jehoiachin (598 BCE).  Thus, he could be in the Davidic line.  He probably died sometime around 520 BCE, sometime around the events described here.  King Cyrus had appointed Zerubbabel to be the Governor of Judah in 538 BCE, when he was among the first exiles sent back to Jerusalem.  Joshua, the son of Jehozadak was the high priest in Jerusalem from 515-490 BCE.

The two elder judges (Dan 13:5-13:6)

“That year,

Two elders

From the people

Were appointed

As judges.

Concerning them,

The Lord had said.

‘Wickedness came forth

From Babylon,

From elders,

Who were judges.

They were supposed

To govern the people.’

These men

Were frequently

At Joakim’s house.

All who had a case

To be tried

Came to them.”

That year, the Jewish or Israelite people chose or appointed these two elders to be their judges. However, there was a saying of the Lord, probably referring to something from Jeremiah, chapter 25, that seemed to indicate that these two men were wicked judges because they were not governing the people correctly. These two elders were often at Joakim’s house, because they held their trials there. They would judge the Israelite exiles with their various disputes.