Christianity: In the BeginningUntil the martyrdom of Jesus, Judaism was the uncontested religion of Jerusalem. But what began as a Jewish sect quickly spiraled into a worldwide phenomenon, with repercussions that have resounded from thousands of years ago to this day. The rise of Christianity marks an event in history that would forever change the face of religion in the Holy City and the world.
In the latter days of the Second Temple, when Roman occupation was a constant shadow on the streets of Jerusalem, there arose the man who was destined to inspire one of the most popular religions on earth. The crucifixion of Jesus is an event that has been universally told and retold for centuries.
The first Christians were Jews, and in fact did not yet refer to their belief system as Christianity. The first Jews to follow the teachings of Jesus were adherents to Jewish law and still revered the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In that age, the practice of Judaism had splintered into several sects that often clashed, so the presence of yet another sect did not immediately present itself as a threat to the Jewish religion. Jewish Christians believed that Jesus had been the Messiah and would someday return to earth.
The first Christian leaders are known as the “Pillars”; three men who formed the bedrock of the faith. Foremost among them was James the Tzaddik (i.e., “righteous man”), Jesus’ brother. James was not initially a follower of Jesus, but experienced a vision of Jesus following his brother’s crucifixion. James was a highly respected figure throughout the city, who kept the laws of ritual purity so stringently that he was even permitted in parts of the Holy Temple usually reserved for priests. The other two of the “Pillars” were Peter and John, and all three men led the mother church that was located in Jerusalem.
Other churches sprung up in other towns in Judea. But it was Paul, a Jewish convert to Christianity, who spearheaded the transformation of Christianity from a sect of Judaism to a universal religion. With the consent of James, Paul led missions to convert gentiles to Christianity. James acquiesced on condition that the new converts would donate money to the mother church, as fulfillment of the prophecy of the End of Days which foretold that gentiles would bear gifts to Jerusalem.
Paul’s universalization of Christianity cut the religion from its moorings in Jerusalem. From that time on, Christianity was a religion that had no place, no fixed physical dwelling. Its location was in the belief in Jesus, which could be found anywhere.
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