The men, the most celebrated of the apostolic century, were almost all gained over to the cause in two or three years, by a sort of simultaneous attraction.
Today we continue Christianity Appears
with a selection from Histoire des Origines du Christianisme by J. Ernest Renan published in 1881. The selections are presented in a series of installments for 5 minute daily reading.
Previously in Christianity Appears.
One of the first to affiliate himself with the rising society was a Cypriote, named Joseph Hallevi, or the Levite. Like the others, he sold his land and carried the price of it to the feet of the Twelve. He was an intelligent man, with a devotion proof against everything, and a fluent speaker. The apostles attached him closely to themselves and called him Barnaba, that is to say, “the son of prophecy” or of “preaching.” He was accounted, in fact, of the number of the prophets, that is to say, of the inspired preachers. Later on we shall see him play a capital part. Next to St. Paul, he was the most active missionary of the first century. A certain Mnason, his countryman, was converted about the same time. Cyprus possessed many Jews. Barnabas and Mnason were undoubtedly Jewish by race. The intimate and prolonged relations of Barnabas with the Church at Jerusalem induces the belief that Syro-Chaldaic was familiar to him.
A conquest, almost as important as that of Barnabas, was that of one John, who bore the Roman surname of Marcus. He was a cousin of Barnabas, and was circumcised. His mother, Mary, enjoyed an easy competency; she was likewise converted, and her dwelling was more than once made the rendezvous of the apostles. These two conversions appear to have been the work of Peter.
The first flame was thus spread with great rapidity. The men, the most celebrated of the apostolic century, were almost all gained over to the cause in two or three years, by a sort of simultaneous attraction. It was a second Christian generation, similar to that which had been formed five or six years previously, upon the shores of Lake Tiberias. This second generation had not seen Jesus, and could not equal the first in authority. But it was destined to surpass it in activity and in its love for distant missions. One of the best known among the new converts was Stephen, who, before his conversion, appears to have been only a simple proselyte. He was a man full of ardor and of passion. His faith was of the most fervent, and he was considered to be favored with all the gifts of the Spirit. Philip, who, like Stephen, was a zealous deacon and evangelist, attached himself to the community about the same time. He was often confounded with his namesake, the apostle. Finally, there were converted at this epoch, Andronicus and Junia, probably husband and wife, who, like Aquila and Priscilla, later on, were the model of an apostolic couple, devoted to all the duties of missionary work. They were of the blood of Israel, and were in the closest relations with the apostles.
The new converts, when touched by grace, were all Jews by religion, but they belonged to two very different classes of Jews. The one class was the Hebrews; that is to say, the Jews of Palestine, speaking Hebrew or rather Armenian, reading the Bible in the Hebrew text; the other class was “Hellenists,” that is to say, Jews speaking Greek, and reading the Bible in Greek. These last were further subdivided into two classes, the one being of Jewish blood, the other being proselytes, that is to say, people of non-Israelitish origin, allied in divers degrees to Judaism. These Hellenists, who almost all came from Syria, Asia Minor, Egypt, or Cyrene, lived at Jerusalem in distinct quarters. They had their separate synagogues, and formed thus little communities apart. Jerusalem contained a great number of these special synagogues. It was in these that the words of Jesus found the soil prepared to receive it and to make it fructify.
The primitive nucleus of the Church at Jerusalem had been composed wholly and exclusively of Hebrews; the Aramaic dialect, which was the language of Jesus, was alone known and employed there. But we see that from the second or third year after the death of Jesus, Greek was introduced into the little community, where it soon became dominant. In consequence of their daily relations with the new brethren, Peter, John, James, Jude, and in general the Galilean disciples acquired the Greek with much more facility than if they had already known something of it. The Palestinian dialect came to be abandoned from the day in which people dreamed of a widespread propaganda. A provincial patois, which was rarely written, and which was not spoken beyond Syria, was as little adapted as could be to such an object. Greek, on the contrary, was necessarily imposed on Christianity. It was at the time the universal language, at least for the eastern basin of the Mediterranean. It was, in particular, the language of the Jews who were dispersed over the Roman Empire.
The conversions to Christianity became soon much more numerous among the “Hellenists” than among the “Hebrews.” The old Jews at Jerusalem were but little drawn toward a sect of provincials, moderately advanced in the single science that a Pharisee appreciated–the science of the law. The position of the little Church in regard to Judaism was, as with Jesus himself, rather equivocal. But every religious or political party carries in itself a force that dominates it, and obliges it, despite itself, to revolve in its own orbit. The first Christians, whatever their apparent respect for Judaism was, were in reality only Jews by birth or by exterior customs. The true spirit of the sect came from another source. That which grew out of official Judaism was the Talmud; but Christianity has no affinity with the Talmudic school. This is why Christianity found special favor among the parties the least Jewish belonging to Judaism. The rigid orthodoxists took to it but little; it was the newcomers, people scarcely catechized, who had not been to any of the great schools, free from routine, and not initiated into the holy tongue, which lent an ear to the apostles and the disciples.
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