Questions about Christianity

Note: opinions about religion are naturally controversial. As with the comments above about Judaism, what follows is my survey of various results of modern scholarship with notes on what various more orthodox believers have believed on these issues. There is no claim here to absolute truth. Many of the answers below refer you to the excellent PBS series and Web site "From Jesus to Christ." You can check out the whole series from MMS in the library. It's VHS 18172 (four parts). Conservatives not prepared to grant the basic premises of modern Biblical scholarship and who take the Biblical text literally will not be persuaded by the arguments there and may well misunderstand the evidence being presented, but others will find it interesting. You can watch these films for extra credit, but to appreciate the whole series you need to view all four parts.

Where did Christianity first originate from and who created it?
Conservatives would say God created it by sending Jesus, his son, to earth around 6 or 7 BCE. Modern scholars often consider it a joint creation of Jesus, a radical Jew seeking to reform Judaism, and Paul, who developed his ideas into a separate religion. This whole topic is explored at length in "From Jesus to Christ."

How did the views of the Christians become so different from others to begin with?
If you mean "different from other Jews," the fact is that Jews were arguing passionately with each other about their faith during his lifetime. People like the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls had some pretty odd beliefs from the point of view of what we think of as orthodox Judaism. Jesus' followers were one among many groups reinterpreting what their religion should mean. We can't trace the process now because too much information has been lost; but clearly one major influence on the formation of Christian thought was the Roman-Jewish conflict of 66-70 CE, which made the Christians determined to distance themselves from the Jews the Romans seemed bent on destroying. They emphasized in every way they could the differences between themselves and other Jews.

Why is the Christian interpretation of the Bible and the Jewish interpretation so different?
Again, Jews themselves interpreted the Hebrew Bible in a host of different ways; but Christians went beyond them by taking passages out of context to justify their view of Jesus as a suffering divine savior who died to redeem mankind--a concept totally alien to Jewish thought. Christians argue that Jews are blind to the meaning of their own writings; Jews consider the Christian interpretations gross distortions. You can study this question best in the context of a neutral history of the Bible like Stephen L. Harris' Understanding the Bible, the textbook we use in English/Humanities 335.

In the Annunciation you showed us in class, the angel was male. Wy couldn't the angel be female?
Because they came from male-dominated societies that tended to regard God as male, both Jews and Christians have traditionally thought and written about angels as male. All the angels who are named in the Bible have male names. In the 19th century artists began to depict female angels in a rather sentimental fashion, particularly as guardian angels watching over children; but that's a modern innovation.

How did Christianity take hold in Rome as capital?
Slowly. Many scholars estimate that when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of Rome in the 4th century, perhaps 10 percent of Romans were Christians. If you mean, why did it finally succeed? this is a much-debated issue with no certain answers. The PBS site "From Jesus to Christ" has a lot of good information on this at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/why/. Its strongest rival, Mithraism, was crippled by excluding women. Its message of universal salvation appealed to many who felt oppressed or outcaste in Roman society. Its promise of eternal life appealed to the same people who admired various mystery religions for the same reason, but it may have seemed simpler and more approachable. As the political world fell apart, the individual salvation of Christianity provided some comfort for people feeling adrift in a changing, dangerous world.

I would like to know more about how it affected the world.
This is a huge topic. As you study world (and especially European) history, it's impossible to avoid noticing the influence of Christianity in various forms. But the influences it has had are not always those its followers would have hoped for. It did not make Christian nations noticeably more peaceful, loving, generous, forgiving or unmaterialistic than non-Christian nations, for instance. But Christian ideas shaped history in many ways. For instance, Queen Isabella of Spain financed Columbus' expeditions partly because she was looking for a way to raise money to finance a crusade to defeat Islam: one of her major goals in life. She hoped the new trade route to Asia would create profits which could be applied to this purpose.

What is the suffering servant?
There are four passages in Isaiah known as "Suffering Servant Songs" by modern scholars. They are generally interpreted by modern scholars as allegories of the suffering Jewish people themselves whose suffering in the Babylonian captivity is presented as having paid for their sins and bought their redemption. Isaiah specifically has God address the Jews as "my Servant." He also calls the Persian leader Cyrus "my Servant." In contrast, Christians consider these passages prophecies of Jesus Christ, redeeming the world through his suffering and death. You'll find them at Isaiah 42:1-9; 49:1-6; 50:4-11; and 52:13-12. The last one is considered especially important by Christians because it says of the servant "he was pierced through for our faults"--which they consider a prophecy of the crucifixion (clearly the gospel writers agreed with this view). Jewish and other interpretersd note however that 1) the passage is in the past tense and does not seem to suggest anywhere a description of future suffering, 2) there are many ways to be "pierced" which don't involve crucifixion: stabbing with a sword, spear, or arrow, for instance; 3) he also said to have been "crushed" though it is affirmed in the Christian Scriptures that not a single bone of Jesus' body was broken; and 4) the Servant is said to have remained silent ("never opening his mouth") whereas Jesus, though sometimes reluctant to speak during his trial, did in fact speak. Historically, Jews have not considered the Servant to be identifiable with the predicted Messiah. The Jewish Messiah is supposed to be triumphant, not suffering, and he is not supposed to die.

What are other religions' views on Christianity? Do they look down on or mock Christianity?
We now live in an era in which religious leaders of various faiths try to respect each other, but that has not always been the case. Jews have had reason to fear and resent Christian, but have usually been cautious in their remarks simply because they were the threatened minority, and any outspoken criticism would have earned them terrible punishment. Muslims respect Christianity as a flawed, partial version of the true faith, but criticise it; and Christians are considered "People of the Book"--having a sacred text worthy of respect. Hindus believe that Christians are just going through a phase and will some day be reborn as good Hindus. Buddhists are willing to go along with just about anybody. Generally speaking, other religions have been more respectful of Christianity than Christianity has been of other religions.

There has been a lot of archeology focused on finding manuscripts of the gospels. I was wondering where I might find information about the topic?
The PBS site has some good information on Christian archeological evidence at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/maps/arch/, but little of it has to do with gospel manuscripts. You'll find more relevant information at http://religion.rutgers.edu/vri/nt.html, but much of it is highly technical.

What are the conflicts between Christianity and Evolution?
Many Christians accept the general theory of evolution. Even the Catholic Church now teaches that belief in evolution does not necessarily conflict with Christian belief. Those who oppose it tend to be fundamentalist Protestants who take the creation story in the Bible literally and feel that since it describes a very recent creation done over a short period of time, the evidence that the Earth and life evolved over a very much longer period of time through natural processes must be explained away. You'll find a huge amount of information about this controversy at the Talk-Origins Archive; but one notable fact is that no biological scientists reject evolution and accept "creationism" except those whose religious beliefs require them to do so. The courts have ruled repeatedly that Creationism is not an alternative scientific theory but a religious belief. If it were not, one would expect some substantial number of well-informed non-religious scientists to be persuaded by their evidence. Unfortunately, most of the public is equally ignorant of Biblical studies and modern biology and reacts against evolutionary theory without much thought. It is important to remember that for many devout Christians, evolution is the way in which God creates the world.

I was wondering about where the rules against homosexuality stemmed from.
There is a good discussion of all this, including the relevant Biblical verses, at http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bibl.htm, which presents both conservative views and a liberal critique of them.

How do we know the Bible isn't missing books or that books that do not belong are in the Bible? How do we know the Bible is correct?
The Bible evolved over a long time, and exists in several versions. In the introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures in Reading About the World I discuss some of the different versions of the Bible that exist. It's best regarded as a library rather than as a book. Different groups have decided at different times what belongs and what does not. For the emergence of the Christian canon, see the PBS site at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/mmemergence.html.

How do we know the gospel writers didn't really know Jesus?
Conservative Christians still maintain that the gospel writers were the disciples by those names from among Jesus' followers; but most nonsectarian and liberal scholars disagree. There are many pieces of evidence, some of which are rather technical; but here are some of the easier ones to understand. They often speak of "the Jews" as if they were not Jews themselves. They usually quote Greek translations of the Jewish Bible rather than the Hebrew version which Jesus would have studied. Matthew and Luke incorporate large chunks of Mark pretty much intact, which would be pointless if they had their own independent memories. Similarly, all the gospel writers seem to have been influenced by Paul, who never met Jesus during his lifetime. Even early Church tradition ascribes at least the Gospels of John and Mark to non-disciples. More importantly, in many passages Jesus is given speeches which many scholars think reflect the attitudes and experience of the early Church rather than anything the historical Jesus was likely to have said. The gospel writers would have collected the traditions that circulated among early believers in many churches rather than developing it originally themselves. All of this is highly controversial, of course; and no one can ever "prove" that the disciples didn't write the gospels, but few important Bible scholars except those whose faith depends on it insist on the older theory. For more information on this question, see the PBS site related to the series "From Jesus to Christ."

Some things I would like to learn more about are the Crusades, the search for the Holy Grail and the things that are in the Indiana Jones movies.
We will have a whole session on the First Crusade and its aftermath. The Holy Grail is a medieval legend which gets its classic retelling in the 12th century by Chrétien de Troyes, though he died before he could finish it. Originally it would seem to have been a flat platter, but time transformed it into the goblet used at the Last Supper, and--some say--used by Joseph of Arimethea to capture the blood of Jesus as he was dying on the cross. Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal is based on one version of the Grail legend written by Wolfrang von Eschenbach. You can read an old translation of a conclusion of Chrétien's work at http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/OMACL/Graal/. The only relevant story in the Indiana Jones movies is the quest for the lost Ark (discussed above).

Where did the Trinity come from?
The doctrine of the Trinity (God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is not clearly spelled out anywhere in the Bible. John comes closest, but even he is ambiguous and inconsistent. The gospels attribute various divine titles to God and Jesus, but the early Church felt that Jesus' precise relationship to God needed to be defined. Almost three centuries of controversy (and sometimes bloody conflict) ensued before the Council of Nicaea stated the orthodox formula in 325. Even so, the arguments continued, and modern Unitarians and many liberal Protestants reject the notion of the Trinity altogether. If you want more detail, see "The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity" in the Enyclopedia Britannica.

Why is there only one God in Christianity?
Because it developed out of a monotheistic religion: Judaism, though Jews and Muslims often consider that the doctrine of the Trinity violates strict monotheism (see above).

I'm curious about the connection between Jesus and God. I am curious about how Jesus just knew all the teachings of God.
Orthodox Christianity argues that Jesus was God in human form, though scholars disagree about whether this doctrine is unambiguously presented in the Bible (see previous question). However, throughout its early history, Christianity was torn by differing interpretations of this relationship. Some argued that it was scandalous to think that God could ever be tortured and killed, and supposed that the body of Jesus was an illusion which only seemed to die. Others argued that he was fully human and was merely adopted by God as his chosen one ("adoptionalism"), but was not God himself. Muslims believe that Jesus was an inspired prophet (but reject the account of his teachings in the Christian scriptures as distorted). Modern liberals often see him as a wise man who had revolutionary insights into God's will, but who was limited in his understanding by his time and culture. Many scholars have attempted to sort out fact from fiction about Jesus. A very well presented account of their efforts by a Unitarian pastor is at the Web site on "The Quest of the Historical Jesus" at http://www.teleport.com/~cabern/andrew/.

Did everyone believe in the resurrection of Jesus, or were there "naysayers"? If so, how many?
All the earliest writings about Jesus emphasize his resurrection to some degree, and it was a central belief of the Christian religion from the earliest period we can trace. However, many modern nonsectarian scholars think that belief in Jesus' resurrection was confined to a relatively small group. Some suggest that even the author of the Gospel of Mark wasn't sure about it since early copies of that book hint at but don't depict a resurrection, and the resurrection appearances in the other gospels differ so strikingly from each other in contrast with their close agreement about the events leading up to his death. There was even a rumor that the Christians had stolen the body out of the tomb which the gospels are at pains to deny. This suggests that there was little agreement about what had actually happened. Anybody who cared enough to actually argue against the resurrection didn't find himself quoted in the Bible, of course; and no one considered it a serious enough possibility to write about it outside the Bible, so we'll never know what the "nay-sayers" had to say. There is a famous passage in the writings of the ancient Jewish writer Josephus which most modern scholars believe was edited or inserted in his book after he wrote it by Christians eager to "plant" some evidence that could corroborate the Gospels. You can read about this (and read the passage itself) at http://www.uncc.edu/jdtabor/josephus-jesus.html. Many scholars believe the whole passage is not originally by Josephus. Clearly if he had held the beliefs expressed in this passage he would have converted to Christianity, but he remained a faithful Jew. Believers commonly argue that the only a real, believable resurrection could have inspired the kind of fervor that led to the founding and spread of the Christian faith, though it is difficult to see how this argument can deal with the much more rapid spread if Islam in the wake of the revelations claimed by Muhammad, whose religion did not--as many suppose--rely on forcible conversions for its success. How, really are the Jewish and Christian religions different? Aren't most of the views and beliefs the same?
They are closely related, but how you judge their degree of similarity depends upon how you count and evaluate their characteristics. They are both monotheists (though strict Jews would point out that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity verges dangerously on polytheism). Their moral attitudes tend to be similar. Generally one can say that Jews tend to emphasize doing right more than believing rightly; but this is a matter of proportion, and some Christian sects are more like Jews in their orientation than others. For instance, Seventh Day Adventists continue to observe the Jewish Sabbath. Christians ignore the vast majority of the Torah law which is central to Judaism. The differences in their views of the Messiah were explained in class. Jews object strenuously to the ways in which Christians interpret the prophets and psalms to apply them to Jesus. Jews don't accept the Christian scriptures. Certain passages in the Christian scriptures have been used by Christians to justify vicious attacks on later Jews, and that has certainly driven the two religions apart.

I want to know more about Jesus' childhood.
Very little is known about Jesus' childhood. Besides the familiar Christmas stories, the Gospels contain a reference to his first appearance at the Temple and another occasion on which he is supposed to have impressed the temple elders with his learning. The early Church seems to have felt the need to know more about this period in his life, and many stories were written colorfully detailing various miraculous events from his childhood in what are now called "apocryphal" gospels, especially the Protevangelium of James. Many of these stories were well known and influential in the Middle Ages, but were later considered fictional.

I would like to learn more about the differences between Christianity and Catholicism.
The short answer is that there is no difference. Catholicism is the form that Christianity took in Western Europe for 1500 years among the vast majority of believers and which is still widely popular today. Strictly speaking, Christianity is a religion and Catholicism is a variety of faith within that religion. Certain Protestant groups who disagree with various Catholic doctrines or disapprove of the institution of the Church are prone to call it "non-Christian," but one should be aware that one is engaging in highly offensive insult by doing so. From the point of view of the true believer, anyone who disagrees with his or her doctrines is a "non-Christian"; but historians have to take a more neutral stance: people who use the label "Christian" for their beliefs over a long period of time deserve to be called Christians. If you mean to ask about the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism, that is a topic covered in Gen Ed 111.

I want to know more about the trial of Jesus.
Each of the four gospels contains an account of the trial, varying only in minor details. The trial has been endlessly analyzed, with many Jews and some Christians claiming that the Biblical accounts are biased in blaming the Jews rather than the Romans for Jesus' death. For an influential book taking the latter view, see John Dominic Crossan: The Cross that Spoke: The Origins of the Passion Narrative. Others: Ellis Rivkin: What Crucified Jesus? and Solomon Zeitlin: Who Crucified Jesus?

Why, if Christianity is monotheistic, did they show other divine spirits like the spirit of the River Jordan in their early paintings?
There seems to be a basic human drive to surround the divine with lesser spirits: even Judaism and Islam have angels. The early Roman Church seems to have been comfortable with the idea of incorporating the old nature deities into its imagery without making them rivals of God the Father. We don't know what the people who created these images really believed about them.

Can you repeat what you said about the Golden Rule?
Essentially I amplified what is said in the introductory note to the passage in the reader. Although the Golden Rule is sometimes claimed as uniquely Christian, the principle of reciprocity which it expresses is nearly universal in human culture. One can hardly imagine a law which is not based to some extent or other on the idea of treating others as one would want to be treated, even if various elements of discrimination by class, gender, etc. are allowed to modify the basic principle. Confucius' teaching that one should do nothing to others that one would not done to one's self--though denigratingly called "the silver rule" by some Christians--is in practice very little different from the Golden Rule--and antedates it by half a millenium.

I would like to know more about how Jews and Christians differ on the Messiah issue.
The chart I gave you covers the basics:
Jewish Messiah Christian Messiah
  • Fully human, chosen by God
  • Divine offspring or God himself
  • Military leader and ruler
  • Peaceful prophetic preacher and miracle-worker
  • Upholds traditional law
  • Expands and revises traditional law
  • Rules the entire world from Jerusalem
  • Establishes Heavenly kingdom ("My kingdom is not of this world.")
  • Lives forever, bringing with him an era of immortality and justice for the faithful, destruction (or--later--damnation) the wicked.
  • Dies, but is resurrected to give his followers eternal rewards, for those who reject him, eternal damnation after death.
  • The world is transformed both physically and spiritually upon the arrival of the Messiah.
  • The transformation of the world is postponed until the second coming of the Messiah.
  • The Messiah has not yet come
  • Jesus was the Messiah
  • The concept of the Messiah is not nearly as important to Judaism as it is to Christianity. For an easy-to-read Jewish view of the differences, see Samuel Sandmel: We Jews and Jesus.

    Why did the Jews believe that Jesus was a great teacher but not the Messiah?
    Ancient Jews did not in fact recognize Jesus as a great teacher. From their point of view he was a dangerous heretic who led many away from the true faith. Some liberal modern Jews like Samuel Sandmel (see above) take a relatively admiring view of some of his teachings; but he is not normally cited by Jews as a teaching authority, whereas rabbis like Hillel and Shammai (who lived just before Jesus) and Akiba (who lived shortly after) are still admired and studied in depth. Jesus is not mentioned anywhere in the Talmud (the standard, authoritative commentary on the Torah). For Jews, Jesus violated too many of their standard expectations to be accepted as the Messiah. It should be acknowledged that a modern organization called "Jews for Jesus" accepts his Messiaship, but this is actually a form of Protestant fundamentalism which tries to convert Jews who find Christian beliefs appealing while retaining certain features of Jewish worship. Muslims accept Jesus as an inspired prophet, and even believe in the Virgin Birth, but Jews do not.

    How can the Christian Messiah revise the traditional law?
    The simplest answer is that Christians changed the Jewish concept of the Messiah from one who restores and upholds the law to one who expands, reinterprets, and overrules some aspects of the law. This issue was faced early on in the writings of Paul, who declares that a "New Covenant" has been decreed by God which supersedes the old Torah. The Jews of course disagree.

    Why do Christians use the cross so often when it was such an evil symbol? A symbol or memory of their Messiah's death.
    In the early centuries, the cross was not an important symbol in the Christian Church for just this reason: Jesus as gentle shepherd was more common, as were other symbols unrelated to his death. However, once the Christian rulers of Rome had banned crucifixion as a punishment, its immediate negative connotations faded. The empty cross came to stand for the Resurrection, and therefore for the hope of eternal life, and the crucifix with Jesus on it for his sacrifice for all humanity.

    I would like to know your understanding of Predestination.
    This is a doctrine associated mostly with certain Protestants, notably John Calvin; but the underlying philosophical problem had been pondered by ancient Greek philosophers long before the time of Jesus. The argument goes that if God is all-powerful and all-knowing, he must know before people are born whether they will go to Heaven or Hell. Other Christians argue that since he is responsible for setting all of creation into motion, and no one is born against his will, it is difficult to see how he can escape blame for creating people who will inevitably be damned. Therefore Catholicism and most forms of Protestantism insist strongly on the doctrine of Free Will: people are able freely to choose salvation or damnation. Calvin was less bothered by this tension by than the apparent limit on God's powers implied by Free Will, so he rejected it and insisted that we are all born destined either for Heaven or Hell. It is wisest, of course, to behave as if you were one of the Elect (saved), because if you believe and act like a damned person you almost certainly are one. Strict interpretations of Predestination are relatively rare in Christianity.

    I'd like to know more about Christianity in general; but specifically about the judgement of who goes to Heaven, works vs. faith, that sort of thing.
    This is too big a topic to tackle here; but we can say generally that traditional Christianity differs from Judaism in its insistence that one believe in Jesus as savior: no amount of good works can save a disbeliever. Modern liberal Protestants and some Catholics take the much more Jewish view that God accepts those whose behavior pleases them whatever their beliefs. Traditional Catholics take as their beginning point faith in the basic tenets of Christian doctrine and go on to say that one must repent of one's sins and perform penance, either in this life or the next, in order to be forgiven and saved. Some Protestants argue that sufficient faith can overcome any amount of sin, though none of them actually encourage sin. The differences between the two are often exaggerated, especially by fundamentalist Protestants. Both views actually combine belief in works and faith in various proportions.

    How can things like borrowing $ for college be applied to the ascetic ideal?
    Some would say it can't--that Jesus never envisioned the world lasting long enough for anyone to spend their savings on anything, let alone a college education (this theory argues that he--or the early Chruch--was mistaken in thinking that the end of the world was right around the corner, a view associated with Albert Schweitzer, who argued that Jesus preached an "interim ethic" which never envisioned the world lasting another 2,000 years). A more orthodox view takes these teachings symbolically as a general orientation against excessive materialism. It is interesting that Christians who are most insistent on reading the Bible literally generally interpret passages from the Sermon on the Mount such as this symbolically. The early Church was made up mostly of poor people, and needed little urging to shun riches. The gospel denunciations of riches were very traditionally Jewish, like the teachings of the prophets Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah. When the religion prospered and many wealthy and powerful people were converted, the ascetic aspect of the religion was downplayed, and generally restricted to monastic orders or certain periods in an individual believer's life.

    "No one can serve two masters . . . devoted to one and despise the other." Could you please explain?
    You can't serve both God and money. If you're a slave to money you can't be a servant of God.

    I would like to hear more about the miracles and who performed them.
    Mark's gospel puts more emphasis on the miracles performed by Jesus than the others do. Acts contains some miracles performed by or on behalf of some of the disciples. Both are easy to read. Belief in miraculous powers was widespread in the first centuries. Certain rabbis were famous for performing miracles, as were many pagan wonder-workers. Most of Jesus' miracles fall under the categories of healing and combatting demon possession. Another interesting category is the multiplying of food or drink, which many scholars think was intended to echo similar miracles conntected with the Jewish prophet Elijah, who was widely expected to return in the days of the Messiah. The resurrection of Lazarus, and more ambiguously the healing of the centurian's daughter, are presented as examples of raising for the dead, important for their symbolism. It is always the message behind the miracles that most interests the gospel writers. They take it for granted that miracles can be done. Early Christians accepted that non-Christians could perform miracles too, through evil means. One early story tells how a magician named Simon Magus miraculously levitated himself many feet in the air but was killed when a Christian counter-miracle dashed him to the ground. You can read more about miracles in various religions in the Encyclopedia Britannica by reading the article on "miracle." There is a short article, but look for the longer, multi-part account.

    I would like to learn more about the passages about Heaven and Hell, fire and brimstone stuff.
    There are actually surprisingly few direct references to Hell in the gospels, though there are many more of them than there are references to Heaven as a place of salvation. In addition, we get few details about Hell, and even fewer about Heaven. Hell is said to feature flames, weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth, and worms that gnaw at their victims endlessly. Some churches argue that none of this actually makes clear that torture in Hell lasts forever. The souls of the damned may eventually be consigned to oblivion, they argue, though Hell itself is eternal. The majority of Christians who believe in Hell argue instead that the implication is that the damned suffer throughout eternity, without end, unlike Mahayana Buddhists, who see Hell as a temporary state from which one may emerge, purged of sin, to be reborn. It is also strongly implied in the Gospels that the majority of people will go to Hell, with only the minority being saved. This is a much more controversial point. The early Church had few problems with seeing itself as a minority; but the doctrine was not so attractive when the majority of Europeans became Christian, and the implications were disregarded or reinterpreted to explain them away. The Book of Revelation contains a colorful account of the process of condemnation to Hell with a little more detail about the sufferings of the damned. Its author may have been more interested in symbolism than in literal description. There's a convenient compilation by a fundamentalist of references to Hell in the Bible on the Web at http://www.serve.com/rapture/hell.html, though it should be pointed out that the references to Sheol from the Jewish Bible cited there would not be accepted by many modern scholars as applying to the same beliefs that Christians have held about Hell. For a traditional (pre-Vatican II) Catholic version of doctrines about hell, see the Catholic Encylopedia at http://www.knight.org/advent/cathen/07207a.htm. The detailed descriptions in Dante's Inferno were meant to allegorically convey Christian ideals rather than to literally depict Hell's punishments.

    What is the prayer when saying the Rosary?
    The rosary is a string of beads used to keep track of repeated prayers, usually the Hail Mary and the Lord's Prayer. A full traditional rosary consists of reciting The Hail Mary 150 times, punctuated by recitations of the Our Father (Lord's Prayer) every tenth time. Here is the text of the Hail Mary: "Hail Mary, full of grace; The Lord is with thee: Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen." Interestingly, the custom of counting prayers on strings of beads also occurs in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.

    I would like to know more about Coptic Christians.
    There is a good Coptic site on the Web at http://cs-www.bu.edu/faculty/best/pub/cn/Home.html that should answer most of your questions.

    I would like to learn more about the Romans and persecution of Christians.
    Detailed information is available on the various pages related to the PBS documentary From Jesus to Christ. Medieval legend greatly exaggerated the extent and duration of the persecution. Modern scholars point out it was sporadic.

    Did the Christians ever fight back against the Greeks when the Greeks were killing them?
    You're thinking of the Romans. There are no records of armed Christian resistance. The Christians were all too aware that the Jewish uprisings against the Romans had ended disastrously for the Jews, and they were eager avoid imitating them. Their resistance consisted at most in refusal to obey the command to worship and insistance on remaining true to their faith. There is some evidence the early Church was pacifist (soldiers weren't allowed to become members), so fighting back may have been considered against their religion.

    Why did Christians meet in secret, and how did they know of other Christian followers?
    They were secretive partly because they were trying to avoid the notice of the Roman authorities, and partly because they seemed to have believed that they had a secret doctrine which should be kept from outsiders who had not joined the Church. They behaved somewhat like the mystery religions in this respect. The early churches sometimes had an open session where visitors were welcome, but then closed the service to all but members for the most sacred rituals. They weren't so secretive that you couldn't ask around and find out where services were going on. By the way, the notion that they literally worshipped underground in the catacombs of Rome is mistaken. That's where they buried their dead.

    Could you please talk about early Christians, a couple years after the death of Christ? About the early Church?
    Our sources for the very earliest church include Paul's letters and the book of Acts, though many modern scholars believe that important clues to the experiences and views of early believers can be found in the way the gospels tell the story of Jesus. Again, the From Jesus to Christ site is largely devoted to the arguments of modern scholars about how the early church evolved its ideas about Jesus.

    How do we know when the next coming of Jesus is?
    Although people have interpreted many passages in the Bible as predicting the return of Jesus at a particular date (and have done so for 2,000 years, always expecting it soon), Paul specifically warns Christians in 1 Thessalonians 5 that they should not expect to know exactly when the end will come, and in Matthew 24 Jesus says that no one can know, and that he will return when no one expects him. This doesn't seem to discourage people from trying to figure it out anyway. It is interesting that the Jehovah's Witnesses, who long used as their motto "Millions now alive will never die!" have now abandoned the attempt to nail down the date of the Second Coming.

    How is it that there are so many different Christian beliefs (Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc.). Is it because of different findings, prayers, etc.?
    A comprehensive answer to this questions would be a whole history of Christianity. You should learn a little about the evolution of the various forms of Protestantism in Gen Ed 111. Each church has its own roots in faith, in politics, in personal leadership, etc. When the Catholic Church lost its dominant grip on Western Europe during the Reformation, the door was opened to many differing versions of Christianity to emerge--and they did.

    What would be the difference between a Baptist and a Methodist's religious beliefs?
    I don't know enough about these denominations to give y ou a good answer, but there is a page of links which can you lead you to pages that explain all kinds of American churches at http://www.angelfire.com/ks/purplepandas/denomination.html.

    I would like to know more about the historical accuracy of the Bible.
    You can learn a lot about this by taking English/Humanities 335 or reading the textbook used in that class: Stephen L. Harris: Understanding the Bible.

    Why is Christianity so popular?
    There are many historical reasons why it remained popular for a long time in Western Europe (its institutions and values were centrally entwined with European politics, art, and culture), but its popularity has shrunk drastically there. Only a tiny proportion of people in most Western European countries are practicing Christians, compared to Americans. It is growing in places where it was formerly forbidden, like Russia, and is experiencing quite a growth spurt in Africa, but it has never really caught on in Japan or in many other Asian countries in the way that Buddhism did. To study why Christianity appeals to certain populations in certain eras you need to study those eras in more detail than I can address here.


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