"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Christianity in the ancient world

The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark -- a few more notes; see this post for a brief introduction to this book written from a sociologist's perspective and his attempt at answering the question:

"How did a tiny and obscure messianic movement from the edge of the Roman Empire dislodge classical paganism and become the dominant faith of Western civilization?"

These are just some random notes of things that interested me. Sorry if they are too rambling and make little sense apart from the context within the book.

The author claims "a primary cause of low fertility in the Greco-Roman world was a male culture that held marriage in low esteem.  One hundred thirty two years before Christ, a Roman censor "proposed that the senate make marriage compulsory because so many men, especially in the upper classes, preferred to stay single."  Stark adds that men in that world "found it difficult to relate to women."  (pg. 117)

Ha!  I think.

Some reasons why Christianity rose / "women's improved status in the Christian subculture"  -- The author discussed other reasons some having to do with more Christians surviving the devastating epidemics, but one of my favorite chapters had to deal with the role of women.

1. Christians prohibited infanticide. Thus more women were allowed to live. Women have children and Christian women often raised their children as Christians.

2.  Christianity condemned divorce, incest, marital infidelity and polygamy

3. While pagans also "prized female chastity," Christians extended this by rejecting the "double standard that gave pagan men so much sexual license" ;  Christian men were urged to remain virgins until marriage and extra-marital sex was condemned as adultery.

4. Widowed women were not forced to remarry (Augustus fined them if they didn't remarry within two years); Women who remarried lost their inheritance as it became the property of her new husband

5. There is evidence that Christian women married later (we're talking more marrying closer to 18 rather than 12 or 14) in greater numbers than pagan women.

6. Christians rejected abortion and there were apparently a lot of women who died due to bad abortions back then.  Sadly, many of them were forced to abort by their husbands/lovers since women were property of men.

He also discusses the role of women within a Christian marriage based on the writings of Paul. The author notes, however, that later Christian leaders showed a more patriarchal view (reflective of the culture) that Paul did not (the author believes Paul's thoughts of marriage show more "symmetry of the relationship."  see I Cor. 7:2ff).  He also says Paul's thoughts of women within the Church were more favorable than the surrounding culture.  The author notes Paul addressed 18 men and 15 women by name in the book of Romans, and Paul speaks of women deacons* and such like Priscilla who taught others.

* That the King James Version chose to use the word "servant" rather than "deaconess," the author says is reflective of 17th century sexism rather than what Paul truly wrote. Deacons and deaconesses in Paul's day "assisted at liturgical functions and administered the benevolent and charitable activities of the church."  (pg. 108)

The author talked of the role mercy and love played in this ancient culture which deemed mercy and pity as "defects of character to be avoided by all rational men." (pg. 212)  "Plato had removed the problem of beggars from his ideal state by dumping them over its borders." During epidemics when many people fled to the countryside, Christians often stayed and cared for the sick.   Though he loathed the Christians, emperor Julian is reported to have "complained in a letter to the high priest of Galatia in 362 that the pagans needed to equal the virtue of Christians, for recent Christian growth was caused by their 'moral character, even if pretended,' and by their 'benevolence toward strangers and care for the graves of the dead.' ... 'The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.'" (pg. 84)

As stated in my introductory post, some things in this book were a bit too technical for my non-sociologist brain. But many things were of great interest since I tend to enjoy cultural tidbits.  My favorite chapters dealt with epidemics in the ancient world and the people's responses to it, the role of women especially how Christian women differed from pagan women and the chapter on "urban chaos and crisis" where the author described ancient cities to such a degree that I felt the misery of living there even if it were only in my imagination.


Suroor said...

This is an interesting list from a feminist perspective. Thanks for sharing! Enjoyed this quite a lot.

Susanne said...

Thanks! I'm glad someone enjoyed it besides me. I know it's not the most clear post ever, but I wanted to record a few things I learned from the book. :)

observant observer said...

I really like what you presented here, in fact I learned quite a lot from this. Can I quote your notes for my own reference? thanks before

Susanne said...

Sure! Use whatever you like. Thank you for your feedback! :)