by Yaffah Batya daCosta
As I have written in the past, there is a HUGE difference of the type, nature, theology etc. of the earliest form of Christianity (in Antioch) that was aligned with most of the writings of the 1st century authors (until we get to John) and what came later in the 4th century. Then there were 250 years of on-again off-again persecutions of the Antioch Christians, from 64 C.E. until 313 C.E., until at the Edict of Milan Emperor Constantine accepted Christianity. It was made the official (and only) religion of the Roman Empire in 380 C.E. During that interim period the 1st century writings were debated, many gospels and letters written – well beyond what became the official Roman Church canon – and were ultimately re-interpreted into a Greco-Roman theology with practices that much more identified it with the Hellenism of its day.
So what happened during those 250 years, with all the arguments and debates among various sects of a growing movement (that was originally about the Kingdom of God)? I will discuss it in more detail in another article. But in this article, I want to focus on what became the ONLY legitimate religion in the Roman Empire by 380 C.E. and the good, bad and ugly parts of it. Because Romanized Christianity wasn’t ALL good, but neither was it all bad, or all ugly either.
So let’s start with the best GOOD parts of Greco-Roman Christianity. The Greco-Roman Church accepted the “decalogue” – the Ten Commandments. They also made the Hebrew Bible a part of the Church’s Bible of what they called Holy Scripture. And the Ten Commandments (as they relate to the non-Jews) is exactly the same as the moral code given in the Book of Genesis for all mankind.
They are as follows: 1) prohibition against idolatry, 2) prohibition against blasphemy, 3) prohibition against theft, 4) prohibition against murder, 5) prohibition against any kind of sexual immorality, 6) the commandment to have courts of justice, and 7) not eating the limb of a living animal. This last one was a commandment given to Noach after the flood when mankind was first allowed to eat the flesh of animals. See Matthew Chapter 5 on the Galilean’s treatment of the Ten Commandments as a Jew.
A second major GOOD thing about the Greco-Roman Christians was their focus on the poor and giving charity which is mentioned all over the 1st century writings and which comes directly from Torah Judaism. The Torah tells us to take care of the poor, widow, orphan and the stranger in your gates. When the early Christians did all of that, even during the periods of persecution by the Romans of their day, it impressed many Greco-Roman pagans. The population of Rome, in particular, was made up of the very wealthy and the very poor. There was no middle class! And there were slaves – people who were made into slaves (chattel) by the Roman armies where they had conquered various territories. Of course, that was a violation of the command against theft.
Romans were not so good at taking care of the lower classes – so the generosity of Christians was hugely noticeable. In addition, early Christianity was very community oriented, just like the Jewish world. The people in those communities took care of, and looked after, one another. This was also a very attractive aspect of early Christianity. The Greco-Roman people of the early 1st millennia were starting to grow tired of the multiplicity of their “gods”, and the fights/disputes among them. So another attractive element of early Christianity was the idea of ONE all-powerful eternal God, as taught by Paul and his disciples.
Another aspect of “community” is that this was a very different kind of community. And because of teachings from the Hebrew Bible (those holy scriptures formed the baseline of beliefs in the 1st century) the non-Jews were given the addition of a more spiritual aspect to their lives, and a promise of a life in the world to come (both for Righteous Jews and Righteous Gentiles). In our modern time (for example) we have acclaimed people as the “Righteous of the Nations” (at Yad Vashem) for those who helped the Jewish people (even at the risk of their own lives) during the Nazi era persecutions.
Lastly, in the Roman Empire there was a top-down hierarchy from the emperor down to the plebes, and with quite a few levels in between the lowest level of slaves and the emperor. With Paul’s Antioch Christianity, non-Jews were now given indirect (just one level in between) access to the Father, the ONE GOD, through their acceptance of the views and teachings of the Galilean (and their repentance from sin).
And although that kind of an intermediary between mankind and God was not allowed for Jews (who are supposed to have direct access and communication with HaShem) for non-Jews observing the Biblical moral code this is allowed in Jewish thought. This concept is called shittuf – which means that the person of the Galilean is/was a partner with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through his teachings from the Hebrew Bible. As most people of today are aware, he was a Galilean Jew who taught that people needed to repent from sin (meaning to regret it and stop doing it) because the “Kingdom of God” was at hand (or near).
However, in spite of all the GOOD within Christianity, the worst of the bad parts is the revising of the theology that was in the Hebrew Bible to make a human being into an object of worship. This was never directly stated, or even indirectly stated or implied in the Hebrew scriptures which 1st century writers had relied upon as their theology.
And, of course, that BAD part of Christianity came later when the theology was revised according to the Greco-Roman (Hellenist) view. For example, Roman Emperors were “deified” after they had died (they were made into a god) and temples built to them. It was thought that they were so very powerful when alive, that they continued to be powerful once dead. So that the pagans decided they should pray to them and also continue trying to appease them to benefit the empire.
Whereas, in the Hebrew Bible, no human had ever been made into a god to become an object of worship. For Moshe, Aaron and Miriam (the leaders of the Israelites who were freed from Egyptian slavery) their burial sites (to this very day) are quite unknown. This was so the graves of those 3 Israelite leaders would not become places of worship.
There are many other aspects of the Hebrew Bible theology (of the Torah) that were changed by Greco-Roman theologians. And that would have been fine, if they had not continued to call it Christianity. For example, the idea that a certain human being can die and their death becomes an atonement of all the people of all time if they believe in that person. This is a distortion of a Jewish concept of the death of a Righteous person – that it can atone for the sins of the people. But the caveat here (in Jewish thought) is that sinners must repent of their sins, and the atonement for sins is only for that generation of the Righteous person who had died. Their belief, also, has to be in the power of God to forgive sins, not in a belief in that Righteous person as different from other human beings.
Now as BAD as it was, that so MANY things that the Antioch Christians believed in (from the Hebrew Bible) were changed by the Hellenists – yet continuing to call it Christianity — the UGLY part of this entire 2,000 years of history is the horrific persecution and slaughter of Jewish people. Greco-Roman cancel culture could not tolerate any “freedom of religion”.
After 380 C.E., those who were still pagan were forced to become Christians, and pagan temples converted to church buildings. Not only the Roman Catholic Church was involved in these crimes against humanity, but also later the majority of Greco-Roman Christian denominations who had severed from the Roman Catholic Church have persecuted the Jews. Instead of going by the statement of Paul (in Romans Chapter 11) about Gentiles (as the wild olive branches) being grafted into the Olive Tree (to join the natural branches) the Romans did the opposite. The Greco-Roman authorities in power developed “replacement theology” and contempt for the Jews.
It baffles the mind to try to figure out how Romanized Christians can view that all their generosity in charity, and other good things they do perform in this world, can ever make-up for the killing/slaughter of (or even just the ongoing apathy, and indifference toward) innocent human beings who are following God’s will – in observing the commandments at Mt Sinai – and yet not come to their defence. The Hebrew scriptures wrote that the Torah is eternal, and the Galilean agreed with that as well. But the Greco-Roman (Hellenist) view was to use power and force (and intimidation) to ensure unity through conformity.
Let me give you an example. The Jews who left Europe and other countries to immigrate to Latin American countries (for freedom) decided in 1927 (starting in Argentina) they would not allow any converts (or returnees from persecuted Sephardi secret Jews) to become members of their Jewish communities. After all, 1927 was a mere 100 years since the last auto de fe (burning at the stake) of a Crypto-Jew by Roman Catholics – and these Jewish immigrants were very fearful of the people in these Catholic countries. And over time that decree was adopted by most, if not all, of the Jews in countries in (Roman Catholic) Latin America. Then when these Crypto-Jews decided it was time to make a return (openly & publicly) to the faith and traditions of their Sephardi Jewish ancestors – they had to create their own separate communities.
To add insult to injury, the Israeli Ministry of Interior, who handles immigration for Jews, in about 2016 created a policy that anyone who “converted” to Judaism outside of a recognized Jewish community would not be allowed to immigrate. This goes right along with Jews in Israel also being fearful of the Greco-Roman Catholic world and not wanting to be accused of stealing Christians from their churches. Who wants to get 2.2 billion Greco-Roman Christians angry at them?
However, these people who are converting are mostly from the descendants of those Jews who had to hide their Jewishness in Latin American countries because of the Inquisitions that had lasted over 300 years in the New World. And the majority of these “secret Jews” cannot prove their ancestry, or cannot find enough strong evidence of it either. So, they go through the process of conversion to Judaism. But unless and until more knowledgeable Christians support this “return movement”, the Jews inside and outside of Israel will still be fearful of what is called blowback – through false accusations of Christians about these people. Greco-Roman anti-Semitism is on the rise all over the world – due to the fact that a lot of this history is not taught and there are many Greco-Roman Christians who are still highly vocal in their hatred of Jews. So, it’s understandable that Jews (globally) are concerned about not wanting to add fuel to the fire (so to speak) to increase hatred even more.
But the Greco-Roman anti-Semitism and hatred of Jewish people (through a continuation of cancel culture) must be stopped. The Greco-Roman cancel culture (of the forcing of compliance) has the power to be applied to anyone (not just Jews, as we have seen already in the political sphere in the USA). And it has the power to destroy civilizations too, as it did to the Roman Empire itself along with the overreliance on slave labor (stolen human beings), and the widespread corruption of magistrates and other authorities in the empire.
Excerpts from a new book (to be published later this year) by Yaffah Batya daCosta called “The Riddle of Calling a Dog’s Tail a Leg: Cancel Culture from Ancient to Modern Times”. She is a descendant of Portuguese Crypto Jews (Bnei Anousim). She returned to the faith & traditions of her Sephardic Jewish ancestors (by halakha) in 2000. She is also the founder and CEO of an Israel International non-profit (Ezra L’Anousim in their 18th year) who helps the returning Crypto-Jews, worldwide. Their website is bneianousim.org