How Many Churches? How Many Letters?

In his important and stimulating article, “Christian Number and Its Implications,” Roman historian Keith Hopkins next begins to think about the implications about the size of the Christian church at different periods.  One point to emphasize is that there was not simply one church.  There were lots of churches in lots of places, and it is a myth to think that they were all one big cohesive bunch.  On the contrary, they were often (as we see in our records) ...

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How Significant Was Early Christianity?

I return now to Roman historian Keith Hopkins’s fascinating and influential article “Christian Number and It’s Implications.”   As I pointed out, for the sake of his article, and after checking it out for plausibility, Hopkins accepts the calculations of Rodney Stark that if Christianity started with 1000 believers in the year 40 CE, and ended up being 10% of the empire (60 million believers) by the time of the Emperor Constantine, you would need a growth rate of about 40% ...

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Playing with the Numbers (of Christians)

I have been musing on the rate of growth of the Christian church during the first three hundred years, and have pointed out some problems with Rodney Stark’s discussion.   I won’t go over all that again here.   I will say that his argument tends to be very convenient for his … argument.  What he points out is that a growth rate over time of about 40% grows the church from about 1000 Christians in the year 40 (that’s a number ...

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33

How Many Christians Were There?

There are a lot of things that I’m really very interested in that I’m not very good at.  As a kid I was passionate about baseball.  I was an All Star every year up to high school, but I really wasn’t all that great.  I was just better than most of the other kids, who *really* weren’t great.  It was a rather low bar.  Same with tennis.  Same with a lot of things – even into adulthood.

As an adult I’ve ...

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57

The Rate of Christian Growth

I have been discussing the fascinating article by Keith Hopkins, “Christian Number and Its Implications,” about how many people converted to Christianity at certain points of time (say, from ten years after Jesus’ death to the time the emperor Constantine converted in the year 312).  As we have seen so far, the first problem Hopkins deals with is how to count – that is, who counts as a Christian?  Hopkins takes the (in my opinion) justifiable and sensible view that ...

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Christians and their Exaggerated Numbers

I have started discussing the fascinating article by Keith Hopkins, “Christian Number and Its Implications” (see my post of two days ago).   After discussing some of the problems with knowing how to “count” Christians (i.e., who counts as a Christian), he reflects for a bit on the problems presented to us by our sources of information.   The basic problem is that our sources don’t *give* us much information!   No one from the early Christian church was a statistician and no ...

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49

Who Counts as a Christian?

To start on my reflections on the rise and spread of Christianity, it might be useful to talk for a while about a particular article that has been highly influential both for my own thinking and more broadly in the contemporary discussion among scholars.   The article was written by a prominent and deservedly acclaimed British historian, Keith Hopkins, a long-time professor at Cambridge University.  It was called “Christian Number and Its Implication,” and it appeared in the Journal of Early ...

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The Conversion of Constantine and Beyond

I am now nearly finished discussing the Prospectus that I floated before several publishers this past summer for my new book The Triumph of Christianity.   My original idea, as you will see below, was to start with the earliest disciples of Jesus, right after his death, who came to think he had been raised from the dead – I’m happy to call them the “first Christians,” even though a lot of scholars object to calling anyone “Christian” until much later; ...

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The Early Growth of Christianity

I continue here the brief overview of the book that I’m now working on, The Triumph of Christianity.  To this point I have identified the problem that the book is trying to resolve (how Christianity grew from a small group of illiterate Jewish peasants from Galilee to becoming something like 10% of the entire Roman Empire within 300 years), some of the earlier attempts to solve the problem, and one of the fundamental issues involved, the movement from being a ...

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From Jewish Sect to Gentile Church

I have been discussing and excerpting the Prospectus I wrote this last summer on my book that I have tentatively titled, The Triumph of Christianity.  Here I discuss the beginning of the Christian mission, and how “Christianity” went from being a small Jewish sect to being a large number of gentile communities (with special emphasis on the work of Paul).

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  1. From Jew to Gentile: The Rise of Christianity (two chapters)

This section will discuss the very early years of the Christian movement ...

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