There is a difference between worshiping Jesus and actually doing what he told us to do. I remember the documentary entitled “From Jesus to Christ” in 1998 on PBS Frontline. It was the serious beginning of my spiritual search for meaning. Becoming more familiar with the actual events of the period of the first 150 years of the common era (CE) helped me understand how we started to change Jesus into a symbol to be adored rather than to be emulated. A religion turned him for “Jesus” to “Christ”. I want to spend this post going over some of the things I learned from that 23-year-old documentary and other sources since then.
The death of Jesus was a Roman act. He was causing too much unrest in part of the Roman Empire. Jesus was just another victim of the Pax Romana. His life wasn’t a big deal, rather it was an annoyance that would be like thousands of others solved by crucifixion. It would be 30 years or more after his death before anything other than a slight notice was taken by Jewish people relative to the tiny sect that formed around Jesus.
The Gospels that are now the foundation of Christianity were starting to be written between 40 and 80 years after the fact. Most of the contents are accounts that started out as vocal stories including numerous myths that were fabricated during this period. These stories were passed down for generations before they were finally written down. The four gospels tell very different stories as they were written by and for quite different audiences who had quite different experiences and circumstances. It would be centuries later that theologians would try to spin a common thread between the four stories.
Between 100 and 300 C.E., the “Christian” movement grew at a moderate pace throughout the Roman Empire. There were many debates about beliefs, worship, and even about Jesus himself. What started as a small sect of Judaism became an enormous part of the population, when the Roman emperor Constantine dictated that it should be part of the official State religion of the Roman Empire. This was a momentous change for Christianity. Some say it then changed from a religion to a State-driven mandate. Many believed the original Jesus was left in the dust.
Beginning about 400 CE the cross was transformed into a symbol of triumph and Jesus of Nazareth became Jesus Christ. In only three hundred years, the empire that had sent Jesus to his death embraced Christianity as an official religion and worshipped him as divine. They had turned him into a religious symbol that was needed to insure Rome’s existence.
This began the era of Christianity becoming the law of the land instead of something to be followed and emulated. The power of the Roman church dominated for a thousand years before the East-West Schism and eventually the Protestant Reformation in 1521.