Rodney Stark considers what it looked like for a new faith to take root in the Roman Empire.
Well, I suppose when you’re talking about the rapid growth of Christianity … I tried to figure out how fast it actually did grow, and it turns out that it didn’t grow much faster than some other movements have grown, it’s just that it continued to grow. You know, the idea was that somehow you get the notion that there were millions of Christians by, say, the year 200. Well, there weren’t. There were, maybe there were possibly as many as 1,000 Christians, say, by the year 40.
If you take a very ordinary rate of annual growth – a rate of growth at which several other movements have gone – you get to the 5, 6, 8, 10, 15 million Christians in the time that history allows. And mostly I did that as an exercise in trying to put some discipline on the subject, you know. It’s not helpful to say, well, what a miraculous growth, when in fact what it was was just persistent growth.
And the growth, it made sense in the Empire, I mean, that this movement should grow like that. I think the Roman Empire might have turned Jewish if it hadn’t been for the fact that … the requirement that you become an ethnic Jew, if you will, as well as a religious Jew. And that’s, of course, what Christianity got away from. You could be a Roman Christian, Gallic Christian, British Christian, whatever, without becoming ethnically Christian – there was no ethnicity involved, and that was the big breakthrough. And then, of course, the fact that Christianity had all sorts of advantages for the people that was lacking in the Empire.