The Fullness of Time and Diaspora

A few weeks ago, in my “New religiongeschichtliche Schule” post, Hypatia made an observation that prompted this post. She observed that many people think that Jesus appeared at the time he did because God had devised a world in which the Gospel could spread rapidly and far and wide:

Christianity could not have arisen except out of the Jewish scriptures.  Nor, I learned in  my Bible class, could it have spread across the globe if it hadn’t arisen within the far-flung empire of Rome.  That period was “ the fullness of time”.

I absolutely agree with this thinking, and want to make a few observations on point.

Many people observe on the Roman Empire’s advantages. Piracy and banditry were under control in the first three centuries AD. Roads were better than ever, and there was a pretty reliable system of mail delivery. Business was conducted in only two languages over a very large area (Greek and Latin). It is really hard to discount those advantages.

But I want to point out another phenomenon that frequently gets overlooked. The Diaspora.

The Diaspora is the name that is given to the way the Jews were spread all over the world. Many people think of the Diaspora as something that happened after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, but there is an older story to tell, one that precedes Jesus and prepares conditions for the spread of the Gospel. It involves the Babylonian Exile.

When the Babylonians carried the Jews into exile, something interesting happened. Since the Babylonians had recently conquered Assyria, they had a difficult time governing such a vast stretch of lands. They needed a new supply of government clerks.

Babylonian government clerks

Now this is Bubba’s theory, and I have not seen this anywhere else, so don’t cite this as the opinion of some expert, but I think that the Babylonians had really good reasons for impressing Jewish slave boys into government service. They were literate. The Jews were very different from other peoples; they wanted their boys to be able to read. They had a Law-based religion founded on the Torah, and so their religion and culture were interested in literacy.

I think this observation does not get made because so many historians have internalized bad information, and think that the Torah was not written until during the Babylonian Exile. I disbelieve that version of events. I think the Torah was completed during the time of Joshua, just as the rabbinical tradition says, and certainly no later than Samuel, so by 1000 to 900 BC at the latest.

It would have been much easier to teach boys who were literate in Hebrew to read and write in the Babylonian language, than to take boys who were illiterate and teach them reading and writing. The Babylonian boys from trustworthy families were not numerous enough, and they were diverted into more prestigious management positions. Other Babylonian boys came from towns that might be restive and think seditious thoughts against the new regime.

Another reason to want Jews is that the Jews did not have any natural allies in the Babylonian Empire. None of the conquered peoples could be considered friendly towards the Jews, so Jewish clerks would be unlikely to help hide conspiracies or seditions among the conquered peoples.

Whatever you may think of these ideas, an amazing thing happened. A few years into the captivity, Babylon was overthrown by Persia. The incoming Persians also needed to run a big sprawling empire, and found a fortuitous circumstance. The Babylonian government was full of Jewish clerks. Those Jews knew all about the government of the empire, and they had no loyalty to their Babylonian masters. The Persians retained this large bureaucracy of Jews and settled in. The Prophet Daniel, who had risen through the bureaucracy to become the chief of staff of the Babylonian King, was retained as the Persian Prime Minister of Babylon.

Persians

The Persians allowed the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem. Ezra found it to be a shambles, along with all Judea and Galilee. Evidently the Babylonians had intended some ethnic cleansing, aiming to resettle some of their other conquered peoples into the lands vacated by the conquered Jews. But wars along the northern edge of their new empire, followed by war with Persia, kept the Babylonians too busy to carry out their schemes.

Judea had been underpopulated. Roofs had collapsed, orchards and vineyards grown up in wild thickets, and the area was too wild and overgrown to support a population of its former levels.

Jews wanted to return to Judea, but many ended up going elsewhere. And, the Jews seemed to thrive wherever they had been placed by Babylon and Persia. Synagogues grew up in all the district capitals of the Persian Empire.

Greeks

When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire, the Greeks gained control of the world from Greece to east of Persia. Alexander died and his generals divided the empire. That is how Greek-speaking Ptolemy became Pharaoh. A large community of Jews grew up in the new city of Alexandria. Greek-speaking Seleucus became the King of Syria.

God-fearers

Now Jewish thought is very different than Pagan thought. And skepticism of Pagan thinking had become widespread in Greek culture ever since Socrates and Plato.

Those scattered synagogues attracted Greeks who were interested in the Jewish religion. It had some really interesting distinctions. The Jews taught that there is one Creator God, and that He is good. This was appealing to many people, and very much unlike the tales of the Pagan gods, who were depicted as capricious and constantly playing pranks and deadly tricks on men and each other. The God of the Jews was good and encouraged righteous living.

The Pagans who followed the Jews were mostly unwilling or unable to convert to become Jews (which the Jews made extraordinarily difficult), but they would attend synagogues to learn about Jewish teachings.

The Jews called them “God-Fearers.” In some places, gentile support was vital to synagogue finances.

Gospel

When Jesus came, every festival found Jerusalem crowded with Jews who came from all over the eastern portions of the Roman Empire. That is why there was no room to be found in Bethlehem at Hanukkah. And, after the Resurrection, that is why there were so many foreign Jews to hear Peter preach at Pentecost.

Those Jews went back to their homes. The Good News traveled fast. When followers of the Way of Jesus went home, they shared their testimonies.

Those gentiles who were hanging around the synagogues were really fertile ground for the Good News about Jesus. God-Fearers quickly became the key support for a number of little Christian congregations launched by Paul and Barnabas and Silas and the rest of the gang reported on by Luke in Acts.

Providence

Do you think that it was coincidence that Jesus came at a time when His message would spread like wildfire?

I think it was Providential.

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20 thoughts on “The Fullness of Time and Diaspora”

  1. I’m impressed.  This idea does tie together a number of biblical references in a historically reliable way.

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  2. Very simplistic explanation of the millions of Jews all over the know world, who were scholars, hundreds of years before Christianity. And most of the early Christians were Jews first.

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  3. KayofMT:
    Very simplistic explanation of the millions of Jews all over the know world, who were scholars, hundreds of years before Christianity. And most of the early Christians were Jews first.

    Simplistic?

    2 Chronicles chapter 36.

    2 Kings, from chapter 24 to the end.

    Hosea, chapters 11 and 12.

    Jeremiah chapter 43 and chapters 46 through 51.

    Lamentations chapter 4.

    Obadiah

    Ezekiel

    Daniel

    Haggai

    Zechariah

    Malachi

    Esther

    Ezra

    Nehemiah

    Then you can move on to other sources.   1 Maccabees is relevant.

    Especially Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, beginning at Chapter IX.

    There are bits and pieces of corroboration from the secular historians.

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  4. KayofMT:
    And most of the early Christians were Jews first.

    Of course they were.   All of the first Christians were Jews.

    It was about fifteen years after the Resurrection that Christians first started proselytizing among non-Jews.

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  5. MJBubba:
    Do you think that it was coincidence that Jesus came at a time when His message would spread like wildfire? I think it was Providential.

    We have records of numerous prophets (self-described or otherwise), an interminable stream which continues to this day.  Most of them go nowhere.  Some of them get traction.  A few of them become significant, and less than a handful generate a globe-spanning religious faction.

    As expected.  Power law.

    “You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight… I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!” ― Richard P. Feynman

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  6. Haakon Dahl:

    MJBubba:
    Do you think that it was coincidence that Jesus came at a time when His message would spread like wildfire? I think it was Providential.

    We have records of numerous prophets (self-described or otherwise), an interminable stream which continues to this day.  Most of them go nowhere.  Some of them get traction.  A few of them become significant, and less than a handful generate a globe-spanning religious faction.

    As expected.  Power law.

    “You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight… I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!” ― Richard P. Feynman

    Consider the “wisdom of crowds.”

    Over 60 percent of humanity are theists or deists of some kind.

    Less than seven percent of humanity think that there is no such thing as a spiritual aspect to human existence.

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  7. Phil Turmel:
    I’m impressed.  This idea does tie together a number of biblical references in a historically reliable way.

    Thanks.   I am not trying to be comprehensive; I am just connecting the dots to show that there are several hundred years of history of how the Jews related to the other peoples that appear to be intentionally devised to bring about a circumstance in which the Gospel could spread rapidly.   It is really notable that there were so many God-Fearers in the eastern portions of the Roman Empire at the time of Christ.   The spread of the Christian Gospel story depended on having lots of people acquainted with the Jewish Scriptures, who could read and see that the ancient books of the Jews fit the narrative of Jesus, and how the Prophets’ descriptions of the Messiah of God matched the testimonies of the eyewitnesses to Jesus in amazing ways.

    The Greeks had developed a sophisticated Pagan religion over 2500 years, and it was spiritually and intellectually superseded by Christianity in a 250-year period.

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  8. Phil Turmel:
    I’m impressed.  This idea does tie together a number of biblical references in a historically reliable way.

    Yes.  And as I pointed out in the comment MJB has been kind enough to quote, this is not a new idea: I was taught it in my Bible class  like,  50 years ago.

    The obvious response is: did Christianity spread so fast so far because these conditions existed, that is, were these conditions the cause of its spread—

    or was God’s  will (that it spread)  the cause of these conditions?

    We will only know, I reckon, on the day when all hearts are opened, all secrets revealed.

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  9. Also, I read somewhere that when Constantine had his vision of the cross, which led him to make Christianity the state religion,  there were far more Jews in the Empire than Christians.  What if he had seen a Star Of David instead?

    Beyond that, I get why monotheism would be attractive  to an emperor.  With the Greek and Roman  pantheons, when it came to war, various gods often took different sides, didn’t they?  Not whatcha want as a general.  Much better if you can just say “Dieu le veult!” without your troops and populace asking, yuh, But which  god?…

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  10. Hypatia:
    Also, I read somewhere that when Constantine had his vision of the cross, which led him to make Christianity the state religion,  there were far more Jews in the Empire than Christians.  What if he had seen a Star Of David instead?

    More Jews than Christians ?   Sounds unlikely.   I have seen estimates all over the place for Christians.   In the time of Constantine estimates of the percentage of Christians in the Empire range from ten percent to fifty percent, and I think the most credible sources put the estimate at 30 percent to 40 percent.   Jews could not have outnumbered Christians unless the very lowest estimates for the numbers of Christians are true.

    An internet search turned up an interesting article about the historical populations of Jews:

    https://www.haaretz.com/1.4852548

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  11. Hypatia:
    What if he had seen a Star Of David instead?

    Well, you were getting all cynical about Emperor Constantine, but, if his vision were actually a cynical act on his part, that would seem to indicate that the higher estimates for the number of Christians would be more likely.

    I think the higher estimates are more likely because of the rapid advancement of Christianity.   Constantine made it legal in 313 AD, and then twelve years later made Christianity protected.   There was wide acceptance to this change of status for Christianity.   By the time Julian the Apostate tried to reverse and crack down on Christianity in 361, that move caused widespread disruption and chaos.

    The Roman Empire became Christian, not by conquest or force or decree, but by persuasion.

    Be ye persuaded.

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  12. MJBubba:

    Haakon Dahl:

    MJBubba:
    Do you think that it was coincidence that Jesus came at a time when His message would spread like wildfire? I think it was Providential.

    We have records of numerous prophets (self-described or otherwise), an interminable stream which continues to this day.  Most of them go nowhere.  Some of them get traction.  A few of them become significant, and less than a handful generate a globe-spanning religious faction.

    As expected.  Power law.

    “You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight… I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!” ― Richard P. Feynman

    Consider the “wisdom of crowds.”

    Over 60 percent of humanity are theists or deists of some kind.

    Less than seven percent of humanity think that there is no such thing as a spiritual aspect to human existence.

    Surely you do not mean to imply that Christianity is only a fifth better than Islam.

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  13. Haakon Dahl:

    MJBubba:

    Haakon Dahl:

    MJBubba:
    Do you think that it was coincidence that Jesus came at a time when His message would spread like wildfire? I think it was Providential.

    We have records of numerous prophets (self-described or otherwise), an interminable stream which continues to this day.  Most of them go nowhere.  Some of them get traction.  A few of them become significant, and less than a handful generate a globe-spanning religious faction.

    As expected.  Power law.

    “You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight… I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!” ― Richard P. Feynman

    Consider the “wisdom of crowds.”

    Over 60 percent of humanity are theists or deists of some kind.

    Less than seven percent of humanity think that there is no such thing as a spiritual aspect to human existence.

    Surely you do not mean to imply that Christianity is only a fifth better than Islam.

    No.   I am only using this argument to address your notion that there is no such thing as a spiritual aspect to human existence.

    As for Christianity v. Islam, I would be happy to explain the many ways in which Christianity is more likely to be true, and the many ways in which Christianity is superior.   But I do not believe that you are at the point of choosing between candidate theisms.

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  14. MJBubba:
    No. I am only using this argument to address your notion that there is no such thing as a spiritual aspect to human existence.

    Whereas I am only addressing your reliance upon a statistical fallacy, somewhere between mere survivor bias and the Baltimore Stockbroker.  You asked if we believed that somethng was merely a coincidence, or proof of divine will.

    A coincidence is statistically likely, so that’s no argument for divinely ordained scheduling.  Anything that succeeded can be seen to have met the right conditions for success — by definition.  Survivor bias is misunderstanding that implication in retrospect  The fraud of the Baltimore Stockbroker in planning for that misunderstanding.

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  15. Yes, you just can’t deny that, after an event has transpired, it is very easy, in fact well-nigh irresistible, to go back and locate signs and portents which seem at least in retrospect to have been foreshadowing it.  We all do that in our own lives.

    Still, I’m not  saying I disagree with my old Bible teacher.  The phrase “in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son” is from Galatians.  Could St. Paul, although (famously) a Roman citizen, have foreseen how Rome would expand over the next few centuries,? He might’ve known about Caesar’s  conquest of Gaul, I reckon.  Maybe he did know enough about current events to foresee the Roman “globalization” of the Then-known world.

    I DKY  my teacher picked out this phrase, but I’ve always been glad she did: it has echoed  and reverberated  through my mind and heart  on so many occasions: my last few weeks of pregnancy, the deaths of certain beloved and venerated persons, milestones in my daughter’s development….I reckon it will see me out.  And it is a beautiful phrase, a benediction, because Time is the implacable enemy, the Nemesis, of mortal beings such as we are! but it has another face, it not only truncates, it fills, and fulfills.  Time giveth,  and Time taketh away.

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  16. Haakon Dahl:
    A coincidence is statistically likely, so that’s no argument for divinely ordained scheduling.  Anything that succeeded can be seen to have met the right conditions for success — by definition.  Survivor bias is misunderstanding that implication in retrospect

    One or two coincidences may be statistically likely, but dozens of coincidences that push a sequence of events involving millions of people is a different sort of thing.

    The implication is that God directed activities by multitudes of peoples to bring about the outcome He wanted.

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  17. Hypatia:
    Yes, you just can’t deny that, after an event has transpired, it is very easy, in fact well-nigh irresistible, to go back and locate signs and portents which seem at least in retrospect to have been foreshadowing it.  We all do that in our own lives.

    But in the case of Jesus, the signs and portents were spelled out in amazing detail by the Prophets, hundreds of years before the events.   It is not a case that some aspects “seem at least in retrospect to have been foreshadowing it.”   We have written prophecies that were fulfilled in detail.

    Still, I’m not  saying I disagree with my old Bible teacher.  The phrase “in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son” is from Galatians.  Could St. Paul, although (famously) a Roman citizen, have foreseen how Rome would expand over the next few centuries,? He might’ve known about Caesar’s  conquest of Gaul, I reckon.  Maybe he did know enough about current events to foresee the Roman “globalization” of the Then-known world.

    Well, yes.  There are several different ways in which we could discuss Jesus as appearing “in the fullness of time.”  One thing I was getting at is that there were many dozens of Jewish synagogues scattered all over the eastern half of the Roman Empire, with most of them attracting gentile Greeks who were skeptical of the Pagan gods but very attracted to the One God of the Jews.  This created a huge body of gentiles who were familiar with the Jewish Scriptures, and who embraced the idea that they lived in the time foretold by the Prophets when God would draw to Himself followers from all nations.

    I DKY  my teacher picked out this phrase, but I’ve always been glad she did: it has echoed  and reverberated  through my mind and heart  on so many occasions: my last few weeks of pregnancy, the deaths of certain beloved and venerated persons, milestones in my daughter’s development….I reckon it will see me out.  And it is a beautiful phrase, a benediction, because Time is the implacable enemy, the Nemesis, of mortal beings such as we are! but it has another face, it not only truncates, it fills, and fulfills.  Time giveth,  and Time taketh away.

    Isn’t there a fullness of time to be experienced by each of us in our own lives?   But rather than our own times, the Scriptures speak of God’s time.

    He is the Author of Time; He made time when He made creation.  Scriptures speak of the “Day of the Lord,” which can only be understood by putting on your sci-fi hat and considering God as the only time lord.  He is, after all, the Lord of Time.   And so the Scriptures speak of the Day of the Lord when God rested from his labor of creation, and the Day of the Lord when God set a rainbow for Noah, and a Day of the Lord when He made a covenant with Abraham and a Day of the Lord when He brought the Israelites out of Egypt and a Day of the Lord when He gave the Law of Moses and a Day of the Lord when He had Samuel anoint Saul, then David, then Solomon to be King over Israel.   There was a Day of the Lord when He allowed Solomon to dedicate the Temple, a Day of the Lord when He allowed the Babylonians to destroy the Temple, and a Day of the Lord when He allowed Nehemiah to dedicate the rebuilt Temple.  There was a Day of the Lord when Jesus came, a Day of the Lord when He died and when He rose and when He ascended.   There will be a Day of the Lord when He comes again in glory.

    Yet Scriptures speaks of “the Day of the Lord” in every case as a singular event.   That is how it looks to the Lord of Time.   It is impossible for us to gauge the fullness of time, because it is impossible for us to consider even the Day of the Lord as a singular thing.   And so we have to admit that we don’t understand everything; that the answers to all of our questions have not been revealed, and that we will not know some things until the Day of the Lord comes for us.

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  18. In the Gospels, there are instances where Jesus deliberately conforms His actions to the Prophecies “that they might be fulfilled”.

    Beyond that: Yuh, seems to me you’re  saying the same things I said in Comment#s 8 & 9:  we will not know the answers until The Last Great Day, and: there were lotsa Jews spread out across the Roman Empire.

    Just clickin’ around on the what-If issue about Constantine converting to Judaism, I read that probably circumcision was a big deterrent.  You wouldn’t wanna order your troops to undergo it en masse;  that put the men of the tribe that kidnapped Dinah at a fatal disadvantage. ( Hee hee, the rape of the Sabine women is mild compared to Jacob’s sons’ bride-raid tale! )

    I’m sure you’ll see this formidable obstacle to converting to Judaism as another instance of Jehovah’s  meticulous  historical planing.  And maybe you’re right! You always seem to take issue with me even when we agree.  Keep the faith!!

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