Paganism and its influence on the development of Christianity
By Steven P. Koehneke
Undergraduate thesis, Ball State University, 1996
Abstract: This honors thesis is intended to explore the background of Christianity and how the native religions it encountered affected and altered it. The history of the early church will be examined, noting significant figures and discussing problems that arose. How the church converted the pagans, whether through persuasion, law, or force, will be discussed. The reader will also see how foreign religions and customs were incorporated into the Christian faith and celebrations, particularly on special holidays. The church was deeply affected by the traditions of long ago and the influence of the Christians’ pagan heritage still plays an important role in society today.
Note to the reader: The accepted scholastic form of expressing time is now “B.C.E.” and “C.E.” This is to indicate “Before Common Era” and “Common Era.” However, as an expression of faith, I have chosen to use the classical “B.C.” and “A.D.” These terms stand for “Before Christ” and “The Year of Our Lord” (Anno Domini in Latin).
Introduction: Approximately two thousand years ago, a Jewish child named Yeshua was born in the town of Bethlehem, a land under Roman rule. He lived about thirty years, taught and preached to the people of his day, and supposedly died a common criminal’s death for treason. He was never acknowledged in Jewish or Roman records and only had a couple hundred followers at the end of his lifetime. Yet this simple carpenter from Nazareth who is also called Jesus Christ, revered savior of the world and Son of God, is known to people all over the world. How did this small Jewish sect gain such prominence on the world stage? What happened when Christianity encountered other religions? Did conversion involve force, synthesis, or persuasion? Christianity changed civilizations as it spread over the globe, but in doing so, it was forever altered itself by the cultures it sought to convert.