In hindsight, it is easy to understand why the Jesus Movement failed completely to establish itself politically and socially in first century Palestine and was easily suppressed by the presiding Prefect and the Jewish Priests. Jesus consorted freely with sinners and was never concerned for a moment, as far as we know, about whether his conduct was sinful or not; so that he has forced us to accept him as the man without sin. Even if we reckon his last days as the days of his delusion, he none the less gave a fairly convincing exhibition of superiority over the fear of death. He put no stress on baptism, pro or con, and preached conduct incessantly. He advocated the widening of the private family into the great family of mankind under the fatherhood of God and the abandonment of revenge and punishment. He conveyed all this with extraordinary charm, and entertained his hearers with fables (parables) to illustrate them. That approach did not bode well for him with his fellow Jews or his prospective Gentiles and certainly not with the ruling Prefect whose job it was to maintain the Pax Romano.
And as scripture goes, death came to Jesus. Enter St Paul. Jesus’ indifference to death must have both fascinated and horrified St Paul (a Pharisaic Jew), and Saul, as he was first called. This horror may account for his fierce persecution of the Christians; Paul was violently anti-Christian and even held the clothes of the men who were stoning Stephen (a Jesus follower). Paul persecuted the Christians with great vigor, a sport which he combined with his day job as a tentmaker. Actually, Paul was no more a Christian than Jesus was a Baptist; he was a disciple of Jesus only as Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptiser. He did nothing that Jesus would have done, and said nothing that Jesus would have said; in fact he never met Jesus,
Paul’s fascination with Jesus might account for the strangest of his fancies: the fancy for attaching the name of Christ to Jesus and to the great idea which flashed upon him on the road to Damascus; the idea that he could not only make a new religion from his terrors, but that the movement started by Jesus offered him the nucleus for his new Church. The shock of this epiphany was so profound, as Paul declared afterwards, it struck him blind.
Paul’s theory of original sin was to some extent idiosyncratic. He tells us definitely that he finds himself quite able to avoid the sinfulness of sex by practicing celibacy, but he recognized, rather contemptuously, that in this respect he was not as other men are, and said that they had better marry than burn. Meanwhile, the inevitable effect of dropping the Jewish doctrines of Jesus and hearkening back to the teachings of the apocalyptic John the Baptist was to make it decidedly easier for Paul to proselytize Gentiles than it was to convert Jews. Paul simply followed the path of least resistance and assumed the title of the Apostle to the Gentiles, thus bestowing upon himself, ostensibly at least, a standing to preach his new religion.
The Jews, though, had their own rite of initiation; the rite of circumcision, and they were fiercely jealous for it, as it marked them as the chosen people of God apart from the uncircumcised Gentiles. Seizing upon this Jewish law for circumcision, Paul told his flock that Baptism had supplanted circumcision and facilitated a faster route to sanctification and salvation. To the Jews, this was an intolerable blasphemy. Paul, in an effort to assuage the hurt feelings of the Jews said that circumcision was alright for a Jew, but it had no efficacy towards salvation. These pale concessions of Paul only made the Jews more determined to stone him. Thus, as history records, Christianity was hampered (for a while) by a two-fold conundrum: Was salvation obtained by a surgical procedure, or by a sprinkling of water? An argument upon which Jesus (a Jew) would not have wasted twenty words.
The parthenogenetic (virgin) birth of Christ, simple enough at first as a popular miracle, was not left so simple by the theologians. They began to ask of what substance Jesus was made in the womb of the virgin. When the Trinity was added to the faith the question arose; was the virgin the mother of God or only the mother of Jesus? Arian and Nestorian* schisms arose on these questions and the leaders of the resultant agitations rancorously deposed one another and excommunicated one another according to their luck in enlisting emperors sympathetic to their cause. In the IV century they began to burn one another for differences of opinion in such matters.
The belief in the prolongation of individual life beyond the grave is far more real and vivid among table-rapping Spiritualists than among modern conventional Christians. The notion that those who reject the Christian scheme of salvation by atonement must also believe in personal immortality and that a belief in miracles is as baseless as the notion that if a man is an atheist he will steal your watch. And these beliefs became static and antagonist over the ages, and still are. Men still kill men (and women and children) over the question of whose god is the real god.
*theological doctrine, declared heretical in 431 A.D., that within Jesus are two distinct persons, divine and human, rather than a single divine person.