The Rambam quite clearly considered Christianity to be avodah zarah. He did not feel the same way about Islam, however, going so far as to condone praying within a mosque, and many Orthodox Jewish Rabbis take the same position on the subject, but with some adding a "shittuf" exception for gentiles.

If Christians are idolaters and thus violate the Noahide laws against idolatry and the commandment to worship the one G-d, why has the Christian West come to dominate the entire world? Why was it Christians who explored and colonized the globe, went into space and then later to the moon, and not Muslims? It really does seem that G-d has favored and blessed the West and the United States in particular, which seems to be completely at odds with the designation of their faith as avodah zarah, when G-d could have just as easily elevated the Muslim world instead. Why would G-d prefer idolaters to non-idolaters?

Second, why are Jews still living among Christians if they are idolaters and not with each other in Israel or, following the Rambam's lead, living among Muslims? Isn't it hypocritical to denounce the faith of the majority of those around you as idolatry when you could choose to live, as Maimonides did, in a Muslim country without those idolaters or without as many of them (particularly without them in positions of power)?

  • Gabriel, welcome to mi.yodeya, and thanks very much for the thought-provoking question! We'd love to have you as a fully-registered member, which you can accomplish by clicking login/register, above.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Feb 22, 2011 at 4:08
  • 3
    +1 for the second part of the question about the choices disposably mobile Jews make regarding places to live. Is the first part not just a special case of rasha v'tov lo, or "why do good things happen to bad people?"?
    – WAF
    Commented Feb 22, 2011 at 4:26
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    On the other hand, the Rambam felt that Christians could be taught Torah and Muslims could not, since at least the Christians accepted the sacredness of the Old Testament. And beyond that, the Rambam lived in the Muslim world -- those Rishonim who lived in the Christian world were much more accommodating with their Christian neighbors. Indeed, many achronim felt that Christians were not Ovdei Avodah Zara (see R. David Chaim HaLevi's piece in Techumin 9 on Darchei Shalom for a variety of sources, including many of the most distinguished achronim)
    – Curiouser
    Commented Feb 22, 2011 at 14:50
  • 1
    For a period of time (from 750 CE to 1258 CE) called Islamic Golden Age Muslims were in much better position than Christians scientifically, economically, and militarily. There has been many reasons given for their decline in the later period.
    – Kaveh
    Commented Nov 18, 2011 at 4:29
  • 1
    These are two separate, and loaded, questions. I'm not sure they really are productive.
    – Seth J
    Commented Oct 30, 2012 at 14:46

9 Answers 9


R' Chaim Dov Rabinowitz (author of Daas Sofrim), in his volume on Jewish history since the close of Tanach, in fact harshly criticizes the Jews of Babylonia for migrating from there to the Christian West during the Geonic era. He argues, for one thing, that they should have learned from the experience of the Jews under Byzantine domination (especially in the 5th-6th centuries) that a Christian society is no place for Jews.

Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and maybe indeed if our ancestors knew then what we know now, they might have stayed put. But on the other hand, the fact is that neither religion has been monolithic in its treatment of Jews - in fact, during that era Charlemagne and his immediate successors in Western Europe were pretty friendly towards Jews.

As for why the Christian nations dominate the world rather than the Muslim ones, some thoughts:

  • History isn't over yet. Were we living a thousand years ago, the question would be reversed - and we don't know what might happen in the future.

  • We're still in the exile of Edom (until the coming of Moshiach). Throughout Talmudic and Midrashic literature, Edom is identified with Rome; and Rome's successor (cultural and religious) is the Western world far more so than the Islamic one. (Though there were some early authorities - I think R' Saadiah Gaon was one - who say that the Romans were the cultural inheritors of Greece and therefore count as part of that kingdom, while Islam is the "fourth kingdom" that will hold sway in the era before Moshiach's arrival.)

  • 2
    Regarding Galus Yishmael: “There is no exile more difficult for Yisrael than the Galus Yishmael” – Zohar Shemos 17a . “It is already known the there are only four exiles: Bavel, Madai, Yavan, and Edom. However, in the future there will still be another in the end of days, in the exile of Yishmael.” – R. Chaim Vital, Eitz HaDaas Tov Tehillim 124 - from neryaakov.org/… . It appears that the Eitz HaDaas is quoted here: dafyomireview.com/article.php?docid=269
    – Menachem
    Commented Jun 28, 2011 at 18:51
  • Bavel is babylon. What is madai? Persia? Medes? What's Yavan? And where are all these written?
    – user4951
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 4:55
  • @Jim: Madai is Media (including also its neighbor Persia, which came to overshadow it). Yavan is the Greek empire of Alexander, and its successor Hellenistic states (the name Yavan is etymologically related to Ionia). The list of these four exiles ultimately goes back to the traditional interpretation of Daniel's visions (chs. 7-12); the exact list is found in Genesis Rabbah 2:4 and in other sources.
    – Alex
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 15:10
  • I realize you my be paraphrasing but it seems odd to say you "criticize[] the Jews of Babylonia for migrating from there to the Christian West during the Geonic era." Shouldn't he instead criticize the Jews of Ashkenaz for moving there? Many Jews remained in Babylonia.
    – Avraham
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 14:48

Yes it seems funny; at the other extreme, anti-Semitism in India is considered virtually nonexistant historically, when Hinduism and Judaism have, shall I say, more or less mutually-exclusive theologies.

Part of the answer seems to be that "good fences make good neighbors", or as one genealogist put it, "you fight with your cousins." A religion that has nothing to do with Judaism whatsoever tends to mind its own business. It's because Islam shares so much history, ideology, and geography with Judaism that it has caused clashes.

  • 1
    islam clashes with hindus and sikhs too. Replacement theologies are a problem.
    – barlop
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 20:07
  • @barlop This comment is problematic. Could you expand on the relevance of the last sentence with respect to the question or this answer? It reads like low-effort polemic. Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 7:32

First, I have to point out that the Rambam, although he lived in Egypt, was no fan of Islam or Mohammed who he called a "madman" and "the defective one" in his Letter to Yemen.

On the general point: Over the last 2000 years, Jews have migrated extensively; probably more so than any other nation or people. Here is a nice summary of the post-exile movement of our people. As you can see from the descriptions and the map at the bottom of the page, Jewish migration was often linked to economic potential and cultural advantages and disadvantages. Therefore a variety of issues caused some people to emigrate to Rome, others to Greece, east to Babylonia, Europe or along the African and Asia Minor coasts.

For the first six centuries, the Christians were not a major problem to Jews as the Christians were busy battling and converting (often by force) the pagan tribes of Europe. Dimont, "Jews, G-d and History, pp. 151-152. Also Jews benefited because they were more educated and cultured than the newly-converted pagans were, and rose to relatively high positions. Ibid. pp. 213.

During the feudal era, Europe held some attraction to Jews because of the restrictions placed on Jews. Christians were tied to the land or if they were craftsmen, they were tied to their guilds and forbidden by law to lend money at interest. Jews, however, were forbidden to own land or join the guilds. But that meant they had nothing tying them down, and they alone could lend money with interest to non-Jews. Carroll, "Constatine's Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History," pp 243-44.

The conflict between Moslems and Christians, during the Crusades period, also benefited Jews who lived in or traveled to both worlds. Welcome in both worlds, Jews were able to sell the goods of Moslems (and others through Asia) to the Christian nations, thereby pollinating Europe with many influences from the Orient. See Abrahams, "Jewish Life in the Middle Ages," p. 214; Stillman, "Jewish Merchants," contained in Meri and Bacharach, "Medieval Islamic Civilization L-Z" at pp 497-498.

But with the success of Jewish merchants came a downside: "When Feudal man realized the superiority of the Jewish way of doing things, he absorbed Jewish know-how, kicked the Jews out to eliminate the competition, and went into business for himself." Dimont, at 224. Jews migrated instead to Eastern Europe where their special skills were welcomed. Ibid.

Jews did well in the Islamic world, depending upon the rise and fall of various sects. Jews during Rambam's early years were respected and protected in Andalusia during the reign of the Almoravids, but when they were deposed in 1148 by the Berbers, that sect forced Jews to convert to Islam if they chose to stay. 1954 Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 18, p. 140.
Similarly, other Jewish communities in the Arab world suffered ups and downs depending on who was in charge.

But, as always, Jews outside of their homeland live where they are welcome, and leave where they are not. Before World War II, 9.5 million Jews lived in Europe. Holocaust Encyclopedia. But because of the Holocaust and continued anti-semitism in parts of Europe, only 1.45 million reside there, according to the American Jewish Yearbook for 2010. The Arab-Israel conflict has caused a sharp downturn in the Jewish population in Moslem countries. The Jewish population in the Middle East dropped from 1 million in 1948, including Iran but excluding Israel, to less than 20,000 in 2010. That decrease includes 867,000 Jews who were expelled, or forced out of Moslem countries at war with Israel. "The Forgotten Exodus," Jerusalem Post Special Supplement, Nov. 29, 2002, pp. 12-13.

To summarize: The fact that Christians are or are not idolators is not determinative of where Jews live. They live where it is in their own interests.

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    Ironic, then, that people claim the Rambam converted to Islam and that he has been claimed as a Muslim scholar in recent years.
    – Seth J
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 3:14
  • 3
    @SethJ People say a lot of crazy things.... Irony is not even the word :(
    – HodofHod
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 4:28

In response to your first question, see Rambam Kings (ch. 11) where he discusses the reasons for the success of Christianity and Islam. He prefaces the discussion by noting that we cannot ever hope to fully understand God's motivation for shaping history.

He then continues by offering the idea that these religions pave the way for the coming of Mashiach, by spreading the ideas of God, the Law and Messianic times.


Some thoughts:

First, if there is a "shituf" exception for gentiles (making Xianity essentially permissible to them), then it's unclear why Islam should dominate.

Second, the United States has only been dominant for 100 years or less. During that period of time, rabbis have often referred to the U.S. as a medinat shel chessed, a state of lovingkindness, because of the relative absence of anti-Semitism here. So even if Xianity may be technically Avodah Zara, it is understandable that Hashem would allow one of the least anti-Semitic countries in the world, that allows Jews unprecedented freedom and tolerance (unmatched outside of Israel), to dominate the world.

Third, interestingly, many of the early Founding Fathers were Deists, who believed in God but not necessarily Yashka. (I'm trying to avoid saying the Xian "messiah's" name for halachic reasons.) Thomas Jefferson even wrote a version of the Xian Bible removing everything supernatural and portraying Yashka as little more than a wise man. Our national public discourse ("In G-d we Trust;" "under G-d, with liberty and justice for all," the "great God our king" line in "My Country 'Tis of Thee," which has the same melody as "G-d Save the Queen") often refers to G-d but seldom to Yashka. Perhaps this makes Xianity a less serious candidate for Avodah Zara here.

Fourth, it makes sense that a country would be judged for its national discourse and what it imposes on its inhabitants (which is very little, given church/state separation), rather than the beliefs of the population itself.

Fifth, I'm not sure we should assume it's such a good thing to dominate the world. The US lags behind numerous European (and a few Asian) countries in life expectancy, infant mortality rate, literacy, educational quality, inequality/social cohesion, social services/welfare, health care quality, public safety/crime, happiness, homelessness, etc., all of which result at least partly from insufficient public spending, while the military gets as much funding as it wants.

  • Nice points 1 thru 4 and half of 5. Commented Mar 19, 2021 at 5:33

It has been my understanding that the Rema stated that Christians are not exactly idolaters. They are, rather, practicing "Shituf", meaning that though they associate Hashem with... some other thing, they still have Hashem as the creator of heaven and earth in mind when they pray. Though the associations they are making are false and forbidden to Jews, they are not actually violating the prohibition on gentiles. Is this an incorrect understanding?

  • It is correct regarding Catholicism. I am not sure if there are differences re: whether it is shituf or AZ based on the varying beliefs of other sects.
    – Yahu
    Commented Feb 28, 2011 at 0:06
  • 2
    from ottmall.com/mj_ht_arch/v33/mj_v33i68.html : Following are a few of the Gedolim that paskened shituf to be (prohibited for a ben noach: The Pri Megadim (O"C E"E 156:2, Y"D S"D 65:11) | The Machatzis HaShekel (O"C 156:2). | The Chasam Sofer (hagahos to S"A O"C 156) | The Minchas Chinuch (86:1) | The Sha'ar Ephraim (Shu"t 24) and the Meil Tzedakah (22). | The Pischei Teshuvah (Y"D 147:2) | The Darchei Teshuvah (Y"D 147:12). I didn't actually check out any of these sources.
    – Menachem
    Commented Jun 6, 2011 at 19:39
  • 3
    The Nodah B'Yehuda (Second Edition, Responsa 148) says that there is no source for the people who say that Shituf is permissible for a non-jew. He says that the people who say that are making a mistake. He also interprets the Remah to show that the Remah did not say that either. hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14662&st=&pgnum=188
    – Menachem
    Commented Jun 6, 2011 at 20:49
  • 1
    @Menachem See what the Pitchei Teshuva YD 147 says about that Noda B'Yehuda
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 7:42
  • This seems more like a comment.
    – Double AA
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 21:47

Why do some Jews prefer to live among Christians as opposed to Muslims?

This question is difficult to answer. The most likely explanation is that modern Muslim nations are often very hostile towards Jews, whereas most modern majority Christian nations are largely friendly towards Jews. It is also important to note that most majority Christian countries are not Christian by law, merely in practice. The United States, for example, is legally obligated to protect minority religious groups. Many modern Muslim countries adhere to some form of Shariah law, and fundamentalists have much more access to the reins of power.

Historically, Christianity has been responsible for appalling crimes against Jews, and Christians are largely responsible for the virulence of anti-Semitism. However, there have been exceptions to this rule, for instance, Poland under the reign of Kazimierz, also known as Casimir the Great:

Casimir was favorably disposed toward Jews. On 9 October 1334, he confirmed the privileges granted to Jewish Poles in 1264 by Bolesław V the Chaste. Under penalty of death, he prohibited the kidnapping of Jewish children for the purpose of enforced Christian baptism, and he inflicted heavy punishment for the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. While Jews had lived in Poland since before his reign, Casimir allowed them to settle in Poland in great numbers and protected them as people of the king.
- Wikipedia

Of course, the tragic result of Kazimierz' kindness towards Jews was that Poland became the European country with the greatest population of Jews, almost all of whom were murdered in the Holocaust.

My Understanding of the Factors that Led to the Rapid Rise and Eventual Success of Christianity:

I think there were several factors that predisposed Christianity1 to rapid, widespread growth. These factors have more to do with culture and politics than belief systems.

  1. It began near the nexus of 3 continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa.

  2. It began during the Roman Empire, while the Empire was still relatively strong and robust, and controlled much of Europe and the Mediterranean, including North Africa. It had access to an extensive network of roads, and it had never been so easy to travel great distances. In Paul's letter to the Romans, he says he is planning a trip to Spain. He traveled throughout Asia Minor, Palestine, Greece, Macedonia, etc. By our modern standards, this wouldn't be very impressive, but this was happening 2,000 years ago, when the closest thing to an airplane was a horse,

  3. After the message was altered to make it less Jewish in nature, it became fairly inclusive.

  4. It was relatively unique in that it was a religion of belief rather than mere observance.

  5. It was also relatively unique in that it made promises of eternal rewards for the people who had been denied rewards in life.

  6. It was evangelical, and some of the apostles were brilliant PR men.

  7. Shortly after Jesus died, the new movement began to alter his message. This process has continued to this day, although at a much less drastic rate after the first couple of centuries. This is a huge benefit because it allowed the early church to become whatever its congregants needed it to be.

    • For example, the religion is based on a devout Jewish itinerant preacher who lived under Roman occupation and wasn't very happy about it. The Romans brutally murdered him in an unimaginably horrible way, and as his followers attracted new converts, the Romans persecuted them. Yet the church leaders in the second, third, and fourth centuries were able to take this faith based on an outspoken critic (and victim) of Rome, and turn it into the official religion of the Roman Empire. Later, beginning in the Middle Ages, this religion based on a Jewish preacher became the biggest contributor to the spread of virulent anti-Semitism throughout Europe. These are remarkable transformations, and they demonstrate just how adaptable Christianity was.
  8. It became a religion of the book very early on in its history.

A More In-Depth Explanation:

Jesus probably died around the year 35 CE. Paul was writing his letters, epistles, and homilies only 20 years later. Unfortunately, he never actually met Jesus, and his letters tell us almost nothing about the living Jesus, whom Paul describes almost dismissively as "Jesus-in-the-flesh". If you go through all of the letters known or widely believed to be written by Paul, and write down everything he says about Jesus' life, you will be shocked to find that all the relevant passages will fit on a single index card.

Still, there are few people as important to the rise of Christianity as Paul. He was apparently quite charismatic, and people paid attention to him. He had previously been a Pharisee, or a devout, zealous, almost militant Jew, and had been an active participant (and according to his own testimony, a leader) in the persecution of Jesus followers in Jerusalem after Jesus' death. After his famous conversion experience on the road to Damascus, he did a complete about face. Rather bizarrely, he now preached of the redundancy of Judaism, and urged his flock not to become Jews in order to follow Jesus. This didn't go over well with the disciples, who were well aware that Jesus was an extremely Jewish man, and had preached almost exclusively to Jews. Paul came into conflict with the disciples many times, and he wrote surprisingly hostile things about them in his letters. But despite the fact that he almost certainly turned Christianity into something totally different from what Jesus had in mind, he set the stage for its later success.

Paul would go to a new town, set up a shop (he is believed to have been a leatherworker of some sort), and talk to his customers as he worked. After a few weeks, he would leave for the next town, but he would also check in with the churches he had already created, usually by writing a letter, but if he heard something that worried him, he would send a trusted assistant to set things straight. If that didn't work, he would go back himself and read his congregation the riot act. Eventually, his constant clashes with the disciples, and their attempts to go behind his back to dissuade the Pauline churches of Paul's bizarre form of Jesus following, led Paul to go somewhere far enough away from Jerusalem that the disciples would not be able to interfere with his self proclaimed mission. He went to Rome, and after that we hear nothing about him, except that he was apparently crucified some years after he arrived. But his letters lived on, as did his influence on the Christian faith.

After Paul wrote the earliest letter which is still extant today, it was another 15 to 20 years before anyone wrote anything about Jesus. Fortunately, this time someone wrote his life story. The first gospel to be written was the one we know as *The Gospel According to Mark*2, which most scholars date to 65-70 CE. Matthew and Luke were probably written between 85-95 CE. In fact, Matthew and Luke may have been writing at the same time as one another, and it is clear that both had access to the Gospel of Mark, but Matthew and Luke didn't know each other and neither had seen the other's gospel before writing his own. John was written much later; scholars usually date it to between 90-110 CE. Although none of these men ever met Jesus, and aside from Paul, they may not have met anyone who had met Jesus; John almost certainly didn't meet anyone who knew Jesus.

Still, the crucial fact remains: within 80 years (at most) of Jesus' death, all four gospels and the genuine Pauline Epistles, Homilies, and Letters had been written. Even better, the religion was still a small sect within Judaism, which meant that people who decided to follow the "Jesus Movement" (as modern scholars have dubbed it) also had access to the Jewish bible, (or at least most of it). From the beginning of Christianity's rise, it enjoyed the benefits of having written scriptures to make sure everyone was on the same page, so to speak, and this made it much easier to spread the word. In all honesty, the Christian church owes all the credit for this to Judaism - unlike the vast majority of religions in the ancient world, Judaism had a book, long revered, set in stone, orthodox and canonical, and they passed this blessing on to the Jesus Movement.

It is remarkable that, as Christianity slowly spread, and people began to write their own versions of the Jesus story, the gospels we know from the "NT" of the Christian bible were widely recognized as superior to most of the other Christian texts. There were many exceptions, of course, and nebulous forms of the faith, such as Christian Gnosticism, rejected some or all of the gospels which ended up being canonized. But still, on the whole, the most popular scriptures seem to have been the one that made it into the final compilation we call the bible. This was a tremendous asset, because as more time passed after Jesus' death, and everyone who knew him died as well, the leaders of the nascent church were able to point to the gospels and demonstrate the authenticity of the creeds and dogmas which had begun to spring up.

The church grew, but slowly. As the number of Christians increased, the pagans among whom they lived became suspicious. These people don't make the proper sacrifices to the gods of the Roman Pantheon! They don't offer incense and meat to Jupiter on the day of his festival! They worship in private and keep apart from us! They must be doing something deviant and awful! The pagans would go to their local procurator, governor, or proconsul, and insist that something be done to deal with this menace. The politicians were only interested in securing their own positions, so if allowing a massacre of Christians would keep the majority of the population happy, so be it!

Only much later did persecution of Christians become a policy of the Empire, and even then, it was carried out in a piecemeal, sporadic fashion. In most cases, it was not the government, but the common people who instigated violence against Christians. But then came Constantine. He converted to Christianity (probably as much from political self interest as from genuine devotion), and although he didn't make Christianity the official religion of the Empire, he did abolish several laws which had persecuted Christians, confiscated their property, and made life miserable for them. A later Emperor reinstated the laws, but they were abolished permanently soon afterward, and Christianity finally became the religion of the Roman Empire.

This was arguably the most significant event in the early history of the Christian church. The bulk of the continent of Europe was now Christian, and in future centuries, Europe would come to dominate the globe in terms of political, economic, trade, and military power. From this base, Christianity would spread around the world, and become the most popular religion in human history.

At first, there was no homogeneity among Christians. For this reason, the Biblical scholar Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, and many of his colleagues, prefer to talk of "early Christianities", not "early Christianity". It would only be a slight exaggeration to say that each Christian during the first century had their own version of the faith. This was dangerous, since a cohesive movement is more likely to persist than a nebulous, incoherent one. Some shrewd political minds began to realize that the movement(s) needed someone at the helm, to figure out the right way to be a Christian. So began the Christian church.

By the third century, the group scholars refer to as the Proto-orthodox Christians had taken command, marginalizing and eradicating sects they deemed heretical. The Gnostics, Ebionites, Marcionites, Arians, and many other sects were effectively destroyed by the manipulations of the self described "Church Fathers". Their scriptures were burned, and our only copies of these texts come from impossibly lucky finds in caves, garbage pits, graves, and the ruins of ancient monasteries.

This narrowing of Christianity is lamented by curious scholars, because so much was lost forever; however, it probably played a significant role in ensuring that Christianity would become the most popular religion in human history. By closing the door on every other form of the faith, they made Christianity a monolithic entity, with people in positions of power to steer the course and keep it on track. The proto-orthodox Christians became the Orthodox Christians, but later split into three distinct factions: Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant. Every extant form of Christianity can trace its roots back to the proto-orthodox.

Just How Fast Did Christianity Grow?

The sociologist Rodney Stark wrote a book called The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History, or How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries. He found that during the first three and a half centuries of its existence, Christianity grew at a steady rate of 40% per decade, or 3.42% per year3. This trend ran out of steam shortly after the death of Emperor Constantine, but only because there weren't enough people to continue the trend.

Constantine became Emperor in the year 306 CE. His conversion began in 312 CE, and he died in 337 CE; during his reign, the population of the Empire was roughly 60 million people. According to Stark, in 300 CE, the Christian population of the Empire was about 6.3 million, or roughly 10.5% of the total population. By 350 CE, only 13 years after Constantine's death, there were nearly 34 million Christians in the Empire, accounting for 56.5% of the total population.

enter image description here
The Rise of Christianity, Chapter I: Conversion and Christian Growth' Rodney Stark, p. 13

The 40% per decade trend ended around 350 CE, because there simply weren't enough people for the trend to continue - if it had, there would have been nearly 190 million Christians in the Empire by the year 400 CE, which would be more than three times the total population of the Empire. Suffice to say that by 400, or 450 at the latest, virtually everyone in the Empire was Christian.

Today, there are well over a billion Christians in the world, and no religion has ever been so influential in shaping the course of human events, for better or worse.

From Wikipedia:

Stark points to a number of advantages that Christianity had over paganism to explain its growth:

  • While others fled cities, Christians stayed in urban areas during plague, ministering and caring for the sick.

  • Christian populations grew faster because of the prohibition of birth control, abortion and infanticide. Since infanticide tended to affect female newborn more frequently, early Christians had a more even sex ratio and therefore a higher percentage of childbearing women than pagans.

  • To the same effect: Women were valued higher and allowed to participate in worship leading to a high rate of female converts.

  • In a time of two epidemics (165 and 251) which killed up to a third of the whole population of the Roman Empire each time, the Christian message of redemption through sacrifice offered a more satisfactory explanation of why bad things happen to innocent people. Further, the tighter social cohesion and mutual help made them able to better cope with the disasters, leaving them with less casualties than the general population. This would also be attractive to outsiders, who would want to convert. Lastly, the epidemics left many non-Christians with a reduced number of interpersonal bonds, making the forming of new one both necessary and easier.

  • Christians did not fight against their persecutors by open violence or guerrilla warfare but willingly went to their martyrdom while praying for their captors, which added credibility to their evangelism.

Stark's basic thesis is that, ultimately, Christianity triumphed over paganism because it improved the quality of life of its adherents at that time.


1 In the beginning, people who followed Jesus weren't called Christians. In fact, we don't know if they were called anything in particular. During Jesus' lifetime, he and his followers were simply Jews. This was still the case for all of his followers for another couple of decades at the least, and most of them probably consider themselves exclusively Jewish as long as they lived. It was only in the second and third generations of Jesus followers that the slow but steady drift away from Judaism began. Some small sects of Jewish Jesus followers remained active until perhaps the fifth century or later. This situation cause problems for scholars, who like to have specific names for things. Therefore, the most popular term for the first followers of Jesus are now known as "The Jesus Movement". It bears repeating that these people were completely Jewish in belief, practice, and self identification. Furthermore, non-Jews also considered these people to be Jewish. It isn't clear when the Roman government began to notice the difference between regular Jews and Jesus Jews, but it is known that they had begun to single out Christians (who were by this time really Christians) by about a hundred years after Jesus died.

2 As far as modern scholarship has been able to determine, there is probably no reason to believe that the authors of the gospels were named Matthew, Mark, or Luke. There is a possibility that the author of some sections of John was actually named John, but the traditional claim that this was John the Beloved Disciple is not taken seriously by most impartial scholars. The earliest manuscripts of the gospels don't have any names attached, and there is no evidence that they were called by the names we know until a century or more after they were written. These names were attributed to them by the early leaders of the church, and some records remain of some of these leaders expressing their doubts about the issue of authorship.

3 Interestingly, the Mormon church has grown at a rate of 43% per decade for the last century.

  • IIRC from history class, the thought among historians was that, barring partial or complete religious sincerity, the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity had the benefit of unifying the Empire more closely. Instead of various gods, temples, and forms of worship, all citizens could attend the same worship service of the same God, and perform the same rituals together. Christianity took power away from local priests in local temples, and made a hierarchy that was headed by the Bishop of Rome, now known as the pope. It was a universal religion, not bound to any particular temple.
    – user151841
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 19:42
  • Actually the book of Acts says Paul is a tentmaker (which, idk if that excludes him from also being a leather-worker): "Paul went to visit them, 3and he stayed and worked with them because they were tentmakers by trade, just as he was." Acts 18:3 biblehub.com/acts/18-3.htm
    – user151841
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 19:43

Here is a relevant Gemara in Yoma 10

אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר רבי יוחנן משום ר' יהודה ברבי אלעאי עתידה רומי שתפול ביד פרס קל וחומר ומה מקדש ראשון שבנאוהו בני שם והחריבוהו כשדיים נפלו כשדיים ביד פרסיים מקדש שני שבנאוהו פרסיים והחריבוהו רומיים אינו דין שיפלו רומיים ביד פרסיים אמר רב עתידה פרס שתפול ביד רומי אמרו ליה רב כהנא ורב אסי לרב בנויי ביד סתורי אמר להו אין גזירת מלך היא איכא דאמרי אמר (ליה) אינהו נמי הא קא סתרי בי כנישתא תניא נמי הכי עתידה פרס שתפול ביד רומי חדא דסתרי בי כנישתא ועוד גזירת מלך הוא שיפלו בונין ביד סותרין דאמר רב יהודה אמר רב אין בן דוד בא עד שתפשוט מלכות רומי הרשעה בכל העולם כולו תשעה חדשים שנאמר (מיכה ה, ב) לכן יתנם עד עת יולדה ילדה ויתר אחיו ישובון על בני ישראל:

Edit: Translation from Soncino

Rabbah B'Bar Hana in the name of R'Johanan, on the authority of R'Judah B'Ila'i, said: Rome is designed to fall into the hands of Persia, that may be concluded by inference a minori ad majus: If in the case of the first Sanctuary, which the sons of Shem [Solomon] built and the Chaldeans destroyed, the Chaldeans fell into the hands of the Persians, then how much more should this be so with the second Sanctuary, which the Persians built and the Romans destroyed, that the Romans should fall into the hands of the Persians.

Rab said: Persia will fall into the hands of Rome.

Thereupon R'Kahana and R'Assi asked of Rab: [Shall] the builders fall into the hands of the destroyers? - He said to them: Yes, it is the decree of the King.

Although the point it is addressing is not altogether the same, the question of why the Romans succeed underserved is addressed. The answer is that it is the will of the King (Hashem).

  • 1
    Can you translate and/or summarize per our site policies on jargon and citations?
    – Double AA
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 20:17

The Christian world is more advanced in science an technology now because they are blessed with most Jews (outside of Israel) living among them. This is the opposite to Muslim countries. But Muslims got their peace of blessing for strict monotheism, and that is through oil, which was given to them in such disproportional abundance that they got lazy and slack on education.

  • 3
    This is circular. Why were the Jews there to begin with? And can you source that Muslims are less educated because they are lazy and rich? That isn't my understanding.
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 30, 2012 at 14:22
  • 2
    Additionally, not all Muslims are rich. From what I know, the wealth gap in Middles Eastern countries is huge. Think "We are the 99.9999999 percent"
    – HodofHod
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 4:21
  • 3
    @HodofHod One in a billion. So there's only one wealthy Muslim in the Middle East? ;)
    – Fred
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 6:58
  • @Fred Or perhaps, everyone just like to complain about a single Muslim.
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 5:37

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