Reading time: About 8-10 minutes.
Many people may ask why they would possibly need another Christian reference book. There are already shelves full of reference books concerning every aspect of Christianity—all the books of the Bible, all non-biblical Christian writings, Bible atlases and maps, even books on every important person in the Bible. We have the entire Bible broken down into subject matter—verses on every subject imaginable. That way, various verses can all be linked together, whether in context or not, to tell Christians how to live their lives biblically.
So, don’t we already have enough Christian reference books?
My answer is no, not quite.
I am still amazed at how this book ended up making connections between diverse people from different eras. How else could Abraham, Attila the Hun, Thomas Becket, Martin Luther, Ludwig von Beethoven, Rene Descartes, Queen Victoria, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Billy Graham, and Bob Dylan all end up appearing in the same book. Not only in the same book, but linked together by their influence on Christianity.
What I couldn’t find
When I began my project to uncover the roots of Christianity and understand how the religion sprouted and evolved, I noticed a significant void in the reference library. As diligently as I searched, I could find no thorough and objective story of Christian history in one volume. I did find timelines, but they were usually too sketchy, too biased, too specialized, unreferenced, or just incomplete.
I easily found books on every era of Christianity, and on every topic of historical interest. There were multitudes of books on Christian history, but it’s impossible to cram the entire history of the religion into one volume. If an author tried to do that, they would have to omit the many minor events that help to fill out the nuanced story of Christianity.
The book that I needed
One subject I sought and could not find in a book about Christianity was a book on relevant religious history that preceded Christianity. I wanted to visualize the building blocks that led to the religion in the first place. I’m not just referring to Jewish history and traditions, but to those religions and cultures that preceded and influenced the Jewish culture. In church we were led to believe that all religious ideas relevant to Christians came from Judea or Israel, but that’s not true. The Jews themselves were highly influenced by the Babylonian, Persian, Egyptian, Greek, and cultures that preceded them and at times subjugated them.
I also was frustrated in my attempt to find books that explained the obscure origin of Christianity. Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian, and he wasn’t trying to start a new religion. But somebody did. Once that new religion began, I was curious about how the hundreds of variations attempted to coalesce into one uniform religion. After that, how did that religion develop its doctrines and traditions? To find everything I wanted to know, I had to be able to link events from different timeframes—whether decades, centuries, or even millennia—events that demonstrated trends and patterns. And most complicated of all, I wanted it all in that one book.
Since I couldn’t find it, I felt compelled to write it
At first, I began writing my book, In Search of Christian Origins: A Timeline of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, as a timeline for self-study. It was my way to understand Christianity the way I needed to—the way my mind needed to. I had failed to understand the rationality of Christian doctrines the way my pastors and peers expected I should, so I needed a new approach.
As I uncovered events in the distant past that were related to the Christian behavior we see today, I became more dedicated to my project. It became my new “mission” in life, so to speak. I wanted to know what people, places, cultures, and concurrent events combined to create the Christian religion we see today. It was obvious that Christianity had changed radically over the two millennia of its existence. The pendulum has swung so far from the Jesus I was taught about in Sunday School and church that it was almost unrecognizable to me. It was the perfect example of incremental evolution. It began with a starting point and then making baby steps, it adapts to new circumstances and ended up somewhere totally unexpected.
This was indeed evolution, but not like Darwin’s evolution of natural systems. It was the guided evolution of a human institution. It was not anything that looked to me to be inspired by any all-knowing god. Typical of human nature, it seemed that once early Christians decided their religion’s doctrines, they had a very hard time changing them. They instead had to defend those doctrines since they became tradition and led to group identity. I suppose that admitting past mistakes would have seemed a sign of incompetence or failure and few people want to feel like they’ve misunderstood their god.
The religious nerd in me
Yes, I’ll admit that I’m a religion nerd, but not the kind who worships gods. I’m the type who wonders why other people worship gods.
After a few years, I learned so much from my personal timeline study that I had to share it with others. I thought anyone who was questioning any aspect of Christianity would benefit from it. My goal wasn’t to de-convert Christians, but to help them walk away from lies they’d been taught and see their religion in its historical context.
Sharing my findings and receiving feedback
I was compelled to share my discoveries with others. At the time I began my project, I was a member of two Christian discussion groups. Although I was finding satisfaction with my understanding of the religion of my culture, I knew that many millions of other Christians knew almost nothing about the historical influences that created the many confusing versions of the religion we have seen throughout history. People typically see things as they are in the present and assume that’s the way they’ve always been. That false assumption has led to untold confusion, conflict, and even the failure to advance into a more compassionate species.
My more progressive discussion group found my findings exciting and that was my impetus for creating this new Christian reference book. I thought about making my book into a trilogy because of its length, but decided against it. A single volume reference book allows readers to more easily see what was happening in every era of Christian history, and how those events all interrelated.
Humans are very fallible creatures. Our great intellect and various personalities have led us down so many diverse roads that there’s few things we can all agree on. That’s related to the many surveys that show that we in the US have a very poor knowledge of our own history, let alone world history. Most Americans aren’t taught to understand the tremendous importance of history. We may notice the existing frameworks of our civilization, but usually don’t think about why and how they all came into being.
The suppression of learning
Lack of historical knowledge is common because the world is full of leaders who want to keep their people ignorant. That’s so they can control the way others think and paint their own warped versions of history. The less the followers know, the easier it is to manipulate them, if that’s their intent. If leaders convince their followers to believe their fictional version of history, and discourage them from looking for historical confirmation, naturally those followers can be dumbed down and manipulated.
Fading knowledge of history’s most important lessons
One prime example of fading historical knowledge is the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis. The roots of the Holocaust can be traced directly back to antisemitism in the New Testament and Martin Luther’s writings in the sixteenth century. Those were among the many other contributing events that I identified and followed in my book.
I’m now in my seventies. My parents were members of the generation that brought an end to the evils of Nazi Germany. At the end of World War Two my parents and Americans in general were very much aware of what the Nazis had done. Their victims weren’t only European Jews, but any other group of people they considered inferior to them.
The Nazis acted as gods, deciding who was worthy to live and who should die. The horrors they’d committed were front page news in the mid to late 1940s. Statistics were there to back up the scale of it if anyone who cared to look. As a child, I was aware that something terrible had happened in Europe and later confirmed the truth to the best of my ability by studying evidence.
My child’s generation may have had a vague idea of the Holocaust, but responsible parents and school teachers had to teach it to them. So, many in that generation learned about it and others didn’t. It was the worst atrocity in human history and yet some people who lived thirty years after it happened were already becoming ignorant of it.
In the my grandchildren’s generation, some percentage of kids are learning about the Holocaust, but many don’t see how it affects their lives. If they do learn about it, many view it as ancient history on a par with the crusades, which they also know so little about.
All topics have a history
This same concept applies to Black history, Native American history, LGBTQ history, abortion history, or any other controversial social issue. Stereotyping is a lot easier than studying history, empathizing with people, and learning how to avoid past mistakes.
People suffer and die because of a poor knowledge of history
The preservation of the memory of an event so immense, so horrible, and so recent as the Holocaust is fading. Now, thousands of people deny that it happened at all, or they say that the extent of it wasn’t what was reported. They don’t understand the causes of the religious hatred behind what happened or why they believe Jews are evil.
These deniers are unaware of factual history from less than eighty years ago. That is profoundly terrifying! Similar lack of historical awareness is causing many societies to drift back into authoritarianism and racial hatred. I thought we evolved past that after we saw what it led to in World War Two. That’s the perfect example of how history can cycle in a few generations and repeat the same terrible mistakes. If people can forget the causes of the Holocaust and what led to deaths of seventy-five to eighty million in World War Two, that is truly scary because it almost predicts something like that could happen again. Everyone everywhere and at all times should know what led to those events and never repeat them.
Where we get our information
Unfortunately, we have too many sources of information these days, and some of them are outright dishonest. They warp “news” and “information” into propaganda. Where people choose to obtain there information today is a tremendous concern. I wanted to do my small part to provide a source of authentic history. If I needed to confirm my entries several times, that’s what I did. Another example of good historical research is this post written by author and blogger Michael Camp.
As I researched my book, I observed endless historical cycles. I’ve become convinced that influential, power hunger, and charismatic people have always been able to influence ordinary people to do their dirty work. Go back to the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, Romans, Mongols, Huns, Egyptians, Vandals, Vikings. Go back to the religious wars in Europe—it’s all the same thing. Those people who fought and died were all led to destruction by ruthless, authoritarian leaders.
Look at the US Civil War. Powerful Southern aristocrats and politicians convinced common people that the war wasn’t about slavery. Those in power justified the war by saying their homeland was being invaded, not because Southern insurrectionists destroyed a US fort in South Carolina. But who did the fighting and the dying? It was mainly the young men who had been brainwashed into thinking slavery wasn’t a problem.
In Nazi Germany the same thing happened to average young Germans. The Nazis fed the country lies about being sold out by Germans politicians at the end of World War One. They convinced the Germans that they were actually winning on the battlefields when the war ended. Look at the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol. It was average people who had been fed lies about a “stolen election”. Nothing new there, because people haven’t learned from history.
One volume covers it all
Returning to my main theme of Christian reference books after my plea for people to learn from history. Those stories I just mentioned were the stories I wanted to tell. They were the stories of human evolution, or lack thereof. And I recorded all the events I just mentioned in my one volume. I chose to organize it that way so I could cover the centuries before Christianity and the thousands of years of Christian evolution. I wanted to point out what led to events like the Crusades, inquisitions, US Civil War, and Capitol insurrection of 2021. And, I wanted it all in one volume so I could make connections between Assyrians, Conquistadors, Nazis, and Christian fascists without readers having to read an entire shelf of history books.
Obviously, in one book I couldn’t go into detail on any one issue, but that wasn’t me intent. I intended it as a reference book and a starting point for historical studies and discussions.
What other book links Moses, Jesus, Constantine, Galileo, Dante, Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, Joseph Smith, Elvis Presley, and Donald Trump? These people all left their personal imprints on Christianity in one way or another.
So, with that I rest my case for the need for yet another Christian reference book. I hope what I wrote makes sense, at least to history and religious nerds like me.