Alternate Reality -- Imperial Judaism vs. Roman Mithraist Church

In another thread, therealbubba asked the musical question: “If the Romans could have known all of the trouble they were starting by nailing you- know-who to the cross, would they have just deported him instead?
And if they did manage to save hunanity [sic]from all these years of war and suffering, would we be jews or druids?”
The first part is (hopefully) being dealt with on that thread (“Atheists want to know”). The ramifications of the second question will be dealt with.
Let us assume that Christianity is not founded for whatever reason (Yoshke is exiled to Parthia, slipped on a muddy patch on the banks of the Jordan and drowns, etc. Anyone who claims that Rome had to become Christian by Divine plan will be treated with scorn and contumely). Taking that as the POD, what are the alternatives?
It seems to be conceded that the Roman Empire would eventually become both monotheistic and monolithic (but arguments to the contrary may be made; just make them well :slight_smile: ). SFAIK, there are two contenders for the Roman religion: Judaism and Mithraism (or perhaps there are others that I’m missing?)
As Yoshke himself is alleged to have said, “What think ye”?

“Kings die, and leave their crowns to their sons. Shmuel HaKatan took all the treasures in the world, and went away.”

It seems highly unlikly that Judaism would of become the dominiant religion. Judaism is not an evangelical religion; Jews did not spend time recruiting converts. Furthermore, the stringent requirements of Judaic Law were very hard for gentiles to learn. Additionally, (and this is not a facitious point) full grown men were not eager to convert to Judaism simply because one has to be a real fanatic to seek circumcision as an adult in a world that not only lacked anathestic, but that also lack such home remedies as asprin and distilled liquor.

Off the top of my head I can think of three things that Mithraism lacked–first, a theological/philosophical base that would appeal to the educated classes, a solid orginizational structure, and a widely accepted written body of religious texts. All these things helped Christianity become the state religion. The rigid orginizational structure of the christian church and the written texts helped unify and stablize the christian community in a way that never happened with the other mystery religions.

I think that what probably would have happened, at least in the east, is that the cult of the Emporer and the elaborate Theocracy begun under Diocletian would have continued for a few more generations, but that eventually the East would probably have been widely converrted to Zorastrianism, the state religion of neighboring Persia.

If anyone wants to research the historical arguement for why Christianity did become the dominiant religion in late antiquity, I highly recomend you read chapter 15 of volume one of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire This is where he sets out his famous five points, and it is facinating reading. I also suggest Peter Brown’s The World of Late Antiquity.

Oops. Didn’t see this topic when I posted in the other one. Here’s a repost.

I’ve gotta go with Islam. That presupposes, of course, that Muhammad would have had his vision and been seen as a prophet without the knowledge (or at least popularity, depending on how we read the OP) of the earlier prophet ‘Easa, which seems plausible.

Islam has several things to commend it to dominance of western religions in the absence of Christianity, not least of which is the fact that it became fairly successful even in the presence of Christianity.

Islam is monotheist.

Islam is a proselytizing religion, actively trying to grow and spread the word as believers see it.

Islam offers the promise of heaven and assurance of Final Judgment. To a cynic, this is a necessary precondition to a successful religion in a society that maintained strict class divisions. Kind of a “what you don’t reap here, you’ll reap there” kind of thing. The prospect also makes a holy war of conquest easier to sell to underfed, diseased soldiers.

Islam developed all of the intertwined religious/political hierarchies that made religiously-sanctioned states possible during the Middle Ages. It is the development of these states in Europe, IMHO, that bred the technological progress and imperialistic yen that allows a culture to spread beyond its roots.

In an Islamic-dominated society, we’d have another 622+ years to solve the Y2K problem. :wink:

Livin’ on Tums, Vitamin E and Rogaine

Maybe I’m mistaken, but I don’t think Jesus was the only mesianic figure during that period. If he didn’t rise to ascendancy, another might have taken his place. The religion would be called maybe Ralphism, it would be either more or less the same, and the Catholic church would have statues of Delores, mother of Ralph, on everyone’s dashboards.

No, you’re thinking of Brian, and his mother the Virgin Mandy…

“Think for yourselves!”

The problem w/ Islam as the alternite religion is that 622 years–that is alot of time for some other religion to rise up. I mean, without the binding influence of Christianity, The eastern empire might of fallen to the Sassinids; had it, perhaps the arabs three centuries later would not have conqoured Iran so easily. And so on and so forth. Furthermore, Christianity was a big influece on Mohammed.

This is the sort of question that real historians sneer at. It’s only a step above “What if mammals had never evolved?” However, it is really fun to ponder the pointless, and I’ve noticed those same historians love to talk about this kinda thing in bars, after a beer or two. And the best thing is that we all end the disscussion thinking we’re the one who’s right!

Well, as I stated in the “Atheists want to know” thread, Manda JO, in Second Temple times Judaism was a proselytizing religion; I believe that there is at least one sneering reference to that fact in the “New Testament”. It’s also important to note that Pharisaic Judaism two thousand years ago was not identical with modern Orthodoxy.
Having said so much, I will agree with your other points on both Judaism and Mithraism. One other thing that modern commentators make much of: Mithraism seems to have made no provision for woman members. This probably also contributed to the rise of Christianity; no matter how dedicated the men were, the women converted to Christianity (as Hobson’s Choice) would bring up their daughters and sons as Christian. Indeed, one can almost see a syncretistic Imperial religion arising: the women are “Jewish” and the men are “Mithraist”…
I have difficulty with the Eastern Empire being converted to Zoroastrianism. Although it obviously survived through the Seleucid and Parthian eras, it didn’t really become well-established (as a state religion) until the Sassanid dynasty, about the middle of the 3rd century CE, and the Sassanids were virtually perpetual enemies of the Empire. I could see a certain amount of give-and-take, fire temples being established in some of the border regions and Constantinople (or whatever city becomes the capital of the Eastern half of the Empire), in return for the same tolerance being granted in Persia for the Imperial faith (something of the sort did with Christianity); but, if any religion had been established in Rome, I’d would think that, unless we postulate an extremely syncretistic cult, it would show the same resistance to Zoroastrianism that Christianity did.
Without Christianity, I agree, there would be no Islam as we know it. I could, however, accept a “Paraislam”, that draws on whatever religion the Empire develops the way that Islam did on Christianity.

“Kings die, and leave their crowns to their sons. Shmuel HaKatan took all the treasures in the world, and went away.”

Okay, Jesus has been exiled, Simon Peter goes back to his nets and dies of gangrene after getting his thumb amputated by a pike, and Saul of Tarses is walking down the Damascus road one day, staring into the sun, gets blinded, and walks off a cliff. A lot of people were seeing signs and omens in those days, and they probably would have just latched onto someone else. I believe that point has already been made. But what if they didn’t…?

Christianity didn’t really start to have an impact on history until there were enough of them to threaten the Empire’s dogma. 300 C.E., say, which I believe is the date that a previous poster gave as the approximate date of the wide acceptance of the Zoroastrian religion. Anyway, the Romans start losing ground in the East to the Parthians, and in these religion-starved lands, Zoroastrianism catches on. Piece by piece, the Parthians press their advantage, Egypt probably splits off and goes independent, a major economic blow. The fall of the West proceeds about as it does in this timeline, since the movement of the barbarin tribes has little to do with Christianity, at least at first. Constantine moves his capital to Byzantium, but he hasn’t embraced Zoroastrianism, since its influence has not been felt in Rome. Byzantium, on the other hand, is almost entirely converted. So probably what winds up happening is you have an Emperor who worships one set of gods, and a populace who worsips a god of a neighboring Empire. This, as you know, is not usually a good thing. The Parthians, taking advantage of this, conquer the Eastern Empire. They should have it all sown up by about the year 500.

Meanwhile, in the West, Rome has fallen, but nobody has converted to Christianity. The Germanic tribes who now rule Rome and its various provinces have their own set of gods, but it is one that can easily be reconciled with the Roman system. So they do essentially what the Romans did with the Greek system all those centuries ago: adapt it. Woden becomes identified with Jupiter, Thor with Vulcan, or maybe Mars, etc. After a while, they become assimilated, the Lombards in Italy, the Franks, Burgundians, and Alans in France, the Visigoths and Suevians in Spain, the Vandals in North Africa and Sicily, etc. A Germano-Roman renaissance of sorts begins, with thriving, cosmopolitan kingdoms. This probably brings them into conflict with the Parthians, and also the Egyptians, who are undergoing a renaissance of their own. It is right at this point that Mohammed shows up. What exactly he does, I will leave till next time, when I have figured it out.

Jesus heads east on the Silk Road, involves himself with the syncretism going on between the Tao, the followers of Kung Fu-Tse, and those of Siddhartha Guatama, and injects a dose of hard-nosed Judaistic common sense along with his own rather militant “people first” view, and founds a new syncretic faith. Chinese Crusaders eventually come west to liberate the Holy Land from the Infidels. (Harry Turtledove, where are you when we need you?) :wink:

“All these things helped Christianity become the state religion”? Good grief. Apparently some folks are still unaware of the concept of Imperial Decree.

I was just reading this…I guess I’m really slow. I just noticed the “Review Topic” thing at the bottom here…was looking for something else…I have nothing important to say except I’m dumb. Sorry.

Snappy, The Crazy Toddite - Friend of Skippy

Nothing to add, but I had to get the topic back up to the top so’s someone else can keep it hopping.

Come on neuro-trash grrl, my money’s on you and Muhammet, with a side on the dark horse Polycarp.

(By the way Poly, I know you were being a bit tongue-in-cheek there, but I believe the Imperial (Chinese) fascination with Siddhartha was still about 500 years off. But if you know anything about it, perhaps you could address the issue of the Nestorian Christians - okay, the Nestorian heretics - and whether their spread across Asia was resultant from a “superior fit” to the cultural landscape (or just chance - that was the safest place to run) and if so, postulate some effects of the man and not just the legend making his way along the Silk Road…)