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Early Christianity in Light of New Religious Movements

In: Numen
Author: Eyal Regev1
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  • 1 Bar-Ilan University, Department for Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, Ramat Gan, Israel, 5290002Eyal.Regev@biu.ac.il
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Comparing early Christian groups with modern new religious movements (nrms) and cults enables us to identify and analyze indicative social and religious attributes that defined the self-identity of the early Christians (as reflected in the letters of Paul, Acts, and the Gospel of John), made them stand out as different, and, ultimately, led to their rejection by outside society.

The devotion to Jesus as Christ and the inclusion of Gentiles among these early Christian groups were novel features that, by definition, created a new religious movement rejected by both Jews and Romans. The intense recruitment of converts by early Christians, also a characteristic of nrms, was seen as a direct threat by their contemporaries. Early Christian groups lacked social separation from mainstream society, strong demands on their members along with sanctions against deviant ones, and systematic organization — all characteristics which are particular to certain cults, such as Scientology in its early years and the Sōka Gakkai. Taken together, these three social features demonstrate that early Christianity was not a segregated sect but, rather, a cult that aimed to penetrate mainstream society, gain legitimacy, and recruit converts.

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