The early Church in numbers: Believable or not?

In his book The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark attempts in Chapter 1 to quantify the growth of the Christian population of the Roman Empire in the earliest centuries, from the Crucifixion to the reign of Constantine. At first sight his projections seem farfetched, but on Catholic websites, in the last year or two, I have seen reputable posters assuming that Stark’s figures are probably as close to the true picture as we are ever likely to get.

I would invite shipmates, at least those who share my interest in this kind of thing, to take a look at Chapter 1 of Stark’s book, using the “Look inside" feature at Amazon .com. This short table summarises and simplifies Stark’s table on p. 7, entitled “Christian Growth Projected at 40% per Decade”:

Year … … No. of Christians … … % of population
40 … … … ... … 1,000 … … … … (negligible)
100 … … ... … … 7,500 … … … … … 0.01
200 … … ... … 218,000 ... … … … 0.36
300 … ... … 6.3 million … … … … 10.5

What do shipmates think?
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Comments

  • Fawkes CatFawkes Cat Shipmate
    Well, I've failed to bring up the Look Inside feature, which probably will give you a grasp of how much I should be relied on for things to do with technology (or indeed maths). But on the basis of what @Ray Sunshine has given us, this table seems to be what happens to an initial population of 1,000 if it increases by 40% per decade. The fact that it's headed 'Number of Christians' is irrelevant: if one were to propose that the population of elephants increased by 40% per decade and you started with 1,000 elephants, then you'd get the same figures coming up over 260 years.

    To be rather less dismissive, at what point do we have a reasonably accurate figure for the number of Christians in the Roman Empire? If the figure for AD300 is sourced from elsewhere, and if it is reasonable to assume that the number of identifiable Christians immediately after the end of Christ's mission on earth was no more than a few hundred, then I can see where we get an increase of 40% per decade from - and on a broad-brush basis, it's probably easiest to assume a constant rate of growth rather than trying to identify particular points of growth over the 260 years of the table. But if the table is based on assuming growth of 40% per decade and then seeing where that takes us for numbers of Christians, then I'm not sure what light this actually casts on the growth of the Church: we're sta
  • Depends on how you define "Christian" Do you mean people meeting together - some of which developed as a cultural thing or people who publicly profess faith?
  • Ray SunshineRay Sunshine Shipmate
    edited March 17
    @Fawkes Cat , I didn't bother to go into more detail in my OP because I assumed the Look inside thing worked for everybody. I'm sorry about that. I'll try and summarise Stark's reasons for picking the 40% rate, and get back to you later. Very briefly, there are two reasons: First, he tried 30% and the results came out too low, and he tried 50% and they came out too high. Second, 40% per decade is approximately the rate at which the LDS/ Mormons have grown in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, showing that it's not an unrealistically high growth rate for a new(ish) religion.
  • Fawkes CatFawkes Cat Shipmate
    edited March 17
    Fawkes Cat wrote: »
    Well, I've failed to bring up the Look Inside feature, which probably will give you a grasp of how much I should be relied on for things to do with technology (or indeed maths). But on the basis of what @Ray Sunshine has given us, this table seems to be what happens to an initial population of 1,000 if it increases by 40% per decade. The fact that it's headed 'Number of Christians' is irrelevant: if one were to propose that the population of elephants increased by 40% per decade and you started with 1,000 elephants, then you'd get the same figures coming up over 260 years.

    To be rather less dismissive, at what point do we have a reasonably accurate figure for the number of Christians in the Roman Empire? If the figure for AD300 is sourced from elsewhere, and if it is reasonable to assume that the number of identifiable Christians immediately after the end of Christ's mission on earth was no more than a few hundred, then I can see where we get an increase of 40% per decade from - and on a broad-brush basis, it's probably easiest to assume a constant rate of growth rather than trying to identify particular points of growth over the 260 years of the table. But if the table is based on assuming growth of 40% per decade and then seeing where that takes us for numbers of Christians, then I'm not sure what light this actually casts on the growth of the Church: we're sta

    Ahem. I stopped rather more abruptly than I meant to. Let's back up a bit and see where we go:

    But if the table is based on assuming growth of 40% per decade and then seeing where that takes us for numbers of Christians, then I'm not sure what light this actually casts on the growth of the Church: we're starting from an unknown (but small) figure, applying an arbitrary growth rate and ending with a figure that isn't compared against a known fact. If that's the case - that none of the variables are based on otherwise known facts - then we've got an interesting exercise in arithmetic but not something that adds anything to our factual knowledge.

    So I'd be happy to be told that at least some of the variables are based on fact.

    (n.b. written without benefit of having seen @Ray Sunshine 's post which appears immediately before this)
  • Depends on how you define "Christian" Do you mean people meeting together - some of which developed as a cultural thing or people who publicly profess faith?

    I'm not sure that Stark gives a precise definition. I'll have a look and see.
  • How on earth can anyone be anywhere near certain about this issue, 2000 years down the line?
    :open_mouth:

  • How on earth can anyone be anywhere near certain about this issue, 2000 years down the line?
    :open_mouth:

    I think it's perfectly possible quibble with some or all of his methodology, but don't see why what he's trying to do is completely off base.

    We don't have exact figures, but we have estimates (via different methods) of total population, percentage of the Empire that might have been Christian at the point of Constantine and so on.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    edited March 17
    Fawkes Cat wrote: »
    Ahem. I stopped rather more abruptly than I meant to. Let's back up a bit and see where we go:

    But if the table is based on assuming growth of 40% per decade and then seeing where that takes us for numbers of Christians, then I'm not sure what light this actually casts on the growth of the Church: we're starting from an unknown (but small) figure, applying an arbitrary growth rate and ending with a figure that isn't compared against a known fact. If that's the case - that none of the variables are based on otherwise known facts - then we've got an interesting exercise in arithmetic but not something that adds anything to our factual knowledge.

    So I'd be happy to be told that at least some of the variables are based on fact.

    Stark claims (p. 6) that the numbers are based on Goodenough's (1931) estimate that ~10% of the population of the Roman Empire was Christian in 300 CE. Given an Imperial population of ~60,000,000 (a consensus figure according to Stark) that gives us ~6,000,000 Christians in 300 CE. Stark then uses this figure to estimate what kind of growth rate would be required to go from a church of ~1,000 people in 40 CE (a guess, but not an unreasonable one) to one with ~6,000,000 adherents in the span of 260 years. In other words, the 40% growth rate is a derived figure rather than an assumed one.

    And I have to admit to being mildly amused by someone named "Goodenough" doing numerical analysis.
  • Fawkes CatFawkes Cat Shipmate
    Crœsos wrote: »
    Fawkes Cat wrote: »
    Ahem. I stopped rather more abruptly than I meant to. Let's back up a bit and see where we go:

    But if the table is based on assuming growth of 40% per decade and then seeing where that takes us for numbers of Christians, then I'm not sure what light this actually casts on the growth of the Church: we're starting from an unknown (but small) figure, applying an arbitrary growth rate and ending with a figure that isn't compared against a known fact. If that's the case - that none of the variables are based on otherwise known facts - then we've got an interesting exercise in arithmetic but not something that adds anything to our factual knowledge.

    So I'd be happy to be told that at least some of the variables are based on fact.

    Stark claims (p. 6) that the numbers are based on Goodenough's (1931) estimate that ~10% of the population of the Roman Empire was Christian in 300 CE. Given an Imperial population of ~60,000,000 (a consensus figure according to Stark) that gives us ~6,000,000 Christians in 300 CE. Stark then uses this figure to estimate what kind of growth rate would be required to go from a church of ~1,000 people in 40 CE (a guess, but not an unreasonable one) to one with ~6,000,000 adherents in the span of 260 years. In other words, the 40% growth rate is a derived figure rather than an assumed one.

    And I have to admit to being mildly amused by someone named "Goodenough" doing numerical analysis.

    Thanks.
  • How on earth can anyone be anywhere near certain about this issue, 2000 years down the line?
    :open_mouth:

    I think it's perfectly possible quibble with some or all of his methodology, but don't see why what he's trying to do is completely off base.

    We don't have exact figures, but we have estimates (via different methods) of total population, percentage of the Empire that might have been Christian at the point of Constantine and so on.

    O no - I'm not quibbling with the methodology.

    I just don't quite see how any figure can be calculated so many years later. It must surely depend, too, as @ExclamationMark says, on how *Christian* is defined.

    It's interesting to reflect, though, that the churches to which St Paul wrote his letters may well have been quite small - rather like some of the churches we find around us in today's post-Christian western society!
  • Depends on how you define "Christian" Do you mean people meeting together - some of which developed as a cultural thing or people who publicly profess faith?

    I have carefully reread Chapter 1 and skimmed through a few more chapters after that, and my impression is that Stark never actually addresses the question that you and @Bishops Finger are asking here. In those circumstances, I can only attempt — like the Jesuit in the old joke — to answer your question with another question. When Paul says he baptised the household of Stephanas (1 Cor 1:16), or when he sends his greetings to the household of Onesiphorus (2 Tim 4:19), how many members of those two households are Christians,
    (a) In the view of Stephanas and Onesiphorus respectively?
    (b) Each in his or her own view?
    (c) In Paul’s view?

  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    I only skimmed the referenced work, but I didn't see anything that suggested what was at stake (except for some dingbat crap about needing to rewrite ideas of group growth if the growth were more rapid than social science was comfortable with.) Why do sane people want to speculate on this question?
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    tclune wrote: »
    I only skimmed the referenced work, but I didn't see anything that suggested what was at stake (except for some dingbat crap about needing to rewrite ideas of group growth if the growth were more rapid than social science was comfortable with.) Why do sane people want to speculate on this question?

    ... says the person speculating down below on the Synoptic problem ...
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    edited March 17
    Crœsos wrote: »
    Fawkes Cat wrote: »
    Ahem. I stopped rather more abruptly than I meant to. Let's back up a bit and see where we go:

    But if the table is based on assuming growth of 40% per decade and then seeing where that takes us for numbers of Christians, then I'm not sure what light this actually casts on the growth of the Church: we're starting from an unknown (but small) figure, applying an arbitrary growth rate and ending with a figure that isn't compared against a known fact. If that's the case - that none of the variables are based on otherwise known facts - then we've got an interesting exercise in arithmetic but not something that adds anything to our factual knowledge.

    So I'd be happy to be told that at least some of the variables are based on fact.

    Stark claims (p. 6) that the numbers are based on Goodenough's (1931) estimate that ~10% of the population of the Roman Empire was Christian in 300 CE.

    Hm. I will admit I have no knowledge of this question. However ... part of my undergraduate dissertation touched on a similar question, viz., when did Islamic Spain become majority-Muslim. Before the Arab conquest it was presumably 0% Muslim, and there is a certain point (can't remember when) when we can say 'Yes, by this point it was pretty definitely majority-Muslim'. However, plotting the line between those points is based on a heavy degree of speculation, and - crucially - the estimate has changed over the past few decades.

    (For example, one method of estimating the relative sizes of the Christian and Muslim population was to look at the relative proportions of distinctively Christian and Muslim names on gravestones. This sounded reasonable until someone found evidence of Christian men using Muslim names for whatever reason.)

    I would be very surprised if an estimate from 1931 for the Christian population of the Roman Empire a.) was watertight and b.) had not found something to challenge it over the intervening 90 years.
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    Ricardus wrote: »
    tclune wrote: »
    I only skimmed the referenced work, but I didn't see anything that suggested what was at stake (except for some dingbat crap about needing to rewrite ideas of group growth if the growth were more rapid than social science was comfortable with.) Why do sane people want to speculate on this question?

    ... says the person speculating down below on the Synoptic problem ...

    Which is relevant to interpreting scripture. What I'm asking is what is this relevant to? It may well matter to some question, but I'm just not seeing it.
  • Constantine the Great must have felt that Christianity was far enough advanced, or popular enough, in order to legalise it in 313 (?).
  • That was pretty much the starting point that led to my interest in the question. On another website I have engaged in friendly discussions, from time to time, about "Constantinian Christianity" and what is wrong with it, in the view of those who use that term. Nobody ever seems to use it in a positive or favourable sense. And yet, without Constantine, there would arguably never have been a Council of Nicea, and without that council ...
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    tclune wrote: »
    Ricardus wrote: »
    tclune wrote: »
    I only skimmed the referenced work, but I didn't see anything that suggested what was at stake (except for some dingbat crap about needing to rewrite ideas of group growth if the growth were more rapid than social science was comfortable with.) Why do sane people want to speculate on this question?

    ... says the person speculating down below on the Synoptic problem ...

    Which is relevant to interpreting scripture.

    I fail to see how the existence or non-existence of Q makes any significant difference to how I interpret the scriptures we've got, or how it makes any practical difference to the way I should respond to the scriptures. It seems to me a purely historical question.
    What I'm asking is what is this relevant to? It may well matter to some question, but I'm just not seeing it.

    You could say that about most of history as a discipline. That is, there are a few bits of history that have a utilitarian value in the sense of 'Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it', but mostly ISTM it is knowledge for its own sake, i.e., people find it interesting and therefore worth knowing - rather like the existence of Q. If you don't find a particular historical subject interesting in itself, then in most cases I don't think there is any utilitarian benefit that will persuade you otherwise.
  • Ricardus wrote: »
    I would be very surprised if an estimate from 1931 for the Christian population of the Roman Empire a.) was watertight and b.) had not found something to challenge it over the intervening 90 years.

    That's not his only source. On that page he also references the work of Michael Grant (1978) and Ramsay MacMullen (1984), his initial aim being to arrive at a probable range for the number of Christians in the Roman Empire in 300CE.

    The book was written in 1996, so I assume it is likely additional work has been written on it since, and as long as we don't get hung up on the numbers I think there's probably a useful discussion to be had about that and the other points in his book.

    If anything his argument has a somewhat 'anti-apologetic' flavour to it, as he attempts to show that there was nothing particularly special about the rate at which Christianity spread in the ancient world.
  • Well, alternative history is a fascinating field!

    Who knows how Christianity might have developed (or not) if Constantine had (say) lost the civil war against Maxentius and Licinius?

    I can appreciate the interest and appeal that the subject has...
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    edited March 17
    If there were only 7 500 Christians in 100 AD, that means there must have been even fewer in the mid-60s. Which means that it was a VERY small number of people being persecuted by Nero after the Fire. And even smaller, if, as I have read(and recently mentioned on the Spong thread), the persecutions were confined to the city of Rome.

    I realize that a small minority can still be scapegoated(see Jews and anti-semitism), but still, I find it surprising that a group so tiny and also so NEW could have been so prominent on Nero's radar to begin with.

    Mind you, I don't know what the population of the city of Rome was at that time. Was it small enough that a few thousand Christians would have been a significant percentage of the population?
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    Ricardus wrote: »
    I would be very surprised if an estimate from 1931 for the Christian population of the Roman Empire a.) was watertight and b.) had not found something to challenge it over the intervening 90 years.

    That's not his only source. On that page he also references the work of Michael Grant (1978) and Ramsay MacMullen (1984), his initial aim being to arrive at a probable range for the number of Christians in the Roman Empire in 300CE.

    Ah, fair enough. Like others I'd not been able to get the 'See inside' function.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    stetson wrote: »
    If there were only 7 500 Christians in 100 AD, that means there must have been even fewer in the mid-60s. Which means that it was a VERY small number of people being persecuted by Nero after the Fire. And even smaller, if, as I have read(and recently mentioned on the Spong thread), the persecutions were confined to the city of Rome.

    I realize that a small minority can still be scapegoated (see Jews and anti-semitism), but still, I find it surprising that a group so tiny and also so NEW could have been so prominent on Nero's radar to begin with.

    Christians were new (Romans respected religions that were old), they were weird (didn't respect anyone else's gods), and worst of all many of them acted happy about the Great Fire (they thought it was a sign of the end times and that Jesus would soon return). They were practically a tailor-made scapegoat, something Nero needed desperately when rumors started that he himself had set the fire to clear land for his new palace.
    stetson wrote: »
    Mind you, I don't know what the population of the city of Rome was at that time. Was it small enough that a few thousand Christians would have been a significant percentage of the population?

    The population of Rome at the time was somewhere between one million and one and a half million. Still, from what we know of early Christians' in-your-face style of proselytizing it's highly plausible that they'd come to the negative attention of the Roman state by this point.
  • Depends on how you define "Christian" Do you mean people meeting together - some of which developed as a cultural thing or people who publicly profess faith?

    We can publicly profess faith as much as we like, but do our actions back that up? But of course you knew that...

    Of course, I understand and accept the point you and Bishop's Finger are making here, but the more I read the Gospels (and I don't read them nearly enough), the more it strikes me that Christ wasn't so concerned about who was 'in' and who was 'out' so much as whether their behaviour was consistent with their religious profession .

    Any how, on sociological terms, however we cut it, people meeting together whether as a purely 'cultural' thing or because they publicly profess faith, IS a cultural thing. Your church is a cultural thing. It has its own flavour and culture. The church down the road of another denomination is a 'cultural thing' - so is the mosque, the Hindu temple or any other religious gathering. We are all of us part of some culture or other. We don't transcend and float above our culture on a cloud of sanctity because we publicly profess faith.

    The Pharisees publicly professed faith. Look what Jesus had to say about them.

    On the issue of how many Christians (or 'cultural Christians' if you will) there were around at the time of Constantine, I was always told that it wasn't so much the numbers as their ubiquity throughout the Empire that inclined Constantine to sanction Christianity as a potentially unifying force. That does imply a certain critical mass, of course.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    edited March 17
    stetson wrote: »
    Mind you, I don't know what the population of the city of Rome was at that time.
    The maximum population of Rome during the Roman Empire is estimated at a bit over a million in the middle of the second century AD (depending on whom you ask). Under Nero it was probably well over half a million.

  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Seems to presuppose constant growth rate. Is there reason to presuppose this?
  • None that I can see, beyond perhaps the difficulty of charting periods of limited growth or identifying those times when it accelerated.
  • In the absence of known periods of faster or slower growth, a constant rate will give the closest possible approximation to the true historical state of affairs at any one moment.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    Seems to presuppose constant growth rate. Is there reason to presuppose this?
    Firstly, I think there's a presumption of uniformity: if you can't see a reason for growth rates to be greater at one time than another you assume they remain roughly the same. Secondly, the estimated constant rate is at the high end of what is found in modern movements: if the growth rate weren't constant that would mean there were sustained periods where it was growing at an unparalleled rate.
  • wabalewabale Shipmate
    I have my own copy of the first volume of the the Cambridge History of Christianity, published in 2014 (a birthday present!) These kind of history books are authoritative, but usually many years out of date when they're printed! That said, in the chapter about the geographical spread of Christianity, it briefly discusses the numbers question. Stark's estimate, with all the difficulties posed by the lack of evidence, seems to have been the most convincing estimate available at that time. Historians have been more interested in the geographical spread of Christianity, and have concentrated more on that than on numbers, probably because there is much more evidence available.

    The numbers question is relevant to the question of how and why the Church became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Frances Young, one of the two editors of the Cambridge History of Christianity for this period, is a Christian. More recent books often reflect an agnostic background, and so you get titles like 'The Jesus Wars' by John Philip Jenkins which looks at the seamy side of the Creed as it were. (I prefer Frances Lamb's short book on the development of the Creed myself.) You also get more books which try to get away from the idea that Providence was at work: Robert Knapp wrote 'The dawn of Christianity - People and gods in a time of magic and miracles' (2018), in which he argues that Christianity had many rivals in the competition to replace the pagan gods: Neo-Platonists, Stoics, Epicureans, Cynics, Traditional Roman religion, Isis, Cybele, Astrology, Judaism, Manichaeism, Mithras,
    Gnosticism, Local gods, and Household gods. Knapp argues that the adoption of Christianity by Constantine was the decisive factor.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    Crœsos wrote: »
    stetson wrote: »
    If there were only 7 500 Christians in 100 AD, that means there must have been even fewer in the mid-60s. Which means that it was a VERY small number of people being persecuted by Nero after the Fire. And even smaller, if, as I have read(and recently mentioned on the Spong thread), the persecutions were confined to the city of Rome.

    I realize that a small minority can still be scapegoated (see Jews and anti-semitism), but still, I find it surprising that a group so tiny and also so NEW could have been so prominent on Nero's radar to begin with.

    Christians were new (Romans respected religions that were old), they were weird (didn't respect anyone else's gods), and worst of all many of them acted happy about the Great Fire (they thought it was a sign of the end times and that Jesus would soon return). They were practically a tailor-made scapegoat, something Nero needed desperately when rumors started that he himself had set the fire to clear land for his new palace.
    stetson wrote: »
    Mind you, I don't know what the population of the city of Rome was at that time. Was it small enough that a few thousand Christians would have been a significant percentage of the population?

    The population of Rome at the time was somewhere between one million and one and a half million. Still, from what we know of early Christians' in-your-face style of proselytizing it's highly plausible that they'd come to the negative attention of the Roman state by this point.

    Good points.

    And yeah, Scientology today has probably fewer than 50 000 members worldwide, but is overrepresented in terms of media attention, partly for exhibiting the same characteristics you mention about early Christians, eg. in-your-face promotional style.
  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    Dafyd wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    Seems to presuppose constant growth rate. Is there reason to presuppose this?
    Firstly, I think there's a presumption of uniformity: if you can't see a reason for growth rates to be greater at one time than another you assume they remain roughly the same. Secondly, the estimated constant rate is at the high end of what is found in modern movements: if the growth rate weren't constant that would mean there were sustained periods where it was growing at an unparalleled rate.
    I think the only other movement cited in the first chapter (modern or otherwise) was Mormonism, supposedly growing at an average rate of 43% per decade over a century; the text doesn't give any reason to assume that Mormonism itself grew at a uniform rate. (Maybe the information is in one of Stark's self-citations, but if so he doesn't mention it.) One century seems a lot shorter to me than 2.6 centuries, and anyway it certainly couldn't have remained at 40% per decade for many more decades after 300; at that rate everyone in the world would have been a Christian by 400 (assuming a world population of about 200 million.)
  • Dave W wrote: »
    (Maybe the information is in one of Stark's self-citations, but if so he doesn't mention it.) One century seems a lot shorter to me than 2.6 centuries, and anyway it certainly couldn't have remained at 40% per decade for many more decades after 300

    I don't think he's making the claim that it always grows at 40%.
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    Ricardus wrote: »
    tclune wrote: »
    Ricardus wrote: »
    tclune wrote: »
    I only skimmed the referenced work, but I didn't see anything that suggested what was at stake (except for some dingbat crap about needing to rewrite ideas of group growth if the growth were more rapid than social science was comfortable with.) Why do sane people want to speculate on this question?

    ... says the person speculating down below on the Synoptic problem ...

    Which is relevant to interpreting scripture.

    I fail to see how the existence or non-existence of Q makes any significant difference to how I interpret the scriptures we've got, or how it makes any practical difference to the way I should respond to the scriptures. It seems to me a purely historical question.

    You began this by referencing my post on another thread suggesting that Luke was written in response to Matthew. It should not take a massive amount of thought to recognize that I would have to rethink my interpretation if, say, it could be established that Luke was written before Matthew.
  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    Dave W wrote: »
    (Maybe the information is in one of Stark's self-citations, but if so he doesn't mention it.) One century seems a lot shorter to me than 2.6 centuries, and anyway it certainly couldn't have remained at 40% per decade for many more decades after 300

    I don't think he's making the claim that it always grows at 40%.
    Well, the author gives projections for every 50 years at 40% per decade; presumably he thinks all those numbers mean something.
  • EutychusEutychus Shipmate
    That was pretty much the starting point that led to my interest in the question. On another website I have engaged in friendly discussions, from time to time, about "Constantinian Christianity" and what is wrong with it, in the view of those who use that term. Nobody ever seems to use it in a positive or favourable sense. And yet, without Constantine, there would arguably never have been a Council of Nicea, and without that council ...

    "Constantinian Christianity" has been a touchy subject here in the past, which is a shame because I think it's an interesting discussion.

    In a nutshell, I think one could say that Constantine marked the institutionalisation of Christianity. That has had both beneficial and highly negative effects over time. What is for certain is that its legacy is the timeline we are in now. We can't go back and live an alternate timeline in which we pick up at the end of Acts 28 as if nothing had happened in between. We have to move forward from where we are now, not from where some might have liked us to be. It is what it is.
  • wabalewabale Shipmate
    wabale wrote: »
    (I prefer Frances Lamb's short book on the development of the Creed myself.)
    I woke this morning thinking 'Young not Lamb'. The book I was referring to was 'The making of the Creeds' by Frances Young.
  • Dave W wrote: »
    Dave W wrote: »
    (Maybe the information is in one of Stark's self-citations, but if so he doesn't mention it.) One century seems a lot shorter to me than 2.6 centuries, and anyway it certainly couldn't have remained at 40% per decade for many more decades after 300

    I don't think he's making the claim that it always grows at 40%.
    Well, the author gives projections for every 50 years at 40% per decade; presumably he thinks all those numbers mean something.

    Sure. I meant that I don't think he makes the claim that it grows like that forever (to your "anyway it certainly couldn't have remained at 40% per decade for many more decades after 300")
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    stetson wrote: »
    If there were only 7 500 Christians in 100 AD, that means there must have been even fewer in the mid-60s. Which means that it was a VERY small number of people being persecuted by Nero after the Fire. And even smaller, if, as I have read(and recently mentioned on the Spong thread), the persecutions were confined to the city of Rome.

    I realize that a small minority can still be scapegoated(see Jews and anti-semitism), but still, I find it surprising that a group so tiny and also so NEW could have been so prominent on Nero's radar to begin with.

    Mind you, I don't know what the population of the city of Rome was at that time. Was it small enough that a few thousand Christians would have been a significant percentage of the population?

    This may be my arts graduate grasp of maths, but isn't this the sort of situation where the earliest iterations are subject to the problem that small changes to your parameters have large effects on your end result?

    i.e. Taking AD40 as Y(0) and AD 300 as Y(26) ...

    He has Y(0) = 1000 and Y(26) = 1000 * 1.4^26 = 6.3m

    But if you take Y(0) = 2000, then that is a numerically small difference (in the sense that the evidence for 2,000 Christians probably looks the same as the evidence for 1,000 Christians), but your Y(26) figure now becomes 12.6m. OTOH, you only have to revise the growth factor down to ~36% to get back to the original Y(26) figure (2000 * 1.36^26 = 5.9m).

    IOW, I'm not sure how much this model reliably tells us about the size of the earliest generations.
  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    Dave W wrote: »
    Dave W wrote: »
    (Maybe the information is in one of Stark's self-citations, but if so he doesn't mention it.) One century seems a lot shorter to me than 2.6 centuries, and anyway it certainly couldn't have remained at 40% per decade for many more decades after 300

    I don't think he's making the claim that it always grows at 40%.
    Well, the author gives projections for every 50 years at 40% per decade; presumably he thinks all those numbers mean something.

    Sure. I meant that I don't think he makes the claim that it grows like that forever (to your "anyway it certainly couldn't have remained at 40% per decade for many more decades after 300")
    But if it would have had to change drastically shortly after the period he describes, it doesn’t seem likely to me that it was still running at 40% at 300, or that it was even approximately uniform before that.
  • Fawkes CatFawkes Cat Shipmate
    Just in passing, I've never previously come across 'change per decade' as a measure. This may very well be my lack of experience (as will be all too obvious, I'm no theological scholar and the sort of history I studied didn't use numbers very much). But running some very rough sums, I think 40% growth per decade is more or less the same as 3.1% growth per year - which doesn't feel quite so explosive as a headline figure ('last year there were a hundred of us: this year there are a hundred and three' against 'ten years ago there were a hundred of us: now there are a hundred and forty') although it amounts to the same thing.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    edited March 18
    Fawkes Cat wrote: »
    Just in passing, I've never previously come across 'change per decade' as a measure. This may very well be my lack of experience (as will be all too obvious, I'm no theological scholar and the sort of history I studied didn't use numbers very much). But running some very rough sums, I think 40% growth per decade is more or less the same as 3.1% growth per year - which doesn't feel quite so explosive as a headline figure ('last year there were a hundred of us: this year there are a hundred and three' against 'ten years ago there were a hundred of us: now there are a hundred and forty') although it amounts to the same thing.

    It does seem to be an interesting study in the cumulative effect of small numbers ... thinking about @Dave W 's comments, my trusty spreadsheet has worked out that if you assume a much lower growth rate of 25% per decade, which translates to, er, something even less dramatic than 3.1% per year, then, starting from Christians as a 10.5% minority in AD 300, they become a majority by AD 370, and make up 78% of the Empire's population by AD 390, in time for the decrees of Theodosius.

    How far the above is anything more than an exercise in maths I leave to the reader with better knowledge of the evidence ...
  • Ricardus wrote: »
    Fawkes Cat wrote: »
    Just in passing, I've never previously come across 'change per decade' as a measure. This may very well be my lack of experience (as will be all too obvious, I'm no theological scholar and the sort of history I studied didn't use numbers very much). But running some very rough sums, I think 40% growth per decade is more or less the same as 3.1% growth per year - which doesn't feel quite so explosive as a headline figure ('last year there were a hundred of us: this year there are a hundred and three' against 'ten years ago there were a hundred of us: now there are a hundred and forty') although it amounts to the same thing.

    It does seem to be an interesting study in the cumulative effect of small numbers ... thinking about @Dave W 's comments, my trusty spreadsheet has worked out that if you assume a much lower growth rate of 25% per decade, which translates to, er, something even less dramatic than 3.1% per year, then, starting from Christians as a 10.5% minority in AD 300, they become a majority by AD 370, and make up 78% of the Empire's population by AD 390, in time for the decrees of Theodosius.

    I wonder if we aren't getting tangled up in a relatively tangential bit of the book. We know that there were a very small number of Christians in the early part of the 1st Century. There are a range of historical approximations for the number of Christians in the 4th. Stark is just trying to show that the numbers can be explained by comparisons with other movements.

    Surely the only people with a dog in this fight are those who assume the historical estimates for the 4th century are a magnitude too high or people who believe that there was something particularly anomalous about the spread of Christianity for whatever reason (be it spiritual or otherwise).
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    edited March 18
    Dave W wrote: »
    Dafyd wrote: »
    Firstly, I think there's a presumption of uniformity: if you can't see a reason for growth rates to be greater at one time than another you assume they remain roughly the same. Secondly, the estimated constant rate is at the high end of what is found in modern movements: if the growth rate weren't constant that would mean there were sustained periods where it was growing at an unparalleled rate.
    One century seems a lot shorter to me than 2.6 centuries, and anyway it certainly couldn't have remained at 40% per decade for many more decades after 300; at that rate everyone in the world would have been a Christian by 400.
    That's true: after the proportion of Christians (or any other social phenomenon) gets above a certain level the pool of potential convertees (i.e. not committed pagans or Jews or non-practitioners) is going to start to have a non-negligible number of people who are already Christians in it.
    The other big change after the beginning of the fourth century is that adherence to Christianity becomes a plausible source of overt patronage.

    I'm not sure why that casts doubt on the plausibility of the general assumption, or on what the wider point you think you're making. As I understand it: based on archaeological and literary evidence ancient historians estimate about 10% of the population of the Roman Empire was Christian at the start of the fourth century, just before Constantine came to power. (Estimates differ: but 10% represents the consensus highest likelihood.) The question is how to explain that: you either assume steady growth, or you have to assume some burst of mass conversions. Stark AIUI is arguing that there is no need to resort to the burst of mass conversion explanation, and that the numbers one generates that way fit what archaeological and literary evidence we have and are more compatible with plausible sociological explanations. Unless you're wanting to defend the burst of mass conversion explanation, I'm not sure why one would disagree.

  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    I guess I don’t see the point in connecting two guesses 260 years apart with an exponential curve. Why shouldn’t there have been bursts of mass conversions? What’s the basis for assuming the growth looked anything like a smooth exponential? We don’t seem to have any particularly good data for this population over the period in question, and there probably aren’t many similar but better documented cases to use for comparison.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Dave W wrote: »
    I guess I don’t see the point in connecting two guesses 260 years apart with an exponential curve.

    Exponential growth is the type of growth we expect to see in situations like religious conversion or epidemic spread, where each person converted/infected can then serve as a vector for further conversions/infections. In other words, situations where the number affected is directly proportional to the ability to spread further. (Eventually this bumps up against a lack of further people to convert/infect, but that's a different question.)
    Dave W wrote: »
    Why shouldn’t there have been bursts of mass conversions? What’s the basis for assuming the growth looked anything like a smooth exponential? We don’t seem to have any particularly good data for this population over the period in question, and there probably aren’t many similar but better documented cases to use for comparison.

    The basis for assuming smooth growth is the lack of "any particularly good data for this population over the period in question". In the absence of more finely tuned data the simplest model that fits what information is available is preferred.
  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    Crœsos wrote: »
    Dave W wrote: »
    I guess I don’t see the point in connecting two guesses 260 years apart with an exponential curve.

    Exponential growth is the type of growth we expect to see in situations like religious conversion or epidemic spread, where each person converted/infected can then serve as a vector for further conversions/infections. In other words, situations where the number affected is directly proportional to the ability to spread further. (Eventually this bumps up against a lack of further people to convert/infect, but that's a different question.)
    I understand that’s the hypothesis, but does it actually work that way with religions? The book doesn’t present any supporting data from other cases (at least not in the first chapter.)
    Dave W wrote: »
    Why shouldn’t there have been bursts of mass conversions? What’s the basis for assuming the growth looked anything like a smooth exponential? We don’t seem to have any particularly good data for this population over the period in question, and there probably aren’t many similar but better documented cases to use for comparison.

    The basis for assuming smooth growth is the lack of "any particularly good data for this population over the period in question". In the absence of more finely tuned data the simplest model that fits what information is available is preferred.
    “We have no idea whether this process is smooth or proceeds in fits and starts, so we’re going to draw a line between two guesses 260 years apart and call out the intermediate values to as many as 7 significant figures every 50 years.” That approach doesn’t sound like it should be relied upon very heavily.
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    Dave W wrote: »
    “We have no idea whether this process is smooth or proceeds in fits and starts, so we’re going to draw a line between two guesses 260 years apart and call out the intermediate values to as many as 7 significant figures every 50 years.” That approach doesn’t sound like it should be relied upon very heavily.

    Although, to be fair, it does sound like social science. ;)
  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    I don’t think I could stand working on something where getting more data was practically impossible in so many cases - it would drive me nuts. History may not be bunk, but it sure can be frustrating.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    I can imagine Christianity (or any other rapidly expanding religion) saturating a market, so to speak, and reaching a peak, during which the numbers are fairly static. Then missionaries penetrate another market, and the growth is rapid, until that market is saturated, at which point the growth slows down again. "Punctuated equilibrium" if you will. I see no reason to think this is any less likely than a smooth, unbroken exponential curve.
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