Apollonius of Tyana: The Philosopher Explorer and Social Reformer of the First Century ADby George Robert Stow Mead
Introductory To the student of the origins of Christianity there is naturally no period in Western history of greater interest and importance than the first century of our era; and yet how little comparatively is known about it of a really definite and reliable nature. If it be a subject of lasting regret that no non-Christian writer of the first century had… See more details below
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Introductory To the student of the origins of Christianity there is naturally no period in Western history of greater interest and importance than the first century of our era; and yet how little comparatively is known about it of a really definite and reliable nature. If it be a subject of lasting regret that no non-Christian writer of the first century had sufficient intuition of the future to record even a line of information concerning the birth and growth of what was to be the religion of the Western world, equally disappointing is it to find so little definite information of the general social and religious conditions of the time. The rulers and the wars of the Empire seem to have formed the chief interest of the historiographers of the succeeding century, and even in this department of political history, though the public acts of the Emperors may be fairly well known, for we can check them by records and inscriptions, when we come to their private acts and motives we find ourselves no longer on the ground of history, but for the most part in the atmosphere of prejudice, scandal, and speculation. The political acts of Emperors and their officers, however can at best throw but a dim side-light on the general social conditions of the time, while they shed no light at all on the religious conditions, except so far as these in any particular contacted the domain of politics. As well might we seek to reconstruct a picture of the religious life of the time from Imperial acts and rescripts, as endeavour to glean any idea of the intimate religion of this country from a perusal of statute books or reports of Parliamentary debates.
The Roman histories so-called, to which we have so far been accustomed, cannot help us in the reconstruction of a picture of the environment into which, on the one hand, Paul led the new faith in Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome; and in which, on the other, it already found itself in the districts bordering on the south-east of the Mediterranean. It is only by piecing together labouriously isolated scraps of information and fragments of inscriptions, that we become aware of the existence of the life of a world of religious associations and private cults which existed at this period. Not that even so we have any very direct information of what went on in these associations, guilds, and brotherhoods; but we have sufficient evidence to make us keenly regret the absence of further knowledge.
Difficult as this field is to till, it is exceedingly fertile in interest, and it is to be regretted that comparatively so little work has as yet been done in it; and that, as is so frequently the case, the work which has been done is, for the most part, not accessible to the English reader. What work has been done on this special subject may be seen from the bibliographical note appended to this essay, in which is given a list of books and articles treating of the religious associations among the Greeks and Romans. But if we seek to obtain a general view of the condition of religious affairs in the first century we find ourselves without a reliable guide; for of works dealing with this particular subject there are few, and from them we learn little that does not immediately concern, or is thought to concern, Christianity; whereas, it is just the state of the non-Christian religious world about which, in the present case, we desire to be informed.
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