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Around the 1st century AD, the three biggest religions in the Roman empire were the Roman pantheon, Judaism, and Christianity.

Why was Christianity so much more successful in gaining and keeping followers compared to the other two that by the end of the 4th century AD, it had become the Roman state religion?

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There is a book that answers this exact question. –  Dan Jul 30 '13 at 19:26
@Sid do keep in mind that Stark is a professor of sociology at Baylor University. I can understand if his science is bad (although making anti-evolution comments doesn't necessarily mean this is the case, as macro-evolution is as of yet a largely unproven theory concerning the origins of species), but I would give his sociology a chance. –  Dan Jul 30 '13 at 19:44
Don't forget Mithraism, which was popular in the 2d - 3d century AD. –  please delete me Jul 30 '13 at 20:03
@Sid - Judaisim at the time was as much a racial construct as a religous one. As such, it wasn't nearly as open to conversions. –  T.E.D. Jul 30 '13 at 20:30
1) This question is assertions without research or references. Who said these were the three most populous? I doubt the claim (I suspect there were more people in the provinice of Asia than there were Jews). 2) The religions are not commensurate; one is political, one ethnographic and the third is syncretic. (3) as others have said, there are books on this, which make it out of scope for H:SE. (4) the answer is either subjective or a list. –  Mark C. Wallace Jul 31 '13 at 11:19

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Traditionally, Judaism was not an evangelistic religion (and so it remains among 'mainstream Jews') - Jews did not believe it was their mission to spread their faith to the world, nor is there any mention of such a mission in the Hebrew Bible according to the traditional Hebrew rendering. "And you shall be a Holy People for Me" Shemot 22:30 (one of many)

To paraphrase the language of the Talmud:

Do we not have enough problems with the Jews we already have?

Moreover, the Talmud and Maimonides specifically enumerate certain commandments specifically for non-Jews to follow and non-Jews are promised heavenly reward for obeying those commandments. They are not required to embrace Judaism to achieve "salvation". See: According to Judaism, as expressed in the Talmud, the Noachide Laws apply to all humanity through humankind's descent from one paternal ancestor, the head of the only family to survive The Flood, who in Hebrew tradition is called Noah. In Judaism, בני נח B'nei Noah (Hebrew, "Descendants of Noah", "Children of Noah") refers to all of humankind.[11] The Talmud also states: "Righteous people of all nations have a share in the world to come"

As for converting to Judaism:

Yevamot 47a:

Our Rabbis taught: If at the present time a man desires to become a proselyte, he is to be addressed as follows: ‘What reason have you for desiring to become a proselyte; do you not know that Israel at the present time are persecuted and oppressed, despised, harassed and overcome by afflictions’? If he replies, ‘I know and yet am unworthy’, he is accepted forthwith, and is given instruction in some of the minor and some of the major commandments.

Maimonides: Mishneh Torah: Hilkhot Issurei Biah 14:2:

We inform him of the fundamentals of the faith, i.e., the unity of God and the prohibition against the worship of false deities. We elaborate on this matter. We inform him about some of the easy mitzvot and some of the more severe ones. We do not elaborate on this matter.

In addition, circumcision is required - Talmud, Maimonides, Supra - obviously no simple matter for an adult male, particularly before modern anesthetic techniques had been developed. Thus it provided a good reason not to convert to Judaism.

Christianity, on the other hand, was evangelistic from its very early days: The Gospel of John then points out that Jesus' disciples were baptizing more people than John (John 4:2).

So it's no surprise that Christianity "won" when it came to converts.

As far as the Roman pantheon is concerned, I have little knowledge from primary sources. But from both Talmudic and historical sources that I am familiar with, it appears to me that there was no formally organized religion or movement of "The Roman Pantheon", whose mission it was "to spread the faith", etc, but simply a collection/hierarchy of various deities and their accompanying customs and forms of worship that became part of the cultural fabric of Rome. So, as classical Roman culture faded, so did the Roman Pantheon.

In short, there really was no competition to gain converts. Christianity won by default.

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Your answer contains many good observations (especially about Judaism not being a proselytizing religion), however a bit more context is necessary. First, about the proselytizing - actually, it's not that simple. It is well-known that there was a sizeable movement of "Judaizers", that is Graeco-Roman people, usually rather well-to-do ones, who took a keen interest in Judaism and adopted a few of its customs (presumably, some of the dietary laws and some observation of the Shabbat). Thex exact scope and character of this movement is very much debated by historians (we'll never know for sure –  Felix Goldberg Aug 7 '13 at 8:01
because of the paucity of the sources) but what I wrote above is I think a sort of minimum synthesis that can be taken for granted, as the Judaizers left a certain paper trail in Roman writers and also a vaguer one in the Talmud (remeber all these stories about Roman matrons asking Rabbis questions on religion?). I personally think that these people represented some sort of "New Age" mentality that was seeking new answers to the perennial questions of life and not finding them in the traditional Roman religion (a good and separate quesiton why that was so, one I am not qualified to answer) –  Felix Goldberg Aug 7 '13 at 8:03
Indeed, the same period (say, from end of 1st to 3rd century CE) witnessed a rise in mysticism, Eastern religions of all stripes (Mithraism, sun-worship, Egyptian cults etc) and also a philosophical Neo-Platonism which at its higher levels was a cogent existential philosophy and at the lower ones descended into primitive astrology. So there was a great demand for new religious ideas and I think the rise of Christianity was not obvious at all - the market was up for grabs, so to speak. –  Felix Goldberg Aug 7 '13 at 8:07
This is where the relative closeness of Judaism and the great openness of Christianity came into play. I think (just my guess) that the great mass of Judaizers eventually gravitated towards the Church (in fact, Origen in the 3rd century CE was still militating against people who had a foot in each doorstep, without firmly committing to either). The simplicity of the Christian observation is another point you've rightly emphasized (no circumcision, no dietary laws - much easier to join and to stay). To return to the subject of Jewish proselytizing, though: in a large degree the unwillingness –  Felix Goldberg Aug 7 '13 at 8:10
to seek converts was conditioned by the Roman laws that explicitly forbid conversion to Judaism. I think the Yevamot passage you quoted is direct evidence for that - it does not posit any principled opposition to conversion, focusing rather on persecutions (an overzealous preacher who attracted the authorities' attention could get the whole congregation in trouble so it was expedient to avoid this sort of acitivities altogether). So it stands to reason that in a different political climate Judaism might have been much more active in acquiring converts. –  Felix Goldberg Aug 7 '13 at 8:13

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