|Christianity began its rise about the same time the Roman Empire was in decline. Until then it was a minor religion. It started to expand as the political sands were shifting.
That doesn't account for its survival throughout the three-odd centuries of obscurity followed by persecution. The 'timing' as you put it was 300 years too early; you need to account for the early success of Christianity despite massive opposition.
|When Christianity was becoming established mythology was still the primary way people made sense of the natural world. As such I would expect there would be less inclination to dismiss stories of 'miracles' like Jesus walking on water than there would be in an age of scientific thought, when that story would be viewed as a parable or myth. They became part of the mythology of Jesus precisely because people of the time were willing to accept these sorts of explanations or myths to explain their world.
There are a lot of assumptions in that argument:
1. First-century Jews and Gentiles were more gullible/likely to accept miracles than people living after the advent of 'scientific thought'.
You have yet to define exactly what you mean by 'scientific thought'; certainly methodological naturalism and the scientific method were not codified in ANE times, yet that hardly means that such people were not intuitively practicing the tenets of the scientific method (observation, repeated experiments) in their day-to-day lives. Indeed, they would have been extinct if they had not! An acceptance of the paranormal is hardly an indication of not being aware of the difference
between the normal and paranormal. Joseph resolved to divorce Mary because
he knew that virgin births were not, as it were, scientifically possible; the crowd worshipped Jesus because
they recognised that His healings were out of the ordinary; the guests at Cana accused the host of bringing out the good wine last because
they didn't expect a miraculous transformation. The people weren't gullible fools; they were skeptics. And today, after 'scientific thought' has presumably well and truly permeated society, we have horoscopes and ley lines and earth spirits and reincarnation and angels and ghosts and seances and all manner of belief in the paranormal... not to mention those millions of Christians who know enough of literary genre not
to view Jesus' miracles as parables or myth. Spirituality and religion are rampant today, whether they be full-on burqa-wearing monotheism or vaguely-conceived ideas of angels and one's grandmother being in a happy place; which leads me to the conclusion that a society with a high regard for science need not be a society which rejects the supernatural.
2. You are also failing to engage with the eyewitness, documentary nature of the Gospels and the (alleged, at least) reality of Jesus' life. The story of Jesus is rooted in history: names, dates, places, events. Someone living in first-century Palestine would have heard about Jesus' miracles in that context: not 'a long time ago in a galaxy far far away', but 'did you hear what that guy, the son of Mary who your mum goes to coffee group with, did?' In such a context people would be far less likely to blindly accept the truth of miraculous claims. It's relatively easy to believe in miraculous deeds done by a hero back in the dark days when the Titans ruled; less easy to swallow that someone you know about town has been raising the dead. And of course, the Gospels record many such instances of skepticism. Jesus didn't 'explain their world'; he made it more complicated! (It'd certainly play havoc with my
worldview to learn that my next-door neighbor was changing water into wine!). It's also significant that at the time of Jesus the miracles of the Old Testament were long over; so while miracles were a part of the worldview of Jews at least, they weren't used to them experientially or expecting them on a daily basis. (Just as many people today believe, theoretically, in the existence of ghosts or aliens but still react with skepticism when presented with apparent evidence of them).
3. I've already sort of covered this, but it bears repeating: why
in an age of scientific thought would Jesus' miracles be viewed as parables or myth? It doesn't follow at all. Science deals with the natural world: it has officially no comment on the supernatural. The Bible is very clear that Jesus' actions were unusual and went against the laws of nature, so any objections that 'people can't walk on water!' or 'that's impossible!' have no teeth: that's the whole point
, after all! Under a scientific worldview Jesus' miracles could be seen as either true or false, but calling them 'parables' or 'myths' would simply be very un
scientific bad scholarship. The New Testament contains examples of the literary genre 'parable'; the story of Jesus' life isn't one of them. Likewise, the Gospels are not written as myth; they are written as historical narrative.