In the time of the second temple, the Jews in Judea were divided into several sects. It was a harsh time that came after a successful rebellion against the Greek king Antiochus (165 BCE)
Times of division
During his rule, Antiochus published laws to oppress the Jews and force them to do things against their belief. They were forced to eat unkosher food, work on the 7th day, forbid circumcision, and more. During his rule, a lot of Jews was appealing to the Greek lifestyle.
After the revolt, there was a lot of debates of how to get back to the religious life and many ideologies had spread. The people of Judea were divided into sects, the sect were Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes. So when Jesus came, the Jewish people were divided and under heavy debates on many things. Upon all of that, a new foreign ruler has conquered the land, the Romans.
A new sect is born
According to the gospels, Jesus gathered disciples who helped him spread his words. He was going around the country and curing ill people and conducting miracles and started to gain more and more popularity. As he arrived in Jerusalem with his followers he was captured by the Romans and was crucified in the Roman Empire favorite way of execution.
According to the Gospels, he resurrected after 3 days and for 40 days he kept preaching until he ascended back to heaven.
At the beginning, Jesus followers saw themselves as Jews and were called by other messianic, believers of the messiah. The word Christian comes from the Greek word “Christos”(Χριστός) which means messiah, the one who was covered with oil as a sign for him to be the next king. The Christians started as a new sect of the already divided Jews in the land.
The Separation from Judaism
Peter, one of the disciples had a vision where he got an approval of eating unkosher animals. This thing made it easier for new followers to accept the belief. The next thing that was abolished was the circumcision. As long as most of the followers were Jews the resting day remained the 7th day. As more and more pagans joined the new movement in the 2nd century, Sunday was chosen as the resting day to distinct themselves more from the Jews and choose the resurrection day as a special day.
Slowly both the Jews and the Christians chose to distinct themselves from one another.
As Christianity arrived in Rome, the emperors were afraid of it and from the year of 200 started to persecute the Christians until 313 that it was considered to be a legitimate religion. In 380 it became the official religion of the Roman Empire and it became to known as the Byzantine Empire.
The Armenian people were the first people who converted to Christianity as a nation in 301, and since the end of that century, there’s a small Armenian community in Jerusalem.
Because the Armenian Church was also a national church there was no assimilation with the Arab population later with the Arab conquests and the Armenians remain as a distinct people and church.
with the Arab conquest of the Levant, a large Arab-speaking Muslim population arrived. The Christians and the Jews were allowed to keep their faith and pay the non-Muslim tax. The people adopted the Arab culture and language, the Main spoken language became Arabic and other languages like Aramaic were forgotten. The Christians were orthodox. And until today the majority of the Christian Arabs are orthodox.
With the conquest of the Crusaders, a catholic population arrived and settled in the land.Here they are called Latins. They settled in Haifa Nazareth and Bethlehem.
A unique thing kind of churches evolved which is a combination of ancient orthodox churches who accepted the pope and some catholic traditions. The biggest church of this kind is the Melkite Catholic Church. In this church unlike the Greek orthodox, the prayers are in Arabic.
Since the 19 century with the arrival of missionaries, there is also a small protestant community.
With the establish of the state of Israel
Most of the Arab Christians were Arab nationals and sided with the Palestinians. Some of the leaders of Palestinian liberation organizations were Christians. In recent years with the rise of the jihadism in the Middle East. The relation between Muslims and Christian became bad, with Christians being persecuted all over the Middle East. With Arab Christians immigrating from all over the Levant to Europe and America. Places that use to have historical Christian communities are slowly being abandon by the Christians and the population is decreasing.
After seeing that some Arab Christian leaders became pro-Israel. Among the Christians living in the state of Israel, there are a growing numbers of Christians who look for more integration among Israeli society. some of their leaders created the ‘Christian Empowerment Council’ which in it website states:
” The Council strives to absorb Christian affiliation into Israel by showing Israeli Christians that their own religious, historic and ethnic identity is tied exclusively to Jewish history and culture. We encourage the Israeli Christian community to warmly accept the opportunity of a safe and prosperous life in the State of Israel, and to stand up as proud Israelis, to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces and prosper in a vibrant Israeli society”.
They also work to replace the Arabic language with the Aramaic language and disconnect themselves from the Arab identity.
This whole topic is under dispute in the Arab Christian community, because of politics, history, culture and more, only time will tell how things will evolve.
Today there are around 170,000 Christians in Israel which is 2% of the population. 80% of them are Arabs and the rest are Christians who are married to Jews and immigrated to the state.