Engels views on early Christianity were formed from his reading of what he considered "the only scientific basis" for such study, namely the new critical works by German scholars of religion.
First were the works of the TUBINGEN SCHOOL, including David Strauss ("The Life of Jesus"). This school has shown that 1) the Gospels are late writings based on now lost original sources from the time of Jesus and his followers; 2) only four of Paul's letters are by him; 3) all miracles must be left out of account if you want a scientific view; 4) all contradictory presentations of the same events must also be rejected. This school then wants to preserve what it can of the history of early Christianity. By the way, this is essentially what Thomas Jefferson tried to do when he made his own version of the New Testament.
A second school was based on the writings of BRUNO BAUER. What Bauer did was to show that Christianity would have remained a Jewish sect if it had not, in the years after the death of its founder, mutated by contact with Greco-Roman paganism, into a new religion capable of becoming a world wide force. Bauer showed that Christianity, as we know it, did not come into the Roman world from the outside ("from Judea") but that it was "that world's own product." Christianity owes as much to Zeus as to Yahweh.
Engels maintains that THE BOOK OF REVELATIONS is the only book in the New Testament that can be properly dated by means of its internal evidence. It can be dated to around 67-68 AD since the famous number 666, as the mark of the beast or the Antichrist, represents the name of the Emperor Nero according to the rules of numerology. Nero was overthrown in 68. This book, Engels says, is the best source of the views of the early Christians since it is much earlier than any of the Gospels, and may actually have been the work the apostle John (which the Gospel and letters bearing his name were not).
In this book we will not find any of the views that characterize official Christianity as we have it from the time of the Emperor Constantine to the present day. It is purely a Jewish phenomenon in REVELATIONS. There is no TRINITY as GOD has SEVEN SPIRITS (so the HOLY GHOST is impossible Engels remarks). JESUS CHRIST is not GOD but his SON, he is not even equal in status to his father. Nevertheless he has pretty high status, his followers are called his "slaves" by John. Jesus is "an emanation of God, existing from all eternity but subordinate to God" just as the seven spirits are. MOSES is more or less "on an equal footing" with Jesus in the eyes of God. There is no mention of the later belief in ORIGINAL SIN. John still thought of himself as a Jew, there is no idea at this time of "Christianity" as a new religion.
In this period there were many end of times revelations in circulation both in the Semitic and in the Greco-Roman world. They all proclaimed that God was (or the Gods were) pissed off at humanity and had to be appeased by sacrifices. John's revelation was UNIQUE because it proclaimed "by one great voluntary sacrifice of a mediator the sins of all times and all men were atoned for once and for all-- in respect of the faithful."
Since all peoples and races could be saved this is what, according to Engels, "enabled Christianity to develop into a universal religion." [Just as the concept of the workers of the world uniting to break their chains and build a world wide communist future makes Marxism-Leninism a universal philosophy.]
In Heaven before the throne of God are 144,000 Jews (12,000 from each tribe). In the second rank of the saved are the non Jewish converts to John's sect. Engels points out that neither the "dogma nor the morals" of later Christianity are to be found in this earliest of Christian expressions. Some Muslims would presumedly not like this Heaven, not only are there no virgins in it, there are no women whatsoever. In fact, the 144,000 Jews have never been "defiled" by contact with women! This is a men's only club.
Engels says that the book shows a spirit of "struggle", of having to fight against the entire world and a willingness to do so. He says the Christians of today lack that spirit but that it survives in the working class movement. We must remember he was writing this in 1894.
There were other sects of Christianity springing up at this time too. John's sect eventually died out and the Christianity that won out was an amalgam of different groups who finally came together around the Council of Nicaea (325 AD). Those who did not sign on were themselves persecuted out of existence by the new Christian state.
We can see the analogy to the early sects of socialists and communists, says Engels. We can also see what happened after the Russian Revolution (Leninists, Stalinists, Trotskyists, Bukharinites, Maoists, etc., etc.). Here in the US today we have the CPUSA, the SWP, Worker's World, Revolutionary CP, Socialist Party, Sparticists, and etc., etc.).
Engels thought that sectarianism was a thing of the past in the Socialist movement because the movement had matured and outgrown it. This, we now know, was a temporary state of affairs at the end of the 19th Century with the consolidation of the German SPD. The wide spread sectarianism of today suggests the worker's movement is still in its infancy.
Engels says this sectarianism is due to the confusion and backwardness of the thinking of the masses and the preponderate role that leaders play due to this backwardness. The Russian masses of 1917 and the Chinese of 1949 were a far different base than the German working class of the 1890s.
"This confusion," Engels writes,"is to be seen in the formation of numerous sects which fight against each other with at least the same zeal as against the common external enemy [China vs USSR, Stalin and Trotsky, Stalin and Tito, Vietnam vs China border war, Albania vs China and USSR. ad nauseam]. So it was with early Christianity, so it was in the beginning of the socialist movement [and still is, peace Engels!], no matter how much that worried the well-meaning worthies who preached unity where no unity was possible."
Finally, for those fans of the 60s sexual revolution, Engels says that many of the sects of early Christianity took the opposite view of John and actually promoted sexual freedom and free love as part of the new dispensation. They lost out. Engels says this sexual liberation was also found in the early socialist movement. He would not, I think, have approved of the excessive prudery of the Soviets.
Stay tuned for part 3.