I think if they were conmen, they were the worst possible type — incompetent.
Everything they believed and did helped them get themselves and their followers killed or ostracized. They worshiped some dead guy, who had preached clean living and claimed to be God. They claimed he wasn’t dead, but that he was physically in heaven, so there was no evidence, except no one could produce a body. The dead guy’s big promises were forgiveness of sins, unity with himself through his spirit which would allow some kind of access to God the Father (which was all extremely confusing), and suffering. The suffering ends, when life ends. Access to all this is through belief in the dead guy and his claim to forgive sin and give eternal life. And there is a lot of love stuff.
Adherents were told to bring home the proceedings of the sale of their positions to share with the rest of the group, to work hard to support the group, to live quiet lives, to follow quite a few rules like doing honest work, refusing favoritism, caring for the poor, and singing hymns in worship. Get a spiritual bath. Participate in a ritual others saw as canibalism.
Some rules were absurdly counter-cultural: husbands love your wives and children. Some were dangerously counter-cultural: you don’t even get to fake-worship caesar, even if it gets you tortured or killed.
No, you don’t get to overthrow the oppressive government. No, you don’t get to expect wealth. Don’t even think of a private jet or property in Malibu. And the Apostles didn’t get those things, either.
Early first century anybody could have no idea what would come later, when the church received political backing. And evaluating THAT move is extremely complicated.
There are many compilations of the writings of the early church fathers. They might not have been the Apostles themselves, but they’re about as close as we can get. If you are interested in looking into it further, there are some very good free collections available online:
and another biggie is Monergism.org. Monergism has links to multiple forms of media, not only e-books.
Here are search results related to “early church”:
Their nearly overwhelming main page:
You might want to scroll down to “Questions Skeptics Ask” (Sorry it includes the word “apologetics”. It’s come to mean something very different from what it used to .)