II. Ancient and Classical Periods, 3500 B.C.E.–500 C.E. > E. Rome > 4. The Roman Empire, 14–284 C.E. > d. Early Christianity
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  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
 
d. Early Christianity
 
By the 1st century B.C.E., JUDAISM had been diffused in the Roman Empire, with Jews residing mainly in Palestine and in the cities of the east. Palestine itself, however, was by no means wholly Jewish; it had a substantial population of non-Jewish Semites as well as Greeks. The area was consequently home to an amalgam of beliefs, and to religious contention. The god of the Jews was Yahweh; his worship was centered around the cult of his temple in Jerusalem, which was run by a hereditary high priesthood, and around his law, which was preserved in Hebrew scriptures. By the 1st century, however, observant Jews were divided into three principal sects, each of which regarded the others as ritually unclean: upper-class Saducees, who were devoted to ritual sacrifice at the temple; Pharisees, whose worship was organized around the synagogue and the rabbi, rather than the temple and the priesthood; and a number of ascetic sects, the most important being the Essenes, whose strict observance of the law led them to live in isolated monastic communities. The kingdom of Judaea was annexed by Rome in 6 C.E. and placed under a procurator; the other areas of Palestine—Galilee, Samaria, Peraea, Idumaea, and Batanaea—were ruled intermittently by vassals (the descendants of Herod the Great, king of Judaea 37–4 B.C.E.); all of Palestine became a Roman province in 44 C.E. But foreign rule engendered the belief in a national liberator called the Messiah, who would restore political freedom; in some versions the liberation would be accompanied by an apocalyptic reckoning. CHRISTIANITY originated as a Jewish sect. Its founder, JESUS, was a Jew born in Palestine, somewhere within eight or ten years of 1 C.E.; he grew up in Galilee. When he was about 30, he was baptized by John the Baptist. He then formed his own group and began his public career as a teacher and miracle man, practicing principally in Galilee. Jesus's historical teachings are obscure, but included some form of freedom from the Jewish law, the promise of salvation after death, immediate salvation for the chosen, and the claim that he was the son of the Jewish god. On visiting Jerusalem, Jesus gained notoriety by attacking the temple priesthood. He was arrested, then tried and convicted, probably for sedition, by the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate (26–36 C.E.), and was crucified. After his death, his followers began to preach in Jerusalem that Jesus had been resurrected and that he was the Messiah (Christ). The early Christian community comprised poor Jews and Greeks and was led by Peter, who seemed to have espoused a doctrine of freedom from Jewish law, which quickly led to violent reactions by observant Jews. Paul of Tarsus, a devoted Pharisee, at first persecuted Christians but was later converted. Against the opposition of some Christian leaders, Paul went on missions (48–51 and 52–55) to convert non-Jews, founding Christian communities in Asia Minor and Greece. Paul's brand of Christianity taught freedom from Jewish law for gentiles and salvation with baptism. In Jerusalem, persecution of Christians ended when leadership passed from Peter to James, the brother of Jesus, who was a strict observer of the Jewish law and on good terms with the Pharisees. But James was executed by the Saducees in 62; after the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70, a reconstituted Pharisee leadership excluded Christians from their worship. The center of Christianity then passed from Jewish Jerusalem to gentile Christian communities around the Empire.  1
 
 
 
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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