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Coexistence and Conflict:
The Rise of Religious Empires
Christianity
OVERVIEW
The rise of Christianity marks an important break with the dominant
values of the Greek and Roman worlds. The Christian views on God,
human beings, and the world were quite different from those of the
Greeks and Romans.
Roman religion did not provide a moral base or a message of hope.
The Romans had an elaborate religious system with many groups and
types of deities. Religion was based on ritual, magic and superstition.
For those dissatisfied with traditional religious experience, there
were various philosophical schools of thought that offered moral
foundations for human behavior, but no hope. For those who wanted a
more personal relationship with the divine, there were mystery cults
that focused on a particular god or goddess.
However, in the first half of the first century CE, events unfolded in
the Roman province of Judea that would have a massive impact, not
only on the Roman Empire, but on Europe as a whole.
Roman Religion
Official Religion
Worship of
multiple chief
gods
Ritual
Unofficial Religion
Tolerant of local
gods/goddesses in
provinces
Cults and
spirits
What did this look like in practice?
• Success of the empire
• Strengthen authority of the emperor  cult
of the emperor
• “unite” the people
“We have overcome all the nations of
the world, because we have realized
that the world is directed and
governed by the gods.”- Cicero
The emperor Marcus Aurelius & family, offers
sacrifice outside the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus
after his victories in Germany.
Expansion of the Roman Empire until the death
of Augustus Caesar in 8 CE
Judea: Roman Province
Judea lost its independence in the 1st century BCE when, in 6 CE, it came under
direct Roman rule and Herod’s family became the procurators of the province.
Even though the people of Judea (“lands of the old Jewish Kingdom of Judah”)
were predominately Jewish, there was no Jewish state or even a monolithic
religious or cultural entity at this time.
Tensions
• What tensions might have existed between the Romans and the Jews?
• How might people have responded to those tensions?
Sadducees
Socio-political party
Zealots
Political group
Pharisees
scholarly group that
interpreted Torah
Essenes
separate religious
community
How to deal with the Romans?
How to honor traditions/practice
faith?
cooperation with Romans
-Wealthy class
- Pious, but didn’t believe in authority
of ancient laws
-Didn’t believe in resurrection of dead
or afterlife
extremists who advocated the violent
overthrow of Roman rule
-rejected Jewish leaders and support of
Rome
-lower classes
-believed in interpretations of the Torah
& observance of the laws
-believed in the resurrection of dead &
afterlife
awaited a Messiah who would:
-save Israel from oppression
-usher in the kingdom of God
-establish a true paradise on earth
-believed they alone possessed the
truth
-focused on purity and ritual
“silent majority”  not political, not revolutionary, not scholarly, just followers of customs
Who was Jesus of Nazareth?
• Where was he from?
• What was life like in that area?
• What role did the Temple play in the Jewish
community at that time?
Adoration of the Shepherds,
illustration by Guido Reni, 17th century
What was Jesus’ Message?
Christianity began as a reform
movement within Judaism that evolved
into a separate religion based on the
teachings of Jesus.
“So in everything, do to
others as you would
have them do to you,
for this sums up the law
and the Prophets.”
[Matthew 7:12]
Humility
Charity
Love
Sermon on the Mount,
illustration by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 19th c
“Do not think that I
have come to
abolish the law or
the prophets; I have
not come to abolish
them but to fulfill
them.”
[Matthew 5:17]
“Love the Lord your God with all
your heart and with all your soul
and with all your mind and with
all your strength. This is the first
commandment. The second is
this: Love your neighbor as
yourself.”
[Mark 12: 30-31]
Reactions to Jesus
Radicals
Conservative
Religious
Leaders
Romans
-disappointed
that he didn’t
proclaim he
would save
Israel from
oppression and
establish God’s
kingdom on
earth
-believe he was
undermining
respect for
tradition in
Jewish religion
-believed he
was a
potential
revolutionary
who might
lead Jewish
people into
another revolt
against Rome
Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth,
by Marco Palmezzano, ca. 1490
0
100
200
300
378
313
250
70
30
4
The Spread
of Jesus’
Message
and the
Rise of
Christianity
400
Beliefs of Early Christians
-not a universal, unified, coherent religious movement
-churches were diverse and move in very different cultural and language contexts
-adopted a lot of concepts from other pagan religions as developed
-believed that remarkable development showed “the hand of God working in history”
Why did Christianity attract so many followers?
Promise of
salvation is made
possible by
Jesus’ death and
resurrection
“blessed are
the meek, for
they shall
inherit the
earth”
[Matthew 5:5]
suffering
will be
lifted
Personal
relationship w/
human figure
-easy to relate to
-offered
immortality
No painful or expensive
initiation
-baptism
-“purification by water”
-starts personal
relationship w/ Jesus
“blessed are
those who
hunger and thirst
for
righteousness,
for they will be
filled”
[Matthew 5:12]
injustice
will be
rectified
The Exhortation to the Apostles by James Tissot
Why did Christianity attract so many followers?
Fulfilled human
need to belong and
to form
compassionate
communities
-Assistance to poor, sick,
widowed, orphaned
-Eventually, Christians will
provide “social welfare” to
communities within the
Roman Empire
Attractive to all social
classes
-rich, poor, aristocrats,
slaves, men, women
Reform without
revolution
-spiritual equality for
all without violence
“And [you] have put
on the new self… Here
there is no Greek nor
Jew… barbarians,
Scythian, slave or free,
but Christ is all, and is
in all.”
[Colossian 3:10-11]
Christ = “anointed” in Greek, which is a literal translation of the
Hebrew word “messiah,” which means “anointed one”
What impact did the explosive growth have on the
development of Christianity?
• Explosive growth meant that not everyone, everywhere
was doing the same thing, reading the same scriptures,
telling the same stories, signing the same hymns.
• Focus of doctrine can be on different things
Christ’s
crucifixion
Christ’s message
and wisdom
Jewish
religious
traditions
(Matthew)
Converting
non-Jewish
people
(Paul)
The Emperor’s Conversion – Constantine I
Became patron of one particular branch of Christianity
WHY?
•
Moves east after he solidifies control over both
west and east
many more Christians concentrated in cities in east
• Compared himself to David
• he saw himself as a righteous king
• consolidates his power through religion
SO?
•
Combination of church/state
•
Edict of Milan
IMPACT ON CHRISTIANITY
•
•
•
•
Brings church and imperial state together
Patronizes one church over all others, persecutes
other sects
Provides power, money and authority to unify
beliefs
Opens door for Theodosius to make Christianity
official religion of Roman Empire in 380
Emperor Constantine I, presenting a
model of the city to Virgin Mary.
Detail of the southwestern entrance mosaic in Hagia
Sophia (Istanbul, Turkey).
The Spread of Christianity, 300-600