Cultures that Practiced It
Originally a splinter group of Jews practiced the religion, but it quickly expanded into the non-Jewish community and throughout the Roman Empire.
Nuts and Bolts
Christianity came into existence with Jesus of Nazareth, a charismatic Jewish teacher who claimed to be the Son of God, the Messiah, for whom Jews had long awaited. Many people were attracted to his teachings of devotion to God and love for human beings. The Roman and Jewish leaders were not among them, so in approximately 30 C.E., Jesus was crucified. His followers believed that he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and Christianity was born.
Christianity is based on both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that forgiveness of sins, and ultimately everlasting life, is achievable only through belief in the divinity, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Christian view is that the world was made by a personal and sovereign God (like Judaism), but that the world has fallen from harmony with God’s will. As the Son of God, Christ was the link between God and human beings. Human beings are expected to seek to know God, to worship him, and to practice love and service to him and to other human beings. Many early Christians also believed that it was their duty to share this message with the unconverted (as do many Christian sects today).
In the early days, Christianity was spread by the disciples of Jesus and by Paul of Tarsus. Paul originally was an extreme anti-Christian who was converted by a vision of Christ and became a principal figure in propagating the new religion. With its emphasis on compassion, grace through faith, and the promise of eternal life regardless of personal circumstances, Christianity appealed widely to the lower classes and women. By the third century C.E., Christianity had become the most influential religion in the Mediterranean basin. Following a period of persecution, it became legal within, and then the official religion of, the Roman Empire; it continued to branch northward and westward into regions beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire. In coming centuries, this marriage of Christianity and empire would profoundly affect developments in a large segment of the world. More on that in future chapters.
Map of World Religions circa 600 C.E.
By 600 C.E., interaction through trade, warfare, and migration had spread Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism far beyond their areas of origin. Christianity became the dominant force in what was left of the Roman Empire, while the Silk Road and Indian Ocean trade routes brought Buddhism and Hinduism into east and Southeast Asia.