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The Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire

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    At the peak of the Roman Empire, it was the most successful society to date. Part of the reason that the Roman Empire was so prosperous was that they were extremely tolerant. As long as you obeyed the law code, paid your taxes and were loyal to the state they did not care. Along those same lines the Romans were very tolerant of other religions, so long as you worshiped their gods as well as your own. In some cases they even adopted some of the local gods (The Essential World History, p. 120). They even made exceptions for the Jews who claimed they could not worship the roman Gods since it conflicted with their religious beliefs. However, there was a new religion forming within a sect of the Jews: Christianity.

    There were two separate ideas in the Jewish community. There were a group of zealots who believed they were called to topple the Roman Empire. On the converse, were the Essenes, a group who were awaiting the coming of a savior who would free them from oppression, and bring about the kingdom of God. This is where Jesus of Nazareth comes into play. Jesus was a Jew born in Galilee, who preached something that was missing from the current religious scene: a deeper emotional connection to the gods, or in Christianity’s case, God. More than that, Jesus taught that what was important was first, to dedicate your very existence to God, and second to treat others the way you would expect to be treated. Do those things and you were promised salvation, life after death in the kingdom of heaven. This made Christianity very appealing, since in Roman religion only the gods made it to heaven.

    The Romans viewed Jesus of Nazareth as a sort of revolutionary, and Christianity as a threat to their society. They were worried that Jesus would convince the Jews who wanted a kingdom of God, that the only way to establish that would be to overthrow the Roman Empire (The Essential World History, p. 121). Procurator Pontius Pilate called for the crucifixion of Jesus in hopes of quelling the spread of Christianity. After the death of Christ, however, his followers spread word of his resurrection and his rise to heaven, and this became an important part of Christianity. Subsequently the crucifixion of Christ and persecution of Christians in general only helped to spread Christianity, by forcing them to become more organized.

    Jerusalem was the center for Christianity, until it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. forcing Christians to spread out, and by 100 C.E. there were Christian churches in most major eastern cities as well as some in the west (The Essential World History, p. 121). After being persecuted for hundreds of years, in 313 Roman Emperor Constantine who was a Christian himself issued the Edict of Milan which made it legal to be Christian. Around 60 years later, under the rule of Theodosius the Great, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

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