The Imperial Context

Scope: Christianity came to birth in the Mediterranean world of the first century c.e., whose several layers of culture—including ancient patterns deeply resistant to fundamental change—all affected the development of this new religion. Politically, the world was ruled by Rome, which had recently made the transition from a republic to an empire. Culturally, the world was dominated by the ideals of Greek civilization, which had been spread as far as India by Alexander the Great. Alexander sought a pan-Hellenic world through the dissemination of Greek language, culture, and religion. But the realities of empire transformed those ideals, demanding new responses from philosophy and religion. Among the attractive options available for spiritual seekers was the ancient Hebrew national religion (Judaism), which had spread across the Greco-Roman world and was the immediate context out of which Christianity emerged.

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