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Religion Library: Christianity

Beginnings

Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka

Jesus of NazarethChristianity originated in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, who was born circa 4 B.C.E. in Roman-occupied Palestine, a Jewish province of the Roman Empire.

The first century of the Common Era was a time of political instability, insurgency, and suffering. Poverty, taxation, famine, and epidemics of disease had made life intolerable for many. In the year of Jesus' birth, the Roman authorities had punished an armed uprising by crucifying approximately 2,000 people.

The book of Isaiah in the BibleMany Jews of the time thought they were living in the "end times," a time of trial and tribulation that would end with God's intervention. They looked for God to destroy the enemies of the Jews and institute a kingdom of justice and righteousness, which would be the Kingdom of God. Most Jews hoped that God would expel the Romans, and that his envoy, the Messiah, would appear to rule the new world. They believed the Messiah would be a king or a military leader from the line of King David, and that his coming was foretold in scripture, e.g., Isaiah 9:1-7.

Isaiah 9:5
For a child is born to us,
A son is given to us;
Dominion will rest on his shoulders,
And he will be given the name
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace.

Most of what we know about Jesus' life and teaching comes from the four Gospels of the New Testament. The New Testament's Book of Acts gives an account of the founding of a new community by Jesus' disciples, along with a new convert named Paul.

Four New Testament Gospels
Matthew
Mark
Luke
John

According to the Gospels, Jesus launched a public ministry sometime in his late twenties. He was one of many Jewish preachers of the time who viewed themselves as reformers and prophets. John the Baptist, another preacher, baptized him. John the Baptist baptizes Jesus (mosaic detail from St. Demetrios Orthodox church, Seattle)He called twelve men to be his disciples, and together they traveled around Palestine, preaching and teaching about the coming Kingdom of God. The Gospels report that after about three years Jesus was arrested while in Jerusalem at Passover. Convicted as a threat to public and religious order, Jesus was whipped and nailed to a cross. This form of execution, called crucifixion, was a common practice of the Roman authorities.

 

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