Unit03: New Ideas of Organizing Society & Government


Timeline: c. 1st C. BCE to 1st C. CE
FS: Christianity: Born of Religious Uncertainty & Political Turmoil.

Main Idea: Belief systems don’t simply appear. Its seed comes from pre-existing belief systems and it's nurtured by the
circumstances that surround it. The new belief system ‘grows’ and develops into a faith that reflects the conditions under
which it was born. Those conditions, dominated by Roman imperial rule, had become dire for dissidents, or anyone else
considered a threat. The severe punishment meted out to the captured remnants of Spartacus' slave army in the 1st C.
BCE was a taste of what awaited any defiant foe of Rome. As disheartening as this was to Jews in the Roman province of
Palestine (Judea), the fear never fully subdued Jewish defiance. Among these Jews we must include a community that
adhered to the teachings of Rabbis like Hillel, and later, Jesus. Those who followed Jesus would become the forefathers
of early ‘Christians'.
During the mid- 1990s, Pope John Paul II publicly declared the special position Judaism holds for the Christian faith. It
was a long sought recognition by the ‘parent’ faith of Christianity and Islam. The papal declaration was a death knell for
centuries of religiously sanctioned bigotry that often produced deadly confrontations between the faithful of the three great
monotheistic religions.
I. Context
A. 1st C. BCE – 1st C. CE, Judea (Palestine)

B. Jewish Rule Unsettled
1. Presence of a foreign military power (Rome)

2. Corruption

3. King Herod’s Edict
C. Roman Rule Spreads: The military might of Rome has extended beyond the Italian peninsula. The
Mediterranean Sea becomes a ‘Roman lake’ as Roman legions conquer the Mediterranean basin, which includes
Judea. Rome’s political involvement during this period developed from one of local self-rule to outright annexation
and governance as a province of the empire.
II. Theological Debate
A. Religious Conviction is Shaken: The political conditions surely agitated ‘the winds of change’ among the
religious leaders. A state ruled by a Jewish leader whose popular support was increasingly shrinking combined
with events that made the lives of all Jews difficult at best. This lent itself to greater religious inquiry. The
destruction of Judaism’s holiest shrine surely was a sign that the outwardly political was increasingly acquiring a
religious appearance. As we’ve seen in our studies of myths, it has been a part of human nature to turn to the
divine for answers to questions. Can the God of Noah, Abraham, & Moses explain why all of this is happening?

B. Differing Views on the Jewish Faith: As you might expect, crisis generates ideas about the origins of the crisis
and how to address it. These ideas don’t always reflect a singular view, but rather differing views from segments
of the population. By this point in time (and place), Rabbinical Judaism had developed and distinguished
members of this scholarly group represented two dominant views among Jews of Judea. Two of these Rabbis
were Hillel and Shamai.1
III. Political Confrontations & Upheaval
A. Judea: King Herod is in the most unfortunate position of ruling over a people and territory under the watchful
eye of an intrusive foreign force (Rome). He knows that Rome wants the area to be quiet and submissive.
However, he might have been of the opinion that Rome would use any unsettling news (riots, uprisings,
rebellions) to justify seizing full authority over the people of Judea. Herod must make decisions knowing that if he
appeases Rome, he may have to anger his own people (Herod was a Jewish monarch). On the other hand, if he
attends to the concerns of his people without regard to Rome’s wishes, he could lose his throne. In matters of
religion, Herod encounters opposition from religious leaders who outwardly challenge his morality and suitability
to rule.

B. Rome: The government is feeling the ‘pains’ of the conversion from a republic to an empire. Ostensibly, the
changes are evident beginning with Julius Caesar (mid 1st C. BCE), but the metamorphosis continues with
succeeding rulers until finally acquiring the imperial form in 69 CE.2One can possibly accept as appropriate the

Unit03: New Ideas of Organizing Society & Government
description of Rome’s conversion from a republic to a empire as a ‘convulsion’. It did not happen over night, but in
1. An Expanding Empire
a. Mediterranean Basin: By the 1st C. CE, Rome has encircled the Mediterranean thus making
that sea a ‘Roman Lake’. Judea is on that basin and its conquest and eventual annexation as an
imperial province was a forgone conclusion. It was not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ Rome would add
Judea as another conquest. The Mediterranean’s commercial potential is now fully exploited by a
Rome with ports encircling the body of water. The speed with which military forces could now be
deployed vastly improved versus overland marches.

b. Slaves & Proletarii: For centuries, the slave population of Rome and the territories it governed
increased along with the borders of the state. Slave labor on the large land estates3 became
increasingly indispensable as the supply of slaves increased, reflecting continual military
successes.4 The slaves became a numerical threat in Rome and many other cities within the
Italian peninsula as early as the 3rd C. BCE.5The slave labor displaced thousands of free
laborers who were now forced to move to the large cities in search of work or some other source
of income. The developing working class, Proletarii, suffered from periods of unemployment and
were consequently a source of concern for the government. If not serving in the military, there
was little the proletarii could turn to other than participating in the games (ie. Gladiator) or
surviving on the public Dole6 and breaking the law.
2. Roman Political Turmoil
a. Julius Caesar: He never accepted the title of king.7 However, he did accept the title of Dictator.8
The break with tradition here is that he intended on holding dictatorial power permanently. The
‘feel’ of republicanism was still evident.

b. Augustus: Like Caesar, he refused any title alluding to Rome’s monarchial past. He, instead,
accepted the title of Princep.9 He accepts the Tribunican Power10 and effectively neutralizes any
legislative efforts of the Senate. Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero follow Augustus and all
accept the Princep title (hence, the term Principate to indicate the form of government).

c. Nero: Marks the final convulsive leap into an imperial form of government. A major event here
is the fire that destroyed most of the city. Accused by some as igniting the fire himself, Nero loses
the political support of the wealthy families and the support of the military. In the span of ~12
months (68 CE – 69 CE) Nero commits suicide and is succeeded by three other contenders in
sequence (Galba, Otho, Vitellius). It isn’t until Vespasian (70 CE) ascends from the ranks of
Roman legionary generals that stability is restored. But, the line of Julio-Claudian rulers ends and
Rome greets the world as an empire in the hands of the Flavian dynasty. Rome’s rulers are now
emperors in name and power.
3. Imperial Crack-down & Rebellion
a. Judean Rebellion: The Jews of Judea revolt against Roman rule. The participants in the
rebellion no doubt wanted to take advantage of Rome’s political problems. The rebellion is
chronicled by a Jewish historian- Flavius Josephus. The rebellion is suppressed with the fall of

b. Persecution of ‘Christians’: By the time of Nero, the followers of Jesus were beginning to be
called ‘Christians’. The teachings of Jesus spread quickly and had many followers in Rome. First
Nero, then the emperors that followed, targeted this group for persecution. In Nero’s case, he
officially accused them of starting the fire that nearly burnt the entire city. The important position
that martyrs12 hold in the Christian faith has its origin at this time.
IV. Teachings
A. The main sources for information about Jesus and his life (including his teachings) are found in the four
Gospels.13 The authors of the Gospels were not all disciples14 of Jesus.
1. Gospel Authors (attributed to)
a. Matthew

b. John

c. Mark

d. Luke
2. The Bible: The Christian Bible contains the ‘Old Testament’ (Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament.
None of the writings in the New Testament is attributed to Jesus.15 This testament contains the Gospels
and other books, like the Apocrypha.16

Unit03: New Ideas of Organizing Society & Government
B. Jesus Born in Bethlehem (City of David),17 ~4 BCE.18 Raised in Nazareth and preached in Galilee.

C. Virgin Mother Mary, gives birth to Jesus. She and the child are without ‘Original Sin’ (‘Immaculate Conception’).

D. The Torah remains ‘The Law’

The Torah was part of an oral and literary tradition. Which of these two traditions is more susceptible to corruption?
If someone wanted to guide people back to the ways of God, upon which of these two would he depend?

E. Nonviolence

F. Parent – Child relationship between humans and the Divine => “Who shall be first in the kingdom of Heaven?” 

G. ‘Golden Rule’ => ‘Turn the other cheek’ 

H. Hope & Compassion=> Sermon on the Mount (Beatitudes): By tradition, Jesus addressed the largest crowd of
his ministry when he delivered this sermon. An integral part of that sermon was a list of ethical conduct referred to
as ‘The Beatitudes’.

I. Messianic 

J. Free Will & Day of Judgment 

K. Original Sin

L. Jesus is the Seal of a New Covenant with God.

How many of items in the Beatitudes might be accepted in the Buddhist Eightfold Way?
Can you offer an explanation for the global popularity of these philosophies/ religions based solely on these two documents?
Why would Rome be threatened by these tenets?

V. Pivotal ‘Players’19
A. John ‘The Baptist’: Childhood friend of Jesus. Preached a warning to Jews that the Messiah is coming (“Behold!
The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the  world”). He immersed people in water to ‘cleanse’ their souls
B. Peter (Simon-Peter): The ‘Rock’ upon which, Jesus said, He will build His Church on Earth. One of the original
disciples that centuries later is accepted by the Roman Catholic Church as the 1st Bishop of Rome.20
C. Paul (Saul of Tarsus): Initially, one of the most energetic persecutors of the followers of Jesus. The conversion to
a follower of Jesus occurred while on a trip to Damascus. His vision of Jesus was of such a nature that Paul is
eventually accepted as an apostle by the early Christian church (still today), though he never was a disciple of
Jesus. Through his Epistles,21 much of the current elemental components of Christianity is derived. Many of these
epistles have been incorporated into the New Testament and provide an important view of life at the time.
VI. Challenges to the Faith
A. Fragmentation
B. A history of conflict with other faiths.
C. The role of women and homosexuals.
VII. Summary Activity
Teacher Note: Here, as in any academic attempt to study beliefs and practices of peoples, the sources include scholarly work as well as philosophical/
religious texts. Presentation of any philosophical/ religious text is to facilitate study, acquire appreciation, and enliven discussion of the traditions that
produced them. In no form, content or intent, are the materials presented to ‘teach’ and/ or ‘proselytize’ any belief system. No particular denomination, if
applicable, is chosen over another. The basic tenets of the philosophy or faith as presented here are meant to transcend any deviations that currently
separate the denominations.
Materials/Sources: Refer to the course calendar for additional assignments and pertinent due dates.


The Tanach and Jerusalem Bible
Gospel According to Matthew: KJV, New Testament/ Olive Tree Electronic Bible, BibleReader(tm) version 2.10u, December 15, 2001,
Olive Tree Bible Software, Copyright (c) 1996 - 2001. (tm)/
The Human Record
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 26 Nov. 02
PBS Video: Peter & Paul
PBS Series: From Jesus to Christ (26 Nov.07)


Unit03: New Ideas of Organizing Society & Government



has it that a man came to Jerusalem to ask the great minds of Judaism to encapsulate the meaning of the Torah while he stands on one foot.
The man promises to convert to Judaism if this request could be met. He approaches Shamai first and makes his request. Rabbi Shamai responds that
the Torah is a long and complex text that could not be rendered so simply. The rabbi dismisses the man. Next, the man makes the same request of
Rabbi Hillel. This time, the rabbi accepts the tasks and proceeds to declare: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”. These legendary
words have since been enshrined as ‘The Golden Rule’.

Dynasty beginning with Emperor Vespasian.


Latin=> A Roman Plantation


in ancient Rome was not racially based in contrast with that practiced by Europeans beginning in the late 15th C. and transplanted in the

A former slave and gladiator, Spartacus, leads a massive slave rebellion that nearly brings Rome to its knees. As a long standing reminder of the
foolishness of any slave rebellion, the Roman Consul, Crassus, orders the crucifixion of the slave rebels along the Appian Way.

Dole: The practice in ancient Rome of distributing foodstuffs to the impoverished and destitute. The proletarii increasingly depended on this as
their economic options dwindled.

For ~ 500 years after the founding of the city, Rome was ruled by Kings.


Traditionally, under ancient Roman law, one of the two consuls could become ‘Dictator’ for a period of six months to address a crisis that threatens the
republic. That title could only be bestowed by the Senate and citizens of Rome. Therefore, the title of dictator was not unfamiliar or a ‘break’ from Roman

Latin=> First Citizen


Offered to Augustus by the Tribunate (A political body resulting from reforms enacted during the late republican period. It was an attempt by nonPatricians to counter-balance the Patrician dominated Senate).

Mountain fortress originally built by King Herod and laid siege by Roman legions in the 1st C. CE.


one who dies for adhering to a belief, faith, or profession; (vt) to put to death for adhering to a belief, faith, or profession.


Greek for Good News.


Follower of Jesus during his lifetime. Differs from Apostle: One sent on a mission as a member of an authoritative New Testament group to
preach the gospel and made up especially of Jesus’ original 12 disciples and Paul. Therefore, the disciples turn into the apostles when Jesus commands
them to spread the ‘Good News’ (Gospel).

absence of writings by Jesus is in keeping with the legacy of many great ‘teachers’. Socrates, Confucius, Muhammad, The Buddha, etc. never left
a body of written work for posterity. That task was left to the ‘students’, companions, disciples, apostles, etc. Socrates => Plato, Confucius => Mencius,
Jesus => See IIIA1 above, Muhammad => Companions, and so on.

Greek for ‘Hidden’. ‘Books’ not part of the Biblical Canon that would create the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament. They were, in essence, left
out when the decision to finalize the form of the Hebrew Bible was made. Some Christian Bibles include them in the New Testament, others don’t, while
yet others select certain books.

to prophesy, the Messiah is to come from the family of King David and would come from Bethlehem.


work of Biblical scholars now presents compelling arguments supporting a change of Jesus' birth to ~ 4 BCE rather than 1 CE. The argument
presents evidence that takes into account calendrical errors/ changes over the last 2000 years. Accounts of events, whose dates can be verified via
documents, have also proved useful in this study.

The Catholic Church, and other Christian institutions, is not included here for the sake of brevity and scope. Their omission here does not imply any
notion concerning their contributions to the canons of their respective Christian faiths. In particular, the Catholic and Eastern (Orthodox) Churches will be
the topic of focus in future lessons whose scope and aim is better suited for the voluminous content.



Letters, messages, etc.

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