Christianity began about 2,000 years ago in a period when the Roman Empire had brought together hundreds of cultures and their many religions into social and economic proximity. Millions of Jews had become scattered throughout the Empire and lived in large numbers in all the major cities. The Jewish homeland was occupied by the Roman army. At various times leaders arose in Palestine and abroad who, for a time, were thought by many Jews to be the anticipated Messiah.

The founding figure of Christianity, now known as Jesus Christ, was born in Palestine at the end of the reign of Herod the Great, probably in 4 BCE, and was executed some time between 29 and 33 CE. “Jesus” is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Yeshua/Joshua. “Christ” means “the anointed one.”

From the crucifixion until after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 CE, what would become the Christian religion was still a Jewish sect. Early Christians attended synagogue and worshipped at the Temple. Even after the break between Judaism and Christianity, the world-wide network of Jewish communities facilitated the rapid spread of the new religion.

Because so many Jews had been living for so long in the Greek-speaking cities of the Empire, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible was in wide use outside Palestine. Called the Septuagint, this version of the Bible was the one used by Paul and other early Christian leaders. In the terminology of the breakaway religion, the Hebrew Bible came to be known as the Old Testament; the accumulation of letters and other documents relating to Christianity came to be known as the New Testament.

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