Interpreting the Past

Ancient Rome Unit: Key Developments in the Beginning of Christianity

Assignments to hand in: Key Events in the Development of Christianty Handout [Printable Version]

Essential Questions, shared learning target & introduction:

Essential Question 2: Why do people live the way they do?

What will I be able to do?: You will be able to describe through notes the major historical events of the beginnings of Christianity.
What idea, topic, or subject is important for you to learn and understand so that I can do this?: You will learn about the ancient history of the beginning of Christianity, from birth of Jesus Christ to the persecution of Christians under the Roman empire.
What I will do to show that you know this?: You will show what you know by recording detailed notes about the major events and matching passages from the New Testament in the beginning of Christianity on the handout: Key Developments in the Beginning of Christianity Graphic Organizer.

Understanding Checks

Map of Roman Empire First Century - Province of Judea
Christianity, the religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, had its beginnings in Judea - a Jewish - ruled kingdom that became a province of the Roman Empire in 63 B.C.E. To govern the small, distant region, Roman leaders put pro-Roman Jewish rulers in charge of states in which large numbers of Jews lived. However, after numerous groups of Jews revolted against Roman control, Rome appointed a pro-Roman Jewish convert named Herod to be King of Judea in 37 B.C.E. While Herod's leadership solidified Roman rule in the region, his harsh ways increased Jewish resistance against the empire.

Map of JudeaWhen Herod died in 4 B.C.E., the kingdom of Judea was divided among his three sons. The sons wee unable to control anti-Roman Jewish dissent, so Rome stationed soldiers in Judea and replaced Herod's sons with a  Roman ruler, called the prefect. The prefect in Judea usually concerned himself with the regions' politics and economics - making sure tribute was paid to Rome - but left local government in the hands of Jewish leaders. For example, Jerusalem, the Jewish holy city, was ruled by the Jewish high priest. One prefect who became unusually involved in Jerusalem's religious affairs was Pontius Pilate (pronounced PON-chuss PY-lit). Pilate, who was the prefect of Judea from 26 to 37 C.E., oversaw the trial and execution of Jesus.

While historical records provide plenty of information about Roman rule and life throughout the empire, developing an accurate historical picture of Jesus of Nazareth has been difficult, because there are few historical records about his life. However, from the works of non-Christian writers who referred to Jesus, and the many Christian works written about him, it is generally accepted that Jesus did live. The greatest source of information about Jesus' life is in the New Testament of the Christian Bible, particularly the Gospels. The Gospels, by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were compiled from oral and written sources about Jesus' life between 30 and 70 years after his death. The Gospel writers were all followers of Jesus, and thus their works are recognized to be sources that were intended to be for the believing community. They are not considered to be historical biographical documents, but rather accounts of Jesus' life and teachings.

Video Clip: Introduction to Christianity (Discovery Education)

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Note-Taking and Connections to the Text of the New Testament  

Directions: Carefully examine the artwork and read about each Biblical Event to record the key points (at least 3). Then read the Biblical passages to determine which passage matches each Event. Cut and paste the correct one in the corresponding block below. Finally, watch the video clips and provide your own analysis about how historians interpret these biblical events.

Handout: Key Events in the Development of Christianty Handout [Printable Version]

Handout: New Testament Passages Handout (Printable Version)

The Birth of JesusEvent A: The Birth of Jesus Christ

The Teachings of JesusEvent B: The Teachings of Jesus 

The Crucifixion and ResurrectionEvent C: The Crucifixion and Resurrection

The Missionary Work of PaulEvent D: The Missionary Work of Paul

The Persecution of ChristiansEvent E: The Persecution of Christians

The Donation of ConstantineThis is a thirteenth-century paiting of a legendary event known as the Donation of Constantine, which gave more power to the Church as an institution. According to legend, the emperor Constantine bestowed the primacy of the Church and the rule over the west on Pope Sylvester in the early fourth century C.E.

Despite waves of brutal persecution, Christianity continued to spread throughout the Roman Empire. According to recent estimates, there were at least five million Christian followers by the year 300 C.E. In its earliest years, Christianity was adopted by members of the lower economic classes. They were attracted to a religion that provided a community for them and the promise of salvation in the afterlife. With time, people from all classes, from all over the empire, converted to Christianity. many were tired of continual warfare and sought the peace and security Christianity promised.

After centuries of persecution and rejection, Christians began to gain some acceptance. Under the emperor Constantine I (280 - 337 C.E.), the conflict between Roman authorities and the Christian church finally began to diminish. After a powerful religious experience, Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 C.E. According to a legendary event known as the Donation of Constantine, the emperor bestowed the primacy of the church and the rule over the west on Pope Sylvester in the early fourth century C.E. In 313 C.E., he issued the Edict of Milan, restoring freedom to Christians to practice their religion openly, and making Christianity equal to all other religions in the Roman Empire. Eventually, in 395 C.E., Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman Empire.

Video Clip: Christianity in the Roman Empire

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#1 - The History Behind Christmas (Christians celebrating the birth of Christ)