Murals (2008) by PHANTAST - Graffiti - Cultural Music & Art Association inc. - 98 Milne St. Benleigh


THE ROMANS.  At the time of Jesus, the world was Roman. Rome dominates the New Testament. It was a decree of a Roman emperor that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. And it was the decision of a Roman governor that ordered His crucifixion. The Romans made three important contributions to the early history of Christianity:

- Law and order. The Romans had great practical ability in organisation. They had a massive structure of law and justice. The strength of this whole framework is shown by its durability. Apart from the 700 years of active Roman rule of most of the Mediterranean lands (and most remote outposts like Britain), the ideals and structures of many Roman institutions survive in modern social systems.

- Peace and stability. The peace the Romans brought was not exactly enjoyed by some of the more restless subject people - such as the  Jews themselves. But it was a fact that in a vast area around the  Mediterranean there was a high degree of stability and security. This made it easy to travel from one part of the empire to another.

- Communications.  The Romans are rightly famous for their roads. They are a truly amazing achievement. They constructed a network of well-built, almost indestructible roads, as straight as possible, throughout the whole empire. All this was a great help to the early expansion of the church. Apostles and their letters could travel with speed  and safety from town to town with the good news of Jesus.

But the New Testament was not dazzled by the glory of Rome. There was the dark side of arrogant imperialism, greed, exploatation and immorality. And the church also experienced severe persecution from several Roman emperors. The Book of Revelation tells us that Rome, like all arrogant human empires will one day be judged and destroyed.

THE GREEKS.  The Romans spoke Latin, but the New Testament was written in Greek. Although the world was ruled by Rome, it thought and spoke in Greek. The Greek contribution to Christianity also has three dimensions:

- Their language. Greek was the common language of the civilized world - the language of commerce and literature. It was a language with great richness and with a wide and flexible vocabulary. Paul preached and wrote in Greek, and could stand up for himself in debate with the intellectuals in Athens itself. Yet at the same time, he could use it to bring the simple power of the message of Jesus to the prostitutes of Corinth.

- Their contact with  Judaism. Ever since the scattering of Jews out of  Palestine by the  Assyrians and the Babylonians, many Jewish communities had sprung up around the Mediterranean. Most of these Jewish communities were Greek-speaking and had come under the influence of Greek culture. The old strictness of Judaism was loosened. It was in these communities that  Christianity first found it possible to take root.

- Their failure. The great philosophers and thinkers of Greece had been brilliant, but they failed to achieve their own highest goals. They longed to find a satisfactory way to understand the universe we live in and to answer the problems of human living. They never did this. The world was ripe for the  message of positive hope that Christianity brought.

THE JEWS. The world had a Greek culture and Roman rule, but Jesus was born as a  Jew in Palestine. There were a few important groups in Jewish society  whose influence we find in the New Testament:

- The Pharisees. Their name means 'separate ones'. They believed in preserving the Jewish faith and its customs from the inroads of foreign paganism- especially Greek ways. They believed intensely that the Law of Moses must be kept. In order to make sure people did this, they added a lot of other regulations and followed a very strict way of life. Only Jesus dared to challange their authority. He exposed the hypocrisy of some of their attitudes and practices.

- The Sadducees. Much  fewer in number than the Pharisees, they were wealthy aristocrates who controlled the religious establishment. They held on to political power by collaborating with Rome- which made them unpopular. They opposed Jesus and his followers as a politcal embarrassment to their friendship with the Roman  powers.

- The Zealots. Some people took their discontent with Roman domination to the point of active violence and resistance. The Zealots hoped for a Messiah who would conquer the Romans. They went in for guerilla and terrorist tactics against the army of occupation.

But as well as all these groups, there were the common people. They heard Jesus gladely, and flocked to him to hear his teaching and to be healed. Some of them were to follow Him closely. It was mainly among the ordinary people that Jesus found his closest friends, and from among them that he chose his disciples.

Living with Rome was like living with a tiger. Christians knew that its strength could easily be turned against them. And it was only too easy to become part of ith immorality and paganism. (Chris Wright, User's Guide to the Bible, 1966)

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