The Bronze Age is a historical period characterized by the use of bronze, proto-writing, and other early features of urban civilization. The Bronze Age is the second principal period of the three-age Stone-Bronze-Iron system, as proposed in modern times by Christian Jürgensen Thomsen, for classifying and studying ancient societies.
An ancient civilization is defined to be in the Bronze Age either by smelting its own copper and alloying with tin, arsenic, or other metals, or by trading for bronze from production areas elsewhere. Copper-tin ores are rare, as reflected in the fact that there were no tin bronzes in Western Asia before trading in bronze began in the third millennium BC. Worldwide, the Bronze Age generally followed the Neolithic period, with the Chalcolithic serving as a transition. Although the Iron Age generally followed the Bronze Age, in some areas (such as Sub-Saharan Africa), the Iron Age intruded directly on the Neolithic.
Bronze Age cultures differed in their development of the first writing. According to archaeological evidence, cultures in Mesopotamia (cuneiform) and Egypt (hieroglyphs) developed the earliest viable writing systems.
Ancient India is often called the Harappan Civilization because one of the ancient cities was called Harappa. Harappa was just one of 1500 cities in the Indus River Valley. Another well-known city is called Mohenjo-Daro. Historians estimate Ancient India to be the biggest of all four early civilizations. This civilization was not discovered until the 1920's CE, and much of this civilization remains a mystery. One reason the Indus Valley civilization is so mysterious is because historians have not been able to translate their complicated written language called Indus Script. There are thousands of artifacts with 400-600 different written symbols. Most of these symbols were pressed into soft clay with seals. A seal is similar to a stamp that makes an impression in the soft clay. Seals are sometimes in a cylinder shape so they can be rolled on the clay. Indus Script symbols have been discovered in Mesopotamia, which suggests they maintained a regular trade.
City planners started by digging water wells and water drainage systems with main roads and small roads laid out in a square grid. Finally homes were built along the roads, sometimes with multiple stories. It appears that most urban homes had water drain systems in the their home--a technology that wouldn't be matched in history for over 3000 years. However, most people didn't live in the urban areas. Most people lived in farming villages in rural areas.
Ancient India was different from the Egyptians and Mesopotamians in several ways. One way they are different is that there appear to be very few large structures in Ancient India. One of the largest structures that has been discovered is called the Great Bath. Basically its a public pool that is over 40 feet long, 20 feet wide, and nearly 10 feet deep. If large temples or palaces once existed they are gone today. This leads to a curious question--did Ancient India have kings or high ranked religious leaders? What did the social pyramid look like? The remains of the civilization suggests they were a very egalitarian society. Egalitarian means everyone in society was basically equal. Another difference is in military and weapons. There is very little evidence of weapons and military culture in the Indus Valley. Another difference is that astronomy seems to be less important in India than in other civilizations unless the text has been lost.
Around 1500 BCE, Indo-European people migrated to India. These people came from the area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Between 4000 and 1000 BCE, Indo-Europeans migrated all over Europe and Asia. Some went to Europe and influenced the Romans and the Greeks; some settled in Turkey and became the Hittites, others migrated southeast instead. Some stopped in Iran, later becoming Persian, while others continued southeast to Pakistan and India. The slow migration did not arrive in northern India until about 1500 BCE. In India, the Indo-Europeans are sometimes called the Aryans.
The Indo-Europeans brought their religious beliefs with them to India. The story and beliefs of Hinduism were recorded in a collection of stories and songs called the Vedas. There are many historians that believe the Hindu religion actually began in the Indus River Valley civilization. The Vedas were first written down in a language called Sanskrit. Sanskrit was a spoken language that was written down in different writing systems that developed later on such as Devanagari--the early form of Hindi (picture on right), India's main language today. Indo-Europeans also brought the domesticated horse into South Asia—this suggests the Indo-Europeans were at least semi-nomadic.
The Indo-Europeans first settled along the Indus River, in the same place where the Indus Valley people had lived. They settled down and mixed with the local Indian people. They lived there and eventually expanded throughout the Indo-Gangetic Plain. It was at this time that the caste system got started in India. It is believed that the Indo-Europeans had a similar division of their society, but historians don't agree about how the caste system originated. The caste system is the permanent division of people into certain levels within society. Each level or caste has particular jobs such as merchant, warrior, or priest.
Castes were very important to people's identities. There were four castes, but there was another group below the four castes known as Dalits or Untouchables. Untouchables usually did the worst jobs, like cleaning up people's poop from the gutters, collecting garbage, and dealing with dead bodies. The lowest of the castes was the Sudras - the servants and farmhands who did not own their own business or their own land, and who had to work for other people. The largest number of people belonged to this caste. Above them were the Vaisyas, or farmers and traders, who owned their own farms or businesses. Above these people were the Kshatriyas, or warriors. The most powerful caste was the Brahmins (pictured below), the priests and other leaders. Many historians believe that when the Indo-Europeans arrived they treated the native Indus Valley people as the Untouchables.
There were also dozens of smaller groups within each castes. People who came from different castes could not eat together. Usually people from one caste did not marry or make friends with people from another caste. Untouchables were not allowed in temples and were seen as "polluted" compared to Brahmins who were "pure". Today, the caste system is outlawed by the modern Indian constitution, and in urban areas most people ignore the caste traditions. However, in traditional rural areas caste divisions still exist. The developing Indian culture of the Indo-European mixed with native Indus Valley people began to grow quickly. Their civilization spread from the Indus River Valley to the Ganges River. Similar to other civilizations, kingdoms developed as the territory expanded.
For about 1000 years the Indo-Europeans and native Indians mixed and migrated throughout the the northern part of the region. Cities began to grow in number, and size and by 600 BCE these slowly developed into 16 different kingdoms called Maha Janapadas. It was during this time period that Siddhartha Gautama gave up his title as a prince to search for truth and an end to the suffering. On his rare trips out of the royal palace, Siddartha noticed most people suffering through life. He also grew tired to the priests who dominated society. He gave up his royal life and started a quest to find real truth. After years of searching, he achieved "enlightenment" and became known as the Buddha or "enlightened one". The Buddha traveled throughout South Asia and taught others his new ideas—these teachings became known as the religion of Buddhism.
Another religion called Jainism also developed during this time. Both of these new religions clearly developed from Hinduism in the same way Christianity and Islam clearly developed from Judaism. These new religions were a rebellion against cultural ideas such as the caste system and importance of priests in religion. Some of the first significant architecture in South Asia also came from these new religions. Since many of the building of the Indus Valley have been lost to erosion, Buddhist architecture has become India's most famous architecture. The first development is called a stupa. A stupa is a mound-like structure that contains the ashes and relics of a loved Buddhist leader. Later, the stupa transformed into a new Buddhist structure called a pagoda. A Pagoda usually has many levels or "tiers" of roofs. It is also a Buddhist temple. Today Buddhist pagodas can be found all over China, Japan and Southeast Asia.
In 520 BCE, the Persians invaded and took control of northern Indian subcontinent. This conquest was under the mighty Persian leader Darius the Great. Persia controlled this region for about 200 years until Alexander the Great invaded South Asia. Alexander and his army were far from home and completely exhausted from years of constant war as they rampaged toward the east. It was in India that Alexander's army finally refused to fight, and Alexander the Great was forced to return to Greece. The pattern of Persia conquest followed by Greek conquest occurred in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Iraq (Mesopotamia), and Ancient India. The only ancient civilization that didn't suffer from the Persian and Greek conquest is ancient China. This is mainly due the the barriers of geography. Ancient China is separated from these other areas of civilization by vast deserts and high mountains. These obstacles are very difficult to pass even in today's society. This is the main reason that China developed in a unique way. The Silk Road trade route between China and the the rest of the world, over a 1000 years later would finally link all four major civilization areas.
The Persians and Greeks entered South Asia through the Khyber Pass, as did the Indo-Europeans, during their migration into South Asia. The Persians greatly influenced the style of government in India and some Greeks remained in northwest Pakistan and influenced the culture to this day, although the religion of Hinduism has had the greatest influence in India. The impact of the Indus Valley is not completely understood, but surely time and archeology will tell.
During this time the world experienced a hike in populations. Innovations in agriculture, such as changes in irrigation, domestication of animal and plant species, and enrichment of soil helped to increase the amount of people an acre of land could feed. Long-distance trade also sparked population growth by providing a varied diet and products, which led to a higher quality of life.
Due to the surge in population, large empires, kingdoms, and city-states developed. These entities erected new economic systems, which were complex and far-reaching. Empires spring up in Mesoamerica, South America, and West Africa. The two largest empires were the Arab Muslim Empire and the Mongol Empire.
Trade led to a massive transfer of cultural and religious beliefs from one region to another. Monumental expansion of long distance trade took place along the Silk Road (a network of interlinking trade routes across the Afro-Eurasia region), Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Sea and Trans-Saharan.
As the long-distance trading routes expanded, commerce increased, and in turn, an increase in the growth of cities throughout Afro-Eurasia, the Americas, and Meso-America occurred. As products and resources were transported across borders, so to were ideas, beliefs and customs. Individualistic and local religions began to fall to the wayside as larger, more universal religions grew (Islam, Christianity, Buddhism).
First urban civilization in the historical region of southern Mesopotamia, modern-day southern Iraq, during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze ages, and arguably the first civilization in the world with Ancient Egypt and the Indus Valley. Living along the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, Sumerian farmers were able to grow an abundance of grain and other crops, the surplus of which enabled them to settle in one place.
Proto-writing in the prehistory dates back to c. 3000 BC. The earliest texts come from the cities of Uruk and Jemdet Nasr and date back to 3300 BC; early cuneiform writing emerged in 3000 BC.
Modern historians have suggested that Sumer was first permanently settled between c. 5500 and 4000 BC by a West Asian people who spoke the Sumerian language (pointing to the names of cities, rivers, basic occupations, etc., as evidence), an agglutinative language isolate
1100-612 BCE Assyria was the region in the Near East which, under the Neo-Assyrian Empire, reached from Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) through Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and down through Egypt. The empire began modestly at the city of Ashur (known as Subartu to the Sumerians), located in Mesopotamia north-east of Babylon, where merchants who traded in Anatolia became increasingly wealthy, and that affluence allowed for the growth and prosperity of the city.
Historians have divided the rise and fall of the Assyrian Empire into three periods: The Old Kingdom, The Middle Empire, and The Late Empire (also known as the Neo-Assyrian Empire), although it should be noted that Assyrian history continued on past that point, and there are still Assyrians living in the regions of Iran and Iraq, and elsewhere, in the present day. The Assyrian Empire is considered the greatest of the Mesopotamian empires due to its expanse and the development of the bureaucracy and military strategies which allowed it to grow and flourish.
Without the Nile, there would be no Egypt. Without the Nile, there would be only barren desert. From as early as 5000 B.C., small communities along the
Nile began to drain marshes, irrigate, and plant regular crops (mainly cereal grains). Slowly communities convened in Upper and Lower Egypt
It seems that a need to control irrigation led to political organization on a larger scale. Much about this period is shrouded in legend, but about 3100 B.C., Menes united Upper and Lower Egypt. This unification ushered in the historical period.
Historians divide Egypt's historical period into 30-some dynasties, or families, of rulers. The dynasties
are grouped into the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms, with intermediate periods in between.
The Old Kingdom (2695-2160 B.C.) was an era of great vitality, security, and prosperity. Egypt was isolated and untroubled by invaders.
A distinctive Egyptian kingship evolved. The word pharaoh comes from per aa, meaning the "Great
House." Pharaoh was one of the gods and guaranteed Egypt's prosperity and security. In turn, Egypt's prosperity and security legitimized the pharaoh. The Great Pyramids at Gizeh symbolize the Old Kingdom.
The Middle Kingdom (2025-1786 B.C.) was a period of more widely dispersed rule. Pharaohs shared power with local notables. This period was
important in the elaboration of Egyptian religion because the emphasis moved beyond the royal dynasty to nobles and even ordinary people.
Around 1700 B.C., the Hyksos, Semitic-speaking peoples from Palestine, conquered Egypt. Hatred for foreign rule eventually led a dynasty from Upper Egypt to drive out the Hyksos and inaugurate the New Kingdom (1550-1075 B.C.). Fired by ambition and a desire to ward off future
conquest, the Egyptians now built an empire that extended into Mesopotamia and along the shore of the eastern Mediterranean. This was a brilliant and cosmopolitan period.
After about 1400 B.C., the Egyptians confronted the Hittites, a powerful and expanding people from Anatolia and the first Indo-European speakers in recorded history. In 1274, at Qadesh in northern Syria, the Egyptians and Hittites fought a battle that left them both crippled and declining.
Everything starts with the pharaoh in a two-class society (the pharaoh and everybody else). Egypt first displayed an abstract sense of rule—the
separation of ruler and office and the complete removal of the ruler from the ordinary realm of humans.
Religion grew more complicated over time. The peace and prosperity of the Old Kingdom led to a happy, optimistic outlook. The concept of the
afterlife—as a continuation of this life, not something better!—was reserved mainly to the pharaoh, his family, and perhaps a few key advisers. The Middle Kingdom saw a profusion of temples and new cults. Herodotus called the Egyptian the "most religious of all people." This might have been a reemergence of predynastic religion or a response to unsettled conditions.
At this time, the afterlife seems to have been considered available to all.
The concept of Ma'at became crucial, that is, the idea of truth, justice, balance, and order. The myth of Osiris revealing the Middle Kingdom was popular. The New Kingdom saw the remarkable religious experiment of Akhenaton. He abandoned traditional worship to promote the cult of Aton (henotheism or monolatry), but this died with him.
Scientific and artisanal advances were striking. The use of papyrus facilitated writing and record-keeping. Hieroglyphic (= pictographic) writing gave way gradually to demotic, which was more
efficient than cuneiform. The desire to preserve bodies intact (mummification) for the afterlife led to advances in medical science, including surgery and knowledge of anatomy.
Greeks and Romans were impressed, even dazzled, by the Egyptians, as have
been most visitors to Egypt since antiquity. Seeing just what influence Egypt actually had, however, is not so easy. Political control lasted a short time.
Divinized kingship recurred but not necessarily because of the Egyptians.
No new literary forms were added. Monumental architecture as propaganda recurred, but this idea is not "Egyptian."
In the Post-Empire Period (1085-1030 BCE), Egypt came under the control of the Assyrians, the Persians, Alexander the Great and in 30 BC, the Roman Empire.
(508-322 BC) was the major urban center of the notable polis of the same name, located in Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Isagoras. This system remained remarkably stable, and with a few brief interruptions remained in place for 180 years, until 322 BC (aftermath of Lamian War). The peak of Athenian hegemony was achieved in the 440s to 430s BC, known as the Age of Pericles.
In the classical period, Athens was a center for the arts, learning and philosophy, home of Plato's Akademia and Aristotle's Lyceum, Athens was also the birthplace of Socrates, Pericles, Sophocles, and many other prominent philosophers, writers and politicians of the ancient world. It is widely referred to as the cradle of Western Civilization, and the birthplace of democracy, largely due to the impact of its cultural and political achievements during the 5th and 4th centuries BC on the rest of the then-known European continent.
Never has a people been so politically insignificant, yet culturally so critical in the history of Western civilization. It is the religion of the Hebrews that has left so deep an imprint.
Our knowledge of the beliefs of the Hebrews comes from a collection of writings that in some ways cover the period from about 2000 to 200 B.C., but that were mostly written down after 1000 B.C. These writings are properly called the Hebrew Bible, or the Hebrew Scriptures. To Christians, these materials are the Old Testament.
The Hebrew Bible consists of three major kinds of materials:
The Torah: The first five books, sometimes called the "Books of Moses." The name means "the teaching," and these books contain the prescriptions that governed the life of the Hebrews.
The Prophets: This group of books contains both historical books, such as Kings, Samuel, and Chronicles, that reveal God's unfolding relationship with His people, and the more obviously prophetic books of the "Greater Prophets," such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the "Lesser Prophets," such as Amos and Micah.
The Writings: This is a catchall designation for the poetic material, such as the Psalms and Canticles, and for the beautiful and moving advice literature, such as Proverbs and Wisdom.
Monotheism, belief in the existence of one god, or in the oneness of God. As such, it is distinguished from polytheism, the belief in the existence of many gods, and from atheism, the belief that there is no god. Monotheism characterizes the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and elements of the belief are discernible in numerous other religions.
This occasioned a profound tension between the idea that Yahweh was the only God and the God of the Hebrews, and the possibility of universalism. The idea is seen most vividly in the Book of Jonah.
In the early 1330s an outbreak of deadly bubonic plague occurred in China. The bubonic plague mainly affects rodents, but fleas can transmit the disease to people. Once people are infected, they infect others very rapidly. Plague causes fever and a painful swelling of the lymph glands called buboes, which is how it gets its name. The disease also causes spots on the skin that are red at first and then turn black.
Since China was one of the busiest of the world's trading nations, it was only a matter of time before the outbreak of plague in China spread to western Asia and Europe. In October of 1347, several Italian merchant ships returned from a trip to the Black Sea, one of the key links in trade with China. When the ships docked in Sicily, many of those on board were already dying of plague. Within days the disease spread to the city and the surrounding countryside.
By the following August, the plague had spread as far north as England, where people called it "The Black Death" because of the black spots it produced on the skin. A terrible killer was loose across Europe, and Medieval medicine had nothing to combat it.
In winter the disease seemed to disappear, but only because fleas--which were now helping to carry it from person to person--are dormant then. Each spring, the plague attacked again, killing new victims. After five years 25 million people were dead--one-third of Europe's people.
Even when the worst was over, smaller outbreaks continued, not just for years, but for centuries. The survivors lived in constant fear of the plague's return, and the disease did not disappear until the 1600s.
Medieval society never recovered from the results of the plague. So many people had died that there were serious labor shortages all over Europe. This led workers to demand higher wages, but landlords refused those demands. By the end of the 1300s peasant revolts broke out in England, France, Belgium and Italy.
The disease took its toll on the church as well. People throughout Christendom had prayed devoutly for deliverance from the plague. Why hadn't those prayers been answered? A new period of political turmoil and philosophical questioning lay ahead.
A religion profoundly influenced by Judaism. it gained it's greatest power in cities with strong Jewish communities. Islam, literally translated from Arabic means, surrender. Muhammad preached that men must voluntarily surrender themselves to god, in order to attain paradise and avoid hell.
Prior to Islam, the Arabian Peninsula was divided by tribal conflicts. The two great empires to the north—the Sassanid Persians and the Byzantines—fought an enormous war in the early seventh century, exhausting their resources.
A reformist prophet named Muhammad rejected the idol worship of his hometown and urged his followers to submit to God, forming a religious community that became the Islamic faith.
At the time of Muhammad's revelations in the early seventh century, there was very little notion of shared Arab identity. The tribes fought among one another for control of water resources and trade routes; ancient feuds divided them. No regional power united the many tribes of Arabia. There had been an Arab kingdom in the north and one in the south—in modern-day Yemen—but no one group dominated the peninsula.
At first Muhammed didn't share his revelations, but as the years progressed he wrote them down. After his death, they were published into a single text called the Koran - the Holy book of Islam.
One thing that bound the region together was language: throughout the pre-Islamic period, popular poetry emerged in Arabic, recounting the heroic deeds of some tribal leaders and mocking the actions of others. Much pre-Islamic Arabic literature is poetic, passed down from poet to rawi, a kind of bard or reciter whose job it was to memorize and repeat verses. This is the context in which the Qur'an emerged. Some of the speed with which Islam spread can be attributed to the Qur'an's poetry, whose quality Muslims regard as a divine miracle.
The development of Islam is tied to the life of Muhammad, but it is also intertwined with the history of Mecca, the city that the Prophet called home. Mecca was a city of trade and pilgrimage, and it was where the Kaaba—a shrine that housed the idols and icons of many regional faiths—was located.
Muhammad's revelations and uncompromising monotheism drew him into bitter conflict with the Quraysh, forcing him and his followers to flee persecution by moving to Medina—a migration called the Hijra. Once in Medina, he entered into a treaty with the local people and his fellow migrants, establishing an Islamic community called an ummah. The year in which the Hijra occurred, 622 CE, is Year One of the Islamic calendar.
After fending off several Quraysh attempts at stamping out Islam, Muhammad and his followers marched on Mecca in 630. They smashed the idols in the Kaaba and rededicated the site in the name of God.
The yearly pilgrimages to Mecca were rededicated, too. In the new faith, the Hajj became one of Islam's Five Pillars. These pillars are: exclusive belief in the One God and Muhammad's role as the Last Prophet, daily prayer, charity, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and the Hajj—making the pilgrimage to Mecca.
In the decades after Muhammad's death, the first caliphs—successors—swiftly spread Islam through not only the Arabian peninsula but across nearly the entirety of Sassanid Persia and much of the Byzantine holdings in Egypt, the Levant, the Caucusus, and North Africa.
Though Muhammad's commands to give up idolatry and submit to God were radical ideas, they were presented in astonishingly beautiful language. "The Meccans", writes scholar Ziauddin Sardar, "were steeped in poetry, and yet, even by their own high literary standards, Muhammad's Revelations were unmatched. And this took them by surprise."
There was also the radical equality of the ummah, the Islamic community: all Muslims were equal before God. In a culture divided by tribal allegiances, where wealthy tribesmen held the reins of power, the promise of salvation for all people within the ummah was very attractive, particularly to those on the margins of society.
Even as the Islamic empire spread, divisions grew within the faith. The question of who should succeed Muhammad as the leader of the Islamic world created a schism, or break, resulting in two of the major schools of Islam: Sunni and Shi'a.
Shi'ite Muslims believe that Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law, was divinely ordained to be the first caliph. The name Shi'a is short for shi'at 'Ali, the "followers of Ali".
Sunni Muslims believe that Abu Bakr, Muhammad's father-in-law, was meant to succeed the Prophet.
The message of Islam spread across the planet through missionaries, traders, mystics, and conquest. Wherever it went, it found unique expression in the cultures that took up the faith.
Hinduism is considered to be the world's oldest religion. It began in India yet has no specific founder. It is a system of beliefs and a way of life, as opposed to a belief in the existence of one god.
The main goal of Hindus is to become united with Bahman, the eternal, universal spirit.
Hinduism is bound to the hierarchical structure of the caste system, a categorization of members of society into defined social classes. An individual's position in the caste system is thought to be a reflection of accumulated merit in past lives (karma).
Hinduism arose after the Aryans invaded the Indus Valley. Since the Indus people were literate, the Aryans forced them to learn, read and write religious texts, Vedas, explaining their new religion.
The caste System was put into place putting the Indus below the common class of Aryans. Each caste level was a community in and of itself, with their own rituals, customs, ceremonies, etc.
Often referred to as a discipline rather than a religion by its followers. Buddhism originated in what is today modern India, where it grew into an organized religion practiced by monks, nuns, and lay people. Its beliefs were written down forming a large canon. Buddhist images were also devised to be worshiped in sacred spaces. From India, Buddhism spread throughout Asia.
Among the founders of the world's major religions, the Buddha was the only teacher who did not claim to be other than an ordinary human being. Other teachers were either God or directly inspired by God. The Buddha was simply a human being and he claimed no inspiration from any God or external power. He attributed all his realization, attainments and achievements to human endeavor and human intelligence. A man and only a man can become a Buddha. Every man has within himself the potential of becoming a Buddha if he so wills it and works at it. Nevertheless, the Buddha was such a perfect human that he came to be regarded in popular religion as super-human.
Man's position, according to Buddhism, is supreme. Man is his own master and there is no higher being or power that sits in judgment over his destiny. If the Buddha is to be called a "savior" at all, it is only in the sense that he discovered and showed the path to liberation, to Nirvana, the path we are invited to follow ourselves.
It is with this principle of individual responsibility that the Buddha offers freedom to his disciples. This freedom of thought is unique in the history of religion and is necessary because, according to the Buddha, man's emancipation depends on his own realization of Truth, and not on the benevolent grace of a God or any external power as a reward for his obedient behavior.
The main events of the Buddha's life are well known. He was born Siddhartha Gautama of the Shaka clan. He is said to have had a miraculous birth, precocious childhood, and a princely upbringing. He married and had a son.
He encountered an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and a religious ascetic. He became aware of suffering and became convinced that his mission was to seek liberation for himself and others. He renounced his princely life, spent six years studying doctrines and undergoing yogic austerities. He then gave up ascetic practices for normal life. He spent seven weeks in the shade of a Bodhi tree until, finally, one night toward dawn, enlightenment came. Then he preached sermons and embarked on missionary travels for 45 years. He affected the lives of thousands—high and low. At the age of 80 he experienced his parinirvana—extinction itself.
One of the Buddha's greatest spiritual accomplishments was the doctrine of the Middle Way. He discovered the doctrine of the Middle Way only after he lived as an ascetic for some time. This experience convinced him that one should shun extremes. One should avoid the pursuit of worldly desires on the one hand and severe, ascetic discipline on the other. Despite his doubts about existing religious practices, and his strong sense of mission, he did not think of himself as the creator of a new religion. Rather, he felt the need to purify the religion of his day.
It appears that the Christian movement into the West is responsible for the lack of Buddhist followers in countries such as Egypt, Macedonia, Syria, and Cyrene, despite missionary expeditions being sent there - which is the predominate way Buddhism was spread across Asia.
Judaism is a monotheistic religion that emerged with the Israelites in the Eastern Mediterranean (Southern Levant) within the context of the Mesopotamian river valley civilizations. The Israelites were but one nomadic tribe from the area, so named because they considered themselves to be the descendants of Jacob, who changed his name to Israel.
It is the basis for both Christianity and Islam.
Judaism stems from a collection of stories that explain the origins of the "children of Israel" and the laws that their deity commanded of them. The stories explain how the Israelites came to settle, construct a Temple for their one God, and eventually establish a monarchy—as divinely instructed—in the ancient Land of Israel. Over centuries, the Israelites' literature, history, and laws were compiled and edited into a series of texts, now often referred to in secular contexts as the Hebrew Bible (or Tanakh in other contexts), written between the eleventh century B.C.E. and the sixth century B.C.E. (although the stories it contains may be much older). The Hebrew Bible (or Tanakh) contains three major sections: the Torah, or Five Books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings.
Judaism is a way of life that honors the cycle of days, weeks, months, years, and lives. Shabbat, the Sabbath, serves as the ultimate reminder of the Jewish cycle of time. Based on the idea that on the seventh day of Creation God rested, Shabbat is a marker of sacred time. Religious Jews refrain from all types of work on the Sabbath, and spend the day with their families and communities, praying, listening as a portion of the Torah is chanted (readings are determined by a fixed schedule), and eating luxurious meals. A great twentieth-century rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, described the Sabbath as "a cathedral in time."
Despite the authority of the rabbinic voice in the Talmud, Judaism is non-hierarchal. There is not—nor has there ever been—a single authority; the religion is embodied by a collection of learned voices, which often disagree. We tend to conceive of Judaism as an ancient religion—based out of the Levant where God gave the Israelites the Torah. But an essential piece of the religious tradition was the fact that rabbinical scholars continued to debate, discuss, and re-conceive ancient laws.
Ancient tribal divisions, as well as later sectarian movements, including early Christianity, set a precedent for Jewish cultural diversity. Even the Hebrew Bible was not written exclusively in Hebrew; it includes sections in Greek and Aramaic. But the religion is unified under the umbrella of the library of sacred texts, beginning with the Hebrew Bible, through the Talmud, and on to various ritual prayer books and mystical tracts. Judaism the religion, however, is distinct from the Jewish people. While it is clear that not all Jews practice Judaism, all those who practice Judaism consider themselves Jews. In other words, there are Jews without Judaism, but there can be no Judaism without Jews.
"Christianity is the only world religion to have as its central event, the humiliation of its God." - Dr. Bruce Shelley
Christianity developed out of Jewish tradition in the mid-first century CE, based first on the teachings of Jesus and later on the writings and missionary work of Paul of Tarsus. Originally a small, unorganized religion promising personal salvation, Christianity gained followers throughout the Roman world, eventually becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire.
The Roman Empire did not become Christianized overnight. Roman religious beliefs changed slowly over time. In fact, at the time the Western Roman Empire fell in 476 CE, the process of religious conversion in its former territories was still ongoing. It is also important to remember that Christianity did not appear suddenly nor fully formed. It grew out of Jewish traditions and was shaped by Roman cultural and political structures for several centuries. Neither did Christianity erase the influence of centuries of Roman culture. To take one lasting example, the head of the Roman Catholic Church—the Pope—takes his title from the old Roman office of pontifex maximus, the high priest. Roman culture was not replaced, but rather revised and repurposed as it came into contact with other peoples and cultures.
Christianity developed as a way to bring religion to the masses in a manner they could understand. It had idols to worship, celebrations and ceremonies, priests to mediate between worshiper and God, and a set of basic rules to live by. It was developed as a religion in which followers obeyed out of happiness not out of blind, ritual obedience.
Renaissance, literally "rebirth," the period in European civilization immediately following the Middle Ages and conventionally held to have been characterized by a surge of interest in Classical scholarship and values.
The thinkers of the Renaissance, which lasted between around 1350 and 1550, were attempting to revive Classical culture. They went back to Greek and Roman texts, hoping to bring back their lost glory. This was a shift from the previous period, when the sciences were emphasized, and thinkers looked to the Arab nations to understand their scientific advances. The men of the Renaissance wanted instead to focus on areas of art, architecture, literature, and music.
By the 1500s, the Renaissance had come to an end. Its influence continued, however. It spread from Italy to France, and from France, to the rest of Europe. It fundamentally changed the way people thought about the Church and its relationship to man and philosophy. It introduced elements of secularism and doubt into people's minds. These would blossom into two of the most significant philosophical movements in world history: the Enlightenment and the Protestant Reformation.
An 1889-1890 anti-foreign uprising among militia units who called themselves the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists wanted to rid China of "foreign devils" and their influence. This secret society combined martial arts training, hatred of foreigners, and a belief that they were invulnerable to Western weapons. The foreign press referred to the rebels as Boxers. The Boxers killed foreigners, Chinese Christians, and any Chinese who had ties to foreigners. In June of 1890, 140,000 Boxers launched a siege on embassies in Beijing and held the foreigners hostage for 55 days. A combined armed force of 20,000 British, French, Russian, U.S., German, and Japanese troops crushed the movement, forced the Chinese to pay indemnities, and decreed that foreign powers could station troops in their embassies and along routes to the sea.