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Oxford Bible Atlas Contextualizes the stories and lands of the Bible through user-friendly maps and illustrations.

The Beginnings of the Christian Church

The activity of the apostles and the earliest Church was centred not in Galilee but in Jerusalem, where the disciples had initially remained after the death of Jesus. From there it began to spread outwards, as reflected in the words placed in the mouth of Jesus prior to the ascension that disciples are to be witnesses ‘in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1: 8 ). Mention is made of apostles visiting Samaria (Acts 8: 4–5, 14 ), and the coastal area from Gaza and Azotus as far north as Caesarea Maritima (Acts 8: 26–40 ). There were Christian believers in Lydda and Joppa (Acts 9: 32, 36 ), and as far afield as Damascus where the new faith had apparently come to be known as ‘the Way’ (Acts 9: 2 ). Thus began an expansion which was to see Christianity spread far beyond Jerusalem and Judea. But until at least 70 CE, the church in Jerusalem and Judea seems to have retained a special position (see, for example, Acts 11: 1; 15: 1–6; 21: 17–18; 1 Cor. 16: 3; 1 Thess. 2: 14 ).

An event of profound significance, which must have had its impact on the early Church, was the fiercely fought revolt of the Jews against Rome, which broke out in 66. This led to Jerusalem being placed under siege and eventually being taken and destroyed in 70. This revolt was the context of the desperate last stand of the Jewish resistance at the former Herodian fortress of Masada, where they managed to hold out until 73. A graphic account of this episode is given by the Jewish historian Josephus in his work The Jewish War.

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