Two thousand years ago, around the time that Jesus of Nazareth was born, the second Holy Temple was still standing in Jerusalem. The Great Pyramid at Giza was already 2,500 years old, but the Library of Alexandria was still around. In Rome, the Colosseum hadn’t been built yet.
Today, the best scholarly guide to the world Jesus was born into is a man called Strabo. He was born in Amasia, a town in the central north of what’s now Turkey. One of the great works of his life was a 17-volume geography, which described in detail the contours, cities and cultures of the world as it was known to the scholars of his time.
In this world, the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, modern-day Israel and Palestine, barely rated. This area was not particularly rich or accomplished, but in the Greek and Roman view of the world, it was strategically situated, providing an overland passage to Egypt.
Strabo’s account also includes some history of the Jewish people. He explains how “an Egyptian priest named Moses” led a group of followers who believed that God is “one thing which encompasses us all” to the place where Jerusalem now stood. Strabo continues:
"He easily obtained possession of it, as the spot was not such as to excite jealousy, nor for which there could be any fierce contention; for it is rocky, and, although well supplied with water, it is surrounded by a barren and waterless territory."