The institutions of the village and castle discussed in the previous two chapters had their roots in native European traditions, either of classical Rome, or the barbarian tribes of the north. Medieval Europe was also profoundly affected by a third cultural tradition, that of the ancient Near East, imported to Europe during the centuries of Roman ascendancy. The medium for this influence was Christianity, which began its life as a sect within Judaism but soon attracted converts outside the Jewish community; in time it came to be adopted as the state religion of the Roman Empire and subsequently as the official religion of the nascent kingdoms of medieval Europe.
Judaism had traditionally been a religion concerned primarily with the present life and with governing conduct in the material world. By the time of Roman ascendancy in the Near East, certain sects among the Jews had begun to gravitate toward a more otherworldly form of spirituality, rejecting the things of the physical world as evil; most famous among these sects is the Essenes, the secluded community of religious Jews who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. Christianity drew on such trends toward otherworldly Judaism, as reflected in Christ's admonition to the just man who wishes to seek a perfect life: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). The otherworldy aspirations of Christians found ample scope in the first few centuries of Christianity, as sustained official persecution made the profession of their faith an