As the birthplace of three principal religions, the Middle East is holy to 15 million Jews, 2 billion Christians, and 1 billion Muslims. As the cradle of western civilization, it is fundamental to world history, the place where humans transformed themselves from madic hunters to settled farmers capable of building great cities and societies. This detailed history covers the Middle East from its ancient beginnings to the present. The confluence of events that produced civilized society is fully discussed, along with the establishment of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The emergence and decline of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, which laid much of the framework for the region to move into the modern era, is covered in depth. Analysis of the area in recent decades focuses on World War I and II and the regional conflicts that inflame the Middle East of the 21st century.