Image of Jesus Christ from Agia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey (12th century)
This article is part of theJesus series.
Jewish view of Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth (or Jesus Christ, see alternate names below) (born: c. 6 BC- c. 6; died: c. 27 - c. 36) was a Jewish religious teacher and healer; who was crucified during the early years of the Roman Empire.
According to those religions conventionally designated as "Christian", Jesus is the messiah and Son of God; who brought salvation to humanity through his death and resurrection. Jesus is also regarded as an ascetic prophet, by Muslims; as a false Messiah, by Judaism and Mandaeanism; as a manifestation of God, by the Baha'i; a manifestation of Maitreya by some Buddhists; as an avatar, by some Hindus; as the savior and bringer of gnosis by various Gnostic sects; and, as a guru by many New Ageists.
The primary source of historical knowledge about Jesus is contained within the Christian Gospels which the majority of historians believe to have originated from sources written within living memory of Jesus. Supporting evidence for the historical Jesus is also provided, though less reliably from the perspective of modern historians, by other Christian material, other religious traditions and certain historians of the period. The majority of historians accept the Gospels as evidence for the historical existence of Jesus; but there is somewhat less acceptance of the basic narrative of his life and death, and far less for any miraculous claims, among professional historians and biblical scholars.
A minority of historians argue from the internal features of, and inconsistencies between, the Gospels and other canonical and non-canonical Christian and Gnostic writings that Jesus was a mythical figure. The paucity of non-Christian historical sources that corroborate Christian writings is adduced as support for this position. See, for example, the writings of Earl Doherty. While once popular, this view has migrated to the fringes of serious scholarship today.
Most discussions about Jesus, including this one, involve a conflict between contrasting, and in some ways incompatible, views of the world and of how humans acquire knowledge (this subject is discussed in the disciplines epistemology and metaphysics).
Christians believe that humans can have direct personal knowledge of God and of Jesus and that this is confirmed through scripture, which is a form of divine revelation. Some Christians believe that Scripture must be interpreted in the light of Tradition, while others believe that individuals can interpret it for themselves. For some Christians, belief in Jesus is a matter of faith: they need no further confirmation of the existence of God and His son. Other Christians feel they have knowledge of God and Jesus based on the empirical existence of the Gospels and/or Bible as accurate historical documents, the Christian tradition passed on from generation to generation, and through their direct consequent religious experiences.
Historians meanwhile make statements about historical events or persons based on more pragmatic standards of empirical evidence. They look at scripture not as divinely inspired but as the work of fallible humans, who wrote in the light of their culture and time. However, most historians accept that the accounts of the life of Jesus in the Gospels and from other sources provide a reasonable basis of evidence, by the standards of ancient history, for the historical existence of Jesus.
Furthermore, Jesus is a still more controversial figure because there are different accounts of Jesus within Islam, Judaism, Gnosticism, Mandaeanism, and other religions ''(see later in this article.)'\'
There is a paucity of accepted contemporaneous sources and of direct empirical evidence. Therefore, it is difficult for representatives of the different religious and secular traditions of knowledge and faith to reach agreement on a "biography" of Jesus. This article therefore offers the differing views and beliefs.
The historical Jesus of Nazareth
This section provides a historical view of Jesus, based on empirical evidence that is considered satisfactory by the majority of historians.
The name Jesus Christ
Jesus is derived from the Latin Iesus, which in turn comes from the Greek Iesous (Ιησους). The Greek form is a transliteration of the Aramaic name Yeshua (ישוע), a short form of Hebrew Yehoshua (יהושע), which means the Lord is salvation, literally Yahweh/Jehovah saves. The English form of Yehoshua is Joshua. (Other common English transliterations from the Aramaic Yeshua (ישוע) include Jeshua and Yahshua.)
Christ is a title, and comes, via Latin, from the Greek Christos (Χριστος), which means anointed. The Greek form is a literal translation of Messiah from Hebrew mashiyakh (משיח) or Aramaic m'shikha (משיחא), words which typically signified "king" - a man, chosen by God or descended from a man chosen by God, to serve as a civil and military authority. In Arabic, Jesus is known as the prophet Isa al Masih, from the aforementioned Aramaic for Jesus the Messiah.
Sources about Jesus ChristMain article: Sources about Jesus Christ
Most historians do not dispute the existence of a person named Jesus; evidence for Jesus' existence two thousand years ago is by historical standards actually fairly strong. Jesus is obviously mentioned extensively within the New Testament, but is also considered a historical figure within the traditions of Judaism, Islam, Mandeanism and alternative Christian traditions like Gnosticism. Jesus also gets a passing mention within historical accounts of the period, though the reliability of these accounts is disputed.
Moreover, historians generally agree that at least some of the source documents on which the Gospels are based were written within living memory of Jesus. These historians therefore accept that the accounts of the life of Jesus in the Gospels, excepting certain miraculous claims and the details that surround them, provide a reasonable basis of evidence by the standards of ancient history, for the basic narrative of Jesus' life and death.
Date of birth and death
of important years from empirical sources.
(see also detailed Christian timeline)
The exact month or day or even the year of Jesus's birth cannot be exactly ascertained. Due to a mistaken calculation based on the Roman Calendar by Dionysius Exiguus in 525, it was long held that Jesus was born in the year 1 BC (making the following year, A.D. 1, the first throughout which he was alive).
The Gospels are problematic, because they offer two seemingly incompatible accounts. Matthew states that Jesus was born while Herod the Great was still alive and that Herod ordered the slaughter of infants two years old and younger (Matt. 2:16), and based on the date of Herod's death in 4 BC (contra Dionysius Exiguus), many chronologists conclude that the year 6 BC is the most likely year of Jesus's birth. Consequently, Jesus would have been about four to six years old in the year A.D. 1.
On the other hand, Luke's account places Jesus's birth during a census conducted under the governorship of Quirinius, who, according to Josephus, conducted a census in A.D. 6. In order to reconcile the two Gospel accounts, some have suggested that Josephus was mistaken or that Quirinius had a separate period of rule under Herod. In any case, the actual date of his birth remains historically unverifiable.
In recent years, East Asian historians have attempted to match the birth of Jesus Christ with special events in their history. They found that, according to the oldest record of the Comet Halley during the Han Dynasty, "The comet heads east with its tail pointing west at night, and was appearing in the sky for more than 70 days." in 6 BC. This has been suggested as an independent record of the "Star" described in Matthew 2. If accepted, this suggestion would place the birthday of Jesus Christ in summer rather than winter.
In the 6th century, Dionysius Exiguus proposed to make the birth of Jesus the basis of the calendar but he miscalculated the death of Herod. Years reckoned in this way are labelled "A.D.", which stands for Anno Domini, meaning "in the year of the Lord" in Latin. Since many non-Christians have come to use this calendar, an alternative notation "C.E." is sometimes used. It is presently uncertain what the original meaning of this abbreviation was, although today it is taken to mean either the Common Era or the Christian Era: many references cite both.
Based on inferences from Gospel accounts, Jesus was executed by crucifixion on a Friday, and on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan under the administration of Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilate held his position from 26-36 and the only years in which Nisan 14 fell on a Friday are 27, 33, and 36 and possibly in 30 depending on when the new moon would have been visible in Jerusalem. Scholars have defended all of the dates.
Jesus' life and teaching
Possibly born in Bethlehem, Jesus was brought up in Galilee. Gospel accounts state he was brought up in Nazareth, however, many historians believe that Christian transcribers have mistaken the title "Nazarene" for a location. The town of Nazareth is unmentioned in contemporary historical sources.
Jesus' mother was Mary, who married Joseph, but he was only Jesus' foster father. We can say nothing with certainty about Jesus's childhood or young adulthood. Certain events are mentioned in the various Gospels, but there is no common agreement.
The Gospel of Mark reports that Jesus had brothers, that he was "Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon," and also suggests that Jesus had sisters. The Jewish historian Josephus and the Christian historian Eusebius (who wrote in the 4th century but quoted much earlier sources now unavaliable to us) refer to James the Just as Jesus' brother. Some churches reject this interpretation, saying that they were Jesus' cousins, which the Greek word for "brother" used in the Gospels would allow. Other churches suggest that these were half brothers, children of Joseph and a previous wife who died before Mary was betrothed to him. This tradition probably originates with the Protevangelion of James, traditionally ascribed to James the Just and certainly dated sometime in the late 1st to middle of the 2nd century.
Jesus began his public ministry some time after he was baptized by John the Baptist, who inspired Mandaeanism. Jesus began preaching, teaching, and healing. There is no firm evidence for when his ministry started or how long it lasted. The detailed nature of Jesus' spiritual teaching cannot be fully agreed because accounts are fragmentary and because he made extensive use of paradox, metaphor and parable; making it is unclear how literally he wished to be taken and precisely what he meant.
Jesus did preach the imminent end of the current era of history, in some sense a literal end of the world as people of his time knew it; in this sense he was an apocalyptic preacher bringing a message about the imminent end of the world the Jews knew.
Like the Pharisee, Jesus opposed stringent interpretations of Jewish law, and preached a more flexible understanding of the law. His teachings show an inclination to following a teleological approach, in which the spirit of the law is more important than the letter of the law. However, the Gospels record him as having many disagreements with the Pharisees, as he consistently takes differing views from the standard religious practice of the day. However, the interpretations of the law by the Sadducees were in most cases much stricter than Pharisee interpretations of the law, and the Sadducees were in the majority at that time, yet the Gospels record no sign of Jesus having much disagreement with their views. Some modern historians thus believe that Jesus may have been a liberal Pharisee in some respects, or an Essene (a sect with whom he shared many views); and that later Christian transcribers cast him as an enemy of the Pharisees, because when Christians and Jews came into conflict in later years the Pharisee's had become the dominant sect of Judaism. This view receives some support in Acts of the Apostles, because Jesus' apostles were generally attacked by Sadduccees but were sometimes protected by Pharisee liberal interpretations of Jewish law.
Jesus increasingly gained followers as his fame grew, though within his lifetime Jesus' core following remained no more than a small religious sect. Jesus had by the time of his death taught a number of his disciples or apostles to preach his teachings and perform faith healing to both Jews and Gentiles alike.
In his role as a social reformer Jesus threatened the status quo. He was unpopular with many Jewish religious authorities, not least because he criticised them; but also because some of Jesus' followers held the controversial and inflammatory view that he was "The Messiah". It is not clear from strict analysis of the original Gospel texts that Jesus made this claim about himself, but he did not deny it. Neither is it wholly clear to historians that when Jesus spoke of being "Son of God" he meant this to be taken literally as Christians believe, rather than metaphorically in the sense that we are all children of God.
Jesus came with his followers to Jerusalem during the Passover festival. He was involved in some form of public disturbance at the Temple in Jerusalem. At some point later, he was betrayed to the Jewish religious authorities of the city - either the full council (Sanhedrin) or perhaps just the High Priest - by one of his apostles, Judas Iscariot. The High Priest of the city was appointed by the government in Rome and the current holder of the post was Joseph Caiphas. The Romans ruled the city through the High Priest and Sanhedrin, so often the Jewish authorities of the city had to arrest people on the orders of the Romans. Jesus' disciples went into hiding after he was arrested.
Jesus was crucified by the Romans on the orders of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea in Jerusalem. The Gospels state that he did this at the behest of the Jewish religious leaders, but it may have been simply that Pilate considered Jesus' ability to incite public disturbance as a potential Messiah to be a threat to Roman order. Pilate was known as a harsh ruler who ordered many executions for lesser reasons during his reign.
All the Gospel accounts agree that Joseph of Arimathea, variously a secret disciple or sympathiser to Jesus, and possible member of the Sanhedrin, arranged with Pilate for the body to be taken down and entombed. According to most accounts Jesus' mother, Mary, and other women, notably a female follower of Jesus, Mary Magdalene were present during this process.
The ResurrectionMain article:Resurrection of Jesus Christ
According to the Christian Gospels, Jesus' disciples encountered him again on the third day after his death, raised to life. He met them in various places over a period of forty days before "ascending into heaven".
The historicity of JesusMain article: Historicity of Jesus Christ
Some historians have disputed the actual existence of Jesus, claiming his existence was either an invention or he was a figure further removed in history.
Alleged relics of JesusMain article: Alleged relics of Jesus Christ
Christian perspectives on JesusMain articles: Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Messiah
Christianity is centered on the belief that Jesus is the savior of man. According to Christians, Jesus was born in Bethlehem to Mary. He preached the new covenant across Judea, which angered traditional Jews and disturbed the Romans as he was seen as a threat to public order. One of his twelve apostles, Judas, betrayed him; and later committed suicide in remorse. Jesus was crucified by the Romans. However, he rose from the dead three days later.
Jewish perspectives on JesusMain articles: Judaism and Christianity and Jewish Messiah
Jesus Christ is deemed a false prophet in most sects of Judaism, and religious Jews are still awaiting the arrival of the Messiah. Christianity originated as a sect of Judaism, but developed into its own religion.
Islamic perspectives on JesusMain article: Isa
Muslims believe that Jesus, or Isa in Arabic, was a prophet and Messiah. However, they do not consider him to be a son of Allah (God), other than in the metaphorical sense that we are all children of Allah.
Other perspectives on JesusMain article: Other perspectives on Jesus
Jesus is considered as a manifestation of God by the Baha'i. Mandaeanists see Jesus Christ as something of a false prophet as compared to John the Baptist. Jesus was seen as the savior and bringer of gnosis by various Gnostic sects. In modern times many New Ageists have reinterpreted Jesus as a misunderstood guru preaching enlightenment.
Fictional portrayals of Jesus ChristMain article: Fictional portrayals of Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ has been featured in many films and media, sometimes as a serious portrayal, and other times as satire.
- The New Testament of the Bible, especially the Gospels.
- The Words: website that organises Jesus' sayings by topic
- Albright, William F. Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan: An Historical Analysis of Two Contrasting Faiths, ISBN 0931464013 [www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0931464013/qid=1066486079/]
- Paula Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity ISBN 0679767460
- Paula Fredriksen, From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Christ ISBN 0300084579, ISBN 0300040180
- Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture, Yale University Press, 1985, hardcover, 270 pages, ISBN 0300034962; trade paperback, HarperCollins reprint, 304 pages, ISBN 0060970804; trade paperback, Yale University Press, 1999, 320 pages, ISBN 0300079877
- E.P. Sanders, The historical figure of Jesus, Penguin, 1996, ISBN 0140144994. An up to date popular but thoroughly scholarly book.
- E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, Fortress Press, 1987, ISBN 0800620615. More specialistic than the previous book, still not inaccessible though.
- Gerd Theissen & Annette Merz, The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide, Fortress Press, 2003, ISBN 0800631226. An amazing book, tough but rewarding, exceptionally detailed.
- The Shadow of the Galilean: The Quest of the Historical Jesus in Narrative Form. Gerd Theissen. Fortress Press.
- Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity
- Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew: A Historian's Reading of the Gospels ISBN 0800614437
- In Quest of the Hero:(Mythos Series)- Otto Rank, Lord Fitzroy Richard Somerset Raglan and Alan Dundes, Princeton University Press, 1990, ISBN 0691020620
- On Heroes, Hero-Worship, & the Heroic in History- Thomas Carlyle
- The Jewish historian Josephus wrote about Jesus in Antiquities, Book 18, chapter 3, paragraph 3. http://www.josephus-1.com/
- Bloodline of the Holy Grail by Laurence Gardner
- The Jewish Roman World of Jesus
- Excellent university resource Articles on most issues concerning Jesus
- From Jesus to Christ
- Extensive, professionally designed web site accompanying the American PBS television programme of the same name. A marvellous resource full of well-organised, useful information, though with a marked North American bias.
- Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus
- By Mahlon Smith: Excellent site exploring the world in which Jesus lived by means of well-organised, newly translated primary texts and other material.
- A Portrait of Jesus: From Galilean Jew to the Face of God
- By Cam Howard: a splendid looking, useful web site based on the work of Marcus Borg.
- The Historical Jesus
- University of Birmingham site
- 864 pictures
- A critical Jewish analysis
- An examination of the historicity of Jesus, also examining the stories of the Talmud
- The Alpha Course
- Jesus Christ Catholic Encyclopedia article
- EWTN's Jesus Christ webpage
- Skeptics Guide to Jesus
- Well written and detailed skeptics guide to Jesus. Violently anti-Christian. Alternatively argues Jesus did not exist or picks holes in Biblical accounts. Does however have a number of very intriguing articles.
- Was Jesus really Julius Caesar? The interesting new theory is that the lack of a historical Jesus and the strange unJewishness of so many Church doctrines can be explained by the surprising amount of evidence indicating Jesus Christ was really Julius Caesar!
- Article about the naming of Jesus
- another article about the naming of Jesus