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Jesus
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Jesus

Byzantine mosaic emphasizes his divine nature.]]

Jesus (c 4 BC – c. AD 30) is the central figure in Christianity, in which context he is known as Jesus Christ (Greek Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Iēsoûs Khristós). He is also called Jesus of Nazareth.

According to the New Testament, Jesus is the Son of God who served a ministry in Galilee and Judaea and was ultimately crucified in Jerusalem by order of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate before rising from the dead on the third day. Beyond the New Testament, there are many opinions of Jesus' life:

There are different accounts and perspectives of Jesus within the religions of Islam, Judaism, Gnosticism, Manichaeism and Mandaeanism. (See later in this article). He is regarded as a prophet by Muslims and Manichaeists, as a false Messiah by Judaism and Mandaeanism, as a manifestation of God by the Baha'is, a manifestation of Maitreya by some Buddhists, as a yogi, guru or even avatar by some Hindus, as the savior and bringer of gnosis by various Gnostic sects and as a guru by many New Agers.

Table of contents
1 The names and titles of Jesus
2 Date of birth and death
3 Jesus' life and teaching according to the New Testament
4 The resurrection
5 Christian perspectives on Jesus
6 The historicity of Jesus
7 Academic historians and religious texts
8 The historical Jesus of Nazareth
9 Jewish perspectives on Jesus
10 Islamic perspectives on Jesus
11 Other religious perspectives on Jesus
12 Dramatic portrayals of Jesus
13 Further reading
14 External links

The names and titles of Jesus

Personal name

Jesus is derived from the
Latin Iesus, which in turn comes from the Greek Ἰησοῦς (Iēsoûs). The earliest use of Iēsoûs is found in the Septuagint, where it is used to transliterate the Hebrew name Yehoshua (יהושע - known in English as Joshua), and also Yeshua (ישוע); the latter is used in the Hebrew Bible either as short form or an Aramaic equivalent of Yeshoshua. Yeshoshua means the Lord is salvation (literally Yahweh saves), while Yeshua means salvation.

Other older English transliterations from Yehoshua/Yeshua include Joshua and Jeshua. More modern transliterations include Yahshua, Yahoshua, Yaohushua and other similar variants, though these typically reflect theological rather than linguistic viewpoints.

Christ

Christ is not a name but a title, and comes, via Latin, from the Greek Christos (Χριστός Khristós), which means "anointed" (to anoint is to rub with perfumed oil). The Greek form is a literal translation of Messiah from Hebrew mashiyakh (משיח) or Aramaic m'shikha (משיחא), a word which occurs often in the Old Testament and typically signifies "high priest" or " king" – a man, chosen by God or descended from a man chosen by God, to serve as a religious, civil, and/or military authority. Other sources suggest the title Christ is linked to Latin crestus, 'good'. To Muslims, Jesus is known as the prophet Isa al Masih (عيسى المسيح ), the equivalent of Jesus the Messiah.

Other titles

In the Gospels, Jesus has many titles besides "messiah": prophet, lord, son of man, and son of God. Together Christians understand these titles as attesting to Jesus' divinity. Some historians argue that when used in other Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the time, these titles have other meanings, and therefore may have other meanings when used in the Gospels as well. The material in the next four subsections, on prophet, lord, son of man, and son of god, is taken from Geza Vermes' review of these arguments in Jesus the Jew: A Historian's Reading of the Gospels.

Prophet

According to such verses as Matthew 21:11 and Luke 7:16, Jews of the time thought of Jesus as a prophet; according to such verses as Mark 6:4, Matthew 13: 57, and Luke 4:24, Jesus considered himself to be a prophet. In the Hebrew Bible, prophets were generally men who spoke with God and proclaimed God's words to the people, often criticizing political and economic elites in the process. The Pharisees seem to have believed that the age of the prophets ended with Malachi (Daniel, for example, was not considered a prophet, and the sages claimed that they had succeeded the prophets as transmitters of God's law); the author of 1 Maccabees, however, believed that prophets would one day reappear in Judea. Ecclesiasticus 48: 10 identifies the reappearance of a prophet with the messenger who will arrive as a harbinger of the end of time – Acts 3: 17–26 suggests that some early Christians may have identified the second coming of Jesus (rather than his original earthly career) with this type of prophet. Nevertheless, neither the Gospels nor other early Christians seemed to have favored this title, perhaps because 1st and 2nd century Roman Judea saw many charlatans who claimed to be prophets announcing the end of days, and who were executed by the Romans.

Prophets in the Hebrew Bible were also advocates of monotheism, and healers. In Luke 4: 25–27, Jesus specifically refers to two such prophets, Elijah and Elisha. In this and in other contexts, historians conclude that the Gospels seem to use the term "prophet" as synonymous with miracle-worker and healer.

Lord

The Gospels and Acts frequently use "Lord" as a title for Jesus. Jesus himself never seems to have claimed the title – it is only ascribed to him by others, which has led to various interpretations. Different scholars have come up with various explanations: some believe that Jesus' disciples called him lord, but not because he was divine; this was merely a title used when students addressed their teachers. Some believe that the New Testament uses the term lord to mean divine, but that it was only after Jesus' death and resurrection that his followers ascribed to him divinity. Others argue that neither Jesus nor his disciples used the Aramaic term for lord, mara, and that the Greek term kyrios (meaning, "the Lord") was borrowed from pagan Hellenic usage by early Gentile converts to Christianity. The Hebrew Bible distinguishes between "lord" (adon) and "God"; the word "lord" does not necessarily imply divinity, although God is often described as "the Lord". Surviving inter-testamental Aramaic texts frequently use the Aramaic mara to mean "the Lord", that is, God – but they also provide evidence of people using mara and kyrios as personal titles (for example, used to address a husband, father, or king). There is little evidence that either term was used specifically to mean "teacher", but there is much evidence of students using the term "mar" to refer to their teachers respectfully, or to refer to an especially respected and authoritative teacher. A close reading of the Gospels suggests to historians that most people addressed Jesus as lord as a sign of respect for a miracle-worker (especially in Mark and Matthew) or as a teacher (especially in Luke). In most cases one can substitute the words "sir" or "teacher" for "lord", and the meaning of the passage in question will not change.

Son of Man

Jesus is rarely described as
son of man (bar nasha, in Aramaic) outside of the Gospels, but in the Synoptic Gospels Jesus refers to himself as using this title over sixty times. Some take this as an allusion to Daniel 7:13, which associates "one like a son of man" with a messianic vision. Six Gospel uses of the title directly refer to, and many others allude to, Daniel. Since Daniel is an apocalyptic work, some scholars link Jesus' use of the term "son of man" with the short apocalypse of chapter 13 of the Gospel of Mark; such a view paints Jesus as preacher of apocalyptic Judaism. However, most of the uses in Mark, the oldest Gospel, and many examples from the other Gospels, are non-Danielic. Indeed, other Aramaic texts reveal that the phrase was used frequently to mean simply "man", or as a way by which a speaker may refer to himself. Thus, many historians conclude that it is possible that this phrase was actually not a title.

Son of God

The New Testament frequently refers to Jesus as the son of God; Jesus seldom does, but often refers to God as his father. Christians universally understand this to mean that Jesus was literally God's son – according to the Nicene Creed, God's only begotten son, one with the Father (cf. John 3:16). The phrase itself is thus taken to be synonymous with divinity. The Hebrew Bible, however, uses the phrase "son of God" in other senses: to refer to heavenly or angelic beings; to refer to the Children of Israel, and to refer to kings. There is no New Testament evidence to suggest that early Christians thought of Jesus as an angel, so the first two usages seem not to apply. However, Mark identifies Jesus as the son of King David, and Matthew and Luke provide lineages linking Jesus to King David. II Samuel 7: 14, Psalms 2: 7 and 89: 26–27, refer to David as the son of God, although historians find no evidence that the authors of the Bible believed David to be divine or literally God's son. (Many Christians interpret these and other Psalms as referring prophetically to Jesus, the "seed" referred to in Psalm 89. See Christ in the Psalms by Father Patrick Reardon.)

In post-Biblical Judaism, the title was often applied to righteous men: Ecclesiasticus 4: 10 and the Wisdom of Solomon 2: 17–18 use the term to refer to just men, and Jubilees 1: 24–25 has God declaring all righteous men to be his sons. Philo too wrote that good people are sons of God, and various rabbis in the Talmud declare that when Israelites are good, they are sons of God. The Talmud provides one example that parallels that of Jesus: Rabbi Hanina, whom God referred to as "my son", was also a miracle worker, and was able to resist Agrat, queen of the demons. Some scholars thus suggest that "son of God" was a title used in the Galilee by miracle-workers. Other scholars have suggested that the identification of "son of God" with divinity is pagan in origin; the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt referred to themselves as sons of Zeus or of Helios; Roman emperors used the title divi filius, or son of God. They suggest that the belief that Jesus was in fact the "son of God", and the association of his divine paternity with his being "messiah", were added after Christianity broke with Judaism.

Date of birth and death

Brief timeline of Jesus
of important years from empirical sources.
(see also detailed timeline for Jesus Christ
and detailed Christian timeline)


c.   6 BC -
c.   4 BC -
cAD 6 -
c. 26 -
c. 27 -
c. 36 -

Suggested birth (Earliest)
Herod's death
Suggested birth (Latest). Quirinius census
Pilate appointed Judea governor
Suggested death (Earliest).
Suggested death (Latest);
Pilate removed from office

The exact month or day or even the year of Jesus' 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, AD 1, the first throughout which he was alive).

The Gospels are problematic, because they offer two accounts that chronologists find incompatible. 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' birth. Consequently, Jesus would have been about four to six years old in the year AD 1.

On the other hand, Luke's account places Jesus' birth during a census conducted under the governorship of Quirinius, who, according to Josephus, conducted a census in AD 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 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 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 "B.C." and "A.D.", which stand for Before Christ and Anno Domini (meaning "in the year of the Lord" in Latin). Since many non-Christians have come to use this calendar, an alternative notation "B.C.E." and "C.E." is also used. While the "B." indicates "Before", it is presently uncertain what the original meaning of the latter abbreviation was, although today it is taken to mean either the Common Era or the Christian Era: many references cite both.

Calculation of Jesus' date of death is complicated by apparent inconsistencies in the reports in the Synoptic Gospels as compared to the Gospel of John. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper is clearly a Passover meal, and so would have taken place on a Thursday, the 15th of the Jewish month of Nisan (the Jewish calendar counts the day as beginning with the evening), with the crucifixion on the next day, Friday, still the 15th of Nisan. For John, however, the Passover meal was to be eaten on the evening of the Friday when Jesus was crucified, so that the Last Supper was eaten on the evening of 14th of Nisan and the crucifixion was on the 14th, at the same time that the lambs for the Passover were being slaughtered in the Temple of Jerusalem, so that the Jews could celebrate the Passover that evening. Various attempts have been made to harmonize the two reports. Perhaps the most likely theory is that Jesus, knowing he was to be dead at the appointed time for the Passover meal, chose to hold the Passover meal with his disciples a day early, thus holding to the account of John. Some scholars have recently suggested rejecting Thursday as the day of the Last Supper and support a non-Passover Last Supper on Tuesday or Wednesday, thus providing more time for the events that occured between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.

Assuming the chronology of John, the other important datum for the dating is the fact, attested to in all the Gospels, is that Jesus' death occured 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.

The most commonly cited dates are April 7, 30 A.D. or April 21, 33 A.D. Data that are supplied in support of these dates include the following: In the Gospel of Luke, it is stated that Jesus was about 30 years old when he started his public ministry. If Christ's birth was in 6 BC, then this points to the beginning of the public ministry some time around 26 A.D. Another datum to be considered is the statement in Luke's, that John the Baptist's ministry began in the 15th year of the reign of emperor Tiberius. That reign began in 14 A.D, placing John's appearance in about 28 or 29 A.D, too late for the beginning of Jesus's ministry as calculated above. Evidence in the Gospel of John point to three separate Passovers during Jesus' ministry, which would tip the scales toward 33. This is strengthed by details of the reign of Sejanus in Rome. Sejanus had ordered the suppression of the Jews throughout the empire, and after his death in 32, Tiberius had repealed those laws. This would fit with the Gospel accounts that seem to indicate that Pilate did not want to crucify Jesus, but was forced into it by the Jewish leaders.

Nonetheless, proponents of the year 30 point out that Tiberius was already functioning as emperor some years before the death of Augustus, so that the beginning of his reign could be counted from 11 or 12, putting the beginning of John's ministry in about A.D. 26. This harmonizes with the "thirty years old" statement in the Gospel of Luke as well.

This understanding of the Gospels is difficult to reconcile with the tradition that holds the Last Supper took place on the first night of Passover which is defined in the Torah to be the 14th of Nisan. Furthermore, at that time, the date of Passover was set by the court in Jerusalem based upon testimony of witnesses. It was not until after 500 that the calendar was changed to be based upon calculation. Therefore, it is not possible to state on which day of the week the 14 of Nisan occurred for any year before 500 without historical documents that attest to a particular day of the week.

Jesus' life and teaching according to the New Testament

Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Galilee was his childhood home.

Jesus' mother was Mary. Two of the Gospels (Matthew and Luke, but not Mark or John), are interpreted to allege that Joseph was Jesus' foster father, and that Jesus' biological father was the Holy Spirit, who miraculously caused Mary to conceive, giving rise to a virgin birth. The other two Gospels, Mark and John, make no mention of Joseph at all, but in their first chapters refer to Jesus as the son of God. Nothing is certain about Jesus' 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 unavailable to us) refer to James the Just as Jesus' brother (See Desposyni). Some churches reject this interpretation, saying that they were Jesus' cousins, which the Greek word for "brother" used in the Gospels would allow. The Gnostic Acts of Thomas identifies the Apostle Thomas as Jesus' twin brother. Other churches suggest that these were step 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.

Some have interpreted Gnostic texts like the Gospel of Philip to suggest that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions do not record any wife of Jesus; the Roman Catholic hagiography of Mary Magdalene says that she traveled to France and lived the life of an ascetic. The Eastern Orthodox synaxarion says that she continued preaching the Gospel in various places, eventually settling in Ephesus to work with John the Evangelist.

The Evangelists do not describe much of Jesus' life between birth and the beginning of his ministry, except that as a young teen he instructed the scholars in the temple. The apocryphal Infancy Gospels describe the child Jesus performing miraculous works. The 19th-century Russian scholar Nicolai Notovich suggested, based on a document he claimed to see in a Ladakh monastery in the Kashmir region, that Jesus traveled the world, including India, as an adolescent and youth, and was exposed to religious traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. While the monastery Jesus is alleged to have studied at by Notovich in India was not built until the 16th century, and there is no independent evidence confirming that particular story, there are still persisting minorities in some circles who say that references to a man named something like Issa place Jesus even in the holy Hindu city of Kashi. However, the evidence proffered here, too, has been deemed by most unreliable. These theories are not considered orthodox by any major Christian church.

Jesus began his public ministry some time after he was baptized by John the Baptist, who perhaps unwittingly 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.

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, and the Gospels record him as having many disagreements with the Pharisees.

Although the interpretations of the law by the Sadducees were in most cases much stricter than Pharisee interpretations of the law, and the Sadducees were the dominant authority at that time, yet the Gospels record no sign of Jesus having much disagreement with their views (although it was, according to the Gospels, the priests – aligned with the Sadducees – who ultimately arrested Jesus). A few modern scholars 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 Pharisees had become the dominant sect of Judaism. This view receives some support in Acts of the Apostles, because Jesus' apostles were generally attacked by Sadducees 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. According to the Gospels, this was because he criticised them, and, moreover, 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 scholars 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. Scholars currently suggest that whether Jesus claimed to be a political rebel or not, Jewish authorities would very likely have feared that his activities would provoke a riot in Jerusalem – something Roman authorities absolutely forbade.

Jesus came with his followers to Jerusalem during the Passover festival. He was involved in a public disturbance at the Temple in Jerusalem when he overturned the tables of the moneychangers there. 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 in order to obey Roman orders to maintain the peace. 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 (then again, he'd been in trouble twice with his Roman superiours for being too harsh in his rule). Furthermore, the plaque placed on the cross was used by the Romans to detail the crime of the crucified individual. In the case of Jesus the plaque reads "Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm" (INRI)—"Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews", indicating that Jesus was crucified for the crime of rebelling against the authority of Rome by being declared the "King of the Jews".

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 resurrection

Main 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".

Christian perspectives on Jesus

Main articles: Jesus as Christ and 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 the Pharisaic 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.

The historicity of Jesus

See: Historicity of Jesus Christ, Sources about Jesus Christ

Debates concerning Jesus as a historical figure center on two issues: the role of God in natural and human history, and the veracity of the New Testament as a historical source.

The question of God's role in natural and human history involves not only assumptions about God, but about how humans acquire knowledge (this subject is discussed in the disciplines of epistemology and metaphysics).

Most Christians believe that God plays an active role in history through miracles and divine revelation; and many accept as a basis for their faith the divine authority of the Bible, and the divinity of Jesus. Some Christians believe that Scripture must be interpreted in the light of tradition, while others believe that individuals can interpret it for themselves.

Some Christians believe that human understanding of the divine is imperfect, and can and must be supplemented by other forms of knowledge. Such people draw on works by secular scientists and historians to help interpret their own experiences and their reading of Scripture. Some believe in God but question the divinity of Jesus and the Bible, and rely more heavily on the work of scientists and historians. Others do not believe in God and rely entirely on the work of secular scholars.

Most historians 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. There is a paucity of accepted contemporaneous sources and of direct empirical evidence concerning Jesus, which makes it especially difficult for representatives of the different religious and secular traditions of knowledge and faith to reach agreement on a "biography" of Jesus.

Most scholars do not dispute that a person named Jesus, connected in some way to the events described in the Bible, once lived; they feel that evidence for Jesus' existence two thousand years ago is by historical standards fairly strong. The primary source of historical knowledge about Jesus is contained within the Christian Gospels which many historians believe to have originated from sources written within living memory of Jesus (but later lost, and remaining lost). Evidence for a historical Jesus is also provided by the Epistles, especially those by Paul. Other sources regarded as of less significance from the perspective of modern historians are other early Christian material, other religious traditions, and certain historians of the period. Many historians accept the New Testament as evidence for the historical existence of Jesus; but there is much less acceptance of the basic narrative of his life and death, and far less for any miraculous claims, among professional historians and liberal biblical scholars. These scholars also draw on mention of Jesus in Josephus, and mention of early Christians in Suetonius and Tacitus.

Moreover, some historians believe that, if not the Gospels themselves, at least some of the source documents on which they may have been based were written within living memory of Jesus (see Q document). These historians therefore accept that the accounts of the life of Jesus in the Gospels provide a reasonable basis of evidence (by the standards of scholarship for events in ancient history) for the basic narrative of Jesus' life and death. The miraculous claims of the Gospels and details that surround them, however, are disputed by many historians.

Other 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.

There are only two historical references to Jesus found outside of religious materials. One is a statement about a sect of Romans who follow "Christos"; and the other a brief passage in a historical work by Josephus which some scholars strongly believe was actually later written by Christians and inserted in the text of Josephus's work. There are no non-religious historical documents which give any detail at all about Jesus; everything about him is from a religious text or tradition.

The popular historian Will Durant wrote about the historicity of Jesus in his book Caesar and Christ (p. 557):

In summary, it is clear that there are many contradictions between one gospel and another, many dubious statements of history, many suspicious resemblances to the legends told of pagan gods, many incidents apparently designed to prove the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, many passages possibly aiming to establish a basis for some later doctrine or ritual of the Church....

All this granted, much remains. The contradictions are of minutae, not substance; in essentials the synoptic gospels agree remarkably well, and form a consistent portrait of Christ.... That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels.

Academic historians and religious texts

Unlike religious fundamentalists, who assume that such texts as the Gospels are entirely and literally true, and unlike some critics of Christianity, who assume that such texts are entirely false, most academic historians believe that such texts are historical sources, but that their meaning depends on a variety of factors. Historians generally assume that the Gospels, like other historical sources (for example, the works of Josephus), were written by human beings. Some argue that a text with a clearly identified author (for example, the Gospel of Luke) was written by someone else, or by several authors, or by an author drawing on several sources. Historians assume that a text that is based on real events may nevertheless reflect the biased view of the author or authors, or a bias that is meant to appeal to an intended audience. They also generally don't believe in supernatural phenomena, and tend to look for naturalistic explanations of any supernatural phenomena that were recorded. Consequently, they believe such texts contain information not only about a described event, they also reveal information of historical value about the authors and audience. Historians then use information about the cultural, political, and economic context (from sources outside the text in question) as a basis for reconstructing the intended or understood meaning of the text. Although historians use established methods, there are often vigorous debates over the validity or strength of a given interpretation. Moreover, historians strive to revise their interpretations when new linguistic, literary, or archeological evidence becomes available.

The historical Jesus of Nazareth

This section provides a historical view of Jesus, based largely on textual evidence from the 1st and 2nd centuries.

There has been a good deal of recent research on Jesus by critical scholars: two synthetic accounts are The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders, a historian with a doctorate in theology, now Arts & Sciences Professor of Religion at Duke University, and the three volume A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus by John Meier, a Catholic priest, and Professor of Biblical Studies at the Catholic University of America. The following is a brief summary of the dominant position among critical scholars.

The Gospels provide two accounts of Jesus' birth: according to one account, he is the son of Joseph, a descendant of David; according to the other account, he is the son of God, and divine (Christians do not view these two accounts as irreconcilable). Many historians and other scholars suggest that these accounts were developed after Jesus' death, in order to substantiate the Christian belief that Jesus was the messiah. Most of the material in the Gospels focus on the last year of Jesus' life, and most scholars focus on this period.

This was a period marked by cultural and political dilemmas. Culturally, Jews had to grapple with the values of Hellenism and Hellenistic philosophy. Moreover, as many Jews lived in the Diaspora, and Judea itself was populated by many Gentiles, Jews had to confront a paradox in their own tradition: their Torah applied only to them, but revealed universal truths. This situation led to new interpretations of the Torah, influenced by Hellenic thought and in response to Gentile interest in Judaism.

Jesus lived at a time when Judea was ruled directly by a Roman Procurator, while Galilee was ruled indirectly through the Tetrarch Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. During this time the religion of the Jews centered on the Temple in Jerusalem, but no particular form of Judaism was established as the predominant and correct one. Some Jews formed social and political movements, such as the Sadducees (the aristocratic party, aligned with the ruling priests), Pharisees (who developed a non-priestly approach to Judaism and were, at this time, apolitical), Essenes (who developed a non-Temple oriented but priestly approach to Judaism, and who were apolitical), and the Zealots (who were politically opposed to Roman occupation). Most Jews belonged to none of these parties. Moreover, many individuals claimed to speak for God, in the prophetic tradition of Isaiah and Jeremiah, or to be able to heal people, in the prophetic tradition of Elisha.

This was moreover a volatile period in Jewish history. Most Jews were desperately poor and resented having to pay tribute to Rome. Although Jews were relatively autonomous, ruled by a Jewish high priest and tetrarch, these officials were appointed by Rome and thus had questionable legitimacy. Moreover, the Second Temple itself, rebuilt under Persian auspices, had uncertain legitimacy.

During this time many Jews hoped that the Romans would be replaced by a Jewish king (also referred to as "the anointed", or messiah, as kings were anointed) of the line of David – the last legitimate Jewish regime. However, Jews were divided over how this might occur. Most Jews believed that their history was governed by God. For example, many believed that the Babylonian Exile, the conquest of Babylon by the Persians (who allowed Jews to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem), the defeat of the Seleucids by the Jews, and the conquest of Judea by the Romans, were all divine acts. They thus believed that the Romans were instruments of God, and would be replaced by a Jewish king only through divine intervention; thus, the majority of Jews accepted Roman rule. Others (primarily the Zealots) believed that the kingdom should be restored immediately, through violent human action.

Jesus seems not to have belonged to any particular party; Jesus was special (perhaps even unique) in combining elements of many of these different – and for most Jews, opposing – positions. Most critical scholars see Jesus as working in the prophetic tradition, both as a mouthpiece for God and as an itinerant healer. However, many of his teachings echoed the beliefs of the Qumran community (which was likely a branch of the Essenes); he may have engaged the Pharisees on matters of Jewish law (most scholars believe that many of the debates between Jesus and the Pharisees found in the Gospels were added after Jesus' death, at a time when the Pharisees emerged as the dominant form of Judaism and the primary competitors with Christians as interpreters of the Bible); and his declarations that the kingdom was at hand echoed the Zealots. Many historians and other scholars argue that it is more likely that, like most Jews, Jesus believed that the restoration of the monarchy would be accomplished by God, not by any movement of Jews. However, he did believe that this restoration was immanent. Jesus was enigmatic at best about his claim to actually be the presumptive monarch, but it is likely that he believed that as soon as God restored the monarchy, he would be anointed as king. That he speaks of twelve disciples is probably symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel, and thus a metaphor for "all of Israel (the Gospels name fourteen disciples; Paul mentions a "twelve" that does not include Peter or other disciples).

Talk of a restoration of the monarchy was seditious under Roman occupation, and Jesus entered Jerusalem at an especially risky time. Jews were required to offer sacrifices at the Temple three times a year: Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot. Although most Jews did not have the means to travel to Jerusalem for every holiday, virtually all tried to comply with these laws as best they could. Thus, during these festivals the population of Jerusalem swelled – and outbreaks of violence and riots were common. Critical scholars argue that the high priest feared that Jesus' talk of an immanent restoration of an independent Jewish state would likely spark a riot. As maintaining the peace was one of the primary jobs of the high priest, whom the Romans held personally responsible for any major outbreak of violence, he had Jesus arrested and turned him over to the Romans for execution.

After the destruction of the Temple in 70, the Zealots, Sadducees, and Essenes disappeared. Moreover, the followers of Jesus offered Gentiles a form of Judaism that emphasized the universal over the particular. When it became apparent that the Jews preferred Rabbinic Judaism, followers of Jesus turned primarily to Gentiles and emphasized universality even more. The result was the Christian religion. It was during this period, many scholars argue, that Christians transformed the meaning of the word messiah to be universal and divine, rather than particular and human.

Another widespread view of 20th century Biblical scholars (argued most recently in Jesus: apocalyptic prophet of the new millenium as well as the other books of Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina), was that Jesus originally preached apocalyptic Judaism. This view was fuelled by Gospel scholarship which largely upheld the Gospel of Mark as the earliest of the canonical Gospels; Mark's frequent use of the apocalyptic term son of man; as well as Jesus' predictions of the apocalyptic end of the world contained in Mark chapter 13.

Alleged relics of Jesus

Main article: Alleged relics of Jesus

                     
There are many items that are purported to be authentic
relics of the Gospel account. The most famous alleged relic of Jesus is the Shroud of Turin.

Jewish perspectives on Jesus

Main article: Jewish view of Jesus Supplementary articles: Judaism and Christianity and Jewish Messiah

Judaism has deemed Jesus a false messiah, and religious Jews are still awaiting the arrival of the Messiah. Christianity originated as a sect of Judaism, but developed into its own religion; there are thus many similarities dating to the time of origin, but also many radical and fundamental differences dating to the period in which the two were in competition and then antagonism. Today, following the work of critical historians, many Jews minimize Jesus' role as miracle worker, but a small number consider him a great teacher.

Islamic perspectives on Jesus

Main article: Isa

Muslims believe that Jesus, or Isa in Arabic, was one of the prophets of Israel and the Messiah. However, they do not consider him to be the son of God, and consider any belief that he is divine to be a heresy irreconcilable with monotheism. The Qur'an also says that Jesus was a 'word' from God, but it is unclear what this means given that he is not considered to be divine.

Also, Muslims do not believe that Jesus was crucified; the Qur'an narrates that God removed Jesus, and replaced him on the cross. This account has some similarities to the early Christian belief of docetism, which held that only an image (Greek 'dokesis') of Jesus was crucified.

According to Ahmadi Muslims, Jesus survived the crucifixion, migrated to Kashmir, and lived a long life there. They believe a particular tomb in Kashmir is the tomb of Jesus.

Other religious perspectives on Jesus

Main article: Non-Christian perspectives on Jesus

Jesus is considered as a manifestation of God by the Baha'is. Mandaeanists see Jesus 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, such as the extinct Manichaeism. In modern times many New Agers have reinterpreted Jesus as a misunderstood guru preaching enlightenment.

Sizable minorities of Buddhists and Hindus have beliefs about Jesus; some of these Buddhists have seen Jesus as manifestation of Maitreya, while some Hindus have considered Jesus to be a yogi, guru or even avatar.

Latter-day Saints and other adherents of Mormonism believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God and part of the Godhead like other Christians, but they also believe that Jesus personally visited The Americas shortly after His resurrection or ascension. The account is found in the Book of Mormon. (see Mormonism and Christianity).

Followers of Urantia consider Jesus to be divine, but also believe that Joseph was Jesus' genetic father. The Urantia Book gives a different picture of the life of Jesus from that found in the Gospel accounts, and restates many of his teachings.

Dramatic portrayals of Jesus

Main article: Dramatic portrayals of Jesus

Warning: Plot details follow.

Jesus has been featured in many films and media, sometimes as a serious portrayal, and other times as satire.

The Passion of the Christ

The latest feature film to portray Jesus is by Mel Gibson entitled The Passion of the Christ. James Caviezel played the role of Jesus. Gibson enlisted the services of many Christian and Jewish scholars in an attempt to make the film historically accurate. The film's dialog is predominantly in Aramaic, with subtitles for the viewer. Due to its graphic and explicit portrayal of the crucifixion, this film is widely regarded as one of the most violent R-rated films ever made; the film was at first thought to be at risk of receiving an NC-17 rating in the U.S. by the MPAA. The Passion grossed more money than any other Christ-focused film, although after adjusting for inflation, Ben-Hur (see below) took in more box office receipts.

The Last Temptation of Christ

Willem Dafoe played Jesus in the controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ, a film by Martin Scorsese about Jesus. Among many Christians, the movie was regarded as distasteful, sacriligious, and an assault on the true Jesus, but many critics praised the film for its blend of classical imagery and a fresh view of Christ. Historians agree that there is little evidence for much of Scorcese's portrayal of Jesus, and indeed it was never Scorcese's intention to portray the historical Jesus, but to highlight the human Jesus' triumph over temptation.

Ben-Hur

Charlton Heston starred in the epic film Ben Hur, which depicts Jesus' effect on the life of a Jewish prince. Claude Heater played Jesus in this film; Jesus was partially – and intentionally – obscured in the few scenes in which the character is depicted (including the crucifixion), and has no spoken dialogue. The shots were such that Jesus' face was not even seen during the film; the shots were either made so that Heater had his back to the camera, or were closeup shots that showed only hands or the back and sides of Heater's head.

The Seventh Sign

Juergen Prochnow portrayed Jesus' returned to Earth, in the year 1988, to judge mankind. The final judgement was averted by an act of faith which prevented the final sign of the apocalypse from occurring. In the film, through a flashback, Prochnow also portrays the original Jesus on the eve of his crucifixion.

Further reading

See also: List of songs which refer to Jesus

External links

Topics related to Jesus
Christology | as Christ & Messiah; | his Resurrection | Jesus in Islam | Jewish views | Other views of Jesus | Sources about Jesus | Historicity of Jesus | Fictional portrayals |edit|