Jesus, or Jesus of Nazareth, also known as Jesus Christ, is Christianity's central
figure, both as Messiah and, for most Christians, as God incarnate. In Islam
and the Bahá'í Faith, he is regarded as a major prophet.
The primary sources about Jesus are the four canonical Gospel accounts,
which depict him as a Jewish preacher, healer and God himself; often
at odds with Jewish authorities - who was crucified in Jerusalem
during the rule of the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate. In addition to
the four Gospels, a dozen or so non-canonical texts also exist, among
which the Gospel of Thomas is believed by some textual critics to predate
the Gospels of the traditional canon.
Most Christians believe in one God that is a trinity composed of three
persons, that Jesus is the second person of that trinity, and also
that he is the Messiah (Greek: Christos) prophesied in the Old Testament
(or Hebrew Bible). Most Christians also believe that Jesus died on
the cross and rose from the dead, and that through him they can be
saved. Muslims believe that he was one of God's most important prophets
and also the Messiah, though they attach a different meaning to this
than Christians, as they do not share the Christian belief in the divinity
The canonical Gospel accounts focus primarily on Jesus' last one to
three years, especially the last week before his crucifixion, which,
based upon mention of Pilate, would have been anywhere from the years
26 to 36 in the current era. The earlier dating agrees with Tertullian
(died 230) who, in Adversus Marcionem xv, expresses a Roman tradition
that placed the crucifixion in the twelfth year of Tiberius Caesar.
A faulty 6th century attempt to calculate the year of his birth (which
according to recent estimates could have been from 8 BC/BCE to 4 BC/BCE)
became the basis for the Anno Domini system of reckoning years (and
also the chronologically-equivalent Common Era system).
The historicity, teachings and nature of Jesus are subject to debate.
The earliest New Testament texts which refer to him are Paul's letters,
which are usually dated from the mid-first century. The only recorded
times when Paul saw Jesus were in visions, but he claimed they were
divine revelations and hence authoritative. Many modern scholars hold
that the works describing Jesus (primarily the Gospel accounts) were
initially communicated by oral tradition and were committed to writing
as soon as several decades after the Crucifixion. Some believe that
these texts may not have retained the same level of historical accuracy
as direct first-hand accounts written during or soon after the life
of Jesus. However, some scholars argue for a high degree of historical
reliability of the key New Testament events, and some also for early
dates of the entire New Testament. Although the exact level of the
historical accuracy contained in these texts is debated, the vast majority
of scholars agree that the actual existence of a historical Jesus is
Date of birth and death.
The most detailed information about Jesus' birth and death is contained
in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. There is considerable
debate about the details of Jesus' birth even among Christian scholars.
Few, if any, scholars claim to know either the year or the date of
his birth or of his death.
Based on the accounts in the Gospels of the shepherds' activities,
the time of year depicted for Jesus' birth could be spring or summer.
However, as early as 354, Roman Christians celebrated it following
the December solstice in an attempt to replace the Roman pagan festival
of Saturnalia. Before then, Jesus' birth was generally celebrated on
January 6 as part of the feast of Theophany, also known as Epiphany,
which commemorated not only Jesus' birth but also his baptism by John
in the Jordan and possibly additional events in Jesus' life.
In the 248th year of the Diocletian Era (based on Diocletian's acsension
to the Roman throne), Dionysius Exiguus attempted to pinpoint the number
of years since Jesus' birth, arriving at a figure of 753 years after
the founding of Rome. Dionysius then set Jesus' birth as being December
25 1 ACN (for "Ante Christum Natum", or "before the
birth of Christ"), and assigned AD 1 to the following year - thereby
establishing the system of numbering years from the birth of Jesus:
Anno Domini (which translates as "in the year of the Lord").
This system made the then current year 532, and almost two centuries
later it won acceptance and became the established calendar in Western
civilization due to its championing by the Venerable Bede.
However, based on a lunar eclipse that Josephus reports shortly before
the death of Herod the Great, the birth of Christ would have been some
time before the year 4 BC/BCE, probably 5 or 6 BC/BCE. This estimate
itself relies on the historicity of the New Testament story involving
Herod around the time of Jesus' birth. Having fewer sources and being
even further removed in time from the authors of the New Testament,
details surrounding Jesus' birth are regarded, even by many believers,
as less likely to be historical fact, and therefore establishing a
reliable birth date is particularly difficult.
As for Jesus' death, the exact date is also unclear. The Gospel of
John depicts the crucifixion just before the Passover festival on Friday
14 Nisan, called the Quartodeciman, whereas the synoptic gospels describe
the Last Supper, immediately before Jesus' arrest, as the Passover
meal on Friday 15 Nisan. Further, the Jews followed a lunisolar calendar
with phases of the moon as dates, complicating calculations of any
exact date in a solar calendar. According to John P. Meier's A Marginal
Jew, allowing for the time of the procuratorship of Pontius Pilate
and the dates of the Passover in those years, his death can be placed
most probably on April 7, 30 or April 3, 33 or March 30, 36.
Hyam Maccoby and other scholars have pointed out that several details
of the Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem - the waving of palm fronds,
the Hosanna cry, the proclamation of a king - are connected with the
Festival of Sukkot or Tabernacles, not with Passover. It is possible
that the Entry (and subsequent events, including the Crucifixion and
Resurrection)in historical reality took place at this time - the month
of Tishri in the Autumn, not Nisan in the Spring. There could have
been confusion due to a misunderstanding, or a deliberate change due
to doctrinal points.
Life and teachings.
According to the texts of Christianity, Jesus was born in Bethlehem
to Mary, a virgin, via the Holy Spirit. Joseph, Mary's betrothed husband,
appears only in stories of Jesus' childhood; this is generally taken
to mean that he was dead by the time of Jesus' ministry. In the Gospels,
Jesus' birth is attended by visits from shepherds who were told of the
birth by angels. Magi ("Wise Men") from the East were guided
by a star to his location some months later.
Mark 6:3 (and analogous passages in Matthew and Luke) reports that
Jesus was "Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas
and Simon" and also states that Jesus had sisters. The 1st century
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). However,
Jerome argued that they were Jesus's cousins, which the Greek word
for "brother" used in the Gospels would allow. This was based
on the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition that Mary remained
a perpetual virgin, thus having no biological children before or after
Jesus. Luke's Gospel records that Mary was a relative of Elizabeth,
mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1:36). The Bible, however, does not
exactly reveal how Mary and Elizabeth were related.
Nazareth in Galilee is represented as his childhood home. Only one
incident between his infancy and his adult life is mentioned in the
canonical Gospels (although New Testament apocrypha go into these details,
some quite extensively). At the age of twelve, Jesus was left behind
by his parents after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On being missed, he
was found 'instructing the scholars in the temple'.
Just after he was baptized by John the Baptist he began his public
teaching; he is generally considered to have been about thirty years
old at that time. Jesus used a variety of methods in his teaching,
such as paradox, metaphor and parable. His teaching frequently centered
on the Kingdom of God, or Kingdom of Heaven. Some of his most famous
teachings are in the Sermon on the Mount, which also contains the Beatitudes.
His parables (or stories with a hidden meaning) include the parable
of the Good Samaritan, and the Prodigal Son. Jesus had a number of
disciples. His closest followers were twelve apostles, headed by Peter.
According to the New Testament, Jesus also performed various miracles
in the course of his ministry, including healings, exorcisms, and raising
Lazarus from the dead.
Jesus frequently put himself in opposition to the Jewish religious
leaders including the opposing forces of Sadducees and Pharisees. His
teaching castigated the Pharisees primarily for their legalism and
hypocrisy, although he also had followers among the religious leaders
(see Nicodemus). In his role as a social reformer, and with his followers
holding the inflammatory view that he was the Jewish Messiah, Jesus
threatened the status quo.
Jesus preachings included the forgiveness of sin, life after death,
and resurrection of the body. Jesus also preached the imminent end
of the current era (a???) of history, or even the literal end of the
world; in this sense he was an apocalyptic preacher. Some interpretations
of the text, particularly amongst Protestants, suggest that Jesus opposed
stringent interpretations of Jewish law, supporting the spirit more
than the letter.
Jesus as a Leader of Nonviolent Resistance.
In Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, chapter 3, paragraph
1, we learn that Pontius Pilate began his administration of Judea by
ordering Eagle Standards with images of the emperor set up in Jerusalem
("whereas our law forbids us the very making of images").
Thousands of Jewish people descended on Caesarea to ask the standards'
removal. When Pilate refused, the Jews fell prostrate around his house
for five days and nights. Pilate threatened them with death, ordering
his soldiers to circle around them. They "laid their necks bare", and replied that they would rather die than see the Torah violated.
Pilate gave in and ordered the standards removed. Josephus does not
say who inspired and organized this major act of Nonviolent Resistance,
but in the third paragraph, just two paragraphs later, he tells of
the Crucifixion of Jesus by Pilate - though he does not say for what
crime was he executed, if any. (This section of Josephus contains obvious
Christian interpolations in most texts, but the Arabic version seems
to be free of these.) It could be plausibly argued that the organizer
of the Caesarea resistance was Jesus himself - no alternative candidate
presents himself - though it may be that the activitiy was generated
spontaneously from general reports. It is rather implausible that such
a major popular action was carried out, and kept within the bounds
of nonviolence, without a very charismatic leader to inspire it and
lead it. If Jesus did have a hand in this action, the Gospels show
no sign of it. This would be part of the general tendency of the Gospel
writers to distance Jesus from his own people and to absolve the Romans
for his death. Such an action as the Caesarea Protest would have offered
a major reason for Pilate to order his Crucifixion. Therefore, Gospel
writers would have good reason, from their point of view, to avoid
any mention of it.
Arrest and trial.
Jesus came with his followers to Jerusalem during the Passover festival,
and created a disturbance at the Temple by overturning the tables
of the moneychangers there. He was subsequently arrested on the orders
of the Sanhedrin and the High Priest, Joseph Caiaphas. He was identified
to the guards by one of his apostles, Judas Iscariot, who is portrayed
as having betrayed Jesus by a kiss.
He was condemned for blasphemy by the Sanhedrin and turned over to
the Romans for execution - not for blasphemy, but for sedition against
the Empire. According to the canonical gospel accounts (Matthew 27:24-26,
Mark 15:15, Luke 23:24-25, John 19:16a), Pontius Pilate, bowing to
the Jewish religious leaders' pressure, handed Jesus over (paredoken)
(to his Roman soldiers) to be crucified. Some scholars argue that it
was an ordinary Roman trial of a rebel, whose Messianic claims made
him especially dangerous, but the Gospels consistently paint the sedition
charge as a strained treatment of Jesus' theological position, a tactic
used by the Jewish religous leadership as a method to force Pilate's
hand(See Barabbas.). All four Gospel accounts mention that the charge
noted on the tablet called the titulus crucis, attached by orders of
Pilate atop the cross, included the term "King of the Jews", though Pilate is represented as having found nothing inherently seditous
in Jesus' kingdom conception. In art the titulus crucis is often written
as INRI, the Latin acronym for "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the
Following the crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea obtained Pilate's permission
to take down Jesus' body and lay it into his own new tomb. This was
observed by Mary and other women, notably Mary Magdalene.
Resurrection and Ascension.
In accordance with the four canonical Gospel accounts Christians believe
that Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion.
This article of faith is referred to in Christian terminology as the
Resurrection of Jesus Christ; and each year at Easter (on a Sunday)
it is commemorated and celebrated by most groups who consider themselves
No one was a witness to the event of the resurrection. However, the
women who had witnessed the entombment and the closure of the tomb
with a great stone, found it empty when they arrived on the third day
to anoint the body. The Synoptic Gospel accounts further state that
an angel was waiting at the tomb to explain to them that Jesus had
been resurrected, though the Gospel according to John makes no mention
of this encounter. The sight of the same angel had apparently left
the guards unconscious (cf. Matthew 28:2-4) that according to Matthew
27:62-66 the high priests and Pharisees, with Pilate's permission,
had posted in front of the tomb to prevent the body from being stolen
by Jesus' disciples. Mark 16:9 says that Mary Magdalene was the first
to whom Jesus appeared very early that morning. John 20:11-18 states
that when Mary looked into the tomb, two angels asked her why she was
crying; and as she turned round she initially failed to recognise Jesus - even
by his voice - until he called her by her name. The Gospel accounts
and the Acts of the Apostles tell of several appearances of Jesus to
various people in various places over a period of forty days before
he "ascended into heaven". Just hours after his resurrection
he appeared to two travellers on the road to Emmaus. To his assembled
disciples he showed himself on the evening after his resurrection,
when Thomas was however absent, though he was present when Jesus repeated
his visit to them a week later. Thereafter he went to Galilee and showed
himself to several of his disciples by the lake and on the mountain;
and they were present when he returned to Bethany and was lifted up
and a cloud concealed him from their sight.
The resurrection of Jesus is almost universally denied by those who
do not follow the Christian religion. Most Christians - even
those who do not hold to the literal truth of everything in the canonical
Gospel accounts - accept the New Testament presentation of the
Resurrection as a historical account of an actual event central to
their faith. Therefore, belief in the resurrection is one of the most
distinctive elements of Christian faith; and defending the historicity
of the resurrection is usually a central issue of Christian apologetics.
However, some liberal Christians do not accept that Jesus was raised
bodily from the dead, or that he still lives bodily (e.g. John Shelby
Preparation of apostles.
According to most Christian interpretations of the Bible, the theme
of Jesus' preaching was that of apocalyptic repentance. During his
public ministry Jesus extensively trained twelve Apostles to continue
after his departure his leadership of the many who had begun to follow
him mainly in the towns and villages throughout Galilee, Samaria, and
the Decapolis. Most Christians who hold that Jesus' miracles were literally
true, not allegory, think that the Apostles gained the power to perform
healing for both Jews and Gentiles alike after they had been empowered
by the Holy Spirit of Truth (to pneuma tes aletheias, John 14:17, 26;
Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8, 2:4) that he had promised the Father would send
them after his departure - a promise that according to Acts 2:4
was fulfilled at Pentecost, poignantly the Jewish feast that, in addition
to other Scriptural events, commemorates also the giving of the Law
Cultural and historical background.
The world in which Jesus lived was volatile, marked by cultural and
political dilemmas. Culturally, Jews had to grapple with the values
and philosophy of Hellenism, and the imperialism of Rome, together
with the paradox that 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
All of the land of Israel belonged to the Roman Empire at the time
of Jesus' birth. It was directly ruled by the Idumaean Herod the Great
who was appointed King of the Jews in Rome in 39 BC/BCE by Mark Antony
and Octavian. In AD 6/6CE, Octavian, recently designated Roman Emperor
and renamed as Augustus, deposed Herod's son Herod Archelaus. He combined
Judea, Samaria, and Idumea into Iudaea Province which was placed under
direct Roman administration and supervision by a Roman prefect who
appointed a Jewish High Priest for Herod's Temple in Jerusalem. This
situation existed, more or less, till 64 and the start of the Great
Jewish Revolt. Galilee, where Jesus grew up according to the Gospels,
remained under the jurisdiction of another of Herod's sons, Herod Antipas,
Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, from 4 BC/BCE to AD 39/39 CE.
At this time Jesus' childhood hometown of Nazareth (Hebrew, Natserath)
was, as revealed by archaeology, a tiny hamlet of a few hundred inhabitants.
It had no synagogue, nor any public buildings. No gold, silver or imported
goods have been found in it by archaeological excavation.
According to Josephus, within 1st century Judaism there were several
sects, primarily the Sadducees, closely connected with the priesthood
and the Temple, and the Pharisees, who were teachers and leaders of
the synagogues. They resented Roman occupation, but, according to historian
Shaye Cohen (1988), were in Jesus' time relatively apolitical. In addition,
isolated in small communities from these main groups, by choice, some
even taking to remote desert caves in anticipation of the end times,
lived the Essenes, whose theology and philosophy are thought, by some
scholars, to have influenced Jesus and/or John the Baptist.
Many Jews hoped that the Romans would be replaced by a Jewish king
(or Messiah) of the line of King David - in their view the last
legitimate Jewish regime. Most people at that time believed that their
history was governed by God, meaning that even the conquest of Judea
by the Romans was a divine act. Therefore the Romans would be replaced
by a Jewish king only through divine intervention. Some, like John
the Baptist in the first half of the century, and Yehoshua ben Ananias
in the second half, claimed that a messianic age was at hand. Josephus'
Jewish Antiquities book 18 states there was a "fourth sect", in addition to Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes, which scholars associate
with those he called Zealots. They were founded by Judas of Galilee
and Zadok the Pharisee in the year 6 against Quirinius' tax reform
and "agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but
they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is
to be their only Ruler and Lord". (18.1.6) They believed that
the kingdom should be restored immediately, even through violent human
action, and advocated direct action against the Romans. Roman reaction
to the Zealots eventually led to the destruction of Herod's Temple
by Vespasian in August of 70 CE, and the subsequent decline of the
Zealots, Sadducees and Essenes.
Some scholars have asserted that, despite the depictions of him as
antagonistic towards the Pharisees, Jesus was a member of that group. See also Pharisees and Christianity.
Jesus' language was most probably Aramaic; see Aramaic of Jesus. He
may also have spoken other languages of the time, such as the Jewish
liturgical language Hebrew, and the administrative language, Greek.