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Jesus Christ

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Jesus is the central figure in Christianity, in which context he is known as Jesus Christ (from the Greek Ιησους [Iēsoûs], his name in Greek, and Χριστός [Christos]), meaning "anointed"). He is also called Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus the Nazarene. Christians believe he was a historical figure who lived from about 6–4 AEV to about 29–33 EV, and most (though not all) secular scholars accept that Jesus existed. Christians also believe, on the basis of nearly 2,000 years of tradition, as well as the four Gospels, which form the first books of the New Testament of the Bible, that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and God Himself.

According to the account in the Gospels, Jesus preached a religious message in Galilee and Judea in Israel, and was sentenced to death and crucified in Jerusalem by order of the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate before rising from the dead on the third day. Jesus's acts and words, as presented in the Gospels, constitute Christianity's basic teachings. These teachings were spread by a small group of followers or disciples.

Table of contents


The only written sources for knowledge about Jesus's life are the four canonical Gospels and several non-canonical gospels. Most historians, secular or otherwise, (though not all) agree that the source documents on which the four canonical Gospels are based were written within living memory of Jesus's lifetime. They therefore accept that the accounts of the life of Jesus in those Gospels provide a reasonable basis of evidence, by the standards of ancient history, for the historical existence of Jesus and the basic facts of his life and death. A minority of historians argue that no such person as Jesus ever existed. Many of those who do accept his existence, however, are deeply divided over the historicity of the Gospels' accounts. Some say that the Gospel accounts are not an honest and objective account of the events in question, since they were written or compiled by his followers. Those who also adopt a purely naturalistic view of history are particularly skeptical about events such as the resurrection of Jesus and other miracles mentioned in the Gospels.

Religious perspectives

Most groups identifying themselves as Christians believe Jesus was God Incarnate (a man who was the earthly aspect of God, as part of the Holy Trinity), who came to earth to save humanity from sin and death through the shedding of his own blood in sacrifice (salvation), and who returned from the dead to rejoin his Father in Heaven. However, some groups identifying themselves as Christian, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarians, and Christian Scientists, believe Jesus was divinely inspired but not God incarnate.

Muslim views of Jesus (whom they call Isa) hold that he was one of the prophets of Israel and the Messiah, but that the miracles were performed by God on Jesus' behalf, and consider any belief that he is divine to be a heresy, irreconcilable with Islam's monotheistic beliefs. The Ahmadiyya believe that Jesus was sent to reform, rather than prophecy to, the Hebrew people including the "Ten Lost Tribes", and hold that Jesus was crucified but did not die as a result. The Bahá'í Faith considers Jesus to be a manifestation of God.

Judaism has deemed Jesus a false messiah, and religious Jews are still awaiting the arrival of the Messiah; many Jews see Jesus as a minor miracle worker or failed rebel leader, but a small number consider him a great teacher. Some scholars believe that Jesus is mentioned as Yeshu, in the Jewish Talmud, although many scholars dispute this. Hinduism is divided on the issue of Jesus—some hold that he was just a man, others say he was a great guru or yogi, others still equate Jesus with an avatar. He has been claimed as an Ascended Master by Theosophy and some of its offshoots; related speculations have him studying mysticism in the Himalayas or hermeticism in Egypt in the period between his childhood and his public career.

The discipline of Christology discusses who Jesus was or was not from a philosophical and theological perspective. The Christological argument attempts to prove the existence of God based on the existence of Jesus and his alleged claims about himself.

The questions of the divinity of Jesus was discussed and voted on by Ecumenical Councils, starting with Constantine I's attempts at producing unity, enforcement of the resulting decision thus suggesting an air of politicization to the supposedly religious issue. It is not the case that all scholars reject Jesus' divinity, yet some may choose to describe the social and cultural implications of claiming divinity in the 1st century EV. As such, scholars are interested in providing an historical context to the beliefs and tenets of Jesus' Kingdom of God movement. They believe he was simply a Jewish apocalyptic teacher and faith healer who was crucified, and was subsequently the inspiration for Christianity.

Date of birth and death

The most detailed information about Jesus's birth and death is contained in the Gospels, but they were written to promote a philosophy and religion rather than to teach history. As a result, there is considerable debate about the exact date of birth and death of Jesus, even among Christian scholars.

Based on the accounts in the gospels of the shepherds' activities, the time of year depicted for Jesus' birth would likely be spring or summer. However, as early as 354 EV, 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 accession to the Roman throne), Dionysius Exiguus attempted to pinpoint the number of years since Jesus's birth, arriving at a figure of 753 years after the founding of Rome. Dionysius then set Jesus' birth as being December 25, 1 AEV, making the then current year EV 532, and thereby establishing the present system of numbering years from the birth of Jesus: Anno Domini (Era Vulgaris). Based on a lunar eclipse that Josephus reports shortly before the death of Herod the Great, however, the birth of Christ would have been some time before the year 4 AEV, probably 5 or 6 AEV.

As for Jesus's death there is a controversy that may never be resolved. All the synoptic gospels depict the crucifixion before the passover, whereas St John's Gospel depicts the crucifixion after the passover festival. Further, the Jews followed a lunisolar calendar with phases of the moon as dates, complicating calculations of any exact date in a solar calendar. 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 in EV 30 or EV 33.

Life and teaching according to the New Testament

Jesus was born in Bethlehem to a Jewish family, while Nazareth in Galilee was his childhood home, as the son of Mary (a virgin) and God. Mary's husband was Joseph, who had sons called James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon, and some daughters, who may, or may not, be the children from a previous marriage rather than Mary's.

The Gospels do not describe much of Jesus' life between the ages of 12 and 32, the last incident before the gap being that he instructed the scholars in the temple, neither is much of his childhood discussed (though some non-Biblical texts go into this detail). However, just after he was baptized by John the Baptist, to whom Jesus' relationship is not made clear, Jesus began his public teaching.

Jesus used a variety of methods in his teaching, such as paradox, metaphor and parable, leaving it unclear how literally he wished to be taken and precisely what he meant. Jesus also performed various miracles in the course of his ministry, ranging from cures to exorcisms, with several others that show a dominion over nature. Scholars in mainstream Christian traditions as well as many secular scholars view these as claims of supernatural power. However, others consider the stories to be allegorical—"He made the blind to see, and the deaf to hear" is interpreted by many as meaning "He opened the eyes of people to the truth."

Jesus debated with many religious leaders including the opposing forces of Sadducees and Pharisees, and produced an argument which a few modern scholars think indicates that Jesus may have been a liberal Pharisee, or an Essene. For many years in the first millennium, Jesus was cast as an enemy of the Pharisees, as the Pharisees had become the dominant sect of Judaism. In his role as a social reformer, and with his followers holding the inflammatory view that he was Messiah, Jesus threatened the status quo.

Jesus also preached 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. Some interpretations of the text, particularly amongst Protestants, suggest that Jesus opposed stringent interpretations of Jewish law, supporting the spirit of the law more than the letter of the law.

The Bible does not explicitly indicate that Jesus had any romantic relationships, and most scholars and Christians think that he had none. However, some contrary interpretations are based on references to "the disciple whom Jesus loved", usually thought to refer to John the Apostle though some think it might be a reference to Lazarus, and a lesser number still think it may be Mary Magdalene.

Jesus came with his followers to Jerusalem during the Passover festival, created a disturbance at the Temple by overturning the tables of the moneychangers there, and was subsequently arrested on the orders of the Sanhedrin and the High Priest, Joseph Caiphas. He was identified to the guards by one of his Apostles, Judas Iscariot, who is portrayed as having betrayed Jesus, by a kiss.

Jesus was crucified by the Romans on the reluctant orders of Pontius Pilate, bowing to the Jewish religious leaders' pressure. A deal with Pilate by Joseph of Arimathea resulted in the body being taken down and entombed, during the presence of Mary and other women, notably Mary Magdalene.

Jesus' disciples encountered him again on the third day after his death, raised back to life. No one was a witness to the resurrection, though those who went to anoint the body found the tomb empty. After the resurrection, the Gospels give various accounts of Jesus meeting various people in various places over a period of forty days before "ascending into heaven".

According to most Christian interpretations of the Bible, the theme of Jesus' preaching was that of apocalyptic repentance. Later, Jesus extensively trained twelve Apostles to continue his teachings. Most Christians who hold that Jesus's miracles were literally true, not allegory, think that the Apostles gained the power to perform healing to both Jews and Gentiles alike after they had been empowered by the Holy Spirit which he was to send to them following his Ascension.

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, 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 in Judaism.

All of Israel belonged to the Roman empire at the time given for Jesus' birth, but it was indirectly ruled by King Herod the Great. After Herod's death in 4 BC, Judea and Samaria were combined into the Roman province of Palestina, ruled by the Jewish High Priest under the supervision of a Roman procurator. Galilee, where Jesus allegedly grew up, remained under the jurisdiction of Herod's son, the Tetrarch Herod Antipas.

Within Judaism, there were several parties, 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 at Jesus' time were not particularly political. Isolated in small communities from these main groups, by choice, lived the Essenes, whose theology and philosophy are perceived as having influenced Jesus and/or John the Baptist by many scholars. The Zealots, who advocated direct action against the Romans (eventually leading to the destruction of the temple, and the subsequent decline of the Saducees and Essenes), may have been active at this time (though this is debated).

Many Jews hoped that the Romans would be replaced by a Jewish king (or Messiah) of the line of David — in their view the last legitimate Jewish regime. Most Jews 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; thus, the majority of Jews accepted Roman rule. Some like John the Baptist in the first half of the century, and Yehoshua ben Ananias in the second, claimed that a messianic age was at hand. Others believed that the kingdom should be restored immediately, through violent human action.


There are many items that are purported to be authentic relics of the Gospel account, which are listed in the main article. The most famous alleged relics of Jesus is the Shroud of Turin, which is claimed to be the burial shroud used to wrap the body of Jesus, and the Holy Grail which is said to have been used to collect Jesus' blood during his crucifixion and possibly used at The Last Supper. Many modern Christians, however, do not accept any of these as true relics. Indeed, this skepticism has been around for centuries, with Erasmus joking that so much wood formed parts of the True Cross, that Jesus must have been crucified on a whole forest.

Artistic portrayals

Jesus has been featured in many films and media, sometimes as a serious portrayal, and other times as satire. Many of these portrayals have attracted controversy, whether they were intended to be based on the Biblical accounts (such as Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and Pier Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew) or intentionally added extra material (such as The Last Temptation of Christ). Another recurring theme is the up-dating of aspects of the life of Jesus, or imagining his Second Coming (for example, The Seventh Sign). In music, many songs refer to Jesus.

In many portrayals Jesus himself is a minor character, used to develop the overall themes. For example, in Ben-Hur and The Life of Brian Jesus only appears in a few scenes.


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