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.

Topics related to Jesus

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 of Jesus.

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 likely. [1]

This 11th-century portrait is one of many images of Jesus in which a halo with a cross is used. Such depictions are characteristic of Eastern Orthodox iconography, in which he is portrayed as similar in features and skin tone to the culture of the artist.
This 11th-century portrait is one of many images of Jesus in which a halo with a cross is used. Such depictions are characteristic of Eastern Orthodox iconography, in which he is portrayed as similar in features and skin tone to the culture of the artist.


The four canonical Gospel accounts are the primary sources about Jesus received by the Church and the Christian faith. Some critics speculate that the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) used as sources a Q document, Logia, M-Source, and Oral tradition, and that the Gospel of John used a Signs Gospel though none of these are currently extant. However, noted scholars reject the arguments of critics based on various historical and textual issues (see: Augustinian hypothesis). Also, considered as important by a handful of scholars, though arguably not as authoritative sources for the Christian faith, are several apocryphal writings such as the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Gospel of Mary, the Infancy Gospels, the Gospel of Peter, the Unknown Berlin Gospel, the Naassene Fragment, the Secret Gospel of Mark, the Egerton Gospel, the Oxyrhynchus Gospels, the Fayyum Fragment and some others compiled in The Complete Gospels .

The dating of the Gospel of Thomas is believed by some scholars to possibly predate the canonical Gospels, and therefore this non-canonical Gospel may not rightly be called apocryphal, or be said to have any greater or lesser level of scholarly certainty existing about its authenticity, than any of the four canonical Gospels. The Gospel of Thomas is included with the canonicals in the Five Gospels of the Jesus Seminar. However, other scholars date the Gospel of Thomas as late as 150, see gnostic influences in it, cite the lack of any definitive support that any church fathers quoted it, and believe it suffers from a paucity of manuscripts. [2] [3] [4] In addition, some scholars see the Gospel of Thomas as being very unlike the others Gospels and cite its lack of a resurrection of Jesus, despite the fact that the gospel of Mark originally may have ended without a resurrection as well. [5]

The debates that went on in the 4th century regarding which works should and should not be included in the canon were not known to include modern techniques of historical analysis, and generally tended to center more upon theology than upon historicity. However, noted scholars FF Bruce, Bruce Metzger and others argue that many considerations (including historical considerations) were taken into consideration regarding New Testament cannon. It may be surmised that the early church leaders took for granted that historicity was not an issue to be debated, any more than debating the historicity of the Articles of Confederation or the Constitution would be major issues today. [6] [7] [8] (Last footnote uses a PDF file). In addition, Bible scholar Bruce Metzger wrote regarding the Canon formation, "Although the fringes of the emerging canon remained unsettled for generations, a high degree of unanimity concerning the greater part of the New Testament was attained among the very diverse and scattered congregations of believers not only throughout the Mediterranean world, but also over an area extending from Britain to Mesopotamia."

Several historians have observed that historical documentation is often partial and second hand, and must be interpreted with care. Thus, many have suggested that one treat the existence of Jesus and the accuracy of the New Testament as distinct questions. For example, F.F. Bruce, Rylands professor of biblical criticism and exegesis at the University of Manchester, has said: "Some writers may toy with the fancy of a 'Christ-myth,' but they do not do so on the ground of historical evidence. The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar." In The Historical Figure of Jesus, E.P. Sanders explains that historians often have to contend with documentation of differing quantity and quality. In many cases (Sanders provides the examples of Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill) historians are fortunate to have access to a good deal of documentation, although much of it has to be interpreted critically. In some cases, and Sanders presents Alexander the Great as paradigmatic, the available sources tell us much about his deeds, but nothing about his thoughts. Sanders considers the quest for the "historical Jesus" to be much closer to that of Alexander than to Jefferson or Churchill. Nevertheless, he concludes, "the sources for Jesus are better, however, than those that deal with Alexander" and "the superiority of evidence for Jesus is seen when we ask what he thought" (1993:3). Paul Barnett has also pointed out that "scholars of ancient history have always recognised the ' subjectivity ' factor in their available sources" and that "they have so few sources available compared to their modern counterparts that they will gladly seize whatever scraps of information that are at hand". He notes that modern history and ancient history are two separate disciplines, with differing methods of analysis and interpretation. [9].

Andrei Rublev's idealized image of Christ the Redeemer (1409).
Andrei Rublev 's idealized image of Christ the Redeemer (1409).

Consequently, scholars like Sanders, Geza Vermes, Paula Fredriksen, John Dominic Crossan and John Meier, argue that although many readers are accustomed to thinking of Jesus solely as a theological figure, whose existence is a matter of theological debate, the source documents (see Two-Source Hypothesis, and Gospel of Mark), on which several modern source hypotheses argue the four canonical Gospel accounts are based, were written within living memory of Jesus's lifetime and therefore provide a basis for the study of the "historical" Jesus. They draw on the canonical Gospel accounts, but also on other historical sources and archaeological evidence to reconstruct as best as possible the life of Jesus in his historical and cultural context. Nevertheless, these scholars reject supernatural elements in the Gospels and other early texts about Jesus.

Even among those who do believe in his existence there are divisions over the extent of historicity of the canonical Gospel accounts. Some say that the Gospel accounts are neither objective nor accurate, since they were written or compiled by his followers. Those who have a naturalistic view of history do not believe in divine intervention or miracles without any evidence for them, such as the resurrection of Jesus mentioned by the Gospels.

There are many similarities between stories about Jesus and myths of Pagan Godmen such as Mithras, Apollo, Attis, Horus, and Osiris Dionysus, leading to conjectures that the pagan myths were adopted by some authors of early accounts of Jesus. Devout Christian thinkers, such as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, believed that such myths were created by ancient pagans with vague and imprecise knowledge of Gospel truth. However, not all agree. For example, the contributors to the Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies maintained that the only area which has any historical detail with regard to the influence of Mithraism on Christianity was in the area of art.

It is commonly thought that Jesus preached for a period of three years, yet this is never mentioned explicitly in any of the Gospels. However, many interpretations of the Synoptic Gospels suggest only one year; and to achieve consistency with the Gospel of John, one theory suggests that the last Gospel describes a timeline which depicts a ministry time period of approximately one year.

Religious perspectives


Head of Christ. Painting by Expressionist, Georges Rouault
Head of Christ. Painting by Expressionist, Georges Rouault

The vast majority of Christian denominations (generally including Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, and most forms of Protestantism, but not Restorationism) derive their beliefs from the agreement reached at the First Council of Nicaea in 325, known as the Nicene Creed, in the form of the Creed of Constantinople (381). In addition to the belief in "one God, the Father, Almighty, maker of heaven and earth ..." and in "the Holy Spirit, the Lord and life-giver, Who proceeds from the Father ...", this Creed confesses the belief in "one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through Whom all things came into existence, Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down from the heavens, and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man, and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures and ascended to heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father, and will come again with glory to judge living and dead, of Whose kingdom there will be no end " (for both the Greek text and the above quoted English translation, cf. J. Stevenson, Creeds, Councils and Controversies, (London 1989); note that the above quotation follows Stevenson in italicising those phrases that do not occur in the Creed of Nicaea).

Protestant Christians generally believe that faith in Jesus is the only way to receive salvation and to enter into heaven, and that salvation is a gift given by the grace of God. Although most members of the various Christian denominations believe that faith in Jesus is necessary (based upon John 3:16), good works are certainly expected. Jesus says (John 13:15) that his life was given as an example or role model for followers. The Lutheran position on justification is nearly identical. In contrast, Roman Catholics believe that even non-Christians can receive the grace needed for salvation if they live a just life. [10] [11]

As reflected in the different Christian denominations, Christianity has undergone several schisms in its understanding of Jesus. The vast majority of Christians believe that Jesus is God according to the nature, as the only begotten Son of God the Second Person of the Divine Trinity, who was Incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, that is to say, who took on a human body and became also man according to the nature, and who came to earth to save mankind from sin and death through the shedding of his own blood in sacrifice and his rising from the dead on the third day and who later ascended into Heaven.

Some groups identifying themselves as Christian, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, and Christian Scientists, believe Jesus was divinely inspired but not God incarnate. Others, such as Mormons (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), believe in a Trinity, but maintain that God the Father begot Jesus as God the Son, and that Jesus created the Earth under the direction of God the Father. Mormons also have additional sacred texts - the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price - that testify that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Chronologically, their book of scripture continues on past the period of the New Testament; and thus provides additional Christian history. Swedenborgians (members of the New Church) believe that Jesus is God incarnate, but not a separate person from the Father; the Father is in the Son like the soul in the body.

There are differing views within Christian groups as to whether or not Jesus ever claimed divinity. The majority of lay Christians, theologians and clergy hold that the Bible shows Jesus both as divine, and claiming divinity.

The Docetics, an early Christian sect, believed (as Muslims do today) that Jesus never died and the Crucifixion was a type of illusion done by God.

The Gnostics believed in the secret wisdom that they say Paul received during his road to Damascus experience (Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 2 Corinthians 12:2-4; Acts 9).

The Marcionites believed Paul and Jesus rejected the Law of Moses and revealed in Jesus Christ a Supreme God, greater than the creator god of the Old Testament.

The Montanists believed in the Paraclete promised in John 14:16.

The Ebionites believed in Jesus as a great prophet who had commanded the end of animal sacrifices and the end of the eating of animal flesh. Other than that, they were observant Jews and did not believe in Jesus as God. They followed Jacob ("James" in the English New Testament), the brother of Jesus, and insisted that Paul's teachings were without authority and totally alien to what Jesus taught.

The Arians believed that the Father was the only true God based on John 17:3.


Unitarianism developed out of theological arguments about whether or not Jesus is God. Trinitarians coined the term 'unitarian' to describe the arguments of those who believed God, as one being, is a single person and not three. This historical argument gave birth to the Unitarian denomination and later the Unitarian Universalist Association. Today few Unitarian Universalists define their religion solely based on this theological characterization. Most Universalists believe in universal reconciliation — that eventually everyone will be saved.

Some Unitarians consider themselves Christian because they are followers of the teachings of Jesus, while others do not self-identify as Christian. Unitarian Universalists who consider themselves Christian can be found throughout the denomination and in such groups as the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship, certain congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the American Unitarian Conference.


Mainstream Muslims believe that:

Ahmadiyya Muslim Movement

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Movement, wrote in his book Jesus in India (April 1896) that Jesus survived the crucifixion and later travelled to India, where he lived as a prophet (and died) under the name of Yuz Asaf.Ahmad argued that when Jesus was taken down from the cross, he had lapsed into a state similar to Jonah's state of 'swoon' in the belly of a fish [Matthew 12:40] (see swoon hypothesis ). A medicine known as Marham-e-Issa (Ointment of Jesus) was applied to his wounds and he revived. Drawing from Biblical, Quranic and Buddhist scriptures, Ahmad wrote that Jesus appeared to Mary, his apostles and others with the same (not resurrected) human body, evidenced by his human wounds and his subsequent clandestine rendezvous over about forty days in the Jerusalem surroundings. The book uses historical documents to evidence Jesus' travel to Nasibain (Nisbis), Afghanistan and then to Kashmir, India in search of some of the lost tribes of Israel, who had settled in the east some 700 years prior.

Ahmadiyya Muslims also believe that references to the Second Coming of Jesus in religious scriptures are allegorical and refer to the arrival of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.


Hinduism is divided on the issue of Jesus—some hold that it is unlikely he existed, or that he was just a man, others say he was a great guru or yogi, still others equate Jesus with an avatar. A great deal of earlier inclusion of Jesus within the Hindu pantheon is connected to the emergence of the Saint Thomas Christians. The Hare Krishna sect of Hinduism believes that Jesus is the son of Krishna (who they believe is God the Father that Jesus spoke of), and they accept many of his teachings.


Judaism does not see Jesus as a messiah and also rejects the Muslim belief that Jesus was a prophet. Religious Jews are still awaiting the coming of the Messiah (a notable exception concerns many members of the Chabad Lubavitch sect, who view their last Rebbe as being the Messiah). As for the historical personality of Jesus, Judaism has fewer objections to quotes attributed to him than they do with subsequent confessions by early Christian adherents, Paul in particular. Some Jewish scholars believe that Jesus is mentioned as Yeshu in the Jewish Talmud, although other scholars dispute this. Joseph Klausner, a prominent Israeli scholar, was vigorous in asserting the Judaism of Jesus.

The primary reasons why Jesus is not accepted as the Jewish Messiah are as follows:

Other perspectives

Saviour Not Made by Hands is the most popular iconography of Christ in the Eastern Orthodoxy. This version was written by Simon Ushakov in 1658.
Saviour Not Made by Hands is the most popular iconography of Christ in the Eastern Orthodoxy. This version was written by Simon Ushakov in 1658.

Atheists, by definition, have no belief in a divinity—and thus not in any divinity of Jesus. Some doubt he lived, some regard him as an important moral teacher, and some as a historical preacher like many others.

The Bahá'í Faith considers Jesus to be a manifestation (prophet) of God, while not being God incarnate. Some Buddhists believe Jesus may have been a Bodhisattva, one who gives up his own Nirvana to help others reach theirs. Many in the Surat Shabda Yoga tradition regard Jesus as a Sat Guru.

Mandaeanism regards Jesus as a deceiving prophet of the false Jewish god Adunay, and an opponent of the good prophet John the Baptist (whom they nonetheless believe to have baptised him).

The New Age movement has reinterpreted the life and teaching of Jesus in a large variety of ways (e.g, see A Course in Miracles). He has also been claimed as an Ascended Master by Theosophy and some of its offshoots; related speculations have him studying mysticism in the Himalaya or hermeticism in Egypt in the period between his childhood and his public career.

A Zen Buddhist interpretation of Jesus, based on the Gospel of Thomas, is also possible.

The Multidinarian Doctrine teaches that Jesus is not one of three Persons in God (as taught by Trinitarian Doctrine), but one of a hundred trillion Persons in God.

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 claims about himself as presented in the Gospels.

The question of the divinity of Jesus was discussed and decided on by Ecumenical Councils, starting with the First Council of Nicaea and others of Constantine I 's attempts at producing unity, enforcement of the resulting decision thus suggesting an air of politicisation to the 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. As such, scholars are interested in providing an historical context to the beliefs and tenets of Jesus' apparent Kingdom of God movement. As a consequence, some secular scholars believe he was simply a Jewish apocalyptic teacher and faith healer who was crucified, and was subsequently the inspiration for Christianity.

Brief timeline of Jesus
of important years from
empirical sources.

c . 6 BC/BCE

Suggested birth.

c . 4 BC/BCE

Herod's death.

c . AD 6/6 CE

Quirinius census.
Suggested birth.

c . 26 / 27

Pilate appointed Judea

c . 27

Suggested death

c . 36

Suggested death.

c . 36 / 37

Pilate removed from

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.

This stained glass window shows Jesus' birth in Bethlehem.
This stained glass window shows Jesus' birth in Bethlehem.

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'.

Jesus Christ, aged twelve, teaching the doctors of the Faith
Jesus Christ, aged twelve, teaching the doctors of the Faith

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.

Michelangelo's Pietà shows Mary holding the dead body of Jesus.
Michelangelo 's Pietà shows Mary holding the dead body of Jesus.

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 Jews."

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.

Another Byzantine representation of Jesus
Another Byzantine representation of Jesus

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 Christians.

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 Spong).

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 to Moses. [12]

Names and titles

Jesus is derived from the Koine Greek Ιησους ( Iēsoûs ) via Latin . The earliest uses of Iēsoûs are found in the writings of Philo of Alexandria , Josephus , and the Septuagint , as a transliteration of the Hebrew name Yehoshua (יהושע — known in English as Joshua when transliterated directly from Hebrew ), and also Yeshua (ישוע). Jesus' original name is not reported by contemporary or near-contemporary sources, but modern scholars have suggested that Jesus' name was the Aramaic ישׁוע / Yēšûaʿ (as in the Syriac New Testament) a shortened form of Yehoshua used in Ezra , Nehemiah and Chronicles ), which was a fairly common name at the time. Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, mentions no fewer than nineteen different people with this name, about half of them contemporaries of Jesus of Nazareth. Other Aramaic forms of the name include Yeshu` , Ishu` , and Eshu` . His patronymic would have been, bar Yosef , for "son of Joseph".

Some scholars speculate that Jesus was also known as "Bar Abba" ("Son of the Father") because many times in the Gospels he addressed God as "Father". The Aramaic word for "father" ( Abba ) survives still untranslated in Mark 14:36. Such speculations are largely in connection with further theories concerning Barabbas .

The Arabic form of the name used by Christians, following Syriac , is Yasu` . Muslims, following Qur'anic usage, refer to him by the name ` Isa (possibly cognate with the Hebrew name Esau ).

Christ is not a name but a title, which comes from the Greek Χριστός ( Christos ) via Latin , meaning anointed with chrism . The Greek form is a liberal translation of Messiah from Hebrew mashiach (משיח) or Aramaic m'shikha (משיחא), a word which occurs often in the Hebrew Bible and typically refers to the "high priest" or " king ". The word mashiach in Hebrew means anointed (a cognate in English is "massage," from the Arabic for "vigorous rubbing with aromatic oils") , because the Israelite kings were anointed with oil. The title does not imply, either in Greek or in Hebrew, a divine nature for the possessor of it. In fact, it would seem prima facie that an inherently divine being would not be in need of being anointed. The title Christ is also sometimes identified with the Greek chrestos , meaning "good", although the words are unrelated in terms of etymology , and Chrestus was often used as a pet name for slaves.

The Gospels record Jesus referring to himself both as Son of Man and as Son of God , but not as God the Son . However, some scholars have argued that Son of Man was an expression that functioned as an indirect first person pronoun, and that Son of God was an expression that signified "a righteous person". Evidence for these positions is provided by similar use by other persons than Jesus at a similar time to the writing of the Gospels, such as Jewish priests and judges.

In the Gospels, Jesus has many other titles, including Prophet (a title that he applied to himself, unlike others), Lord , and King of the Jews . Together, the majority of 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 title Jesus the Nazarene may be a reference to a place of origin called Nazareth, or to a Jewish sect called the Nazarenes . It is often translated Jesus of Nazareth to support the former hypothesis.

Desert hills in southern Judea, looking east from the town of Arad
Desert hills in southern Judea, looking east from the town of Arad

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 in Judaism.

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. [13] 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.


There are many items that are purported to be authentic relics of the Gospel account. The most famous alleged relics of Jesus are the Shroud of Turin, which is claimed to be the burial shroud used to wrap his body, the Sudarium of Oviedo, which is claimed to be the cloth which was used to cover his face, and the Holy Grail which is said to have been used to collect his 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.

The Baptism of Christ, by Piero della Francesca, 1449
The Baptism of Christ, by Piero della Francesca, 1449

Artistic portrayals

Jesus has been portrayed in countless paintings and sculptures throughout the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and modern times. Often he is portrayed as looking like a male from the region of the artist creating the portrait. According to historians, forensic scientists, and genetics experts, he was most likely a bronze-skinned man—resembling a modern-day man of Middle Eastern descent.

Jesus has been featured in many films and media forms, sometimes seriously, and other times satirically. The British musical stage play Jerry Springer - The Opera is a notable recent example of the latter. Many of these portrayals have attracted controversy, whether they were intended to be based on the Biblical accounts (such as Mel Gibson 's 2004 film The Passion of the Christ, Pier Pasolini 's The Gospel According to St. Matthew and Franco Zeffirelli 's Jesus of Nazareth ) or intentionally added extra material (such as The Last Temptation of Christ ). Another recurring theme is the updating of aspects of the life of Jesus, or imagining his Second Coming (for example, The Seventh Sign). In many films Jesus himself is a minor character, used to develop the overall themes or to provide context. For example, in Ben-Hur and The Life of Brian Jesus only appears in a few scenes.

In music, many songs refer to Jesus and Jesus provides the theme for many classical works throughout musical history.

In literature, we find Yeshua, the historical original of Jesus, as a character in the fantasy novel The Master and Margarita, by the 20th century Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov and in the science fiction short novel Riverworld by the 20th century American writer Philip Jose Farmer. The portrayal in these two works is so similar that Farmer's narrative can easily be read as a sequel to Bulgakov's. A mystical version of Jesus as the Eternal Holy Child can be read in the story The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. Also the portuguese Nobel Prize winner José Saramago wrote his novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ based on his atheist view of Jesus and the Gospels.


  1. Paul Barnett, "Is the New Testament History?", p.1.
  2. catechism entry on grace and justification catechism. Nostra Aetate, declaration of Vatican II
  3. Joint declaration ELCA Vatican
  4. Jewish Encyclopedia on Pentecost
  5. E. P. Sanders in Jesus and Judaism, pp.264-269, states: "I am one of a growing number of scholars who doubt that there were any substantial points of opposition between Jesus and the Pharisees... We find no criticism of the law which would allow us to speak of his opposing or rejecting it."

Sources and further reading


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