This article deals with the historical person “Jesus of Nazareth. For further articles on this person, see “Jesus Christ”.
Jesus of Nazareth, was born between 7BCE and 4CE, in Bethlehem, Kfar Nahum or Nazareth, and died in 30, 31 or 33 CE in Jerusalem. The historical person became the Jesus Christ of the New Testament.
Jesus is considered as a Jew from Galilee, who, starting in approximately 28CE became an evangelist in today's Israel and West Jordan. He did not wish to create a new religion according to, but rather to bring the Jews to the Kingdom of God. A few years later, he was alleged to be an agitator against the Roman Empire, and was crucified.
The historical effect of Jesus’ life was the creation of new world religion, Christianity. In addition, in Jesus has religious, cultural, political and personal meaning in other non-Christian religions.
For many years, the only sources of information regarding Jesus were several Gospels that portrayed Jesus relatively favourably. However, in the Gospels only a few certain biographic details appear -- that Jesus was the Messiah, son of God, and Saviour. Therefore, Christians see him in that light. In fact, few texts outside of Christianity mention Jesus.
Nevertheless, in researching the historical life of Jesus, one tries to reconstruct the fundamentals his life and death from religious documents. This article represents some to the current, far away as plausibly recognized and disputed results. The references are indicated in the notes section, and bible quotes follow Wikipedia:Wie zitiert man Bibelstellen (Wikipedia: How to quote the Bible).
Foundations of the knowledge of the historical Jesus
Jesus left no written works. Nearly all knowledge about him comes from antiquated sources, which were written after his death, in order to announce him as the Messiah. Only a few of these religious writings become supported within mainstream Christianity. The examination and evaluation of these writings is the initial basis of the science of creating a critical history of the life of Jesus.
A few Jewish, Roman and Greek historical writers between 70 and 200 CE mention Jesus. These rare and short notes were written at the earliest 40 years after Jesus’ death, and generally mention only his execution, not his works or his teachings. In addition, their authenticity is critically disputed, as some of these writings were likely based on rumours and misunderstandings, some possibly added later by Coptic Christians.
The so-called Testimonium Flavianum is the oldest non-Christian document that mentions calls Jesus. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, in Antiquitates Judaicae (ca. 90-94CE), wrote of the execution of a Jesus, by Pontius Pilate, who Josephus called a brother of Jacob the fair. This note is usually regarded as genuine. A longer note about the same issue in chapter 18,63f, which mentions Jesus as "Christ", is generally considered the addition of Christian Apologists.
In 117CE, in Annales (book XV, 44), Tacitus writes of a so-called “Chrestian” group who were held accountable by “emperor Nero for the fire of Rome” in the year 64. Tacitus then continues, “a man, from whose name appears to be called, Chrestus, had been executed under the rule of Tiberius, the order of Roman Governor Pontius Pilates It remains unclear whether this passage relies on independent Roman sources or on already growing Christian zeal.
In 120CE, Suetonius, in his biography of the emperor Claudius (chapter 25.4), that Claudius drove from Rome, “the Jews who, instigated by a certain Chrestos, offered continual unrest: whether "Chrestos" refers to Jesus Christ is uncertain.
Further notes come from Pliny the Younger, the otherwise unknown Syrian, Stoa, Mara from Sarapion as well as from rabbinical sources. However, the references of these authors are only brief, and to otherwise admit them becomes an argument from Christian zeal.
Information about Jesus comes primarily from the analysis of the four Gospels, as well as various apocryphal writings, especially the Gospel of Thomas. These form their own type of Christian Literature, generally written by authors of Jewish origin, who were convinced (see Mk 16:6) that Jesus was the Messiah and thus presented their writings in a storyteller-like way in order to prove their conclusion. They contain virtually no accurate historical data, as the authors were not concerned with verifiably, but rather with representing the contemporary beliefs of the intended readers. Therefore, their historical reliability has been strongly disputed since beginning of research into the life of Jesus.
We now know that the three synoptic Gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke were written no earlier than 30 to 40 years after Jesus’ death, and probably only after the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in the year 70. Only a few historians represent an earlier developing date of individual gospels. Therefore, it is unlikely that none of the authors of the Gospels knew Jesus personally.
However the current ‘’Zweiquellentheorie’’ (literally, “theory of the source of the two”), indicates that the core of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke came from the already accepted (by Christians) Gospel of Mark. Theses then became the basis for most texts, and theological positions were changed according to these books. Additionally, various speeches and sayings attributed to Jesus were collected and added. In addition, various sayings of Jesus that were likely contemporaneous were collected in Syrian cities, and added later to the Gospel of Thomas. All of these speeches and sayings had been related for many decades since Jesus death by word of mouth, by members of the first Christian generation. The earliest components of these quotes may go back directly to Jesus’ time, as they may have come from very young Christians who heard Jesus speak.
An editor of the Gospel of Mark inserted an early version of the passion report from the early Christian community in Jerusalem. This story’s emphasis is on the events at the end of life Jesus, upon which all the gospels were written. It probably began with the betrayal by Judas (Mk 14:10) and ended with the discovery of the empty grave Jesus. Thus, in the Pauline epistles, it led to a confession of faith; and it is likely that the passion story form the oldest seeds of New Testament zeal. In time, additional stories were placed ahead of the passion story.
The fact that all gospels begin the passion story with the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem, and the same chronology is followed, is considered as strong indication to age and reliability of the passion story. As this forms the largest portion of the Gospels, the Easter story and the passion become its most important part.
The Gospel of John, despite its late authorship (around 130) contains quite different historical materials very similar to the historical story of Jesus developed by modern researcher, and very similar to the beliefs of Gnosticism. Here, the gospel’s authors arranged the story based on a specific mission, and primarily for theological purposes, but the similarity of the writing suggests that there is a historical core.
Research into the life of Jesus
Beginning in roughly 1750, universal research into the life of Jesus research developed, eschewing the traditional church teachings. This research, using a scientific approach, attempted to differentiate between historical data and the purely theological statements of the NT. Some of these researchers considered every conceivable hypothesis, while others doubted Jesus’ existence or supplemented speculatively which is missing knowledge. Many of the “Jesus biographies”, which are today considered outdated, developed in this way, including Albert Schweitzer’s “Research of the history of the life Jesus”. Even today, there are some speculative theories about Jesus of Nazareth which reject respectable New Testament research.
Beginning in the early 20th Century, increasingly extra-Biblical sources began to be consulted, in order to examine the historical reliability of the New Testament’s zeal. Due to increasing knowledge in the fields of archaeology, social history and Eastern studies, and to today’s ever more thorough critical text analyses, not-Christian historians generally agree that Jesus actually lived and can determine who he was and what he intended to do.
Thus, present studies offer a picture of the Palestinian Jews that contrasts with the picture of Jews gathered from the Dead Sea scrolls and the scholarly works within Judaism. Some researchers have, based on theological prejudices, determined aspects which have been proven to be untenable regarding Jesus alleged "abolition" of the Torah, and his conflict with the Pharisees as the apocalyptic and prophetic elements of his lessons are not far removed from Judaism. Additionally, one regards also a Messiah requirements and the conscious suffering accepted by Jesus as self-awareness, rather than the post-Easter interpretation of Christians in earlier times.
- Jesus is the Latinised form of the Greek Ιησους. It is a transliteration of the Hebrew masculine first name Jeshua, also Jehoshua or Joshua -- although at the time of Jesus’ life, Hebrew was rarely spoken in Palestine. In any case, it was the Greek version of the names, not the Hebrew or Aramaic names themselves, that were translated at that time into other languages.
- Jehoschua -- Jeho (was essentially a shortened form of JHWH, the Hebrew name for God in the Torah), combined with "shua" save (release; see "Hoshea" = rescue). Thus, in Hebrew "Jesus" meant "God-saves", "God rescues" or "God is the salvation". This name was at that time common among Jews. After the separation of Christianity from Judaism, Jews only rarely used the name.
- Jehoschua Ben Joseph, or Jesus son of Joseph, would be the Hebrew equivalent of a surname, as after circumcision one is named after his father called (Lk 2:21). The NT does not follow this tradition exactly though: Lk 4:22 calls him "Joseph’s son" without a first name and thus stresses the contrast to the virgin birth (Lk 3.23). Jn 1:45, using "Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazaret", stresses his royal descent from David. Earlier versions called him the "son of Mary" (Mk 6,3; Mt 13,55).
- Christ is the Latin is form of the Greek Χριστος, which translated the Hebrew "Maschiach", or Messiah". This was a Jewish honourary title for Kings and High priests, and later for the expected king of the Jews, reigning over a period of world peace.
- Jesus Christ combines the Jewish first name and the Greek title, which in Christian belief means: Jesus is the Messiah.
Nazarene (origin), Nazoräer (Mandaeans) or Nasiräer (follower of John the Baptist)?
The addition of the agnomen, of Nazareth,’’ Latin, “Nazarenus designates Jesus’ place of origin in Galilee (Mk 1:9) in the NT. But, this agnomen is varied with Nazoraios, the eastern Aramaic term that also refers to Mandaeism, specifically, those who taught the rites of baptism. Also Jesus, as well as other Christians were called Nazarenes, possibly because he and some of his follower, were formally followers of John the Baptist. Also, in Mt 2:23 we find the following explanation:
- ’’ And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.”
However, this alleged prophesy is not found in the Bible.
However, the derivation Nasiraios is improbable: Nasiräer were Askesists (Greek: ασκεσις askesis of ασκεω askeo =, is eager to themselves, abstainer), which - like the Baptists -- was concerned with strict ritual purity. One took sacred vows, promising to drink no alcohol (this included all fermented grape juices), to not cut his hair, to not go near a corpse nor to approach any grave (Num 6). However, Jesus did all these things in the process of his works and broke each vow.
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