JESUS'S LIFE

JESUS'S LIFE

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Jesus Exhortation to the Apostles by James Tissot
In the Gospels, there is only one reference to Jesus between the time of his birth and when he is a young man in his 30s. Based on how Jewish tradesmen lived in his time, it is believed he attended classes in the local synagogue and learned his trade as a carpenter and most likely worked in his father’s workshop. Both Jesus and his father would probably have worn wood chips behind their ears, the badge of carpenter in those days. In Jesus’s time most carpenters were illiterate and were of relatively low status.

The one reference to Jesus’s youth occurred when he was around 12, and he went to Jerusalem with his parents as part of a Passover pilgrimage, perhaps in anticipation of his bar mitzvah. According to Luke II 42, 45-7: “The child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem: and Joseph and his mother knew not of it...And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him...After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.”

Professor Eric Meyers told PBS: ““I think Jesus was a teacher, a wise person. He was not a peasant if by peasants you mean someone unlettered and untutored. As a wise man, certainly, Jesus participated in the normal education of a good Jewish home and Jewish upbringing in Nazareth or the region [Source: Eric Meyers, Professor of Religion and Archaeology Duke University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

Kate Moos wrote in the Washington Post, “The son of God for the secular age is the transcendent Christ who, as a Jewish spiritual leader, suffered and died under a brutal Roman authority by Roman hands, and whose life and death offer us a vision of divine love not in spite of but in response to human frailty and suffering. Jesus attracted not the exemplars of public virtue and moral strength but strugglers and drifters. Carroll reminds us that Jesus chose his disciple Peter not on the basis of the strength of Peter’s character (when threatened, he turned weasel, as Jesus had warned), but on the basis of his fallibility and the degree to which he required forgiveness.” [Source: Kate Moos, Washington Post, December 19, 2014 ||||]

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity britannica.com//Christianity ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Early Christian Writing earlychristianwritings.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Early Christian Art oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth212/Early_Christian_art ; Early Christian Images jesuswalk.com/christian-symbols ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images belmont.edu/honors/byzart2001/byzindex ; Jesus and the Historical Jesus ; Britannica on Jesus britannica.com Jesus-Christ ; Historical Jesus Theories earlychristianwritings.com ; Wikipedia article on Historical Jesus Wikipedia ; Jesus Seminar Forum virtualreligion.net ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ bible.org ; Jesus Central jesuscentral.com ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ newadvent.org ; Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org

Jesus as a Jew


Jesus and the Pharisees, a Jewish sect

Jesus was not a Christian, He was not born a Christian, he didn't live as a Christian and he didn’t practice the faith. The term Christianity didn’t even exist in his time. Jesus was a Jew. This basic presumption gleaned in part from excavations across Galilee have led to a significant shift in scholarly opinion about who Jesus Was. Jesus' identity cannot be understood apart from his Jewishness. [Source: BBC]

Professor Shaye I.D. Cohen told PBS: “Was Jesus a Jew? Of course, Jesus was a Jew. He was born of a Jewish mother, in Galilee, a Jewish part of the world. All of his friends, associates, colleagues, disciples, all of them were Jews. He regularly worshipped in Jewish communal worship, what we call synagogues. He preached from Jewish text, from the Bible. He celebrated the Jewish festivals. He went on pilgrimage to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem where he was under the authority of priests.... He lived, was born, lived, died, taught as a Jew. This is obvious to any casual reader of the gospel text. What's striking is not so much that he was a Jew but that the gospels make no pretense that he wasn't. The gospels have no sense yet that Jesus was anything other than a Jew. [Source: Shaye I.D. Cohen, Samuel Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies, Brown University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“The gospels don't even have a sense that he came to found a new religion, an idea completely foreign to all the gospel text, and completely foreign to Paul. That is an idea which comes about only later. So, to say that he was a Jew is saying a truism, is simply stating an idea that is so obvious on the face of it, one wonders it even needs to be said. But, of course, it does need to be said because we all know what happens later in the story, where it turns out that Christianity becomes something other than Judaism and as a result, Jesus in retrospect is seen not as a Jew, but as something else, as a founder of Christianity. But, of course, he was a Jew.” <>

Jesus in a Jewish World

Professor Harold W.Attridge told PBS: “Jesus was certainly subject to the influence of the traditions of Israel, there's no doubt about that. But in what form those traditions came to him in Galilee at the beginning of the first century is somewhat unclear. He certainly would have known of the Temple in Jerusalem, and probably, as traditions report..., would have gone up to Jerusalem for the major pilgrimage festivals. He would have known of the rituals of the Temple, their atoning ignificance. He would have celebrated Passover, I suspect, with his family, and would have known of the hopes embedded in Passover for divine deliverance. [Source: Harold W. Attridge, Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament Yale Divinity School, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]


Pharisees and Saduccess (another Jewish sect) tempt Jesus

Professor Paula Fredriksen told PBS: “What astonishes me when I read the stories about Jesus in the New Testament, is how completely embedded he is in this first century... Jewish world of religious practice and piety. We tend to get distracted by the major plot line of the gospels, because we're waiting for the story to develop up to the crucifixion. [Source: Paula Fredriksen, William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“But, within that story, and the stories that are told by the evangelists that fills in the gap between the Galilee and Jerusalem, Jesus presented continuously as going into the synagogue on the Sabbath. He is presented as going up to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage holidays, specifically in John, for any number of pilgrimage holidays, and in the synoptic gospels, most importantly, for Passover. Jerusalem at Passover is not the sort of place you'd want to be in unless you were really committed to doing an awful lot of ritual activity with tremendous historical resonance. <>

“[W]hat we've learned from the gospel stories is not that Jesus was not Jewish. Quite the opposite. He's completely embedded in the Judaism of his time. What we learn from the gospels is that he's not a member of one of the groups whose identifying characteristics Josephus gave to us. He's not a Sadducee. He's not a Pharisee. He's always arguing with the Pharisees. He's not an Essene. He's not an insurrectionist. And the fact that he's arguing with other people who may be members of these other groups just simply signifies that he's a Jew, because that's what these Jews all did with each other -- argue with each other all the time... <>

Nazareth and Holy Land in the Time of Jesus

According to the Bible Jesus lived in Nazareth, a village near Galilee, from age 3 to his early 20s. Archaeological excavations have revealed that Nazareth in Jesus’s time consisted of 50 or so homes spread over six acres with perhaps two or three clans living in them. Archaeologists have uncovered remains of winemaking basins, watchtowers, irrigation channels, and terraces from Jesus's time in Nazareth. Nazareth was about an hour's walk from Sepphoris, a fairly large commercial center, visited by Greeks, Romans and people from all over the Middle East. Although there is no mention of Sepphoris in the Bible it is likely that Jesus visited it. Some think it is the “city on a hill” mentioned in Matthew 5:14.


Mary's Spring in Nazareth

Sepphoris has been extensively excavated by archaeologists since 1985. Among the more interesting finds there has been the discovery of rich Roman-style villas with frescoed walls reminiscent of villas at Pompeii but with ritual bathes that indicate they were owned by Jews. Excavations of trash dumps found the inhabitants stayed true to the Jewish diet until the A.D. 4th century when pig bones began turning up.

During the time of Jesus, Judea (Israel) was a Roman colony lead by Herod and his descendants. The Emperor of Rome was Augustus until around the time Jesus was 18. Augustus was succeeded by Tiberius in A.D. 14. Alexandria, not Rome or Athens, was the cultural and philosophical center of the world.

Nazareth appears to have been a religious center for some time. Archaeological digs in Nazareth have uncovered that it was a major cult center 8,000 years before Christ. Excavations at Kibbutz Kfar Ha-Horesh, three kilometers from the town, produced a decorated human skull, which indicates complex ritual burials. Children were buried with fox mandibles. One headless men was found on the top of bones of 250 aurochs (wild oxen) and human bones arranged in the shape of an auroch. Some of the skulls are covered in plaster and painted red ocher.

In the time of Jesus traditional mixed agriculture, orchard crop raising and herding came under pressure from Roman taxation. Many people were dislocated by the changes. Josephus wrote that during the rule of Herod Antipas a "promiscuous rabble, no small contingent being Galilean, with such as were drafted...and brought forcibly to the new foundation."

Growing Up in Galilee in Nazareth, Near Sepphoris

The New Testament doesn't say much about the early life of Jesus. Twelve-year-old Jesus grows into a thirty year old man and meets his childhood friend John the Baptist by the river Jordan where the Holy Spirit, which always proceeds the Christ, can enter into him.

Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “Jesus grew up in Nazareth, a village in the Galilee. Now the Galilee, by most of the traditional accounts, is always portrayed as a kind of bucolic backwater ... cherubic peasants on the hillsides. And yet, our recent archaeological discoveries have shown this not to be the case. Nazareth, itself, is a village ... a small village at that. But, it stands less than four miles from a major urban center, Sepphoris. Now, we see Jesus growing up, not in the bucolic backwater, not... in the rural outback, but rather, on the fringes of a vibrant urban life. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, School, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]


Mona Lisa of Galilee in Sepphoris

“Sepphoris was founded as the capitol of the Galilee. And so, it was really invested, much like Caesarea Maritima, with all the trappings of Greek or Roman city life as a major center of political activity for that region of the country. As a result, the excavations at Sepphoris have found extensive building programs, theaters, amphitheaters, and that sort of thing, just like Caesarea. What this tells us about the story of Jesus, though, is that Jesus himself would not have been far removed from that vibrant intersection of Greek culture, on the one hand, and traditional Jewish homeland culture on the other. <>

“Sepphoris seems to have been a very cosmopolitan city. We know that it was at least trilingual and maybe tetralingual. That is to say we know that they spoke Aramaic, the vernacular language of most people of the Jewish homeland, but Greek was also quite prominent as well. Some people probably used Latin, although not very many, one would guess. And maybe there are some other languages floating around in the immediate vicinity, as well, because of the various kinds of people that would have gone through Sepphoris. Sepphoris stood right on the major overland route between Caesarea, on the coast, and the Sea of Galilee. <>

“The impact of this cosmopolitan trade center, Sepphoris, can be seen from the fact that weights were found, presumably from the marketplace. On one side of the weight, it's registered in Aramaic, on the other side, in Greek. Showing that people could be reading it from whichever tradition they might have come. <>

Young Jesus: a Peasant Boy in a Peasant Village

Professor John Dominic Crossan told PBS: “Jesus being born in Nazareth and growing up in Nazareth tells us that he was a peasant boy in a peasant village. Maybe we might estimate 100 to 200 people maximum in this tiny village perched up in a hill, within sight, by the way, of a fairly major city, Sepphoris, but one of its surrounding villages.... [Source: John Dominic Crossan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies DePaul University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“There's a theory, though, that Jesus' place of birth gives us a clue to a rather more sophisticated character. Somebody who was just on the doorstep of a Hellenized small town, multi-lingual. He possibly spoke Greek or would have heard it spoken. Possibly could have been influenced by Greek thought or Hellenistic thought. In other words a far more sophisticated guy. Do you reconcile these images or do you flatly disagree with that? <>


Twelve-year-old Jesus and the Doctors of the Faith

“Well, the interesting thing is that as a fact, Jesus never mentioned Sepphoris. And he doesn't use metaphors that tell us profoundly he knows urban societies. He may talk about land owners or bailiffs or stuff like that. There is no evidence that Jesus is any way involved in the urban life of Sepphoris, which is within viewing distance of Nazareth. But to live close to a city in the ancient world was not necessarily a good thing. <>

“A lower class peasant is somebody who is in interaction, not necessarily happy interaction, with a local city. If you take away the city, you don't have a peasant, you have a farmer, a happy farmer, probably. So, first of all, Jesus never mentions Sepphoris, although he grew up within sight of it. He doesn't seem to be talking urban images. <>

“And if he knew anything about Sepphoris, what would he know? He would know that aqueducts take the water from the countryside into the city. And aqueducts run in only one direction. And the city people were the washed, they're the people with the public baths. So, from the countryside into the city, and I don't see any aqueduct coming back, Jesus was sophisticated [enough] to know what the city was, which was the seat of peasant oppression. <>

“If you take three parables that are used in the common material in the Q gospel and in the Gospel of Thomas, for example, the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the mustard seed, or the parable of the leaven. All of those are absolutely ordinary, everyday, rural experiences. They presume no profound knowledge. Anyone would understand them. They speak strict to the rural audience of Jesus. No matter, in a way, who Jesus is or what his background, he is certainly telling his stories for a rural audience. It seems to me, born in Nazareth, speaking to a rural audience, it seems Jesus is a peasant, speaking to peasants.” <>

Daily Life in the Time of Jesus

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Romans picking grapes
People in the Nazareth area in the time of Jesus made their living by growing grapes, olives and grain on terraces cut in the limestone hills. During harvest time villagers gathered together to stomp the grapes with their feet or took turns standing guard in watchtower to protect their produce from thieves.

The richest people were landowners, aristocrats, high-level government officials and high-level priests. The middle class included tax collectors, merchants and craftsmen. Most people were poor peasants. Women generally married when they were teenagers and endured seven or eight pregnancies to have three of four children.

Mary's daily chores probably consisted of grounding corn, wheat or barley to make bread; doing the laundry, fetching water, cleaning; and making the meals, usually a thick porridge made of wheat or barley supplemented by a vegetable, such as beans, lentils, or cucumbers. As was true with all families at that time the Holy Family ate from a common bowl.☺

Homes, Villages and Schools in the Time of Jesus

Dwellings in many rural parts of Israel have changed little since Biblical times. Jesus himself probably lived in a blocklike one-room house of stone and dried mud or a two story house with a lower level for animals and the upper level for people. His family probably would have risen at daybreak and perhaps had a chunk of bread and a handful of olives.

In December 2009, the Israelis Antiquities Authority unveiled an excavation of the first ever house in Nazareth that had been dated to the time of Jesus. Because Nazareth was so small there is good chance that Jesus knew the occupants of the house. Based on clay and chalk shards, Yardena Alexander, chief archaeologist at the site, said the dwelling appeared to be the house of a “simple Jewish family.” “This may well have been a place that Jesus and his contemporaries were familiar with,” he said. “It’s a logical suggestion.”


typical peasant home in ancient Palestine

Jewish farming villages in Jesus's time had stone houses, paved streets, wine and olive presses, warehouses, stables, traditional Jewish ritual baths, candles, pottery and utensils.

People who were educated were schooled at home, in synagogues or by private tutors. Greek culture was largely admired. Many parents gave their children Greek names. Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic were the main spoken languages. Jesus may have spoken all three languages.

The Gospels contain 45 references to boats and fishing. In 1986, when waters in the Sea of Galilee were lowered by an extended drought, a boat was discovered that dates back to the time of Jesus and is likely to have been similar to boats used by some of Jesus's followers. The boat was a 26-foot-long wooden dory with two oars on each side, a keel and a mast. It carried a seine net and was large enough to accommodate four rowers and a helmsman. At least seven kinds of wood was used constructing the boat, including scraps from older boats. The way the boat was patched and nails were removed seems to indicate that the boat owner had fallen on hard times.

See Greeks and Romans for more in life in Jesus’s time.

Jesus' Social Class

Jesus lived at at time when Jewish peasants and the lower classes lived a precarious existence and the Romans and the Jewish upper class exploited the land and the people. The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was a significance economic force and the priestly class that controlled it was very powerful. [Source: Dale B. Martin, New York Times, August 5, 2013]

Professor Harold W. Attridge told PBS: “Recent discussions of Jesus' social class try to locate him within the social structures of Mediterranean society generally, or Galilean society, in the first century. And there seems to be a debate among many contemporary scholars of Jesus as to whether he was really a peasant or... somewhat higher in the socio-economic strata. We know in general he was low class, by the standards of the Roman imperial aristocracy or even of the ruling class of Palestine, the Herodian client kings. [Source: Harold W. Attridge, The Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament Yale Divinity School, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“But he may have been an artisan. He doesn't seem to have been a peasant in the strict sense, someone who was working the land for a living. He was close, however, to peasant society; all of the images in his parables and his aphorisms are firmly rooted in peasant society and call upon everyday things like a sower, or sowing seed. But they also call upon images of land owners and relationships between slave owners and slaves, masters and servants. So Jesus seems to have been aware of that level of the socio-economic mix. And he may well have stood in some relationship to it. So an artisan of some sort is probably the best way of describing him.

Holland Lee Hendrix told PBS: ““I would locate Jesus more in the middle-class than in the lower middle-class, than in the lower class of the period. Certainly he would have been multi-lingual, and that causes us to rethink the entire literary heritage and rhetorical heritage that Jesus would have brought to his ministry. So that the discoveries at Sepphoris and the ongoing excavations really force us to recast the mold, if you will, out of which Jesus grows. It's a much more sophisticated and complex mold than had been previously thought.”[Source: Holland Lee Hendrix, President of the Faculty Union Theological Seminary, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

Jesus, the Poor Vilage Carpenter: A Cliche

Professor John Dominic Crossan told PBS: ““Tradition has it that Jesus was a carpenter. The term is in Greek "tectone" in Mark's gospel..., "artisan" would be maybe our best translation. But in the pecking order of peasant society, a peasant artisan is lower than a peasant farmer. It probably means usually a peasant farmer who had been pushed off the land and has to make his living, if he can, by laboring. The difficulty for us in hearing a term like "carpenter" is that we immediately think of a highly skilled worker, and at least in North America, in the middle class, making a very high income. As soon as we take that into the ancient world we are totally lost. Because, first of all, there was no middle class in the ancient world. There were the haves and the have nots, to put it very simply. And in the anthropology of peasant societies, to say that somebody is an artisan or a carpenter is not to compliment them. It is to say that they are lower in the pecking order than a peasant farmer. So it's from the anthropologists that I take the idea that a peasant artisan is not a compliment. [Source: John Dominic Crossan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies DePaul University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

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Recent archaeological findings challenge the image of Jesus as a peasant preaching in a pastoral backwater. Holland Lee Hendrix told PBS: “The recent discoveries at Sepphoris are extremely controversial..., but the findings really are requiring us completely to rethink Jesus' socio-economic setting, because we really had thought of Jesus as being really out in the hinterland, utterly removed from urban life.... What the excavations at Sepphoris suggest is that Jesus was quite proximate to a thriving and sophisticated urban environment that would have brought with it all of the diversity of the Roman Empire and would have required, just to get on, as the price of doing business, a level of sophistication that one would not have thought characteristic of Jesus, the humble carpenter.... [Source: Holland Lee Hendrix, President of the Faculty Union Theological Seminary, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

Eliazear Segal of the University of Calgary wrote: “ho is not familiar with the description of Jesus as "a poor carpenter?" Taken by itself this assertion sounds perfectly obvious and harmless. Beneath the surface however lurk some troubling implications. The first problem that comes to mind is that the New Testament itself does not indicate anywhere that Jesus was regarded as poor. In the context of Galilean Jewish society at his time--a community composed largely of small olive and grape farmers and seasonal field workers--a carpenter would have been considered a very comfortable and mobile profession.” [Source: Eliazear Segal of the University of Calgary, Calgary Jewish Star /=\]

“The fact that such an unfounded "aggadic" detail is added to the traditional Christian perception of their founder need not trouble us of itself. It certainly is in keeping with other documented aspects of Jesus' teaching which emphasize his appeal to the lower classes and social outcasts. But here too we must recognize that, from the perspective of Jewish society, "outcasts" were not necessarily poor. Quite the contrary, Jesus seems to have been antagonizing his contemporaries largely because of his over-familiarity with the wealthy tax farmers ("publicans"), Jewish collaborators with the Roman occupiers who became rich off the sufferings of their countrymen. /=\

“Jesus' alleged poverty takes on more disturbing overtones when used in such contexts as, "the learned Jewish scribes did not wish to listen to the preaching of this poor carpenter from Galilee." The implication is clearly that a Pharisaic scholar could not have been a carpenter, poor or otherwise. Aside from the fact that this is simply untrue--the Jewish sages at this period in history were normally craftsmen and field workers, and Jewish law then prohibited accepting payment for religious instruction--one wonders what the authors of such statements imagined that the Pharisees did do for their livings. /=\

“From my own experiences with students, I have often discovered that beneath such innocent-sounding sentences is likely to be lurking a classic medieval anti-Semitic stereotype. The Pharisees, according to the unarticulated presumptions of otherwise well-meaning Christians, must have been wealthy bankers, business executives, or (Lord preserve us!) university professors!” /=\

Jesus as a Teacher and Religious Leader

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Teaching the multitudes
Jesus has been viewed as healer, moral teacher, reformer, apocalyptic preacher, radical, revolutionary, and, ultimately and most importantly, the Messiah. Jesus lived during a time when, historian say, wandering charismatics and faith healers were relatively common place. Kristin Romey wrote in National Geographic: “ Scholars who understand him in strictly human terms—as a religious reformer, or a social revolutionary, or an apocalyptic prophet, or even a Jewish jihadist—plumb the political, economic, and social currents of first-century Galilee to discover the forces that gave rise to the man and his mission.” [Source: Kristin Romey, National Geographic, November 28, 2017 ^|^]

After the completion of the fast Jesus took up the role of an itinerant rabbi and wandered the countryside preaching. . People began calling him the Messiah and he began drawing people to him. Jesus did the bulk of his teachings in the fishing towns and farming communities in Galilee, a region named after the Sea of Galilee, which today is on the border of Israel and Syria.

The center of Jesus's early teaching was Caprnaum, the hometown of Simon Peter, one of his first disciples. Jesus preached in the synagogue, taught by the seaside, and healed in the home, but failed to win any converts in Capernaum, which he said would be "thrust down to hell."

Professor Eric Meyers told PBS: ““I think Jesus was a teacher, a wise person. He was not a peasant if by peasants you mean someone unlettered and untutored. As a wise man, certainly, Jesus participated in the normal education of a good Jewish home and Jewish upbringing in Nazareth or the region [Source: Eric Meyers, Professor of Religion and Archaeology Duke University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

Jesus became a major religious figure after the death of John the Baptist. Most the Gospels refers to the three year period between Jesus' baptism around A.D. 27 and his death around A.D. 30. From what we can tell Jesus began preaching in A.D. 28, about the same time that John the Baptist was arrested and beheaded.

Jesus reportedly inspired many people and won many converts with his teaching. Some scholars have theorized that large numbers of people were attracted by his message because Judea was in such a state of chaos and social unrest. Even so Jesus had very little impact on the history his time. He was one of many orators who was critical of the materialism and the decadence of the Romans and Jerusalemites.

Recent archaeological excavations in Galilee area have indicated the towns where Jesus preached were much larger than previously thought. A modest house found in Capernaum in the late 1990s offered hints of being Peter’s residence and possibly the center of Jesus’s teachings.

Does Jesus Avoids Cities?


Professor Shaye I.D. Cohen told PBS: “According to the gospel accounts, Jesus himself comes from a very small town, a town that's virtually otherwise unknown, Nazareth in Galilee, and seems to spend his entire career, as it were, talking to Jews in these small towns or small villages in the Galilee. There are two substantial settlements in the Galilee, Sepphoris and Tiberius, we might call them cities, although that's perhaps a slight loose use of the term.... But Jesus avoids them. That's not where he goes. That's not where he has his followers and it's not where he feels welcome. He's much more comfortable dealing with the villages and the small towns, what we might call the peasants of the society. [Source: Shaye I.D. Cohen, Samuel Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies, Brown University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“And the first time he goes to the big cities of course is when he gets to Jerusalem, at the very end of his ministry or at the very end of his career, with of course, very unfortunate consequences. So primarily then he seems to be a rural phenomenon, or representative of peasant piety or peasant ways, and not the ways of the cities. <>

“In antiquity there often was social tension between town and country. Not quite the same tension that we have today, where the distinction between town and country is very distinct.... In antiquity, the division was not at all so clear, because people in towns also were agricultural. You walked outside the town walls, walked 15 feet, and there you were in the countryside. So the social contrasts in some respects were much less than they are for us. But in other respects they were a lot more pointed. There was a sense that the cities or the large towns is where the large landowners lived, where the tax collectors lived, where the government officials were, where the judges were, where any outpost of culture will have been found.There was a real cultural and social cleavage then between the peasant ways of the countryside and the towns. This can be seen not just in Judea, but really throughout the Roman Empire. And perhaps then, Jesus and his followers simply were not town types. This is not their culture, not their society, not their ways. They're more comfortable with living with their own kind out in the countryside.” <>

Professor Paula Fredriksen told PBS: “Sepphoris... was moneyed. It was the center of trade for the area. And if Jesus were growing up in Nazareth, which is just a walk for somebody healthy... I think it's something like three miles. If he were a carpenter, or some kind of craftsman, he might have done work in Sepphoris....What does this imply about Jesus' social class? It's hard to know. I think that since he's depicted as a pious Jew, and since pious Jews have a six-day work week, and since on the seventh day they have particular obligations that don't allow them to take long journeys, (on the Sabbath you really are supposed to rest. You're not supposed to hike into Sepphoris and maybe, catch a play in the afternoon, or something like that.) I don't think that culturally, Sepphoris would have made all that much difference. I think as most people in his period who are not landed gentry, Jesus would have worked for a living for six days a week and rested on the Sabbath.” [Source: Paula Fredriksen, William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

Trilingual Jesus and Sepphoris


Professor Eric Meyers told PBS: “Well, the gospels mention that Jesus and his father were craftspeople, craftsmen. It's very likely that Jesus actually worked in Sepphoris in the time of Antipas' activity there. Of that there's probably no doubt. It's four kilometers away. It's probably the place where all teenagers would have worked, and all the people from Nazareth were crowding into this city being created out of the mound of Sepphoris. So a lot of craftsmen were at work in building up the city Sepphoris. If its high point was a hundred years or 200 years later, like all good Middle Eastern oriental cities there was an agricultural component to Sepphoris. You have a huge activity in the fields beside it. [Source: Eric Meyers, Professor of Religion and Archaeology Duke University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“You have satellite villages and satellite industries that attach to the area around the municipal area and territory of Sepphoris. Sepphoris was not just the center, not just a city with houses and with waterworks and with things like that, but it had satellite settlements around. Nazareth to all intents and purposes was a satellite village attached to the region or municipality of Sepphoris. So from this point of view the emerging transformation of this place Sepphoris into a city, I think, affected the entire region around it all the way over to the territory and city of Tiberius, which was built in 17, or begun to be constructed in the year 17. That leaves Jesus as stepping in both worlds, stepping in the world of the city that is being created, and as well participating in the agricultural kinds of activities that all people in Palestine in the first century would have participated in.” <>

Jesus “was conversant in Greek to the extent that anybody living in this open territory of greater Sepphoris or Tiberius or lower Galilee would have been. You couldn't deal and wheel, either in the workplace or in the market, without knowing a good deal of Greek. And I can hardly imagine anybody worth their salt who wouldn't know some Greek. But Jesus was trilingual. Jesus participated in both the Aramaic and Hebrew culture and its literatures as well as the kind of Hellenistic Greek that he needed to do his business in his travel and his ministry.” <>

Jesus a Pioneer Feminist? Another Cliche


Christ and the Woman Taken Adultery by Rembrandt

Eliazear Segal of the University of Calgary wrote: “ A similar cliché that I have been encountering quite frequently (and not only from students) has it that "The Pharisees were shocked that Jesus spent so much time in the company of women." Once again the implication is that "real" Jews were hostile to women and that Jesus thereby takes on the appearance of a pioneer feminist. [Source: Eliazear Segal of the University of Calgary, Calgary Jewish Star /=\]

“Here again the least of the difficulties with this thesis is the fact that it is not supported by any New Testament sources. Christian scripture is not reticent about listing Jewish objections to Jesus, and had this been an issue it would undoubtedly have been mentioned somewhere. It is evident that what we have here is another instance of twisting the evidence in order to present Judaism in a disadvantageous light. The truth is of course that neither Jesus nor the Pharisees seem to present a very consistent picture as regards their attitudes to women. In either case one can easily produce texts or interpretations to support both sexist and egalitarian readings. /=\

“The above instances should alert us to how deep and complex are the roots of Christian anti-Semitism--and I do not wish to imply by any means that equivalent factors do not colour our own attitudes towards Christianity. Even with the most sincere of intentions, and even with the progress which has been made, it will prove very difficult to eradicate the unconscious strata of anti-Jewish feeling that have grown up over the centuries. /=\

Jesus and John the Baptist

Kristin Romey wrote in National Geographic: “When Jesus was about 30 years old, he waded into the Jordan River with the Jewish firebrand John the Baptist and, according to New Testament accounts, underwent a life-changing experience. Rising from the water, he saw the Spirit of God descend on him “like a dove” and heard the voice of God proclaim, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The divine encounter launched Jesus on a preaching and healing mission that began in Galilee and ended, three years later, with his execution in Jerusalem. [Source: Kristin Romey, National Geographic, November 28, 2017 ^|^]


John the Baptist and the Pharisees

Professor John Dominic Crossan of DePaul University told PBS: “That Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist is as certain as anything historians know about Jesus. It is somewhat clouded, however, in our present texts by the fact that later followers of Jesus thought it was not appropriate that the Messiah should be baptized, and apparently inferior, therefore, to John the Baptist. Jesus was baptized by John, and therefore he had to accept John's message, at least when he was being baptized, whether he changes is another question, later. But, he accepts it when he was being baptized, and John's message is, "God, very soon, imminently, any moment, is going to descend to eradicate the evil of this world in a sort of an apocalyptic consummation...." [Source:John Dominic Crossan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies DePaul University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“One of the earliest statements we have... is a statement by Jesus that John is the greatest person ever born on earth, but the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John. Now, it's a marvelously ambiguous statement. The first half lauds John to the heavens, the second puts the least person in the Kingdom.... [ahead of him] But that means exactly what I would expect. It means Jesus is changing his vision of God and the Kingdom of God from what he has taken from John. He's not really denigrating John, but he is saying the Kingdom of God is not exactly what John was teaching. <>

“The difference I see between John the Baptist and Jesus is, to use some fancy academic language that, John is an apocalyptic eschatologist. An eschatologist is somebody who sees that the problem of the world is so radical that it's going to take some kind of divine radical solution to solve it. One type, for example, is John. God is going to descend in some sort of a catastrophic event to solve the world. There is another type of eschatology. And that's what I think Jesus is talking [about]. I'm going to call it ethical eschatology. That is the demand that God is making on us, not us on God so much as God on us, to do something about the evil in the world. In an apocalypse, as it were, we are waiting for God. And in ethical eschatology, God is waiting for us. That's, I think, what Jesus is talking about in the Kingdom of God. It's demand for us to do something in conjunction with God. It is the Kingdom of God. But it's the Kingdom on earth of God.” <>

Baptism of Jesus

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There first real mention of Jesus as an adult takes place when he is his early 30s and he went to hear John the Baptist speak. John the Baptist, said to be Jesus’s cousin, had earlier predicted that the arrival of a Messiah was near. When he saw Jesus he recognized his power and believed he was the fulfillment of his prophecy.

According to some accounts Jesus was so moved by John’s speech that he decided to be baptized and was baptized by John the Baptist along with numerous sinners on the banks of the Jordan River. Explaining why the Son of God needed to be baptized, Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his book on Jesus, “The real novelty is the fact that he---Jesus---wants to be baptized, that he blends into the gray mass of sinners waiting on the banks of the Jordan. Baptism itself was a confession of sins and the attempt to putt off an old failed life and to receive a new one. Is that something Jesus could do?”

While Jesus was in the waters he had a deeply religious experience in which he heard a voice from Heaven that proclaimed he was the Son of God. According to Mark 1:10-11: “And at once, as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending to him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved: my favor rests on you.”

The Ford of Hijlah, up the Jordan River a short distance from the Dead Sea, is the traditional place where Jesus was baptized. Kasar el Yehud is another place that claims to be the Jesus was baptized. In the area around it are the remains of dozens of churches and monasteries built by the Byzantines. Both the Ford of Hijlah and Kasar el Yehud are on the western side of the Jordan River in Israel and the West Bank. According to the Book of John, Jesus was baptized on the east side of the Jordan River. Wadi al-Kharrar, on the east bank of the Jordan River in Jordan, is where Jordanians claim Jesus was baptized.

Jesus is Tempted by the Devil During 40-Day, 40-Night Fast

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Jesus and Angels
After his baptism, Jesus took on the responsibility of being a representative of God and began to prepare for that duty. As a test of his faith and endurance he spent 40 days in the desert alone, praying and fasting and being tempted by Satan. Lent is an effort to relive Jesus's 40-day fast in the wilderness. Forty days is also the length of time in which Moses and Elijah waited for their meeting God on Mt. Sinai.

The devil tested Jesus in three ways during his 40 day, 40 night fast. First he asked a hungry Jesus to use his powers to make bread from stones. Second he told him to win fame by throwing himself off the roof of the Temple and getting angels to save him. Third, he took Jesus to a high a place and promised him all things.

On the third test, a passage in Chapter 4 of the Book of Matthew explains: “The devil taketh him up into an exceedingly high mountain and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and saith unto him: all these things I will give the if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” Jesus refused, saying "Get away, Satan! It is written: 'The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.'" Mount of Temptation (near Jericho) is traditional place where this event is said to have occurred.

See Lent, Holidays

Disciples of Jesus

Jesus was often accompanied by 70 or so followers, with the core group being his 12 disciples: 1) Peter (originally known as Simon and Simon Peter); 2) Andrew (Simon’s brother); 3) James the Elder (the “disciple that Jesus loved”); 4) John (James the Elder’s brother); 5) Philip; 6) Bartholomew; 7) Matthew (or Levi); 8) James the Less (or James the Younger, possibly Jesus’s brother); 9) Thaddeus (or Jude or Judas, brother of James the Less); 10) Thomas (“Doubting Thomas”); 11) Simon Zelotes; and 12) Judas Iscariot. After Jesus's death, the disciples became the Apostles (a Greek word that means “ones sent forth”).

According to Luke VI 12-13: Jesus “went out into a mountain to pray and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve.” All of Jesus's disciples were males and Jews. Four were fishermen, including Peter, James and John, and one, Matthew, was a toll collector. When Andrew and Peter joined up they were disciples of John the Baptist. Jesus told them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Some of Jesus's disciples were militant Jewish freedom fighters. James and Mark were described as "the fierce, wrathful ones." Judas of Galilee was guerilla leader who, Josephus said, was "a very clever rabbi" who "aspired to royalty." We know nothing of his death, but we do know that his sons continued the struggle against Rome, two were crucified and another claimed to be a Messiah. At least one of Judas's offspring died at Masada.

Sermon of the Mount

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Sermon of the Mount
On top of a hill near Capernaum, sometimes called the Mount of Beatitudes, is where Christ is said to have given the Sermon on the Mount speech: "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven...Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.” Scholars thinks it is unlikely that Jesus really gave a Sermon on the Mount speech. They say that Jesus may have given a message like the one conveyed in the speech but most likely used different wording.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” users.ox.ac.uk ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, ccel.org , Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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