JESUS, HISTORY AND DIFFERENT VIEWS OF HIM

JESUS


Christ and Mary Magdalene by Rembrandt

Jesus is an English version of the name Iesus which is a Latinized version of the Aramaic name Yeshu’a. Based on the number of books written about him (17,239 in 1999 in the Library of Congress collection), Jesus is the world's most famous person and arguably has had more of an impact of the world than anyone else in the history of mankind. This is quite an accomplishment for a man who died in his thirties as a criminal in a backwater of the Roman Empire and left his mark during three years as an itinerant teacher.

From what can be ascertained Jesus was a real person but whether he was the Son of God and rose from the dead to die for the sins of mankind as the Bible claims is matter of faith. Jesus was a very common Hebrew boy's name in Biblical times. It is Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua (meaning "savior"). "Christ" is derived from krystos , a Greek word that roughly translates to "messiah," Hebrew for "the anointed one."

Circumcised and confirmed as a Jew, Jesus has been described as a magician and healer, a religious and social revolutionary, a secular Cynic-like sage, a Jewish-version of Socrates, a charismatic cult leader, and a radical peasant philosopher. Pope John Paul II is among those who claim he was much more than these callings. He said, “Christ is absolutely original and absolutely unique. If He was only a wise man like Socrates, if He were a prophet like Mohammed if he were enlightened like Buddha, without a doubt He would not be what He is.”

Matt Andrews wrote in Midwest Today, “Jesus burst upon the world of his day, seemingly out of nowhere. He apparently lived in a vivid and immediate kingdom of God within his own mind, the nearness of which, and the means of reaching it, he fervently wished to share with others. Some thought Jesus to be a charlatan and a fraud (John 7:12). Others suspected he had a drinking and gluttony problem (Matthew 11:19). His family was concerned about him, saying "He is out of His mind" (Mark 3:21). But "the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Matthew 7:28-29). And the well-educated were shocked at Jesus' depth of learning: "How does this Man know letters, having never studied?" they asked (John 7:15).The Sermon on the Mount - a message which was an extraordinarily striking and compelling one - undergirded much of Jesus' teaching. It has inspired all sorts of men and women - Saint Francis of Assisi, William Blake, Tolstoy, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, even a non-Christian such as Mahatma Gandhi. [Source: Matt Andrews, Midwest Today, March 1994 ^=^]

Mark Goodacre of the University of Birmingham wrote for the BBC: “We know more about Jesus than we know about many ancient historical figures, a remarkable fact given the modesty of his upbringing and the humility of his death. Jesus did not grow up in one of the great cities of the ancient world like Rome or even Jerusalem but lived in a Galilean village called Nazareth. He died an appalling, humiliating death by crucifixion, reserved by the Romans for the most contemptible criminals. That such a person could have become so significant in world history is remarkable. But how much can we know with certainty about the Jesus of history? How reliable are the New Testament accounts about him? Opinions vary widely among scholars and students of the Bible.” [Source: Mark Goodacre, Senior Lecturer in New Testament at the University of Birmingham, September 17, 2009 |::|]

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a 1977 film about Jesus
“It is worth thinking also about the word Christ. This is not Jesus' surname. The Greek-derived Christ is the same word as the Hebrew Messiah and it means Anointed One. In the Old Testament, it is the word used for both priests and kings who were anointed to their office (just as David was anointed by Samuel as King of Israel); it means someone specially appointed by God for a task. By the time that Jesus was on the scene, many Jews were expecting the ultimate Messiah, perhaps a priest, a king or even a military figure, one who was specially anointed by God to intervene decisively to change history. |::|

Reza Aslan wrote in the Washington Post: “Perhaps no historical figure is more deeply mired in legend and myth than Jesus of Nazareth. Outside of the Gospels — which are not so much factual accounts of Jesus but arguments about His religious significance — there is almost no trace of this simple Galilean peasant who inspired the world’s largest religion. But there’s enough biblical scholarship about the historical Jesus to raise questions about some of the myths that have formed around Him over the past 2,000 years. [Source: Reza Aslan, Washington Post, September 26, 2013. Aslan is the author of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.”]

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

Book: History of Christianity by Owen Chadwick; The Faith: A History of Christianity by Brian Moynahan

Books and Films About Jesus

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Mel Gibson’s The Passion
Book: Eyewitness Jesus by Caresten Theide and Matthew D'Ancona; A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus by John Meier; The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant by John Dominic Crossan; Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders (HarperCollins) ; Jesus, A Life by A.N. Wilson; Jesus Through the Centuries by Jaroslav Pelikan (Yale University Press); Jesus the Jew by Geza Vermes, professor of Jewish studies at Oxford University; Reading Jesus: A Writer’s Encounter With the Gospels by Mary Gordon (Pantheon, 2009).

More Books: The Jesus Dynasty: the Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family and the Birth of Christianity by James Tabor, a professor of religious studies as the University of North Carolina---Charlotte; The Search for the Historical Jesus by Charlotte Allen, a journalist; The Quest of the Historical Jesus by Albert Schweitzer; Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI (Doubleday, 2007). Video: BBC documentary Son of God . Films: See Hollywood, Below.

More than 100 actors have played Jesus in films and television. Among them have been Ralph Fiennes (the voice for Jesus in the 1999 animated film The Miracle Maker ), William Defoe (in Martin Scorcese’s 1988 Last Temptation of Christ ), John Hurt (in Mel Brook’s 1981 History of the World ), Jeffrey Hunter ( King of Kings , 1961) and Max Von Sydow (in 1965 The Greatest Story Ever Told ).

King of Kings (1961) was described as “the King James version of Gone with the Wind.” Cecil B DeMille made a film with same name in 1927. The Greatest Story Ever Told featured John Wayne as a Roman centurian. Franco Zeffirelli made Jesus of Nazareth .

Among the other films with a heavy dose of historical Christianity are Intolerence , The Robe , Ben Hur (where one look by Jesus was enough to stop Charleston Heaston in his tracks). I guess must also mention Godspell , Jesus Christ Superstar and Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter .

The Gospel of John is a film that came out a few months before Mel Gibson’s The Passion . It is arguably truer to the Gospels than The Passion but ultimately was kind of boring.

Life and Death of Jesus


another film about Jesus

The initial history of Christianity revolves around the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, described as the son of God. The traditional story of Jesus begin with his nurturing in a stable in Bethlehem after his birth to Mary, a virgin who has been impregnated by God through the action of the Holy Spirit. [Source: BBC, June 8, 2009 |::|]

According to the BBC: “The story of Jesus' birth is told in the writings of Matthew and Luke in the New Testament of the Bible. His birth is believed by Christians to be the fulfilment of prophecies in the Jewish Old Testament, which claimed that a Messiah would deliver the Jewish people from captivity. | ::|

“After the story of his birth, little is known about Jesus until he began his ministry at the age of about 30. He then spent three years teaching, healing and working miracles. He taught in parables - everyday stories which had divine messages for those who would hear it. He had twelve disciples whom he called to follow him and help him in his work. | ::|

“Jesus stated publicly that he spoke with the authority of God. This claim angered the religious authorities in Palestine and they handed Jesus over to the Roman authorities as a revolutionary. He was tried for heresy, condemned and put to death by means of crucifixion. | ::|

“On the Sunday following his execution, some of his women followers discovered that the tomb into which his body had been placed was empty. Jesus then appeared to them, alive, as the Jesus they had known prior to his death. His followers realised that God had raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus was seen by many of his disciples and followers over the next few days before, according to the Gospel accounts, he was taken up into heaven. | ::|

Jesus and the Historical Record

There are few hard facts about the life of Jesus other than what appears in the Gospels (meaning "Good News”), Epistles or letters, and other early writings in the New Testament. Nothing written by Jesus survives.

Christian history begins with the life and death of Jesus Christ and continues with the formation of the early Christian church, Emperor Constantine's Holy Roman Empire and the great schism into Eastern and Western Christianity. The world population was around 170 million at the of the birth of Jesus. The Roman writers Josephus (A.D. 37-100),Tacitus (A.D. 56-117) and Suetonis (A.D. 69/75-after 130) refer to Jesus in their discussions of the new Christian sects.


Josephus

There is some direct archaeological and historical evidence to back up some of the events described in the Gospels. They are mainly from two Roman chroniclers, including Josephus, who wrote same century after Jesus lived. In a short passage Josephus described Jesus as a “wise man,” “doer of starling deeds” and a “teacher.” “He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks...And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has not disappear to this day.” It was hoped the Dead Sea Scrolls would offer some clues about Jesus and his followers but they said nothing about him.

Gospel Accounts of Jesus Christ

According to the BBC: “Many Bible scholars would say that the Gospels are not primarily a historical record of what happened because: 1) they were written between 40 and 70 years after the death of Jesus: 2) those who wrote them were not present at the events they described - but the oral tradition was very strong in those days, so it was possible for information to be passed on quite accurately from actual eyewitnesses; 3) the oral tradition allowed the narrative to be reshaped as it was passed on, in order to suit the purposes of the person telling the story; 4) the Gospels differ on some of the events; 5) the purpose of the Gospels is not to provide an accurate record of the historical events of Christ's last days but to record the spiritual truth of Jesus Christ; 6) The Gospels are a combination of historical fact with theological reflection on the meaning and purpose of Christ's life and death. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

Mark Goodacre of the University of Birmingham wrote for the BBC: “Our most important resource for the study of Jesus, though, is the literature of early Christianity and especially the Gospels. In order to understand them, it is important to realise that the Gospels are not biographies in the modern sense of that word and they often have gaps at just the points where we would like to know more. [Source: Mark Goodacre, Senior Lecturer in New Testament at the University of Birmingham, September 17, 2009 |::|]

“They are books with a message, an announcement. They are, for want of a better word, propaganda for the cause of early Christianity. This is why they are called Gospels - a word derived from the old Anglo-Saxon word God spell, from the Greek evangelion: 'good news'. John's Gospel provides a clear example of how the Gospel writers, or evangelists, were thinking about their task. |::|

“The Gospel is written not simply to provide information about Jesus but in order to engender faith in him as Messiah and Son of God. This purpose is reflected throughout the Gospels, which are all about the twin themes of Jesus' identity and his work. For the Gospel writers, Jesus was the Messiah who came not only to heal and deliver, but also to suffer and die for people's sins. |::|

“If it is important to realise, however, that while the Gospels are similar in purpose, there are some radical differences in content. Most importantly, John differs substantially from the other three, Matthew, Mark and Luke (the Synoptic Gospels). |::|

See Separate Articles on the Gospels.

Who Jesus Was

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Jesus at Hagia Sophia in Istanbul
Goodacre wrote: “Given the similarities in wording and order between the Synoptic Gospels, it is certain that there is some kind of literary link between them. It is usually thought that Mark was the first Gospel to have been written, most likely in the late 60s of the first century AD, at the time of the Jewish war with Rome. It is unparalleled in its urgency, both in its breathless style and in its conviction that Christians were living in the end days, with the kingdom of God about to dawn. [Source: Mark Goodacre, Senior Lecturer in New Testament at the University of Birmingham, September 17, 2009 |::|]

“Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not even have time to include a birth narrative. Instead, he starts with a simple declaration that this is 'The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.' (Mark 1.1). The name Jesus is actually the same name as Joshua in the Old Testament (one is Greek, one is Hebrew) and it means 'God saves'. |::|

“While the Gospels clearly depict Jesus as having a special relationship with God, do they actually affirm what Christianity later explicitly affirmed, that Jesus is God incarnate, God become flesh? The evidence points in different directions. Mark, the earliest of the four, certainly believes that Jesus is God's Son, but he also includes this extraordinary passage: |::|

“Mark 10:17-18 reads: “As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." According to to Goodacre: In this passage “Jesus appears to be distancing himself from God; it is a passage that at least puts a question mark over the idea that Mark would have accepted the doctrine of the incarnation. But the Gospels differ on this point as they do on several others. John, usually thought to be the latest of the four, is the most forthright. He speaks of the role played by the "Word" in creating and sustaining the world in a passage echoing the very beginning of the Bible, in Genesis: |::|

“John 1:1-4 reads: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. “ Goodacre says: “If John's Gospel provides the clearest indication of early Christian belief in the incarnation, it is at least clear that the other Gospels believe that in Jesus God is present with his people in a new and decisive way. Right at the beginning of Matthew's Gospel, before Jesus has been born, we are told: |::|

“Matthew 1:22-23: All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." |::|

Jesus’s Appearance and His Claim as a God and Man

Jesus is usually depicted with long hair and a beard. Many men in his time wore their hair long and had beards. There are practically no hints given in the Bible as to what he looked like. Jesus was Semitic, which has led some people to conclude that he had darkish skin. Scholars think that Jesus probably did not have long hair because that hair style was typical of Nazarite Jews who had taken a vow not to touch cadavers or drink wine (Jesus did both).

Based in the 2000-year-old skull of Jewish man from Israel and hair styles and skin of Jews portrayed in a A.D. 3rd century fresco, Jesus is depicted with dark skin, wiry hair, a short thin beard and thick features.

A cornerstone of the Christian faith is that Jesus is both God and man. Although he mentioned his relationship with God and spoke of God as his “Father,” Jesus insisted on numerous occasions that he was an ordinary man—“the Son of man”---and presented himself as medium through which God delivered his message. In John 14-9, Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the father.”

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a medieval impression of the Jewish Messiah
Scholars seem to view Jesus as more of a Messiah-designate than a Messiah because a Messiah is supposed to have presided over the End of the World and Jesus didn’t do that. Through his death and resurrection he changed the equation from a Jewish messiah to Christian martyr who removed the barrier between man and god and defeated the powers of evil.

Jesus, Jews and the Jewish Messiah

Many Jews regard the belief that Jesus was the Messiah as wishful thinking and based on misreading of the scriptures (namely that when the Messiah does come he is supposed to usher in the end of the world). Militant Jews rejected Jesus because he was unwilling to take up arms against the Romans.

Jesus was a Jew who told his contemporaries that he was not out to destroy Judaism but to fulfill it. He universalized the nationalist teachings of Judaism. First he taught Jews and later turned to Gentiles.

From the Gospels it appear that Jesus considered himself, and was considered by many Jews to be the Jewish Messiah. There is little in his teaching that contradicts the established Jewish religious ideology of his time. He certainly would not of thought of himself as belonging to any other religion but Judaism. Jews discounted Jesus as the messiah when he died at the hands of the Romans instead of taking them to paradise.

There were others that were considered the Messiah. In A.D. 132, a leader named Kochva, set up a Jewish state supported by 200,000 soldiers that endured for three years. Hailed as a messiah, Kochva reportedly rode a lion, fought in the front lines with his soldiers and defeated an entire Roman legion before he was brought under control.

Today Jews regard Jesus as an admirable Jew, a teacher, a reformer but not the Son of God. But that wasn’t always the case. For many centuries he was considered an apostate for claiming to be the Messiah. Christians had a hard time dealing with Jesus’s Jewish roots. For many centuries Christians denied that Jesus was a Jew and often chose to view him as Greek or Roman before considering him a Jew.

Jesus’s Identity

Professor Shaye I.D. Cohen told PBS: “What did Jesus imagine himself to be, or what did Jesus think himself to be? This is another mystery, another question which has bedeviled the minds of many interpreters for a very long time. We really don't know. We have the famous set of passages in the gospels where he says, "Whom do men say that I am?" You know, he turns to the disciples and we get a series of answers. "You're one of the prophets, you're Jeremiah." And whom do you say that I am? "We think you are the son of the living God." [Source: Shaye I.D. Cohen, Samuel Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies, Brown University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

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German engraving
“Well, we don't really know what to make of these passages. It's clear that the passages show that Jesus was seen by his followers in many different ways. That strikes me as imminently reasonable and imminently historical. He will have been seen or interpreted differently by different people. Some will have seen him as a prophet. Others as a holy man. Others as John the Baptist returning from the dead. Or a wide variety of possibilities. But how he saw himself is really a mystery to us, because that is hidden from us. It is impossible to disentangle in the New Testament accounts what the later church believed Jesus to be, or the later church believed Jesus thought himself to be, from what the historical Jesus actually thought himself to be. I don't see any way to... distinguish very clearly and securely what exactly is the historical core and how it then gradually develops in the history of the church. That is lost to us. And I don't know how anybody can know what Jesus thought about himself. <>

Ben Witherington told the BBC: “The big question about Jesus is: did Jesus think of himself as Messiah, did he believe he was the distinctive person that had a really pivotal role to play in God's plan? Scholars are divided about this. I personally think that Jesus did think of himself as a Messiah, he did think that God had specifically anointed him to do his work and that he had a special task for him to do. He also was convinced that he had to suffer as part of God's plan and this caused controversy with his disciples. It seems that Jesus wanted to push the idea that he was going to suffer and his disciples were really worried about this idea, probably expecting Jesus either to be some sort of priestly Messiah or some sort of warrior Messiah but certainly not a Messiah that would end up on a cross. They saw this as hugely problematic and a lot of Christians said for years afterwards that this was still a stumbling block to many people, a scandal - the idea that the Jewish Messiah could be crucified. This just didn't make sense to a lot of people.” [Source: Ben Witherington, Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, September 17, 2009 |::|]

Plurality of Jesuses

Dale B. Martin wrote in the New York Times: “Jesus the loving shepherd. Bringer of peace and justice. Teacher of universal morals. Jesus the rabbi. Jesus the philosopher. Jesus the apocalyptic prophet. Jesus the Christ of faith. People have constructed many different Jesuses. For at least two centuries, scholars and popular writers have mined the Christian Gospels to “look behind” them, to create a portrait of Jesus, using purely modern methods: the historical Jesus as opposed to the Christ of faith. [Source: Dale B. Martin, New York Times, August 5, 2013]

Holland Lee Hendrix told PBS: “In my own view, the earliest layer of evidence is still an interpretation, so what we can know is only the range of interpretations that we first encounter in Jesus' traditions. And that is really a plurality of Jesuses. A Jesus that's understood as a sage and wise man in some traditions, a Jesus that's understood as a superhero, a great performer of miracles in another, divine person in another tradition. A Jesus who is understood as primarily the sacrificed, now risen and enthroned savior in another tradition. One finds the plurality of Jesuses even at the earliest stage of interpretation. That's why as far as we keep going and excavating the tell of Jesus, the earliest stage is still interpretation. [Source: Holland Lee Hendrix, President of the Faculty Union Theological Seminary, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

Jesus's Understanding of Himself


an angry Jesus goes after the moneychangers, by Rembrandt

Ben Witherington told the BBC: “It's difficult to know how much of what's written in the Gospels is an insight into how Jesus saw himself and how much is comment of other people as to how they saw Jesus. In John's gospel for example, there are many 'I am' sayings: 'I am the light of the world', 'I am the good shepherd', 'I am the bread', 'I am the vine'. These phrases, if they came from the lips of Jesus, don't tell us a great deal about his spiritual biography, but tell us more about his purpose and they kind of hang with you and you have to think them through. [Source: Ben Witherington, Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, September 17, 2009 |::|]

“What does it mean that Jesus is the shepherd, what does it mean that Jesus is the light, what does it mean that Jesus is the bread of life? And you have to kind of puzzle over them. I don't think Jesus was interested in giving a great deal of information about himself. I mean, Jesus said that whoever saw him, saw the Father. But I don't think he was very interested in padding that out; his mission was more to redeem people, to love people into goodness, to save people from the distress and errors of their ways and he doesn't make a big issue about himself. |::|

“There's that whole thing in the gospels of Matthew and Mark about how he's very wary of people nailing him as the Messiah. He does that sometimes because I think he wants to approach everybody on an equal basis, if he comes with his entourage and a lot of hype about himself, he'll not be able to relate to folk, they'll stand in awe of him rather than relate to him. Reverend John Bell, leader in the Iona Community and minister of the Church of Scotland |::|

“I think Jesus thought of himself very much as a healer - he saw healing as a key to his work and presumably this arose because he just found out he was able to do it. A lot of Jews in this period would have prayed for people for healing and Jesus must have done this and found that actually he was rather good at it and he had a real reputation for healing and that might have led him to Old Testament scriptures like Isaiah 35, that talks about healing in end days - maybe he thought that that was a sign that the end of days was on its way. |::|

“Did Jesus think of himself as a teacher? Probably he did. Nobody spends that much time standing up and teaching crowds of people such words that have stuck with us for centuries. Even people like Gandhi were inspired by it so it's not just Christians that are inspired by that. But I think if we limit Jesus to purely teaching and healing than we don't get the full measure of him. |::|

“I think he would also have seen himself as a prophet. There are real signs that he sees himself in continuity with Old Testament prophets and just as Old Testament prophets were persecuted and suffered, Jesus thought that was likely to be his end too. He saw himself as following a line of prophets that had suffered for what they believed and sometimes even suffered from the hands of their own people as well as from others. |::|

Jesus: a God, a King?

Mark Goodacre of the University of Birmingham wrote for the BBC: “With the crucifixion we move from the historical Jesus to the Christ of faith. But how aware was Jesus of his destiny? And at what point does Jesus the Messiah break away from his Jewish roots? All the lines converge back on the fact that there must've been an empty tomb... and that there must've been sightings of some sort of being, a figure, a person who they knew to be Jesus, and who they knew to be not a ghost. They knew all about ghosts and visions and so on - that, that wasn't anything out of the ordinary. People had that sort of experience. This was different - this was bodily, but it was a transformed body. It wasn't a resuscitation - they believed Jesus had gone through death and out the other side, into a new physical body, which was now equally physical - only if anything more so rather than less so. He wasn't a ghost, He was alive, and the only way I can make sense of that as a historian is by saying that it actually happened. [Source: Mark Goodacre, Senior Lecturer in New Testament at the University of Birmingham, September 17, 2009 |::|]

Tom Wright told the BBC: “When the Roman Emperor Constantine had a vision of Jesus just before his victorious battle for Rome it was arguably one of the most important moments in the history of the West. It was the start of the process whereby Christianity would go from a persecuted minority to the official religion of the largest Empire the world had seen. But how did that change Jesus and His message? We wanna say "Come on guys - live in the real world. Things have moved on. Take all your ideals and translate them into the new world" - and that's what the Christians struggled to do. [Source: Tom Wright, theologian and Bishop of Durham, author of “Who was Jesus? and The Resurrection of the Son of God”, September 17, 2009 |::|]

“Christ, a historical Christ that you have referred to as a Jewish peasant, was not in the forefront of their minds. They were thinking of Christ as Saviour and Christ who died for our sins. This is what Christ was to them at that time. And in fact their concentration was in all of the phases of His Passion. |::|

Views of Jesus by Other Religions

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Chinese Jesus
Muslims regard Jesus as a prophet, miracle worker and messenger of God but not a son of God. He is revered as Isa ibn Maryan---Jesus, the son of Mary---and is believed to have ascended directly to heaven, which even Mohammed didn’t do. Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Koran, which recounts the story of the virgin birth. Muslim texts say that Jesus’s birth occurred under a palm tree. As an infant, the Koran says, Jesus rose from his cradle to announce that he is a prophet. When the world ends Muslims believed that Jesus will appear to fight the Antichrist.

Hindus considers Jesus to be a self-realized saint who has reached the highest level of God consciousness.” There are some stories that Jesus traveled to South Asia when he was a teenager to study meditation and retruned to Palestine to be a guru for the Jews.

Buddhists admire Jesus as figure of great compassion and have called him a Bodhisattva, a perfectly enlightened being. There are some parallels between the stories of Christ and Buddha. Both were born to virgin women, both were tempted by the devil and emerged enlightened. Both preached compassion and selflessness and were betrayed by a disciple.

Some Japanese believe that Jesus was buried in the town Shingo in Aomori Prefecture in Japan. Their belief is based on a theory that Jesus's younger brother was the one who was crucified at Calvary and Jesus fled the Roman Empire via Central Asia and Siberia and settled in Northern Honshu, where he married a local woman, fathered three daughters and lived to the age of 106. He now is believed to be buried under a cross on hill in Shingo on land that belonged one of his descendant, Toyoji Sawaguchi.

Jesus' Impact

Goodacre wrote for the BBC: “The Gospels narrate the story of how God's relationship with human beings manifested itself in Jesus' life and death. These books are therefore not just about Jesus' identity (who Jesus is) but also about his work (what Jesus did). There are three key areas of Jesus' activity, his healing, his preaching and his suffering. [Source: Mark Goodacre, Senior Lecturer in New Testament at the University of Birmingham, September 17, 2009 |::|]

“Whatever one thinks about the historicity of the events described in the Gospels, and there are many different views, one thing is not in doubt: Jesus had an overwhelming impact on those around him. The Gospels speak regularly of huge crowds following Jesus. Perhaps they gathered because of his reputation as a healer. Perhaps they gathered because of his ability as a teacher. Whatever the cause, it seems likely that the authorities' fear of the crowd was a major factor leading to Jesus' crucifixion. In a world where there was no democracy, mobs represented a far greater threat to the Romans' rule than anything else. |::|

“Yet in spite of Jesus' popularity during his lifetime, the early Christian movement after Jesus' death was only a small group with a tiny power base in Jerusalem, a handful of Jesus' closest followers who stayed loyal to Jesus' legacy because they were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, that he had died for everyone's sins, and that he was raised from the dead. It was a movement that received its greatest boost when the most unlikely figure joined it, the apostle Paul. |::|


Mohammed meets Jesus and other prophets in heaven


Christology

Ben Witherington, a professor of religion, told the BBC: “Christology is literally 'words about the Christ.' It refers to perspectives on Jesus that indicate he was more than a mere mortal. Christology can involve the humanity of Jesus, but there is often a special focus on the fact that he is more than merely a mortal person, he is divine in some way and in some sense the different gospel writers come at this somewhat differently. The synoptics - Matthew, Mark and Luke - have more a similar point of view than what you find in the Gospel of John which stands apart and alone. But none the less, they are all interested in this matter, they are certainly interested in what we would call Christology. [Source: Ben Witherington, Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, September 17, 2009 |::|]

“The Gospel of Mark, the earliest gospel, begins 'This is the good news about Jesus the Christ the son of God'. Right from the very outset of this gospel he is presenting a particular theological interpretation of Jesus as the Messiah, as the divine son of God and he is going to pursue that agenda throughout his gospel and reveal those truths about him. In Mark, at the the climax of the first part of the ministry and Peter stands up and says, 'you are the Christ, the son of God'. |::|

“There's certainly a Christological agenda in all these books, even in the earliest gospel. There really isn't a non-Christological Jesus to be found under any of the rocks in the gospel; so thoroughly are our gospel writers concerned about that issue, that the portraits in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all Christological through and through.

Christianity and History

According to martin.luthersem.edu: “Present Christian affirmations are rooted in historical contexts. Christian theology has a history, which means that there was development/growth. There was a time when there was no doctrine of the Trinity, or the two natures of Christ, or a belief in original sin. How did ideas develop? More importantly, are they "true?" Christianity takes the Incarnation seriously, and just as Jesus of Nazareth was shaped by his time and place, so the church as His Body is affected by the world. Some examples: Christology and Trinity, Virgin birth, Creeds — Apostles/Nicene. [Source: web.archive.org, martin.luthersem.edu]

“History is not a mountain but a river; History is a portrait, not a photograph Since this is so, "the definitive history" will never be written of any given event, because one's interpretation of the past will always be shaped by one's present circumstances and the present needs of church or society. A good case in point is the new histories emerging as a result of the rise of feminism and our awareness of the role of women in the past, something neglected until recently.


Constantine, the man who converted the Roman Empire to Christianity, at the First Ecumenical Council


Some major points to consider: 1) Romanticize the past as formative, heroic age (i.e. martyrs or Martin Luther or others). "It is just possible Luther was ill informed or just wrong on many issues." "Probably as many as 95% of Chrisitans denied Christ in the great persecution of AD 250." 2) Influence of "secular" forces on the church - geography, ethnicity, nationalism, culture, - i.e. powerful influence of American pluralism and ideals of democracy on the shape of the church.

The religious scholar Jaroslav Peliken wrote: "The Christian interpretation of God's activity in the world has never been satisfied with a passion for being; it has always felt obliged to come to terms with becoming, with change, with process, with variety. And therefore the Christian doctrine of God requires the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, for He is the Agent of change and the Ground of Variety." [Source:Jaroslav Peliken, "A Portrait of The Christian As A Young Intellectual," CRESSET June 1961]

Peter Berger wrote in “A Rumor of Angels”: "There are better reasons why the traditions must be confronted. On the most obvious level, the adage that he who ignores history is condemned to repeat it, holds for the theologian as well. The fundamental questions of theology have been passionately cosidered for at least three thousand years. It is not only insufferable arrogance to think that one can begin theologizing in sovereign disregard of this history; it is also extremely uneconomical. It seems rather a waste of time to spend, say five years, working out a position, only to find that it has already been done by a Syrian monk in the fifth century. The very least that a knowledge of religious tradition has to offer is a catalogue of heresies for possible home use."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, except movie posters from IMBD

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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