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The Jesus Movement

The Historical Jesus

Most of what we know about Jesus comes to us from the four Evangelists, also known as the writers of the Gospels.

Outside of the New Testament, the only contemporaneous mention of Jesus appears in the writings of the great Jewish-Roman historian, Josephus Flavius (Antiquities of the Jews xviii 3.3).

There is no accepted archaeological evidence of the existence of Jesus. And evidence brought forward of the earliest followers of Jesus—a cemetery found at Mount Olivet—has been largely dismissed.

So if we look at Jesus from a historical perspective only, we can say very little. We will limit ourselves to the facts historians tend to agree on.

Historians tend to agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (though some say this is spurious) in approximately 4 BCE and was crucified in Jerusalem in about 30 CE (Josephus mentions his crucifixion).

According to the Gospels, Jesus had at least four brothers (including James and Joses) and one or more sisters. His parents were Joseph, a carpenter, and Mary, both of Nazareth in the Galilee region. It is here, we are told, Jesus grew up. We know nothing more about him until we are told that, at 13, Jesus awed the local rabbis with his wisdom.

The New Testament makes no mention of a wife or children for Jesus.

When he started his ministry (after being baptized by John the Baptist, said to be his cousin), the towns and villages of the Galilee were his principle setting. The region’s ruler was King Herod the Great (37-4 BCE) and then his son, Herod Antipas (4 BCE to 39 BCE)—who had John the Baptist beheaded. It appears, then, that Herod Antipas was the Jewish ruler (but under Roman rule) during the entire lifetime of Jesus; the Roman Emperor was Tiberius (Luke 3:1).

The Gospels say that Jesus healed, taught in synagogues, gave sermons out in nature, helped the poor, and raised the dead. As he went, he gathered disciples as well as animosity. This is because he was a revolutionary in an age of Jewish revolt and Roman rule. He argued with the Pharisees over the rule of law.

The Pharisees believed that the end of the present world age was near, and would be ushered in by the arrival of a Messiah who would be preceded by Elijah, returned from the dead. General resurrection of the dead. Jesus agreed with them on all these points, but thought the Messiah had to come from the Davidic line.


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