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Who was Jesus?. How would you answer this question?. Historical Jesus Born 4-7 BCE in Nazareth A carpenter’s son Born, raised, lived and died a Jew A wise, story telling teacher A miracle worker and healer A radical revolutionary Crucified at the hands of the Romans. Jesus, the Christ

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Who was Jesus?

How would you answer this question?

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Historical Jesus

Born 4-7 BCE in Nazareth

A carpenter’s son

Born, raised, lived and died a Jew

A wise, story telling teacher

A miracle worker and healer

A radical revolutionary

Crucified at the hands of the Romans

Jesus, the Christ

Born to a virgin in a barn in Bethlehem

Divine Son of God

Messiah (Christ)

Killed by the Jews



Ascended into heaven

Coming back

The Historical Jesus vs. The Christ of Faith

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  • New Testament gospels:

    • Only two of them tell the birth story and report events in Jesus’ early life

    • The synoptics vs. John

  • Other gospels

  • Josephus (1st century Jewish historian)

  • Archeology

  • Social & political history of the time

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The New Testament Gospels

  • Written between 40 – 60 years after Jesus’ death

  • Written in Greek, but Jesus spoke Aramaic

  • Written from a perspective of faith (not an objective report of historical facts)

  • Not the only gospels written

  • Not canonized until 4th century

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The Problem

  • Distinguishing between what Jesus said and did and what he is “said to have said” and done (as reported in the sources) – reading between the lines (The Jesus Seminar)

  • Reconciling Biblical scholarship (literary criticism, historical criticism) with faith

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Historical Context

  • Greek culture, philosophy & mystery religions

  • Roman political power and religion

  • Jewish religion:

    • Sadducees: priests and temple Judaism

    • Pharisees: rabbis and synagogue Judaism

    • Esseans: ascetic and messianic Jewish movement

    • Zealots: Jewish political revolutionaries

    • Messianic hopefuls and followings

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Jesus, the Jew

  • Hebrew name: Yeshu’a (Joshua)

  • Jewish from birth to death

    • Circumcision and redemption of the first born (LK 2:21-24)

    • Observing the Passover (as a youth and an adult) (LK 2:41-42, MT 26:17-19)

    • Reading and teaching in the synagogue (LK 4:15-22)

    • The Greatest Commandment (based on Torah) (MK 12:28-31)

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Jesus the Teacher (“rabbi”)

  • Disciples and followers

  • The Sermon on the Mount (MT ch. 5-7)

  • Story telling (parables) (MT ch. 13)

    • Themes:

      • The Kingdom of God and the end-times

      • The nature of God

      • Forgiveness

      • The power of faith (MT 17:19-20, MT 21:21)

    • Imagery includes familiar settings and events:farming, fishing, herding, baking, business

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Jesus the Miracle Worker& Faith Healer

  • Did he really do Miracles?

  • Did he really raise Lazarus from the dead? (JN 11:1-45) What about the little girl? (MT 9:18-26) And another dead man (LK 7:12-15)

  • Casting out demons? (MK 5:1-20)

  • Healing of Jews, Romans, Canaanites and Samaritans alike (JN 4:46-50, LK 7:2-10, MT 15:21-28)

    • “Your faith has made you well” (MT 15:28, LK 17:19)

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Jesus the Social and Religious Revolutionary

  • Love over the “letter of the law” - mercy and compassion over ritual and rules (LK 14:1-6, Mk 2:23-28, MK 7:14-23)

  • A threat and challenge to authority:

    • Debates with Jewish religious authorities (MT 15:1-12, MT 21:42-46, MK 3:1-6)

    • Criticism of political and religious leaders (LK 13:10-17)

  • A favorite among the underdogs of society – the masses, the little people

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Who Killed Jesus & Why?

  • Crucifixion: a common form of capital punishment for crimes against Rome (MK 15:27)

    • Claim to be “king of the Jews” (MK 15:2-5, 16-18, 26)

  • Role of Jewish authorities? (MK 14:10-11, 43-46)

    • Saw Jesus as a threat to Jewish security under Roman power

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Did Jesus Raise from the Dead?Is He Still Alive?

The empty tomb:

  • Was it empty?

  • Was the body stolen?

  • Was he not really dead?

    Did he ascend into heaven?

    Is he “seated at the right hand of God?”

    Will he “come again to judge the living and the dead?”

    A matter of faith, not history

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Questions for Reflection

  • What was most surprising about the historical information?

  • How does learning new historical information affect faith?

  • What new insights do you have about Jesus and Christianity?

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Resources on the Web

  • The Jesus Seminar: Scholars seek to identify the historical words of Jesus within the Gospel passages http://religion.rutgers.edu/jseminar/

  • From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians: PBS Frontline four hour series explores the life and death of Jesus and the development of Christianity during its first four centuries http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/

  • Pictures from: “Faces of Jesus”http://dsc.discovery.com/convergence/jesus/photo/photo.html

Created by Laura Ellen Shulman