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|Birthplace||Judea, Roman Empire|
Primary Sources of Information on Jesus
Jesus' Life and Teaching
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke contain narratives of Jesus' birth and infancy, which disagree in many points but concur in asserting that he was the miraculously conceived son of Mary, the wife of Joseph, and that he was born at Bethlehem in Judaea. All four Gospels agree in dating his call to public ministry from the time of his baptism at the hands of John “the baptizer,” after which he took up the life of an itinerant preacher, teacher, and healer, accompanied by a small band of disciples (see apostle). The central theme of Jesus' teaching, often conveyed in the form of a parable, was the near advent of God's Reign or Kingdom, attested not merely by his words but by the “wonders” or “signs” that he performed. The chronology of this period in Jesus' life is entirely uncertain; what seems clear is that his activities evoked skepticism and hostility in high quarters, Roman as well as Jewish. After perhaps three years in Galilee, he went to Jerusalem to observe Passover. There he was received enthusiastically by the populace, but was eventually arrested and, with the cooperation of the Jewish authorities, executed under Roman law as a dangerous messianic pretender. The Gospels give relatively detailed and lengthy accounts of his last days, suggesting that the story of Jesus' Passion was a central element in early Christian oral tradition. They close with accounts of his empty tomb, discovered on the “third day,” and of his later appearances to Mary and Mary Magdalene and to the circle of his disciples as risen from the dead.
The Christian calendar revolves around the life of Jesus; important feasts include (in the Western Church) the Annunciation (Mar. 25); Christmas (Dec. 25), with its preparatory season of Advent; the Circumcision (Jan. 1); the Epiphany (Jan. 6); Candlemas (Feb. 2); and the Transfiguration (Aug. 6). The Easter cycle of movable feasts and fasts begins with Lent, which ends in Holy Week; after Easter comes the Ascension. Sunday, the Christian sabbath, is the weekly memorial of Jesus' resurrection.
Jesus in Islamic Tradition
Modern Portrayals of Jesus
Starting with the advent of historical criticism in the late 18th cent. (see higher criticism), scholars increasingly recognized that the Gospels were written from the point of view of the original Christian believers, who were more likely than moderns to accept supernatural occurrences and explanations. Thus in the 19th cent. many attempts were made to reconstruct by historical and critical methods a picture of Jesus that corresponded more closely to modern ideas of reality. The most famous of these lives of Jesus is that of Ernest Renan (1863). Albert Schweitzer's Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906, tr. 1910) is in large part a survey of this literature and its shortcomings. Schweitzer's work brought an end to a series of historical reconstructions of the life of Jesus and demonstrated that the eschatological focus of the Gospels was not something to be discarded in the attempt to encounter the historical Jesus.
Many scholars in the first half of the 20th cent. argued that the Gospels were narrative proclamations imbued with faith and not in any sense objective presentations of the life and teaching of Jesus. Two leading figures of this attitude were Rudolf Bultmann and his student Ernst Käsemann; in the early 1950s they sought to link the historical Jesus and the Jesus confessed by the church.
In the 1970s research into the historical Jesus took a new turn. Geza Vermes published Jesus the Jew (1973), in which he attempted to place Jesus squarely in the Jewish milieu of the 1st cent. The Jewishness of Jesus has increasingly been the focus of Jewish and Christian scholarship. This approach takes a much more optimistic view of the historicity of the Gospel traditions. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has allowed comparison of the Gospels with the brand of Judaism represented in the scrolls. Still other contemporary scholars have sought to portray Jesus as a charismatic teacher of subversive wisdom.
See G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew (1973); M. Grant, Jesus: An Historian's View of the Gospels (1977); J. P. Mackey, Jesus, the Man and the Myth (1979); J. D. G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus (1985); E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (1985); M. Casey, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God (1991); J. D. Crossan, The Historical Jesus (1991); J. P. Meier, A Marginal Jew (3 vol., 1991–2001); D. Flusser, Jesus (2d ed. 1997); T. Cahill, Desire of the Everlasting Hills (1999); P. Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews (1999). For a survey of Jesus in art and literature, see J. Pelikan, Jesus through the Centuries (1985).
Jesus, persons in the Bible
The Easter festival commemorates the life, death, and resurrection of the adult Jesus. The Christmas festival, by contrast, celebrates his coming into the world. Theologians call this event the Incarnation, a word that literally means "to be made flesh."
"Incarnation" refers to the idea that Jesus was both human and divine, and that in him God came to earth in human form. The joy and hope inspired by this event has found a multitude of expressions in the world's Christmas celebrations.
In the Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to Luke, the accounts given of Jesus' birth state that his mother, Mary, conceived Jesus by the power of God's Holy Spirit while still a virgin. Thus Jesus was both human and divine, an idea also expressed in two of his biblical titles, "Son of God" and "Son of Man."
Commentators have remarked that the stories of Jesus' birth reveal something of the nature of the Christian God. The stories show that God is not distant and unmoved by human suffering, but rather cares about particular people in particular places and so enters into the world to effect good. Indeed, Mary is directed by the angel Gabriel to name her son Jesus, which means "God saves" or "God heals." Christian scripture expresses Jesus' care for his followers by describing him as a shepherd.
In recent years, some theologians have begun to question traditional views of the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth. They point out that "son of God" was a title that the ancient Hebrews gave to people who played a special role in bringing God's help to humanity. The title did not imply divine identity, but rather service rendered to God. These thinkers suggest that the Christian notion of a divine Son of God came about after Jesus'death, as people struggled to understand the nature of Jesus' spiritual authority and to define his identity. The Virgin Birth has similarly been questioned. Some theologians today accord it greater symbolic than literal significance, suggesting that the story of the Virgin Birth was invented to symbolize Jesus' divine origins to a first-century audience. Others interpret Mary's virginity as a symbolic representation of her spiritual wholeness.
Jesus the Christ
Jesus' followers also gave him the title "Christ," which comes from the Greek word for "anointed." Among the ancient Jews high religious leaders underwent a ceremony in which they were anointed with oil. Jesus'followers viewed him as the one chosen and anointed by heaven to reconcile humanity with God and so came to call him Jesus Christ.
Jesus' Birth According to John
Although most people refer to the accounts of Jesus' birth given in Matthew and Luke as the Bible's two Infancy Narratives, the Gospel according to John offers another, more philosophical account of Jesus' coming into the world. It, too, emphasizes Jesus' divine nature and explains that God came into the world through Jesus that humans might come to know God. In this poetical passage Jesus' divine essence is referred to as "the Word" and as "light":
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 were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.
The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father [John 1:1-14].
Creeds and Councils
John's passage concerning Jesus' birth raises theological issues not addressed in the other two Gospel accounts. Several hundred years after the birth of Jesus, theologians were still debating the exact nature of Jesus' identity and the mechanics of how he came into being and into the world. Christian leaders decided that they needed to settle these debates once and for all. So they held councils in which they hammered out a general consensus on these matters, creating in the process various creeds and doctrines of the church. Especially important were the Nicene Creed, formulated at the Council of Nicea in 325, and the doctrines that came out of the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
The Festival of Jesus' Birth
The holiday devoted to the celebration of Jesus' birth, which we call Christmas, dates back to the year 336. It was set for December 25, an already important date in the ancient world. Centuries later, Christians would become concerned with establishing the year of Jesus' birth, which had not been recorded in scripture or other early Christian writings (see Jesus,Year of Birth). The debate over when Jesus was born continues to this day, as does discussion concerning the appropriate way in which to celebrate Jesus' birth. Five hundred years ago, the Puritans objected to celebrations that revolved around eating, drinking, masquerading, and game playing. More recently some Americans have begun to question the degree of commercialism that has invaded the festival. Some feel, like the Puritans of old, that contemporary American Christmas celebrations have become so divorced from the story of Jesus' birth that the holiday is more a secular than a religious one. Many are searching for ways to link the spiritual teachings contained in the story of Jesus' birth to their own Christmas celebrations. Indeed many devotional books advise Christians of various denominations on how to prepare their own heart and spirit to receive the Christ Child (see also Advent). Some who do not identify themselves as Christians are looking for ways to celebrate the holiday's secular themes and its universal spiritual themes, while disregarding specific Christian doctrines. These themes include generosity and gift giving, the celebration of birth and new life, the joys of winter, and the return of the sun (see also Winter Solstice).
Brown, Raymond E. An Adult Christ at Christmas. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1988. ---. The Birth of the Messiah. Updated edition. New York: Doubleday, 1993. Burns, Charlene P. E. Divine Becoming. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2002. Cross, F. L., and E. A. Livingstone, eds. "Incarnation, the." In their The Ox-ford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Second edition, revised. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1983. Gregg, D. Larry. "Incarnation." In David Noel Freedman, ed. Eerdmans BibleDictionary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000. Hick, John. The Metaphor of God Incarnate. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993. Horsley, Richard A. The Liberation of Christmas: The Infancy Narratives in So-cial Context. New York: Crossroad, 1989. Maier, Paul L. In the Fullness of Time. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 1991. Matera, Frank J. "Incarnation." In Paul J. Achtemeier, ed. The HarperCollinsBible Dictionary. Revised edition. San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996. Raya, Joseph. Abundance of Love. West Newton, Mass.: Educational Service Department, Melkite Greek Catholic Diocese of Newton, 1989. Weis, E. A. "Incarnation." In New Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 7. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967.
Jesus of Nazareth lived in the first century in a land known today as Israel. He was born into a humble, Jewish family and apparently had a number of brothers, and perhaps sisters as well. At the time of Jesus' birth the Jewish people were subjects of the Roman Empire. Little is known of Jesus'upbringing except that it took place in a town called Nazareth, a town located in Galilee, a poor region populated by peasant farmers, craftsmen, and fishermen struggling under heavy Roman taxes. Jesus grew up to become a spiritual teacher. Scholars deduce from his teachings that Jesus was well versed in the Hebrew scriptures. According to the Bible Jesus began his teaching career in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, which historians assume to have fallen somewhere between the years 27-29 A.D. His career ended when he was arrested and crucified by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.
Beyond these simple facts, which most Christians and historians accept, lie other debated notions concerning Jesus' life and identity. For example, Christian scripture proclaims that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his death in an event known as the Resurrection. The disciples came to believe in Jesus' resurrection after they found his tomb empty and later encountered a living being, on several different occasions, whom they recognized as Jesus. Many Christians accept the biblical accounts of Jesus' resurrection as literally true. Others believe that the disciples did indeed experience Jesus' presence among them after his death, but think these encounters may not necessarily have involved the materialization of Jesus in the flesh. Still others interpret the biblical account of Jesus' resurrection as a kind of parable, meant to be understood metaphorically rather than literally. According to this line of thought, the biblical stories of Jesus' resurrection symbolize a state of mind found among his followers.
These differences in interpretation notwithstanding, the resurrection of Jesus Christ stands at the center of Christian theology. Many Christians view the Resurrection as an affirmation that through Jesus of Nazareth God is making a radical new offer of salvation to all of humanity. Moreover, the Resurrection helps to make sense of what Christians experience as Jesus' continuing presence among them. Finally, many Christians believe that the Resurrection not only provides evidence of the afterlife promised to all believers, but also confirms Jesus'identity as the Messiah or Christ.
The Messiah, The Christ
The word messiah comes from the Hebrew term mashiah, which means "anointed one." It refers to the ancient Jewish practice of anointing those who served as high priests and kings of Israel. The anointings took the form of special ceremonies in which the individual was rubbed with oil. This ritual represented the recognition that these individuals had been appointed by God to help his chosen people. The Hebrew scriptures, which Christians call the Old Testament, refer to kings such as Saul, David, and Solomon as messiahs. Even the Persian king Cyrus was called a messiah because he freed the Jewish people from slavery in Babylon. By the second century B.C. some Jews had blended the messiah concept with Old Testament prophecies concerning the rise of a descendent of King David who would restore Jerusalem and whose reign would be just and glorious. Thus for some Jews the meaning of the word "messiah" began to change from any high political or spiritual leader to a single future leader sent by God to rescue his people from political oppression. They referred to this just, merciful, wise, and glorious king as the Messiah.
Traditional Christian doctrine claims that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. In the New Testament this word is usually translated as "Christ." The word Christ comes from the ancient Greek word Chris- tos, which means "anointed one," reflecting the fact that some of the Christian scriptures were written in Greek. According to Christian scripture Peter, one of Jesus' disciples, recognized Jesus as the Messiah (Matthew 16:15-16, Mark 8:29, Luke 9:20, John 6:69). The first Christians also acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah or Christ. For example, the writings of the apostle Paul contain many references to Jesus as the Christ. This belief became central to the emerging Christian faith.
Some contemporary scholars, however, doubt that Jesus meant to claim the title of Messiah for himself. They note that in the Gospels (the books of the Christian Bible that recount the life and teachings of Christ) the title he most often claims is the "Son of Man." Moreover, on other occasions Jesus hesitates to accept the title of Messiah even when others identify him as such (Mark 8:30-31). The Bible does record one instance in which Jesus openly claims to be the Messiah (Mark 14:62), but some researchers suspect that this passage may have been embellished by the writer of this story, who, like other early Christians, already firmly believed that Jesus was the Messiah.
Another group of scholars believe that Christian scripture shows that Jesus definitely did identify himself as the Messiah. Some of them argue that his own actions demonstrate that he viewed himself in this way, especially his forgiving of sins and his blessing and inclusion of those considered socially and religiously unacceptable. Others interpret Jesus' apparent evasiveness in claiming the title of Messiah for himself as a device Jesus used to broaden people's understanding of his role, since many Jews at that time assumed the Messiah would serve his people as a kind of triumphant political leader. Other images Jesus employs to explain his role include prophet, shepherd, healer, and suffering servant. These scholars also find support for their viewpoint in Bible passages that identify Jesus as the Son of God.
The Son of God
Traditional Christian doctrine asserts that Jesus was the Son of God. In Hebrew scripture, a "son of God" is a person who plays a special role in bringing God's offer of salvation to humanity. Though these individuals enjoy a close relationship with God, they are not necessarily thought of as divine. The Old Testament identifies the people of Israel as sons of God (Exodus 4:22), implies that the king of the Israelites was customarily viewed as a son of God (Psalm 2:7), describes the angels as sons of God (Job 1:6), and proclaims that King David's son would be a son of God (2 Samuel 7:14). Many Christians interpret this line concerning King David's son as a reference to Jesus, who, though not David's son, was said to be a descendant of the great king. In a number of Bible passages Jesus implies that he is God's son, addressing God familiarly, as Father (Matthew 11:25-26, Mark 14:36), and claiming unique knowledge of God (Matthew 11:27). After Jesus' death the idea that he was God's son became an important element of Christian belief. The meaning of the concept had changed, however, perhaps in light of the Resurrection and the early Christians's experience of Jesus' continuing presence among them. The statement that Jesus was the Son of God became an assertion that Jesus was divine. The Gospel according to John affirms Jesus' union with God throughout. It includes Jesus' affirmation that "the Father and I are one" (John 10:30). Christian doctrine eventually consolidated around the belief that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, the only begotten Son of God. Some Christians do not interpret this doctrine as a proclamation of Jesus' divinity, however, but rather as an affirmation that Jesus was completely at one with God and that God chose Jesus to carry out his plan for humanity's redemption and salvation.
The Sacrifice, The Savior
An important and related element of Christian doctrine asserts that Jesus'death on the cross on Good Friday was a sacrifice made on behalf of all. This sacrifice not only atoned for the sins of the world, but also made any future blood sacrifices unnecessary (for more on the concept of atonement, see Redemption). At the Last Supper Jesus himself offered this interpretation of his death (see Maundy Thursday). This interpretation also fits with the timing of Jesus' death, which according to the Bible fell either on the first day of, or the day before, Passover. Passover celebrates the Israelites' escape from slavery in Egypt, an escape sanctioned by God and sealed with a sacrifice. Among the ancient Hebrews sacrificial animals had to be perfect, in good health, and unblemished. Jesus' spiritual perfection, as the Son of God, also supported the idea that his death was the supreme sacrificial offering, powerful enough to bring the era of sacrificial religion to a close and powerful enough to redeem the sins of his followers. Jesus' resurrection on the third day after his death affirmed his identity as the Christ and betokened the salvation that God would make possible through him. Indeed, the name Jesus, a Greek translation of the Hebrew name "Joshua," means "God saves."
Borg, Marcus J. Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994. Borg, Marcus J., and N. T. Wright. The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998. Brown, Raymond. The Death of the Messiah. New York and London: Doubleday and Geoffrey Chapman, 1994. Carlston, Charles E. "Jesus Christ." In Paul J. Achtemeier, ed. The Harper- Collins Bible Dictionary. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. Copan, Paul, ed. Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? A Debate Between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998. Crossan, John Dominic. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994. Fitzmyer, Joseph A. "Messiah." In Paul J. Achtemeier, ed. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. Fuller, Reginald H. "Son of God." In Paul J. Achtemeier, ed. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. Gallaher Branch, Robin, and Lee E. Klosinsky. "Son." In David Noel Freedman, ed. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. "Jesus, Images of." In Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, eds. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998. "Jesus Christ." In E. A. Livingstone, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Third edition. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1997. Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996. Juel, Donald. "Christ." In David Noel Freedman, ed. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. ---. "Messiah." In David Noel Freedman, ed. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. Maier, Paul J. In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1991. "Messiah." In E. A. Livingstone, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Third edition. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1997. Mowery, Robert L. "Son of God." In David Noel Freedman, ed. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. Porter, J. R. Jesus Christ: The Jesus of History, the Christ of Faith. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Powell, Mark Allan. Jesus as a Figure in History. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998. Sanders, E. P. "Jesus Christ." In David Noel Freedman, ed. Eerdmans Dic- tionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. Spong, John Shelby. Resurrection: Myth or Reality? New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994. Witherington, Ben. Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1994. Wright, N. T. The Challenge of Jesus. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999. Wright, Thomas. The Original Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1996.
Jesus(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
The Biblical figure Jesus is not regarded by Spiritualists as being the son of God, other than in the context that we are all sons and daughters of God. As Harry Boddington points out in The University of Spiritualism (1947), “Spiritualism defines God for no man. Definitions imply limitations and we refuse to limit the illimitable or define the indefinable.” Jesus is simply looked upon as being a great medium and healer; his healing of the leper, and of the blind man at Bethsaida, for example, being similar to healings done by such people as Harry Edwards. Jesus and the disciples performed many healings, showing it was not just Jesus who had the ability.
A. R. G. Owens suggests in Man, Myth & Magic: Miracles (1970), “Bearing in mind that a condensed oral tradition is not a set of doctor’s case notes, it appears that [the miracles] are all capable of being interpreted as psychological cures: exorcisms, cures of paralyses, hemorrhage, or skin disease (the term ‘leper’ was not a specific medical description) or catalepsy (the affliction of Jairus’s daughter). Even the ‘absent healing’ fits into the picture … Studies of the miracles at Lourdes show that where sufficient data are available, the cures appear to fall into the regular pattern of healings by suggestion.” Phenomena termed “miracles,” such as the turning of water into wine at the marriage at Cana, for example, are no more than physical mediumship. Spiritualists do not believe in “miracles,” since everything must follow Natural Law.
There is almost no direct historical evidence to corroborate the existence of Jesus. One view is that he was purely mythical, however certain peculiarities of the gospels do suggest that there was such a historical figure. The chief error lies in confusing “Jesus of Nazareth” with “Jesus Christ,” the latter representing a theological interpretation of the former. It should also be remembered that Jesus the Christ did not mean Jesus the God, or even Son of God, but meant Jesus the anointed; anointing being a common practice when priests were ordained.
To again quote Boddington,
“Love and hatred cannot co-exist side-by-side—the one destroys the other.
Spiritualism repudiates all such imperfections as vice, hatred, partiality, or injustices as attributes of God. God never made mistakes. He did not create Adam and Eve or place them where he knew they must ‘fall’ and curse humanity for ever. Nor would He need to drown the consequences of His errors in a flood or sacrifice one third of Himself to atone for the mistakes of the other two thirds. These are the mazes from which Christianity cannot disentangle itself so long as it uses words with obsolete meanings.”
Spiritualists do not believe that anyone can “die for your sins.” They believe in self-responsibility. And to accept personal responsibility is to do away with any and all concepts of a “Savior.” It is better to ask forgiveness of the person wronged, than to pray to a God to remove your “sin” and yet leave the person suffering.