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Jesus Christ or Jesus of Nazareth (c. 4 BC - c. 30) was a Jewish teacher and healer; crucified during the reign of Roman Emperor Tiberius. According to the Christian belief, he is the "only begotten" Son of God, whose incarnation, death, and resurrection bring the gift of salvation to the world. He is also considered a prophet by various other religions, including Islam, although other religions do not generally believe that Christ was uniquely divine.

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The Name Jesus Christ

Jesus is derived from the Latin Iesus, which in turn comes from the Greek Iesous (Ιησους). The Greek form is a transliteration of the Aramaic name Yeshua (ישוע), a short form of Hebrew Yehoshua (יהושע), which means the Lord is salvation or Jehovah saves. The English form of Yehoshua is Joshua.

The title Christ comes, via Latin, from the Greek Christos (Χριστος), which means anointed. The Greek form is a literal translation of Messiah from Hebrew mashiyakh (משיח) or Aramaic m'shikha (משיחא).

In Arabic, Jesus is known as the prophet Isa al Masih.

Jesus spoke Aramaic as it was the common language of Galilee and Judea; thus, during his life, he was probably known as Yeshua. As a tradesman in the Hellenized Galilee, he probably also spoke business Greek, and his study of the scriptures would have acquainted him with Hebrew as well.

The Historical Jesus of Nazareth


The major historical sources for the life and career of Jesus are the four canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which present a narrative of Jesus's ministry, passion, execution, and resurrection. In addition, Matthew and Luke present narratives of Jesus's infancy.

According to modern scholarship, which is in rough agreement with the dating given by Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 185), these documents were written within a span of time from about 30 to 70 years after the crucifixion of Jesus (i.e. within 60-100). Some of the details of Jesus's life and teachings, however, are attested prior to the writing of the Gospels, in the letters of Paul, which were written about 20 to 30 after the crucifixion (in the 50s and 60s).

Non-canonical Christian sources for Jesus are not as helpful concerning the historical Jesus because they are either derived from the canonical gospels (e.g. Gospel of Peter), lack narrative (e.g. Gospel of Thomas), are fragmentary (e.g. Egerton Gospel[?]), or are gnosticizing with a heavy emphasis on theology (e.g. Gospel of Truth[?]).

Non-Christian sources for Jesus include Josephus, Suetonius, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger, written between 93 and 112, but these brief notices basically confirm only the existence and execution of Jesus (and his founding of Christianity) at the around time the Gospels state (e.g. under governorship of Pontius Pilate). Early Jewish sources concerning Jesus are even less detailed, indicating that Jesus had some disciples, that he was executed, and that he practiced some form of sorcery.

Date of Birth

The exact month or day or even the year of Jesus's birth cannot now be exactly ascertained. Due to a mistaken calculation based on the Roman Calendar by Dionysius Exiguus in 525, it was long held that Jesus was born in the year A.D. 1.

Because Matthew states that Jesus was born while Herod the Great was still alive and that Herod ordered the slaughter of infants two years old and younger (Matt. 2:16), and based on the correct (contra Dionysius Exiguus) date of Herod's death in 4 BC, many chronologists conclude that the year 6 BC was the most likely year of Jesus's birth. Consequently, Jesus would have been about four to six years old in the year A.D. 1. On the other hand, Luke's account places Jesus's birth during a census conducted under the goverorship of Quirinius[?], who, according to Josephus, conducted a census in A.D. 6. In order to reconcile the two Gospel accounts, some have suggested that Josephus was mistaken or that Quirinius[?] had a separate period of rule under Herod. In any case, the actual date of his birth remains uncertain.

In the 6th century, Dionysius Exiguus proposed to make the birth of Jesus the basis of the calendar but he miscalculated the death of Herod. Years reckoned in this way are labelled "A.D.", which stands for Anno Domini, meaning "in the year of the Lord" in Latin. Since many non-Christians have come to use this calendar, an alternative notation "C.E." is sometimes used. It is presently uncertain what the original meaning of this abbreviation was, although today it is taken to mean either the Common Era or the Christian Era: many references cite both.

Jesus' Life

Based on the gospel accounts, Jesus fled while still very young with Joseph and Mary to Egypt to escape Herod. After Herod died, they returned to Nazareth. It is generally assumed that Jesus learned the trade of carpentry from Joseph, and worked as a carpenter until he began his public ministry around the age of thirty. He then spent about three years preaching, teaching, and working miracles, especially healing. (The three year time frame is an educated guess based on three different Passovers mentioned in the Gospel of John.)

Date of Death

Based on inferences from gospel accounts, Jesus was executed by crucifixion on Friday, 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan under the administration of Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilate held his position from 26-36 and the only years in which Nisan 14 fell on a Friday are 27, 33, and 36 and possibly in 30 depending on when the new moon would have been visible in Jerusalem. Scholars have defended all of the dates.

Jesus as Messiah

Christianity as we have come to know it emerged from Judaism in the first century of the Common Era. The first Christians were Jews, and likely subscribed to Jewish beliefs and practices common at the time. Among these was a belief that a messiah -- a descendant of King David -- would restore the monarchy and Jewish independence. According to mainstream Jewish beliefs, the failure of Jesus to restore the Kingdom, and his crucifixion by Romans, negated claims that he was the messiah (since most Jews do not accept that Jesus was the messiah, they reject the use of the full (Christian) name. See the Jewish conception of the messiah for a more detailed discussion of the Jewish understanding of the messiah). Nevertheless, many of Jesus's followers -- perhaps inspired by encounters with Jesus after his crucifixion and entombment, but also drawing on alternative interpretations of Biblical passages -- redefined the concept of messiah to encompass the resurrection and the promise of a second coming. In addition to this alternative understanding of the messiah, early Christians brought from Judaism its scriptures, fundamental doctrines such as monotheism, and other beliefs and practices. See Comparing and contrasting Judaism and Christianity.

The Christian Account of Jesus

The Christian account of Jesus is represented both in texts and in images.

Jesus is the central focus of attention and worship in Christianity and is held by most Christians to be the Messiah foretold in the Hebrew Bible. More importantly he is believed to be the saviour of mankind, the son of God the Father, and God himself. The vast majority of self-described Christians regard belief in the divinity of Jesus to be part of what defines Christianity. According to traditional Christian theology, Jesus is one of the three persons of the Trinity, along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. (See also Christology.)

Of the four Gospels, the Nativity is mentioned only in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. Both infancy accounts support the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, in which Jesus was miraculously conceived in his mother's womb by the Holy Spirit, when his mother was still a virgin. According to these accounts, Jesus was born as Joseph and Mary, his betrothed, were visiting Bethlehem from their native Nazareth. Mary is also commonly referred as "the Virgin Mary" or, as the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox call her, "Mother of God".

Certain details of the two accounts, however, appear to be at variance with each other. For example, Luke reports that the parents lived at Nazareth, but, according to Matthew, they settled in Nazareth after their return from Egypt, an event that Luke does not mention. Matthew further explained that Joseph and Mary fled with the baby Jesus to Egypt after they had been warned by an angel of the Massacre of the Innocents.

The Bible tells little more about Jesus's childhood or young adulthood. However, by the time he reached his 30s, the gospels all report that he had become known as a religious teacher.

The message and ministry of Jesus in the gospels

When Jesus was asked about the most important commandment in the law of Moses Jesus answered (Mark 12:29-30) that the most important commandment (echoing Deut. 6:5) is to love God with all the heart, the soul, the mind and one's strength and at the same time he says that the commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself (found in Lev. 19:18) is as important. Jesus's messages also showed a strong concern for the poor.

Although the synoptic gospels focus mainly on the last year of Jesus's ministry, the Gospel of John indicates that his ministry spanned at least three passovers from the time he was baptized by John the Baptist until his crucifixion.

After traveling as wandering rabbi and performing miracles for three years, he was convicted by the occupying Roman government of claiming to be king of the Jews. Shortly thereafter, he was crucified on Golgotha and died. His arrest was precipitated after, seeing merchants doing money-changing at the Temple in Jerusalem, he used a whip to drive out the animals being bought and sold by the merchants, released the doves, and overturned their tables to scatter their coins.

While hanging on the cross, Jesus asked, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Many readers find this theologically perplexing, believing that God left him to die on the cross. Others see this as a quotation of the first verse of Psalm 22, a common way at the time to refer to an entire Psalm. That Psalm begins with cries of despair, but ends on a note of hope and trust in God's triumph and deliverance. It also contains several details that have been taken to apply to Jesus' crucifixion, such as the soldiers casting lots for Jesus' garments and leaving his bones unbroken.

According to the New Testament, he rose from the dead on the third day following his crucifixion and appeared to his disciples; the book of Acts[?] reports that forty days later he ascended bodily into Heaven. Paul's letters to the Romans, Ephesians and Colossians, and the letter to the Hebrews claim that Jesus presently exercises all authority in heaven and on earth for the sake of the Church, until all of the earth is made subject to his rule through the preaching of the Gospel. Based on the New Testament, Christians believe that Jesus will return bodily from heaven at the end of the age, to judge the living and the dead.

Later Christian writings hold that Jesus was not only the son of God, but God Himself. Many non-Christian historians do not see this paradox addressed within the New Testament, and hold that this is because during the life of Jesus he never claimed to be God, or part of a Trinity. Christians continue to see many passages in the Gospels and other parts of the New Testament affirming the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Jesus's Work

The New Testament reports that Jesus's message concentrated on benevolence towards others and called on his followers to abandon their worldly concerns, make disciples, and wait for the second coming of their Saviour when he would establish the kingdom of God on Earth. The Early fathers of the church further expanded on this message, and much of the rest of the New Testament is concerned with the meaning of Jesus's death and resurrection, and its implications for humanity. One idea that has remained constant through Christian theology is the idea that humanity was redeemed, saved, or given an opportunity to achieve salvation through Jesus's death. "Jesus died for our sins" is a common Christian aphorism.

However, that idea of "salvation" has been interpreted in many ways, and a wide spectrum of Christian viewpoints exist and have existed throughout history up to the present day.

Other Viewpoints

Islam recognizes Jesus (Isa, in Arabic) as one of the greatest prophets and the forecasted Messiah, but not as God or son of God. Muslims believe in the Virgin Birth, but believe that God caused Mary to conceive without a father as proof of God's power, not of Jesus' divinity. According to Islam, Jesus was never crucified and did not die; instead he was raised into heaven still physically alive, and made the illusion that he died on the cross to fool his enemies. Muslims believe that Jesus will physically return to the world as prophesied and fight the Antichrist, end all wars, convert the Jews and Christians to Islam, stop the eating of pork, and usher in a messianic era of peace.

In addition to believing that Jesus is the Messiah, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) believe that Jesus appeared in the Western Hemisphere after his resurrection. Church members believe that Jesus taught the ancestors of modern Native Americans, whom they believe to be one of the lost tribes of Israel. In contrast to belief in the Trinity, LDS members believe that Jesus is a member of the Godhead along with God and the Holy Ghost, but believe that they are all separate individuals.

The Jehovah's Witnesses, and some other nontrinitarian churches, affirm that Jesus is only the first spiritual being created by Jehovah, and as such are Arian in their understanding of Christology. The Jehovah's Witnesses also claim that he is the archangel Michael mentioned in the Old Testament.

The Baha'i consider Jesus to be the Son of God due to his divine conception. He promised to return to humankind once again, though it's for debate whether that will be in physical or spiritual form, or possibly both.

Hinduism is divided on the issue of Jesus. Some share the position of atheists; he was just a man, if he existed at all. Others say he was a great teacher, and some speculate he visited India and studied Hinduism/Buddhism during the unaccounted for years in the Bible. Some Hindus go as far as to equate Jesus with an avatar (incarnation of God on earth), along with Rama and Krishna.

Arius thought that Jesus was a creation of God, i.e he was not to be put on the same level as the Father. His doctrine was condemned by the First Ecumenical Council in 325, but was very widespread during the 4th century until it was condemned again at the Second Ecumenical Council in 381.

Many Gnostic sects believe that Jesus was an Aeon, an emanation of the One, original, unknowable God, who came to Earth to provide the gnosis (knowledge) necessary for humans to divest themselves of the physical world and return to the spiritual world.

Fictional Portrayals of Jesus Christ

Various authors and filmmakers have created fictional portrayals of Jesus Christ and his life. A number of storytellers have wanted to portray an accurate depiction of what his life is believed to have been like, while others have used the persona of Jesus Christ as a narrative device to make a literary point and develop a story's theme. Because of the devotion of many people to the idea of Jesus Christ, fictional portrayals of Christ have been, almost without exception, fraught with controversy. For further details, see the Wikipedia entry on fictional portrayals of Jesus Christ.


Starting with the Dutch Radical School[?] in the late 19th century, a small number of people have proposed that there was no historical Jesus at all. This position however, is considered to be fringe scholarship among historians and Biblical scholars.

The most prolific of those denying the historical existence of Jesus is a professor of German, George Albert Wells, who argues that Jesus was originally a myth. Another example is Earl Doherty, who suggests that Paul's idea of Jesus was derived from his reading of the Hebrew Bible. In this view, Paul never met or heard of any actual person named Jesus from Nazareth (or Bethlehem), but rather believed in a Jesus who died on some ethereal plane at the beginning of time, or some faroff time in history. The Jesus of Nazareth character was made up after Paul's time by a composite of Old Testament prophecies, with embellishments added by many people. In this view, the story of Jesus was also embellished with the myths that were common during the late Hellenistic age.

Others contend that aspects of Jesus and leading to the New Testament were derived from popular mystery religions in the Roman Empire at that time period. These religions worshipped saviour figures such as Isis, Horus, Osiris, Dionysus and Mithras, and Christian Gnosticism which flourished in the 2nd and 3rd centuries openly combined Christian imagery and stories with the beliefs and practices of Mediterranean mystery religions. Proponents of this view generally date the gospels much later than mainstream scholars and assert textual corruption in the passages supporting the existence of Jesus in Paul and Josephus as interpolated.

On June 18, 2003, the Israeli Antiquities Authority[?] published a report concluding that the inscription containing the Ya`aqov bar Yosef akhui di Yeshua` (James son of Joseph brother of Jesus) on an ossuary is a modern forgery based on their analysis of the patina[?]. Specifically, it appears that the inscription was added recently and made to look old by addition of a chalk solution. The ossuary came to light in 2002 under questionable provenance and was thought by some to be historical evidence for Jesus's brother James.

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