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Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ)

Events in Jesus' life that people disagree about

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There is a surprising amount of information about Jesus for which no consensus has been reached:

Many questions have been raised about Jesus' earthly ministry:

bulletDid Jesus exist? This may seem like an unusual question. Surely everyone agrees that he roamed the hills of Galilee and Judea in the first third of the 1st century CE. However, there are skeptics who assert that he is a mythical character whose life story is made up from ancient legends. Others suggest that the stories of two or more wandering prophets in Palestine were combined to form the gospels. Still others suggest that he really lived much earlier, in the 1st or 2nd century BCE.
bulletHis conception: Most Christians and Muslims believe that he was born of the virgin Mary. Roman Catholics believe that Mary was conceived free of original sin, so that she could, in turn, conceive Jesus without sin. Many liberals consider the virgin birth to be a myth derived from Pagan sources; some feel that it is demeaning, both to Jesus and to women.
bulletHis year of birth: Common estimates range from 4 to 7 BCE. A few suggest centuries earlier. The second millennium anniversary of his birth already passed years before the new millennium started in 2001.
bulletHis name: His name "Jesus" was derived from the German version of his name which came from Latin which came from Greek which originated in the Hebrew name "Yeshua" -- short for Yehoshua which is normally translated "Joshua."
bulletHis birthday: A surprising number of people believe that he was born on DEC-25. His actual birthday is unknown, although there are some indicators in the Gospels that it happened in the springtime or fall.
bulletWhere was he born? Both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke record that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in Judea, south of Jerusalem. Conservative Christians accept this as the "gospel truth; they believe in the inerrancy of the entire Bible and that God inspired its authors." The Christian Scriptures (New Testament) leave no room for debate. However, most liberal theologians believe that he was born and raised in Nazareth. One suggests another Bethlehem, a small town less than ten miles from Nazareth in the Galilee.
bulletHis siblings: Roman Catholics believe that Mary was a life-long virgin and that Jesus was the only child that she gave birth to; he was her first-born and last-born child. The Bible identifies four "brothers" of Jesus: James, Joseph, Judas and Simon. He also had at least two "sisters." However, their exact number and names were never recorded. Some Catholics believe that Jesus' brothers and sisters were in fact half-siblings; they were children of Joseph by a previous marriage. Other Christians believe that the 6 siblings were really cousins or close friends.
bulletHis physical characteristics: We do not know whether he was tall or short. The image on the Shroud of Turin (believed by many to be the burial shroud of Jesus) is of a man variously estimated to be 5' 11" to 6' 2" tall. Jews who lived in the 1st century CE were much shorter than this. Writer William Harwood comments: "According to a medieval writer, [the Jewish historian] Josephus described Jesus as an old-looking man, balding, stooped, with joined eyebrows and approximately 135 cm (4ft 6 in.) tall." 2 This is based on the standard 46 cm. long regular cubit -- an ancient unit of distance. Using the 53 cm. special cubit, Jesus' height would have been about 156 cm (5ft 1in.). Harwood also makes the point that if Jesus were really 6 feet high, his height would have been so remarkable that he would certainly have been described as a very tall person by the writers of the Christian Scriptures.

Being Jewish, he had undoubtedly been circumcised. He presumably had a powerful voice because he preached to large crowds. He probably had fairly black hair and dark skin, typical of 1st century Palestine citizens. He probably wore a beard, because that was the custom of the time. He was probably in good physical shape, because he survived the scourging before his crucifixion. Many prisoners died during the beating. But this is all speculation, because his appearance was never described.
bulletHis sexual orientation: Some have claimed that he was gay, because there is no record of him every having been married. In 1st century Judaism, to remain single into adulthood would have been severely criticized - and there is no record of such reproach in the Christian Scriptures. But if he was openly gay, there would have been even more criticism heaped on his shoulders, because 1st century Palestine culture was very homophobic.

Some theologians believe that the Gospel of Mark had been circulated in two versions: the edited version that we have today, and a full , "secret" version which was reserved for those who "had attained a higher degree of initiation in to the church than the common crowd." 1 The latter describes Jesus spending the night with a young man who was naked except for a linen cloth. Needless to say, this passage has not been accepted as legitimate by all scholars.

The overwhelming belief among Christians is that Jesus was heterosexual.
bulletHis marital status: Almost all Christians believe that he never married. This would have been very unusual for a Jewish male in the 1st century CE. During that era, almost all Jewish males married early in life. Although there is no direct evidence that he was married, some liberal theologians have pieced together a scenario that suggests that he did marry Mary Magdalene -- perhaps at the marriage in Cana in the Galilee, as described by the author(s) of the Gospel of John. They note that the early Church taught that she was a prostitute, even though there is no evidence of this in the Bible. Some of the writings of the early Church that never made it into the Christian Scriptures described Mary as playing a major role as a leader of the disciples. The theologians speculate that the Pauline church was trying to cover up Mary's actual role by degrading her status.  
bulletThe length of his ministry: Estimates range from 1 year (as described in the Synoptic gospels) to 3 years (in the gospel of John). None of the events of his life can be dated with any accuracy.
bulletThe location of his ministry: The synoptic gospels describe most of his travels as being within Galilee; the Gospel of John places him mainly in and around Jerusalem.
bulletThe year of his death: Estimates range from 28 to 33 CE. Friday, 30-APR-7, is a common date. The Christian churches do not observe Easter Sunday on the actual anniversary of his resurrection. It is based on calculations similar to those used in computing the date of Passover. Easter is scheduled according to the nominal date of the vernal equinox and the phases of the moon.
bulletWhere he was buried: The Gospels say that he was buried in a newly constructed tomb. Some liberal theologians assume that the Romans threw his body on a garbage heap to be eaten by scavengers. This was a near-universal practice for the victims of execution.
bulletResurrection: Most Christians believe that he was bodily resurrected on a Sunday morning, about a day and a half after his death. Some very liberal Christians reject the concept of a bodily resurrection, believing that the idea was imported into Christianity from Pagan religions in the Mediterranean region. Muslims believe neither in the crucifixion nor the resurrection of Jesus. They believe that he ascended bodily up to heaven.
bulletHow he viewed himself: Conservative Christians generally believe that he looked upon himself as:
bulletA member of the Godhead; the second personality of the Trinity; the Son of God, and
bulletThe long-predicted Jewish Messiah, and
bulletResponsible for announcing the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God to the world, and
bulletThe founder of a new religion, Christianity

Individual liberal Christians hold many diverse beliefs about how Jesus saw his role. Many hold one or more of the following beliefs, believing Jesus to be:
bulletA promoter of a syncretistic religion combining Judaism and Buddhism.
bulletA magician.
bulletA native healer and miracle worker.
bulletA Greek cynic philosopher.
bulletA liberal reformer within Judaism.
bulletA social radical who wanted to remake Palestinian society into a more egalitarian culture.
bulletA follower of the liberal Hillel school of Judaism. 
bulletAn individual, much like John the Baptist, whose task was to alert people to the coming Kingdom of God, and lead them to repentance.

Religious liberals have been involved in a two-century long quest for the historical Jesus. They are convinced that much of the Gospel text does not describe the life of the man who trod the hills and valleys of the Galilee. It was fictional material that was created in order to convert Jesus into a deity. They believe that lurking within the gospels is some hint of Jesus as he really was. They are dedicated to catching a glimpse of Yeshua of Nazareth.

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Related menu on this site:

bulletThe search for the historical Jesus

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  1. R.J. Miller, Ed., "The Complete Gospels", Polebridge Press, Sonoma, CA (1992), P. 402-405.
  2. William Harwood, "Mythology's Last Gods," Prometheus Books, (1992), Page 263, Footnote 5. Read reviews or order this book

Copyright 1997 to 2004, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolernace
Latest update: 2004-OCT-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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