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About Jesus


The search for the historical Jesus

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bullet "Jesus was a peasant, which tells us about his social class. Clearly, he was brilliant. His use of language was remarkable and poetic, filled with images and stories. He had a metaphoric mind. He was not an ascetic, but world-affirming, with a zest for life. There was a sociopolitical passion to him -– like a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King, he challenged the domination system of his day. He was a religious ecstatic, a Jewish mystic, for whom God was an experiential reality. As such, Jesus was also a healer. And there seems to have been a spiritual presence around him, like that reported of St. Francis or the Dalai Lama.

And I suggest that, as a figure of history, Jesus was an ambiguous figure – you could experience him and conclude that he was insane, as some of his family did; or that he was simply eccentric or that he was a dangerous threat; or that he was filled with the Spirit of God." Marcus Borg, circa 1995. He was interviewed on a TV program at Easter time and asked to give a 75 second description of Jesus.

bullet"...we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Christian sources show no interest in either, are moreover fragmentary and often legendary.; and other sources about Jesus do not exist." Rudolf Bultmann.

bullet"...the liberal searchers had found a liberal Jesus. the same can be said of the Jesus-searchers of every era: the deists found a deist, the Romantics a Romantic, the existentialists and existentialist, and the liberationists a Jesus of class struggle...the 'scientific' quest for the historical Jesus has nearly always devolved into theology, ideology and even autobiography." Charlotte Allen 1

bullet"Yeshua [Jesus] spent his life as a devout (if troublesome) adherent of the Yahweh-faith of the late Second Temple era....'Jesus' was not a Christian...was not intentionally involved in founding a Gentile religion, and was completely loyal to the Yahweh-faith, which he wished to purify, not destroy." Donald Akenson, 2

bulletEach of the four [Gospel] authors recorded very in-depth narratives of Jesus' life. As you would expect from various writers covering the life of a real person, there is agreement in the facts, but also uniqueness and variations in the presentations. Campus Crusade for Christ, International. 3

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The term "historical Jesus" refers to the life of Yeshua of Nazareth from his birth in Palestine to his execution in Jerusalem.

Christianity is often considered to be divided into two wings: conservative and liberal. Each has very different beliefs about the Bible, about Jesus' earthly ministry, and about many other topics.

bulletLiberal theologians  view the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) as books, that should be studied as any other historical record.

bulletConservative theologians believe that the Christian Scriptures are unique. Their authors were inspired by God to write material that was inerrant. Further, when the official canon of the Bible was selected, they believe that the Christian leaders at the time selected the only four valid gospels out of the approximately 40 gospels then available.

Thus, liberals and conservatives differ greatly about the need to search for the "historical Jesus.

bulletLiberal Christians and Post-Christians typically differentiate between what they see as:
bulletThe very human "Jesus of History" - the itinerate preacher / healer who:
  1. Lived from circa 5 BCE until he was executed circa 30 CE,
  2. Was corporeal (flesh and blood).
  3. Was finite and mortal.
  4. Was human, not a deity.
  5. Was a peasant, and devoutly Jewish.
  6. Was called Yeshua of Nazareth.
bulletThe divine "Christ of faith," created by the early Pauline Christian movement -- the son of God, the second person of the Trinity, who was resurrected after about a day and a half in the tomb and later ascended to heaven. He:
  1. Has lived from before the creation of the universe to the present time.
  2. Is Infinite and eternal.
  3. Is divine.
  4. Is the King of kings; Lord of lords.
  5. Is called Jesus Christ.

They feel that the gospels contain many layers of fictional accretions which  intentionally obscure the historical Jesus. They converted the Jesus of history into the Christ of faith. Only by peeling these layers away can we hope to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he actually lived. 4

A very useful summary of the search for the historical Jesus is contained on This web site groups many of the leading theologians into categories, depending upon their conclusons of the nature of Jesus: Jesus as the heavenly Christ, the myth, the Hellenistic hero, the revolutionary, the wisdom sage, the man of the spirit, the prophet of social change, the apocalyptic prophet and the savior.

bullet Conservative Christians typically feel that the gospels and the rest of the New Testament describe Jesus and his ministry in complete and accurate detail. That is because God inspired the authors of the Bible so that their writings would be inerrant -- without error. Thus, The Jesus of Galilee and the risen Christ are the same personality -- consistently the Son of God and the second person of the Trinity. The idea of a search for a historical Jesus is ridiculous. All the information one could wish for is readily available in the Bible. The search for the "historical Jesus" is almost entirely a liberal Christian pursuit. To an Evangelical Christian, the search itself borders on blasphemy. The findings of the searchers are blasphemy. 5

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Topics covered in this section:

As stated above, religious conservatives generally deny the need for (and validity of) a search for the historical Jesus. The following essays mainly cover the search by religious liberals.

bulletConservative vs liberal beliefs about the "search" (Read this first, or the rest will not make a lot of sense.)

bulletA brief history of the "search."
bulletThe Jesus Seminar 

bulletA list of books on the "search," by both conservative and liberal authors

Other theologians and investigators have looked in the holy books of other religions for traces of Jesus, and believe that many of his life events in the Gospels were copied from other world savior/man-gods:

bulletWere elements of Jesus' life copied from other saviors/god-men/heroes?

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References used:

  1. Charlotte Allen, "The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus." The Free Press, (1998), Page 5.
  2. Donald Akenson, "Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus," Oxford University Press, (2000), Page 57
  3. "Why you can believe the Bible," Campus Crusade for Christ, International, at:
  4. Adapted from: Marcus Borg, Ed., "Jesus at 2000," Westview Press, (1997), Page 8.
  5. "Historical Jesus Theories," Early Christian Writings, at:

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Copyright © 2000 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-MAY-28
Latest update: 2015-FEB-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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