In our group we asked about the following headings with the aim of building up an outline biography of Jesus. The answers given here are ones on which most contemporary historians and biblical scholars would agree, that is, both atheists and Christians.
Jesus of Nazareth
Son of Man – Jesus’ self description – a normal title for a human, i.e. children of Adam and Eve, but also a special title for a coming divine figure prophesised by Daniel.
Son of God – this was a metaphor applied to human beings, particularly to important ones like King David.
King of the Jews – mockingly called on the charge sheet nailed above him on the cross.
Jesus Christ – ‘Christ’ = Messiah = Anointed (as in a king or a prophet).
Emmanuel – ‘God with us’, used by Matthew – but probably never called in Jesus’ lifetime.
The Logos – ‘the Word of God’, used by John – but probably never used in Jesus’ lifetime.
Date of birth:
c. 6 – 4 BC?
Place of Birth:
Traditionally Bethlehem, but because Bethlehem is the place where a new King like David is expected to come from perhaps that is symbolic and it was really Nazareth? But all traditions point to Bethlehem.
Exiled in Egypt as an infant.
Nazareth until the age of about 30.
Then Capernaum (with Peter?).
Presumably single- no reference to a marriage.
Made strange sayings about ‘becoming a eunuch for the Kingdom’.
Presumably none – unless we take twentieth century conspiracy theories seriously.
Mary & Joseph (but Joseph is never mentioned again after the birth narratives).
Jesus is known as ‘the son of Mary’ (because Joseph is dead and/or stories of a miraculous birth?).
NB His contemporary ideas of biology were very different to ours: the mother was believed only to be a receptacle for sperm.
Is the ‘Virgin Birth’ a way of telling us that Jesus is unique and born out of a sinless relationship?
Skills / Gifts:
Carpenter (could include stone masonry), like his father.
Crowd-puller. Miracle worker – healer (both medical and social healing: social inclusion of ‘outcasts’).
Exorcist – NB no contemporary ideas of psychological illness etc, all is put down to demonic possession.
Opening minds, challenging prejudice, not sexist or racist (at least in the context of the time).
Friends / Contacts:
12 male disciples named, others too, including lots of women (some named).
John the Baptist – cousin?
Outcasts: tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes.
Pharisees (rigorous appliers of Law, especially in matters of ‘clean/unclean’);
Merchants in Temple
High Priests, Sanhedrin
Jesus seems to challenge the authority of all these groups a critique of the Temple system, or its corruption; a critique of the Roman Empire.
Jesus was executed as a traitor to the State (Crucifixion was the specific punishment for those who challenge the reign of Caesar).
In spite of this he was given an honorable burial in a personal tomb – perhaps by a member of the Sanhedrin called Joseph of Arimathea.
On the Sunday following the Crucifixion, some of Jesus’ women followers claimed to have discovered his tomb empty.
For a short period afterward, different individuals and groups of Jesus’ followers claimed that he had appeared to them as risen from the dead.
The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every reason (other than the appearances) not to.
Love of God, and love of neighbour as oneself.
Love and hospitality for outcasts and enemies.
Unlimited forgiveness and generosity.
Inalienable dignity of the needy.
Social justice and inclusion.
Non-violent confrontation of injustice (changing unjust relationships: ‘turn the other cheek’).
Emphasis on ‘heart’ (the core of one’s person) in addition to religious rituals.
Against being judgmental (‘first remove the log from your own eye’).
Promoting the Kingdom of God (what a world would look like if it lived as if God were King: an image crystallized in the parables and the Lord’s Prayer).
A message about himself as God’s special agent in bringing about/announcing the coming Kingdom.
Jesus as God’s ambassador – NB when on foreign soil an ambassador has the same status as the King he represents; thus Jesus has status of God for us??
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