2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Divinities; Religious figures and leaders

In the 6th-century mosaic in Ravenna Jesus is portrayed as a Greco-Roman priest and king - the Pantokrator enthroned, donning regal Tyrian purple, and gesturing a sign of the cross.
In the 6th-century mosaic in Ravenna Jesus is portrayed as a Greco-Roman priest and king - the Pantokrator enthroned, donning regal Tyrian purple, and gesturing a sign of the cross.
A series of articles on

Jesus Christ and Christianity
Names and titles

Non-religious aspects
Greek • Aramaic

Perspectives on Jesus
New Testament view
Christian views
Religious perspectives
Jewish view
Islamic view of his death
Yuz Asaf
Historical Jesus
Jesus Seminar
Jesus as myth

Jesus in culture
Popular culture
Dramatic portrayals

Jesus (8–2 BC/BCE to 29–36 AD/ CE), also known as Jesus of Nazareth, is the central figure of Christianity. The name "Jesus" is an Anglicization of the Greek Iesous, itself a transliteration of the Hebrew Jeshua, meaning " YHWH is salvation". He is commonly referred to as Jesus Christ, where " Christ" is a title derived from the Greek christos, meaning "Anointed One", which corresponds to the Hebrew-derived " Messiah".

The main sources of information regarding Jesus' life and teachings are the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Most scholars in the fields of history and biblical studies agree that Jesus was a Jewish teacher from Galilee, who was regarded as a healer, was baptized by John the Baptist, and was crucified in Jerusalem on orders of the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate under the accusation of sedition against the Roman Empire. A small minority of scholars and authors question the historical existence of Jesus, arguing for a completely mythological Jesus.

Christian views of Jesus (see Christology) centre on the belief that Jesus is the Messiah as promised in the Old Testament and that he was resurrected after he died on a cross. Christians typically believe Jesus is the Son of God, and that he was sent by God to provide salvation from death and reconciliation with God by atoning for the sins of humanity by his death. Trinitarian Christians (the majority) believe that Jesus is God incarnate, while Nontrinitarian Christians profess various other interpretations regarding his divinity. Other common Christian beliefs include his Virgin Birth, miracles, fulfillment of biblical prophecy, ascension into Heaven, and future Second Coming.


Suggested years of Jesus'
birth and death based on
Gospel interpretations
c. 8 BC/BCE Birth (earliest)
c. 4 BC/BCE Herod's death
c. 6 AD/CE Birth (latest)
Quirinius' census
c. 26/27 Pilate governor
c. 27 Death (earliest)
c. 36 Death (latest)
c. 36/37 Pilate removed

The most detailed accounts of Jesus' birth are contained in the Gospel of Matthew (probably written between 65 and 90 AD/CE) and the Gospel of Luke (probably written between 65 and 100 AD/CE). There is considerable debate about the details of Jesus' birth among even Christian scholars, and few scholars claim to know precisely either the year or the date of his birth or of his death.

The nativity accounts in Matthew and Luke do not mention a date or time of year for the birth of Jesus. In Western Christianity, it has been traditionally celebrated in the liturgical season of Christmastide as Christmas on 25 December, a date that can be traced as early as 330 among Roman Christians. Before then, and still today in Eastern Christianity, Jesus' birth was generally celebrated on January 6 as part of the feast of Theophany, also known as Epiphany, which commemorated not only Jesus' birth but also his baptism by John in the Jordan River and possibly additional events in Jesus' life. Many scholars note that the event described in Luke of the shepherds' activities suggest a spring or summer date for Jesus' birth. Scholars speculate that the date of the celebration was moved in an attempt to replace the Roman festival of Saturnalia (or more specifically, the birthday of the pagan god Sol Invictus).

In the 248th year during the Diocletian Era (based on Diocletian's ascension to the Roman throne), Dionysius Exiguus attempted to pinpoint the number of years since Jesus' birth, arriving at a figure of 753 years after the founding of Rome. Dionysius then set Jesus' birth as being December 25 1 ACN (for "Ante Christum Natum", or "before the birth of Christ"), and assigned AD 1 to the following year — thereby establishing the system of numbering years from the birth of Jesus: Anno Domini (which translates as "in the year of our Lord"). This system made the then current year 532, and almost two centuries later it won acceptance and became the established calendar in Western civilization due to its further championing by the Venerable Bede.

However, based on a lunar eclipse that Josephus reports shortly before the death of Herod the Great (who plays a major role in Matthew's account), as well as a more accurate understanding of the succession of Roman Emperors, Jesus' birth would have been some time during or before the year 4 BC/BCE. Having fewer sources and being further removed in time from the authors of the New Testament, establishing a reliable birth date now is particularly difficult. Alternatively, based on the idea that a Jupiter-Saturn conjunction was the "star" the Wise Men followed, the birth could be as early as 7BC/BCE.

The exact date of Jesus' death is also unclear. Many scholars hold that the Gospel of John depicts the crucifixion just before the Passover festival on Friday 14 Nisan, called the Quartodeciman, whereas the synoptic gospels (except for Mark 14:2) describe the Last Supper, immediately before Jesus' arrest, as the Passover meal on Friday 15 Nisan; however, a number of scholars hold that the synoptic account is harmonious with the account in John. Further, the Jews followed a lunisolar calendar with phases of the moon as dates, complicating calculations of any exact date in a solar calendar. According to John P. Meier's A Marginal Jew, allowing for the time of the procuratorship of Pontius Pilate and the dates of the Passover in those years, his death can be placed most probably on April 7, 30 AD/CE or April 3, 33 AD/CE.

Life and teachings, as told in the Gospels

Major events in Jesus's life in the Gospels
  • Nativity
  • Baptism
  • Temptation
  • Sermon on the Mount
  • Commission of the Twelve
  • Miracles
  • Entering Jerusalem
  • Temple incident
  • Great Commandment
  • Anointing
  • Last Supper
  • Promise of the Paraclete
  • Arrest
  • Before the High Priest
  • Before Pilate
  • Death & Resurrection
  • Great Commission
  • Ascension
  • Second Coming Prophecy

As few of the details of Jesus' life can be independently verified, it is difficult to gauge the historical accuracy of the Biblical accounts. The four canonical gospels are the main sources of information for the traditional Christian narrative of Jesus' life.

Genealogy and family

Jesus and Mary: Black Madonna of Częstochowa
Jesus and Mary: Black Madonna of Częstochowa

Of the four gospels, only Matthew and Luke give accounts of Jesus' genealogy. Matthew's account gives the male line through his legal father Joseph; Luke either gives the male line or, according to another interpretation, the line through Jesus' mother, Mary. Both accounts trace his line back to King David and from there to Abraham. These lists are identical between Abraham and David, but they differ between David and Joseph. Matthew starts with Solomon and proceeds through the kings of Judah to the last king, Jeconiah. After Jeconiah, the line of kings terminated when Babylon conquered Judah. Thus, Matthew shows that Jesus is the legal heir to the throne of Israel. Luke's genealogy is longer than Matthew's; it goes back to Adam and provides more names between David and Jesus.

Joseph appears only in descriptions of Jesus' childhood. With Jesus commending Mary into the care of the beloved disciple during his crucifixion ( John 19:25–27), it is likely that he had died by the time of Jesus' ministry. The New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, and Galatians tell of Jesus' relatives, including possible brothers and sisters. The Greek word adelphos in these verses, often translated as brother, can refer to any familial relation, and most Catholics and Eastern Orthodox translate the word as kinsman or cousin in this context (see Perpetual virginity of Mary).

An account of the childhood of Mary is given in the mid-second century non-canonical Protoevangelium of James.

Nativity and early life

Adoration of the Shepherds, Gerard van Honthorst , 17th c.
Adoration of the Shepherds, Gerard van Honthorst , 17th c.

According to Matthew and Luke, Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea to Mary, a virgin, by a miracle of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel of Luke gives an account of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary to tell her that she was chosen to bear the Son of God ( Luke 1:26–38). According to Luke, an order of Caesar Augustus forced Mary and Joseph to leave their homes in Nazareth and come to the home of Joseph's ancestors, the house of David, for the Census of Quirinius. After Jesus' birth, the couple was forced to use a manger in place of a crib because there was no room for them in the town's inn ( Luke 2:1–7). According to Luke, an angel announced Jesus' birth to shepherds who came to see the newborn child and subsequently publicized what they had witnessed throughout the area (see The First Noël). Matthew also tells of the " Wise Men" or " Magi" who brought gifts to the infant Jesus after following a star which they believed was a sign that the Messiah, or King of the Jews, had been born ( Matthew 2:1-12), and of the flight to Egypt after Jesus' birth in order to escape Herod's Massacre of the Innocents.

Jesus' childhood home is stated in the Bible to have been the town of Nazareth in Galilee. According to Luke, Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth before Jesus' birth and returned there afterwards. According to Matthew, the family remained in Egypt until Herod's death, whereupon they moved to Nazareth in order to avoid living under the authority of Herod's son and successor Archelaus ( Matthew 2:19-23).

Aside from the flight to Egypt and a short trip to Tyre and Sidon, all other events in the Gospels are set in ancient Israel. According to Luke ( Luke 3:23) Jesus was "about thirty years of age" when he was baptized. The only event mentioned between Jesus' infancy and baptism in any of the canonical Gospels is Luke's Finding in the Temple ( Luke 2:41–52). In Mark Jesus is called a carpenter ( Mark 6:3), and in Matthew a carpenter's son ( Matthew 13:55), suggesting that Jesus spent some of the intervening time practising carpentry with his father.

Baptism and temptation

The Gospel of Mark begins with the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, which Biblical scholars describe as the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. According to Mark, Jesus came to the Jordan River where John the Baptist had been preaching and baptizing people in the crowd. Matthew adds to the account by describing an attempt by John to decline Jesus' request for baptism, saying that it is Jesus who should baptize John. Jesus insisted however, claiming that baptism was necessary to "fulfill all righteousness." ( Matthew 3:15). After Jesus had been baptized and rose from the water, Mark states Jesus "saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven saying: ‘You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’" ( Mark 1:10–11).

Following his baptism, according to Matthew, Jesus was led into the desert by God where he fasted for forty days and forty nights. During this time, the devil appeared to him and tempted Jesus to demonstrate his supernatural powers as proof of being the Son of God, although each temptation was refused by Jesus with a quote of scripture from the Book of Deuteronomy. In all, he was tempted three times. The Gospels state that having failed, the devil departed and angels came and brought nourishment to Jesus ( Matthew 4:1-11).

The narrative of the Baptism and Temptation is in the Synoptics, but not in the Gospel of John.


Sermon on the Mount, Carl Heinrich Bloch, 19th c.
Sermon on the Mount, Carl Heinrich Bloch, 19th c.

The Gospels state that Jesus, as Messiah, was sent to "give his life as a ransom for many" and "preach the good news of the Kingdom of God." Over the course of his ministry, Jesus is said to have performed various miracles, including healings, exorcisms, walking on water, turning water into wine, and raising several people, such as Lazarus, from the dead ( John 11:1–44).

Judæa and Galilee at the time of Jesus
Judæa and Galilee at the time of Jesus

The Gospel of John describes three different passover feasts over the course of Jesus' ministry. This implies that Jesus preached for a period of three years, although some interpretations of the Synoptic Gospels suggest a span of only one year. The focus of his ministry was toward his closest adherents, the Twelve Apostles, though many of his followers were considered disciples. Jesus led what many believe to have been an apocalyptic following. He preached that the end of the current world would come unexpectedly; as such, he called on his followers to be ever alert and faithful.

At the height of his ministry, Jesus attracted huge crowds numbering in the thousands, primarily in the areas of Galilee and Perea (in modern-day Israel and Jordan respectively). Some of Jesus' most famous teachings come from the Sermon on the Mount, which contained the Beatitudes and the Lord's Prayer. Jesus often employed parables, such as the Prodigal Son, and the Parable of the Sower. His teachings centered around unconditional self-sacrificing God-like love for God and for all people. During his sermons, he preached about service and humility, the forgiveness of sin, faith, turning the other cheek, love for one's enemies as well as friends, and the need to follow the spirit of the law in addition to the letter.

Jesus often met with society's outcasts, such as the publicani (Imperial tax collectors who were despised for extorting money), including the apostle Matthew; when the Pharisees objected to meeting with sinners rather than the righteous, Jesus replied that it was the sick who need a physician, not the healthy ( Matthew 9:9–13). According to Luke and John, Jesus also made efforts to extend his ministry to the Samaritans, who followed a different form of the Israelite religion. This is reflected in his preaching to the Samaritans of Sychar, resulting in their conversion ( John 4:1–42).

Arrest, trial, and death

Ecce Homo (Behold the Man!), Antonio Ciseri, 19th c.: Pontius Pilate presents a scourged Jesus of Nazareth to onlookers: a very popular motif in Christian art.
Ecce Homo (Behold the Man!), Antonio Ciseri, 19th c.: Pontius Pilate presents a scourged Jesus of Nazareth to onlookers: a very popular motif in Christian art.

According to the Gospels, Jesus came with his followers to Jerusalem during the Passover festival where a large crowd came to meet him, shouting, " Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!" Following his triumphal entry, according to the synoptic gospels, Jesus created a disturbance at Herod's Temple by overturning the tables of the moneychangers operating there, claiming that they had made the Temple a "den of robbers." ( Mark 11:17). Later that week, according to the synoptic gospels, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples, subsequently known as the Last Supper in which he prophesied his future betrayal by one of his apostles and ultimate execution. In this ritual he took bread and wine in hand, saying: "this is my body which is given for you" and "this cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood," and instructed them to "do this in remembrance of me" ( Luke 22:7-20). Following the supper, Jesus and his disciples went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane.

While in the garden, Jesus was arrested by Roman soldiers on the orders of the Sanhedrin and the high priest, Caiaphas. The arrest took place clandestinely at night to avoid a riot, as Jesus was popular with the people at large ( Mark 14:2). According to the synoptics, Judas Iscariot, one of his apostles, betrayed Jesus by identifying him to the guards with a kiss. Another apostle used a sword to attack one of the captors, cutting off his ear, which, according to Luke, Jesus immediately healed. Jesus rebuked the apostle, stating "all they that take the sword shall perish by the sword" ( Matthew 26:52). After his arrest, Jesus' apostles went into hiding.

Crucifixion, Diego Velázquez, 17th c.
Crucifixion, Diego Velázquez, 17th c.

During the Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus, the high priests and elders asked Jesus, "Are you the Son of God?", and upon his reply of "You say that I am", condemned Jesus for blasphemy ( Luke 22:70–71). The high priests then turned him over to the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate, based on an accusation of sedition for claiming to be King of the Jews. While before Pilate, Jesus was questioned "Are you the king of the Jews?" to which he replied, "It is as you say." According to the Gospels, Pilate personally felt that Jesus was not guilty of any crime against the Romans, and since there was a custom at Passover for the Roman governor to free a prisoner (a custom not recorded outside the Gospels), Pilate offered the crowd a choice between Jesus of Nazareth and an insurrectionist named Barabbas. The crowd chose to have Barabbas freed and Jesus crucified. Pilate washed his hands to display that he himself was innocent of the injustice of the decision ( Matthew 27:11–26).

According to all four Gospels, Jesus died before late afternoon. The wealthy Judean Joseph of Arimathea, according to Mark and Luke a member of the Sanhedrin, received Pilate's permission to take possession of Jesus' body, placing it in a tomb. According to John, Joseph was joined in burying Jesus by Nicodemus, who appears in other parts of John's gospel ( John 19:38–42). The three Synoptic Gospels tell of an earthquake and of the darkening of the sky from twelve until three that afternoon.

Resurrection and Ascension

Christ en majesté, Matthias Grünewald, 16th c.: Resurrection of Jesus
Christ en majesté, Matthias Grünewald, 16th c.: Resurrection of Jesus

According to the Gospels, Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. The Gospel of Matthew states that an angel appeared near the tomb of Jesus and announced his resurrection to the women who had arrived to anoint the body. According to Luke it was two angels, and according to Mark it was a youth dressed in white. Mark states that on the morning of his resurrection, Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene ( Mark 16:9). John states that when Mary looked into the tomb, two angels asked her why she was crying; and as she turned round she initially failed to recognize Jesus until he spoke her name ( John 20:11-18).

The Acts of the Apostles state that Jesus appeared to various people in various places over the next forty days. Hours after his resurrection, he appeared to two travellers on the road to Emmaus. To his assembled disciples he showed himself on the evening after his resurrection. Although his own ministry had been specifically to Jews, Jesus is said to have sent his apostles to the Gentiles with the Great Commission and ascended to heaven while a cloud concealed him from their sight. According to Acts, Paul of Tarsus also saw Jesus during his Road to Damascus experience. Jesus promised to come again to fulfill the remainder of Messianic prophecy.


Scholars use the historical method to develop probable reconstructions of Jesus' life. This is to be distinguished from the Biblical Jesus, which derives from a theological reading of the Gospel texts. Some scholars dispute the historicity of Jesus.

Historical and archaeological reconstructions of Jesus' day to day life

Secular historians generally describe Jesus as an itinerant preacher and leader of a religious movement within Judaism.

Social Background

Most scholars agree the Gospels were written shortly before or after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in the year 70 by the Romans. Examining the New Testament account of Jesus in light of historical knowledge about the time when Jesus was purported to live, as well as historical knowledge about the time during which the New Testament was written, has led several scholars to reinterpret many elements of the New Testament accounts. Many have sought to reconstruct Jesus' life in terms of contemporaneous political, cultural, and religious currents in Israel, including differences between Galilee and Judea; between different sects such the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots; and in terms of conflicts among Jews in the context of Roman occupation.

Ties to Religious Groups

The Gospels record that Jesus was a Nazarene, but the meaning of this word is vague. Some scholars assert that Jesus was himself a Pharisee. In Jesus' day, the two main schools of thought among the Pharisees were the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai. Jesus' assertion of hypocrisy may have been directed against the stricter members of the House of Shammai, although he also agreed with their teachings on divorce ( Mark 10:1–12). Jesus also commented on the House of Hillel's teachings (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a) concerning the greatest commandment ( Mark 12:28–34) and the Golden Rule ( Matt 7:12).

Other scholars assert that Jesus was an Essene, a sect of Judaism not mentioned in the New Testament. Still other scholars assert that Jesus led a new apocalyptic sect, possibly related to John the Baptist, which became Early Christianity after the Great Commission spread his teachings to the Gentiles. This is distinct from an earlier commission Jesus gave to the twelve Apostles, limited to "the lost sheep of Israel" and not including the Gentiles or Samaritans ( Matt 10).

Names and titles

According to most critical historians, Jesus probably lived in Galilee for most of his life and he probably spoke Aramaic and Hebrew. The name "Jesus" is an English transliteration of the Latin (Iēsus) which in turn comes from the Greek name (Ιησους). Since most scholars hold that Jesus was an Aramaic-speaking Jew living in Galilee around 30 AD/CE, it is highly improbable that he had a Greek personal name. Further examination of the Septuagint finds that the Greek, in turn, is a transliteration of the Hebrew name Yehoshua (יהושוע) (Yeho - Yahweh [is] shua` - help/salvation) or the shortened Hebrew/ Aramaic Yeshua or Jeshua (ישוע). As a result, scholars believe that one of these was most likely the name that Jesus was known by during his lifetime by his peers.

Christ (which is a title and not a part of his name) is an Anglicization of the Greek term for Messiah, and literally means "anointed one". Historians have debated what this title might have meant at the time Jesus lived; some historians have suggested that other titles applied to Jesus in the New Testament (e.g. Lord, Son of Man, and Son of God) had meanings in the first century quite different from those meanings ascribed today: see Names and titles of Jesus.

Historicity of the texts

Most modern Biblical scholars hold that the works describing Jesus were initially communicated by oral tradition, and were not committed to writing until several decades after Jesus' crucifixion. The earliest extant texts which refer to Jesus are Paul's letters, which are usually dated from the mid-1st century. Paul wrote that he only saw Jesus in visions, but that they were divine revelations and hence authoritative ( Gal 1:11–12). The earliest extant texts describing Jesus in any detail were the four New Testament Gospels. These texts, being part of the Biblical canon, have received much more analysis and acceptance from Christian sources than other possible sources for information on Jesus.

Many other early Christian texts detail events in Jesus' life and teachings, though they were not included when the Bible was canonised due to a belief that they were pseudepigraphical, not inspired, or written too long after his death, while others were suppressed because they contradicted Christian orthodoxy. It took several centuries before the list of what was and was not part of the Bible became finally fixed, and for much of the early period the Book of Revelation was not included while works like The Shepherd of Hermas were.

The books that did not make it into the final list have since become known as the New Testament apocrypha, and the chief amongst them, is the Gospel of Thomas, a collection of logia - phrases and sayings attributed to Jesus without a narrative framework, only rediscovered in the 20th century. Other important apocryphal works that had a heavy influence in forming traditional Christian beliefs include the Apocalypse of Peter, Protevangelium of James, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and Acts of Peter. A number of Christian traditions (such as Veronica's veil and the Assumption of Mary) are found not in the canonical gospels but in these and other apocryphal works.

Possible earlier texts

Some texts with even earlier historical or mythological information on Jesus are speculated to have existed prior to the Gospels, though none have been found. Based on the unusual similarities and differences (see synoptic problem) between the Synoptic Gospels — Matthew, Mark and Luke, the first three canonical gospels — many Biblical scholars have suggested that oral tradition and logia (such as the Gospel of Thomas and the theoretical Q document) probably played a strong role in initially passing down stories of Jesus, and may have inspired some of the Synoptic Gospels.

Specifically, many scholars believe that the Q document and the Gospel of Mark were the two sources used for the gospels of Matthew and Luke; however, other theories, such as the older Augustinian hypothesis, continue to hold sway with some Biblical scholars. Another theoretical document is the Signs Gospel, believed to have been a source for the Gospel of John.

There are also early noncanonical gospels which may predate the canonical Gospels, although few surviving fragments have been found. Among these are the Unknown Berlin Gospel, the Oxyrhynchus Gospels, the Egerton Gospel, the Fayyum Fragment, the Dialogue of the Saviour, the Gospel of the Ebionites, the Gospel of the Hebrews, and the Gospel of the Nazarenes. While the earliest surviving manuscripts and fragments of these texts are dated later than the earliest surviving manuscripts and fragments of the canonical Gospels, they are probably copies of earlier manuscripts whose precise dates are unknown.

Questions of reliability

As a result of the likely several-decade time gap between the writing of the Gospels and the events they describe, the accuracy of all early texts claiming the existence of Jesus or details of Jesus' life have been disputed by various parties. The authors of the Gospels are traditionally thought to have been witnesses to the events included. After the original oral stories were written down, they were transcribed, and later translated into other languages. Several Biblical historians have responded to claims of the unreliability of the gospel accounts by pointing out that historical documentation is often biased and second-hand, and frequently dates from several decades after the events described.

The Age of Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution brought skepticism regarding the historical accuracy of these texts. Although some critical scholars, including archeologists, continue to use them as points of reference in the study of ancient Near Eastern history, others have come to view the texts as cultural and literary documents, generally regarding them as part of the genre of literature called hagiography, an account of a holy person regarded as representing a moral and divine ideal. Hagiography has a principal aim of the glorification of the religion itself and of the example set by the perfect holy person represented as its central focus.

Some say that the Gospel accounts are neither objective nor accurate, since they were written or compiled by his followers and seem to exclusively portray a positive, idealized view of Jesus, while others point to the lack of any non-Christian sources until Josephus in the year 93. Those who have a naturalistic view of history generally do not believe in divine intervention or miracles, such as the resurrection of Jesus mentioned by the Gospels. One method used to estimate the factual accuracy of stories in the gospels is known as the " criterion of embarrassment", which holds that stories about events with embarrassing aspects (such as the denial of Jesus by Peter, or the fleeing of Jesus' followers after his arrest) would likely not have been included if those accounts were fictional.

External influences on gospel development

Vatican mosaic (3rd c.): Sol Invictus
Vatican mosaic (3rd c.): Sol Invictus

Many scholars, such as Michael Grant, do not see significant similarity between the pagan myths and Christianity. Grant states in Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels that "Judaism was a milieu to which doctrines of the deaths and rebirths, of mythical gods seemed so entirely foreign that the emergence of such a fabrication from its midst is very hard to credit."

However, some scholars believe that the gospel accounts of Jesus have little or no historical basis. At least in part, this is because they see many similarities between stories about Jesus and older myths of pagan godmen such as Mithras, Apollo, Attis, Horus and Osiris-Dionysus, leading to conjectures that the pagan myths were adopted by some authors of early accounts of Jesus to form a syncretism with Christianity. A small minority, such as Earl Doherty, carry this further and propose that the gospels are actually a reworking of the older myths and not based on a historical figure. While these connections are disputed by many, it is nevertheless true that many elements of Jesus' story as told in the Gospels have parallels in pagan mythology, where miracles such as virgin birth were well-known. Some Christian authors, such as Justin Martyr and C.S. Lewis, account for this with the belief that such myths were created by ancient pagans with vague and imprecise foreknowledge of the Gospels; in other words the pagans gave prophetic attributes of the Christ as shown in the Jewish Torah and Prophets to their particular deity. In fact, Lewis wrote that Christianity would be less believable if it didn't have themes in common with said pagan myths.

Religious perspectives

Christian views

Jesus Carrying the Cross, El Greco - Domenikos Theotokopoulos, 16th c.
Jesus Carrying the Cross, El Greco - Domenikos Theotokopoulos, 16th c.

Though Christian views of Jesus vary, it is possible to describe a general majority Christian view by examining the similarities between Catholic, Orthodox, and certain Protestant doctrines found in their catechetical or confessional texts. This view, given below as the Principal view, does not encompass all groups which describe themselves as Christian, with other views immediately following.

Principal view

Christians predominately profess that Jesus is the Messiah (Greek: Christos; English: Christ) prophesied in the Old Testament, who, through his life, death, and resurrection, restored man's communion with God in the blood of the New Covenant. His death on a cross is understood as the redemptive sacrifice: the source of mankind's salvation and the atonement for sin, which had entered human history through the sin of Adam.

They profess Jesus to be the only Son of God, the Lord, and the eternal Word, who became man in the incarnation, so that those who believe in him might have eternal life. They further hold that he was born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit in an event described as the miraculous virgin birth. In his life Jesus proclaimed the "good news" (Middle English: gospel; Greek: euangelion) that the coming Kingdom of Heaven was at hand, and established the Christian Church, which is the seed of the kingdom, into which Christ calls the poor in spirit. Jesus' actions at the Last Supper, where he instituted the Eucharist, are understood as central to worship and communion with God.

These groups profess Jesus suffered death by crucifixion, descended into Hell, and rose bodily from the dead in the definitive miracle that foreshadows the resurrection of mankind at the end of time, when Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead, resulting in election to Heaven or damnation to Hell.

The nature of Jesus was theologically articulated and refined by a series of seven ecumenical councils, between 325 and 681 (see Christology). These councils described Jesus as one of the three divine hypostases or persons of the Holy Trinity: the Son is defined as constituting, together with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, the single substance of the One God. Furthermore, Jesus is defined to be one person with a fully human and a fully divine nature, a doctrine known as the Hypostatic union (an articulation not accepted by Oriental Orthodoxy, see Nestorianism, Monophysitism and Miaphysitism). In defense of Jesus' divinity, some apologists argue that there is a trilemma, or three possibilities, resulting from Jesus' reported claims that he is the one God of Israel: either he is truly God, a liar, or a lunatic — the latter two dismissed on the basis of Jesus's coherence.

Alternative views

Groups that do not accept the doctrine of the Trinity include the Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and Jehovah's Witnesses. LDS theology maintains that the Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct beings, though all eternal and equally divine, who together constitute the Godhead. Though described as "one God in purpose", each play different roles: the Holy Ghost is a spirit without a physical body, the Father and Son possess distinct, perfected, bodies of flesh and bone. The Book of Mormon records that the resurrected Jesus visited and taught some of the inhabitants of the early Americas after he appeared to his apostles in Jerusalem. Mormons also believe that an apostasy occurred after the death of Christ and his apostles. They believe that Christ and the Heavenly Father appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820 as part of a series of heavenly visits to restore the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They believe Jesus (not the Father) is the same as Jehovah or Yahweh of the Old Testament. See Jesus in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe Jesus to be God's (or Jehovah's) son, but rather than being God himself, Jehovah's Witnesses believe he was the same divine creature as Michael the Archangel, and that he became a perfect human to come down to earth. They view the term "Son of God" as an indication of Jesus' importance to the creator and his status as God's "only-begotten (unique) Son", the "firstborn of all creation", the one "of whom, and through whom, and to whom, are all things". Lastly, they believe that Jesus died on a single-piece torture stake, not a cross.

Other non-Trinitarian group include Arians, in antiquity, and in more recent times Unitarians.

Other early views

Various early Christian groups and theologians held differing views of Jesus.

The Ebionites, an early Jewish Christian community, believed that Jesus was the last of the prophets and the Messiah. They believed that Jesus was the natural-born son of Mary and Joseph, and thus they rejected the Virgin Birth. The Ebionites were adoptionists, believing that Jesus was not divine, but became the son of God at his baptism. They rejected the Epistles of Paul, believing that Jesus kept the Mosaic Law perfectly and wanted his followers to do the same. However, they felt that Jesus' crucifixion was the ultimate sacrifice, and thus animal sacrifices were no longer necessary. Therefore, some Ebionites were vegetarian and considered both Jesus and John the Baptist to have been vegetarians.

In Gnosticism, Jesus is said to have brought the secret knowledge ( gnosis) of the spiritual world necessary for salvation. Their secret teachings were paths to gnosis, and not gnosis itself. While some Gnostics were docetics, other Gnostics believed that Jesus was a human who became possessed by the spirit of Christ during his baptism. Many Gnostics believed that Christ was an Aeon sent by a higher deity than the evil demiurge who created the material world. Some Gnostics believed that Christ had a syzygy named Sophia. The Gnostics tended to interpret the books that were included in the New Testament as allegory, and some Gnostics interpreted Jesus himself as an allegory. The Gnostics also used a number of other texts that did not become part of the New Testament canon.

Marcionites were 2nd century Gentile followers of the Christian theologian Marcion of Sinope. They believed that Jesus rejected the Jewish Scriptures, or at least the parts that were incompatible with his teachings. Seeing a stark contrast between the vengeful God of the Old Testament and the loving God of Jesus, Marcion came to the conclusion that the Jewish God and Jesus were two separate deities. Like some Gnostics, Marcionites saw the Jewish God as the evil creator of the world, and Jesus as the savior from the material world. They also believed Jesus was not human, but instead a completely divine spiritual being whose material body, and thus his crucifixion and death, were divine illusions. Marcion was the first known early Christian to have created a canon, which consisted of ten Pauline epistles, and a version of the Gospel of Luke (possibly without the first two chapters that are in modern versions, and without Jewish references), and his treatise on the Antithesis between the Old and New Testaments. Marcionism was declared a heresy by proto-orthodox Christianity.

Montanists in the 2nd century and Sabellius in the 3rd century taught that the Trinity represented not three persons but a single person in three "modes."

Islamic views

In Islam, Jesus (known as Isa in Arabic, Arabic: عيسى), is considered one of God's most-beloved and important prophets and the Messiah. Like Christian writings, the seventh-century Qur'an holds that Jesus was born without a biological father to the virgin Mary, by the will of God (in Arabic, Allah) and for this reason is referred to as Isa ibn Maryam (English: Jesus son of Mary), a matronymic (since he had no biological father). (Qur'an 3:45, 19:21, 19:35, 21:91) In Muslim traditions, Jesus lived a perfect life of nonviolence, showing kindness to humans and animals (similar to the other Islamic prophets), without material possessions, and abstaining from sin. Most Muslims believe that Jesus abstained from alcohol, and many believe that he also abstained from eating animal flesh. Similarly, Islamic belief also holds that Jesus could perform miracles, but only by the will of God. However, Muslims do not believe Jesus to have divine nature as God nor as the Son of God. Islam greatly separates the status of creatures from the status of the creator and warns against believing that Jesus was divine. (Qu'ran 3:59, 4:171, 5:116-117). Muslims believe that Jesus received a gospel from God called the Injil in Arabic that corresponds to the Christian New Testament, but that parts of it have been misinterpreted over time so that they no longer accurately represent God's message (See Tahrif).

Muslims also do not believe in Jesus' sacrificial role, nor do they believe that Jesus died on the cross. In fact, Islam does not accept any human sacrifice for sin (See Islamic conceptions of atonement for sin for further information). Regarding the crucifixion, the Qur'an states that Jesus' death was merely an illusion of God to deceive his enemies, and that Jesus ascended to heaven. (Qur'an 4:157-158.) Based on the quotes attributed to Muhammad, some Muslims believe that Jesus will return to the world in the flesh following Imam Mahdi to defeat the Dajjal (an Antichrist-like figure, translated as "Deceiver"). Muslims believe he will descend at Damascus, presently in Syria, once the world has become filled with sin, deception, and injustice; he will then live out the rest of his natural life. Sunni Muslims believe that after his death, Jesus will be buried alongside Muhammad in Medina, presently in Saudi Arabia. However, the sects of Sunni and Shi'ite Islam are divided over this issue. Some Islamic scholars like Javed Ahmed Ghamidi and Amin Ahsan Islahi question quotes attributed to Muhammad regarding a second coming of Jesus, as they believe it is against different verses of the Qur'an.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Movement (a very small percentage of Muslims) believes that Jesus survived the crucifixion and travelled to Kashmir, where he died as a prophet under the name of Yuz Asaf (whose grave they identify in Srinagar). Mainstream Muslims, however, consider these views heretical. Historical research found these accounts to be without foundation. Even then, the tomb of Jesus has been suggested to be found in Srinagar, Kashmir India.

Judaism's view

Judaism holds the idea of Jesus being God, or part of a Trinity, or a mediator to God, to be heresy.( Emunoth ve-Deoth, II:5) Judaism also holds that Jesus is not the Messiah, arguing that he had not fulfilled the Messianic prophecies in the Tanakh nor embodied the personal qualifications of the Messiah.

The Mishneh Torah (an authoritative work of Jewish law) states:

Even Jesus the Nazarene who imagined that he would be Messiah and was killed by the court, was already prophesied by Daniel. So that it was said, “And the members of the outlaws of your nation would be carried to make a (prophetic) vision stand. And they stumbled” (Daniel 11.14). Because, is there a greater stumbling-block than this one? So that all of the prophets spoke that the Messiah redeems Israel, and saves them, and gathers their banished ones, and strengthens their commandments. And this one caused (nations) to destroy Israel by sword, and to scatter their remnant, and to humiliate them, and to exchange the Torah, and to make the majority of the world err to serve a divinity besides God. However, the thoughts of the Creator of the world — there is no force in a human to attain them because our ways are not God's ways, and our thoughts not God's thoughts. And all these things of Jesus the Nazarene, and of (Muhammad) the Ishmaelite who stood after him — there is no (purpose) but to straighten out the way for the King Messiah, and to restore all the world to serve God together. So that it is said, “Because then I will turn toward the nations (giving them) a clear lip, to call all of them in the name of God and to serve God (shoulder to shoulder as) one shoulder.” (Zephaniah 3.9). Look how all the world already becomes full of the things of the Messiah, and the things of the Torah, and the things of the commandments! And these things spread among the far islands and among the many nations uncircumcised of heart. (Hilkhot Melakhim 11:10–12)

Reform Judaism, the modern progressive movement, states For us in the Jewish community anyone who claims that Jesus is their savior is no longer a Jew and is an apostate. (Contemporary American Reform Responsa, #68).

According to Jewish tradition, there were no more prophets after 420 BC/BCE, Malachi being the last prophet, who lived centuries before Jesus. Judaism states that Jesus did not fulfill the requirements set by the Torah to prove that he was a prophet. Even if Jesus had produced such a sign, Judaism states that no prophet or dreamer can contradict the laws already stated in the Torah ( Deut 13:1–5)

Buddhist views

Buddhists' views of Jesus differ, due to Jesus not being mentioned in any Buddhist text, and Buddhism's lack of centralized doctrine. Some Buddhists, including Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama regard Jesus as a bodhisattva who dedicated his life to the welfare of human beings. Some Buddhist scholars have noted parallels between the teachings of Jesus and Gautama Buddha both in terms of preaching a doctrine of love and compassion and of occupying a similar position with respect to the existing religious orthodoxy of their day of which they were both critical. Both advocated radical alterations in the common religious practices of the day. There are occasional similarities in language, such as the use of the common metaphor of a line of blind men to refer to religious authorities they disagreed with ( DN 13.15, Matthew 15:14). Some believe there is a particularly close affinity between Buddhism (or Eastern spiritual thought generally) and the doctrine of Gnostic texts such as The Gospel of Thomas

Hinduism's views

Hindu beliefs in Jesus vary. Some believe that Jesus was a normal man. Many Hindus see Jesus as a wise guru or yogi who was not God. Many in the Surat Shabd Yoga tradition regard Jesus as a Satguru. Swami Vivekananda has praised Jesus and cited him as a source of strength and the epitome of perfection. Paramahansa Yogananda taught that Jesus was the reincarnation of Elisha and a student of John the Baptist, the reincarnation of Elijah. Mahatma Gandhi considered Jesus one of his main teachers and inspirations for Nonviolent Resistance, saying "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Yuz Asaf, regarded as Jesus by the minority Ahmadiyya Muslim Movement, is seen also as a holy man by some Hindus and Buddhists.

Other views of Jesus

The Bahá'í Faith considers Jesus, along with Muhammad, the Buddha, and others, to be " Manifestations" (or prophets) of God, with both human and divine stations. While some Bahá'í views of Jesus agree with Christian views, Christians do not accept the Bahá'í view of Jesus.

Mandaeanism regards Jesus as a deceiving prophet (mšiha kdaba) of the false Jewish god of the Old Testament, Adonai, and an opponent of the good prophet John the Baptist. Even so, they believe that John baptized Jesus.

The New Age movement entertains a wide variety of views on Jesus, often recognizing him as a "great teacher" (or Ascended Master") similar to Buddha. Some (such as A Course In Miracles) claim to go so far as to trance- channel his spirit. Although the New Age movement generally teaches that Christhood is something that all may attain, many New Age teachings such as reincarnation appear to reflect a certain discomfort with traditional Christianity. Numerous New Age subgroups claim Jesus as a supporter, often incorporating contrasts with or protests against the Christian mainstream. Thus, for example, Theosophy and its offshoots have Jesus studying esotericism in the Himalayas or Egypt during his "lost years."

There are many non-religious people who emphasize Jesus' moral teachings. Garry Wills argues that Jesus' ethics are distinct from those usually taught by Christianity. The Jesus Seminar portrays Jesus as an itinerant preacher ( Matt 4:23), who taught peace ( Matt 5:9) and love ( Matt 5:44), rights for women ( Luke 10:42) and respect for children ( Matt 19:14), and who spoke out against the hypocrisy of religious leaders ( Luke 13:15) and the rich ( Matt 19:24). Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers that many consider to have been a deist, created a " Jefferson Bible" for the Indians entitled "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth" that included only Jesus' ethical teachings.

There are, however, those who do not regard Jesus' teaching or life to have had any worth. Many atheists regard his moral teachings to have decidedly repugnant aspects. Others still, such as Bertrand Russell, see them as surpassed by other philosophers; Bertrand writes 'I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to History. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above Him in those respects.' Nietzsche regarded the character of Jesus as being worthy only of contempt, and saw nothing worthwhile in his teachings. In a similar vein, the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey, described Jesus (at his crucifixion) as 'pallid incompetence nailed to a tree' ( Satanic Bible, pg. 11).


Cultural effect of Jesus

Pietà, Michelangelo, 16th c.: Jesus' mother Mary holds the body of her dead son
Pietà, Michelangelo, 16th c.: Jesus' mother Mary holds the body of her dead son

According to most Christian interpretations of the Bible, the theme of Jesus' preachings was that of repentance, forgiveness of sin, grace, and the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus extensively trained disciples who, after his death, interpreted and spread his teachings. Within a few decades his followers comprised a religion clearly distinct from Judaism. Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire under a version known as Nicene Christianity and became the state religion under Constantine the Great. Over the centuries, it spread to most of Europe, and around the world.

Jesus has been drawn, painted, sculpted, and portrayed on stage and in films in many different ways, both serious and humorous. In fact most medieval art and literature, and many since, were centered around the figure of Jesus. A number of popular novels, such as The Da Vinci Code, have also portrayed various ideas about Jesus. Many of the sayings attributed to Jesus have become part of the culture of Western civilization. There are many items purported to be relics of Jesus, of which the most famous are the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium of Oviedo.

Other legacies include a view of God as more fatherly, merciful, and more forgiving, and the growth of a belief in an afterlife and in the resurrection of the dead. His teaching promoted the value of those who had commonly been regarded as inferior: women, the poor, ethnic outsiders, children, prostitutes, the sick, prisoners, etc. Jesus and his message have been interpreted, explained and understood by many people. Jesus has been explained notably by Paul of Tarsus, Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, and more recently by C.S. Lewis.

For some, the legacy of Jesus has been a long history of Christian anti-Semitism, although in the wake of the Holocaust many Christian groups have gone to considerable lengths to reconcile with Jews and to promote interfaith dialog and mutual respect. For others, Christianity has often been linked to European colonialism (see British Empire, Portuguese Empire, Spanish Empire, French colonial empire, Dutch colonial empire); conversely, Christians have often found themselves as oppressed minorities in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and in the Maghreb.

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