Dec 22, 2010

A Very Brief History of Jesus

I can't help but mention Jesus at a time so close to Christmas! December the 25th is thought to be Jesus' official day of birth. As you will discover, that date is really more conjecture at this point than actual historical fact.

Jesus of Nazareth is thought to have lived from around the year 5 CE (or common era) to the year 33 CE. He is the central figure of Christianity. Christians view him as the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament, and as the Son of God. Christians traditionally believe that Jesus was born of The Virgin Mary, performed miracles, founded the Church, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. The majority of Christians worship Jesus as the incarnation of God the Son, of the divine Trinity (The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit). Jesus is thought be both a human man and a divine figure (as the Son of God).

In the year 33, Jesus was crucified (upon orders from the Roman Prefect of Judaea, Pontius Pilate), on Mt. Golgotha, in Jerusalem, along with two other people, who were both thieves. The charge against him was sedition against the Roman Empire. The Crucifixion happened on a Friday (what is now Good Friday). Upon his death, Jesus’ side was pierced by a lance (from which flowed blood and water) to make certain he had died. Later, he was entombed.

On what is now Easter Sunday, it is said Jesus rose from the dead and was taken into Heaven to sit at the right side of God the Father. The only witness to this resurrection miracle was Mary Magdalene. She alone went into the tomb, finding it wide open, and Jesus’ body missing. All that was left behind was the shroud in which Jesus had lay dead. Today, the Shroud of Turin (thought to be the actual shroud Jesus was entombed in) can be seen inside the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Northern Italy.

Christians and Catholics alike reflect on the story of the Crucifixion whenever they think about the concept of sin. Jesus was crucified and died for the sins of all humankind. His death provided salvation and also allowed for a reconciliation with God.

The birth of Jesus is celebrated as a national holiday in the United States each December 25th, but is observed and recognized worldwide. The date is not known to be the actual birthday of Jesus, and may have initially been chosen for any number of reasons: 1. to correspond with either the day exactly nine months after some early Christians believed Jesus had been conceived 2. as the date of the Roman winter solstice, or 3. as one of various ancient winter festivals celebrated at that time.

In my opinion, the Catholic Church decreed his birthday celebration be moved to the Winter Solstice in order to correspond with the pagan festival of Yule. December was likely not the actual birth time of Jesus, despite common misconceptions on this point. In fact, scholars today believe Jesus would have most likely been born some time in the Summer, rather than in Winter.

There is much debate regarding the Bible on many things, but particularly with these questions:

1. How much of the Bible is factual history?
2. How many of the Bible stories can be verified through written accounts or archaeological evidence?
3. How much content is conjectural rather than historically accurate?
4. Which books of the Bible that describe events in Jesus’ life are 100% historically accurate?

I will not attempt an answer to all these questions. But, as to the final question, I will say we will never really know for sure! I believe all the Gospels which mention Jesus must be studied in order to fully understand the scope of Jesus’ life. Each contains a kernel of the real truth of Jesus, both the man and the divine.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John give us the clearest pictures of Jesus’ life. In my opinion, all the writers of these books have something important to say about Jesus. It’s only when we piece all this information together into one bigger picture that we even come close to finding the answer to the ultimate question: “Who was the real Jesus?”

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