Thesis: Historical Jesus

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¶ … Jesus

A Glimpse of the Historical Jesus

Jesus is well-known as a religious figure, but what do we know of his real existence within a historical context? Unfortunately, ancient sources outside the context of canonical literature prove scarce and ambiguous. Yet, there is viable Roman and Jewish sources that can be used to verify a picture of the historical Jesus as would have lived and preached. The location and political elements of Biblical literature can be used in correlation with real regional history and provide the context for his existence.

The search for valid historical evidence regarding Jesus' true authenticity proves quite difficult with such vast periods of time in between modern research and ancient occurrences. Historical, social, cultural, and religious factors that make it difficult to understand the ancient world of Israel and Palestine at the time of Jesus. Truly thorough and reliable ancient historians were few and far between. The ancient world was far less documented and categorized as our current bodies of work regarding modern history. Thus, very few historians and documents outside the context of the New Testament itself has been added to the collection of literature which positively attributes the existence of Jesus within the real time period he was said to have existed. Therefore, scholars tend to over emphasis what little information there is regarding the life and existence of Jesus. Yet, by bridging external Roman and Jewish sources with the testament of the cannon literature, a more revealing picture of the historical image of Jesus is obvious.

There are various methodologies which are currently being used in the context of modern research to discover the sayings and actions of the historical Jesus. These include the cannon literature along side external Roman and Jewish sources. There have been great efforts by religious scholars and academic historians to prove or disprove the historical authenticity of Jesus Christ within the time period that he is said to have existed. Yet, the methodologies of the current practices used in modern research have various strengths and weaknesses that paint a hopeful, yet sometimes shaky picture of the real attributes of the historical Jesus and the world in which he lived. There is a serious lack of Jewish and Roman sources for his existence and life (Voorst 131). The references which do exist tend to be associated with early Christian doctrine and life, and not directly about the life of Jesus himself beyond his role as the leader of the early Christians. Yet, there are references to his person that are open to interpretation.

Some prominent Roman sources which have been used in the body of modern research revolve around major Roman historians on the edge of the Palestinian frontier. Due to the bulk of Roman historical documents covering more internal elements of the empire, there are few sources that far into the exterior of the empire's frontier. One of these primary sources is that of Tacitus and his major work the Annals. Written around 109 AD, this body of work has a considerable piece devoted to Roman life on the Palestinian frontier. According to Tacitus, "Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus," (Tacitus 1). Thus, this Roman account clearly places Jesus in the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberious, which corresponds with the Biblical sources of the Gospel. Tiberius' reign lasted from 14-37 AD, which once again corresponds with the Biblical account of the period in which Jesus lived. It was well-known for Tacitus to draw upon historical Roman records of the day in his work, the Annals. Thus, this passage may have come from a Roman record of Jesus' crucifixion that had subsequently been destroyed through the passing of time. Several other lesser known Roman sources also show a mentioning of early Christians and their king, yet most of these accounts revolve around descriptions of Christians and their beliefs, rather than a more historical look at the early religion's major figure heads.

Being highly developed as a society within the context of the time, there are also some Jewish sources which can be used to paint a more historically accurate picture of the life and times of Jesus. One of the most fundamentally used sources for modern Biblical and theological scholars is that of Flavius Josephus. Being a prominent Jewish citizen active within the Roman state, Josephus was highly educated and thus had his work Antiquities of the Jews circulate around the ancient world and now serves as a major primary source for the character of life at that time in the ancient world of Palestine and Judea. According to Josephus, "About this time came Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is appropriate to call him a man. For he was a performer of paradoxical feats, a teacher of people who accept the unusual with pleasure, and he won over many of the Jews and also many Greeks. He was the Christ," (Josephus 1). His other works, including Testimonium Flavianum, written around 93 AD, also mentions a more historical view of the mysterious figure of Jesus. Other Jewish sources help modern scholars to fill in the tremendous gaps of reliable information on Jesus as well. Other Jewish sources, seen in the Talmud, refer to other individuals that have the potential to be the figure of Jesus. Yet, this proves to be more speculation than absolute assurance.

The most widely used source for portraying an accurate vision of the historical figure of Jesus is that of the New Testament itself. Parts of the New Testament can be used in order to reconstruct an image of what Jesus' life would have been like. They also prove the primary sources for testing his historical authenticity. Many researchers believe that the cannon literature is "our only sources for obtaining reliable historical information of Jesus are the Gospels," (Charlesworth 5). The Gospels do present background information that can be verified and compared to actually known historical events, locations, and occurrences. According to research, "All the Gospels are familiar with the threefold division of Jewish territory -- Galilee, Perea, and Judea," (Freyne 78). Thus, it is clear that the authors were familiar with the spaces in which Jesus is said to have wandered, and can then be used to provide reliable information in regards to the locations of particular events and time periods. Additionally, these location sources can be compared to the nature of the locations during the time period Jesus was supposed to have been wandering, providing the people of the land with his ministries and miracles. Ancient Judea and Palestine was riddled with turmoil and political tension. Yet, the Bible shows little conflict between people of different races and religions under the strong hand of Roman rule. There was only a small window in which Jews of the era could freely conjugate and trade with gentiles. Research states that "both the political realities and the material remains make he kind of free movement between Jews and gentiles in the north more plausible for the period of Jesus," (Freyne 83). The Bible presents a peaceful time where there were interactions between Jews and gentiles. Directly before and after the time Jesus was said to have lived, there were wars and chaos which would have made for little contact between a Jewish born Jesus and gentiles in the region. Moreover, the mentioning of Herod in both Mark (6:14) and Luke (13:31) ties Jesus to a real documented historical period. Luke 13:31 remarks about the warning of Herod's wish to destroy Jesus, thus showing a real historical correlation between the government of the time and the way Jesus was received by it. Heavy taxation under Herod had placed the ancient world in turmoil. This, too, is reflected through the Biblical literature; "The remark attributed to Jesus in Matthew's Gospel in a context dealing with the issue of payment of taxes is fully in accord with what we can document from the sources of the period," (Freyne 88-89). Jesus directly addresses the high taxes imposed during Herod's time, as well as how they affected the very people Jesus was dealing with in his meandering preaching. Matthew documents a particular conversation which is tied to these historically imposed taxes and their effect on the society of the time; "what do you think Simon? From whom do Kings of earth take toll or tribute? From their sons or from others?' And when he said 'from others' Jesus said to him: 'the sons are free,'" (Matthew 13:31). Thus, it is clear that Jesus was around during the time of such heavy taxation, and was directly responding to such events in he dealings with the people of Galilee and Judea. Additionally, the account of Antipas' court in Mark is also astoundingly accurate. He describes, in detail three separate governmental groups that made up his administrative bureaucracy, (Freyne 96). Josephus Flavius backs up this account with his… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Historical Jesus.  (2009, December 12).  Retrieved September 17, 2019, from

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