Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Jesus Christ


Image of Jesus Christ from Agia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey (12th century)
 This article is part of the
Jesus series.
 Christian view of Jesus
 Resurrection of Jesus Christ
 Islamic view of Isa (Jesus)
 Jewish view of Jesus
 Other perspectives on Jesus
 Sources about Jesus
 Historicity of Jesus
 Fictional portrayals of Jesus

Jesus of Nazareth (or Jesus Christ, see alternate names below) (born: c. 6 BC- c. 6; died: c. 27 - c. 36) was a Jewish religious teacher and healer; who was crucified during the early years of the Roman Empire.

According to those religions conventionally designated as "Christian", Jesus is the messiah and Son of God; who brought salvation to humanity through his death and resurrection. Jesus is also regarded as an ascetic prophet, by Muslims; as a false Messiah, by Judaism and Mandaeanism; as a manifestation of God, by the Baha'i; a manifestation of Maitreya by some Buddhists; as an avatar, by some Hindus; as the savior and bringer of gnosis by various Gnostic sects; and, as a guru by many New Ageists.

The sole source of historical knowledge about Jesus is contained within the Christian Gospels which the majority of historians believe to have originated from primary sources written within living memory of Jesus. Evidence for a historical Jesus considered more doubtful by modern historians is provided by other religious traditions and certain historians of the period. Therefore, most scholars accept the Gospels as evidence for the historical existence of Jesus. There is less acceptance of the basic narrative of his life and death, and particularly of miraculous claims, among non-religious historians.

A minority of historians argue from the internal features of, and inconsistencies between, the Gospels and other canonical and non-canonical Christian and Gnostic writings that Jesus was a mythical figure. The paucity of non-Christian sources that corroborate Christian writings also lends some support to this position. See, for example, the writings of Earl Doherty.

Table of contents
1 Introduction
2 The historical Jesus of Nazareth
3 Jesus' life and teaching
4 The Resurrection
5 The historicity of Jesus
6 Christian perspectives on Jesus
7 Jewish perspectives on Jesus
8 Islamic perspectives on Jesus
9 Other perspectives on Jesus
10 Fictional portrayals of Jesus Christ
11 Further reading
12 External links


Most discussions about Jesus, including this one, involve a conflict between contrasting, and in some ways incompatible, views of the world and of how humans acquire knowledge (this subject is discussed in the disciplines epistemology and metaphysics).

Christians believe that humans can have direct personal knowledge of God and of Jesus and that this is confirmed through scripture, which is a form of divine revelation. Some Christians believe that Scripture must be interpreted in the light of Tradition, while others believe that individuals can interpret it for themselves. For some Christians, belief in Jesus is a matter of faith: they need no further confirmation of the existence of God and His son. Other Christians feel they have knowledge of God and Jesus based on the empirical existence of the Gospels and/or Bible as accurate historical documents, the Christian tradition passed on from generation to generation, and through their direct consequent religious experiences.

Historians meanwhile make statements about historical events or persons based on more pragmatic standards of empirical evidence. They look at scripture not as divinely inspired but as the work of fallible humans, who wrote in the light of their culture and time. However, most historians accept that the accounts of the life of Jesus in the Gospels and from other sources provide a reasonable basis of evidence, by the standards of ancient history, for the historical existence of Jesus.

Furthermore, Jesus is a still more controversial figure because there are different accounts of Jesus within Islam, Judaism, Gnosticism, Mandaeanism, and other religions (see later in this article.)

There is a paucity of accepted contemporaneous sources and of direct empirical evidence. Therefore, it is difficult for representatives of the different religious and secular traditions of knowledge and faith to reach agreement on a "biography" of Jesus.This article therefore offers the differing views and beliefs.

The historical Jesus of Nazareth

This section provides a historical view of Jesus, based on empirical evidence that is considered satisfactory by the majority of historians.

The name Jesus Christ

Jesus is derived from the Latin Iesus, which in turn comes from the Greek Iesous (Ιησους). The Greek form is a transliteration of the Aramaic name Yeshua (ישוע), a short form of Hebrew Yehoshua (יהושע), which means the Lord is salvation, literally Yahweh/Jehovah saves. The English form of Yehoshua is Joshua. (Other common English transliterations from the Aramaic Yeshua (ישוע) include Jeshua and Yahshua.)

Christ is a title, and comes, via Latin, from the Greek Christos (Χριστος), which means anointed. The Greek form is a literal translation of Messiah from Hebrew mashiyakh (משיח) or Aramaic m'shikha (משיחא), words which typically signified "king" -- a man, chosen by God or descended from a man chosed by God, to serve as a civil and military authority. In Arabic, Jesus is known as the prophet Isa al Masih, from the aforementioned Aramaic for Jesus the Messiah.

Jesus spoke Aramaic as it was the common language of Galilee and Judea; thus, during his life, he was probably known as Yeshua.

Sources about Jesus Christ

Main article: Sources about Jesus Christ

Most historians do not dispute the existence of a person named Jesus; evidence for Jesus' existence two thousand years ago is by historical standards actually fairly strong. Jesus is obviously mentioned extensively within the New Testament, but is also considered a historical figure within the traditions of Judaism, Islam, Mandeanism and alternative Christian traditions like Gnosticism. Jesus also gets a passing mention within historical accounts of the period, though the reliability of these accounts is disputed.

Moreover, historians generally agree that at least some of the source documents on which the Gospels are based were written within living memory of Jesus. These historians therefore accept that the accounts of the life of Jesus in the Gospels, excepting certain miraculous claims and the details that surround them, provide a reasonable basis of evidence by the standards of ancient history, for the basic narrative of Jesus' life and death.

Date of birth and death

Brief timeline of Jesus
of important years from empirical sources.
(see also detailed Christian timeline)

c.   6 BC -
c.   4 BC -
c.   6 AD -
c. 26 AD -
c. 27 AD -
c. 36 AD -

Suggested birth (Earliest)
Herod's death
Suggested birth (Latest). Quirinius census
Pilate appointed Judea governor
Suggested death (Earliest).
Suggested death (Latest);
Pilate removed from office

The exact month or day or even the year of Jesus's birth cannot be exactly ascertained. Due to a mistaken calculation based on the Roman Calendar by Dionysius Exiguus in 525, it was long held that Jesus was born in the year 1 BC (making the following year, A.D. 1, the first throughout which he was alive).

The Gospels are problematic, because they offer two seemingly incompatible accounts. Matthew states that Jesus was born while Herod the Great was still alive and that Herod ordered the slaughter of infants two years old and younger (Matt. 2:16), and based on the date of Herod's death in 4 BC (contra Dionysius Exiguus), many chronologists conclude that the year 6 BC is the most likely year of Jesus's birth. Consequently, Jesus would have been about four to six years old in the year A.D. 1.

On the other hand, Luke's account places Jesus's birth during a census conducted under the governorship of Quirinius, who, according to Josephus, conducted a census in A.D. 6. In order to reconcile the two Gospel accounts, some have suggested that Josephus was mistaken or that Quirinius had a separate period of rule under Herod. In any case, the actual date of his birth remains historically unverifiable.

In recent years, East Asian historians have attempted to match the birth of Jesus Christ with special events in their history. They found that, according to the oldest record of the Comet Halley during the Han Dynasty, "The comet heads east with its tail pointing west at night, and was appearing in the sky for more than 70 days." in 6 BC. This has been suggested as an independent record of the "Star" described in Matthew 2. If accepted this suggestion would place the birthday of Jesus Christ in summer rather than winter.

In the 6th century, Dionysius Exiguus proposed to make the birth of Jesus the basis of the calendar but he miscalculated the death of Herod. Years reckoned in this way are labelled "A.D.", which stands for Anno Domini, meaning "in the year of the Lord" in Latin. Since many non-Christians have come to use this calendar, an alternative notation "C.E." is sometimes used. It is presently uncertain what the original meaning of this abbreviation was, although today it is taken to mean either the Common Era or the Christian Era: many references cite both.

Based on inferences from gospel accounts, Jesus was executed by crucifixion on a Friday, and on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan under the administration of Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilate held his position from 26-36 and the only years in which Nisan 14 fell on a Friday are 27, 33, and 36 and possibly in 30 depending on when the new moon would have been visible in Jerusalem. Scholars have defended all of the dates.

Jesus' life and teaching

Possibly born in Bethlehem, Jesus was brought up in Galilee. Gospel accounts state he brought up in Nazareth, however, many historians believe that Christian transcribers have mistaken the title "Nazarene" for a location. The town of Nazareth is unmentioned in contemporary historical sources.

Jesus' mother was Mary, who married Joseph, but he was only Jesus' foster father. We can say nothing with certainty about Jesus's childhood or young adulthood. Certain events are mentioned in the various gospels, but there is no common agreement.

The Gospel of Mark reports that Jesus had brothers, that he was "Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon," and also suggests that Jesus had sisters. The Jewish historian Josephus and the Christian historian Eusebius(who wrote in Fourth century but quoted much earlier sources now unavaliable to us) refer to James the Just as Jesus' brother. Some churches reject this interpretation, saying that they were Jesus' cousins, which the Greek word for "brother" used in the Gospels would allow. Other churches suggest that these were half brothers, children of Joseph and a previous wife who died before Mary was betrothed to him. This tradition probably originates with the Protevangelion of James, traditionally ascribed to James the Just and certainly dated sometime in the late first to middle of the second century.

Jesus began his public ministry some time after he was baptized by John the Baptist, who inspired Mandaeanism. Jesus began preaching, teaching, and healing. There is no firm evidence for when his ministry started or how long it lasted. The detailed nature of Jesus' spiritual teaching cannot be fully agreed because accounts are fragmentary and because he made extensive use of paradox, metaphor and parable; making it is unclear how literally he wished to be taken and precisely what he meant.

Jesus did preach the imminent end of the current era of history, in some sense a literal end of the world as people of his time knew it; in this sense he was an apocalyptic preacher bringing a message about the imminent end of the world the Jews knew.

Like the Pharisee, Jesus opposed stringent interpretations of Jewish law, and preached a more flexible understanding of the law. His teachings show an inclination to following a teleological approach, in which the spirit of the law is more important than the letter of the law. However, the Gospels record him as having many disagreements with the Pharisees, as he consistently takes differing views from the standard religious practice of the day. However, the interpretations of the law by the Sadducees were in most cases much stricter than Pharisee interpretations of the law, and the Sadducees were in the majority at that time, yet the Gospels record no sign of Jesus having much disagreement with their views. Some modern historians thus believe that Jesus may have been a liberal Pharisee in some respects, or an Essene (a sect with whom he shared many views); and that later Christian transcribers cast him as an enemy of the Pharisees, because when Christians and Jews came into conflict in later years the Pharisee's had become the dominant sect of Judaism. This view receives some support in Acts of the Apostles, because Jesus' apostles were generally attacked by Sadduccees but were sometimes protected by Pharisee liberal interpretations of Jewish law.

Jesus increasingly gained followers as his fame grew, though within his lifetime Jesus' core following remained no more than a small religious sect. Jesus had by the time of his death taught a number of his disciples or apostles to preach his teachings and perform faith healing to both Jews and Gentiles alike.

In his role as a social reformer Jesus threatened the status quo. He was unpopular with many Jewish religious authorities, not least because he criticised them; but also because some of Jesus' followers held the controversial and inflammatory view that he was "The Messiah". It is not clear from strict analysis of the original Gospel texts that Jesus made this claim about himself, but he did not deny it. Neither is it wholly clear to historians that when Jesus spoke of being "Son of God" he meant this to be taken literally as Christians believe, rather than metaphorically in the sense that we are all children of God.

Jesus came with his followers to Jerusalem during the Passover festival. He was involved in some form of public disturbance at the Temple in Jerusalem. At some point later, he was betrayed to the Jewish religious authorities of the city - either the full council (Sanhedrin) or perhaps just the High Priest - by one of his apostles, Judas Iscariot. The High Priest of the city was appointed by the government in Rome and the current holder of the post was Joseph Caiphas. The Romans ruled the city through the High Priest and Sanhedrin, so often the Jewish authorities of the city had to arrest people on the orders of the Romans. Jesus' disciples went into hiding after he was arrested.

Jesus was crucified by the Romans on the orders of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea in Jerusalem. The Gospels state that he did this at the behest of the Jewish religious leaders, but it may have been simply that Pilate considered Jesus' ability to incite public disturbance as a potential Messiah to be a threat to Roman order. Pilate was known as a harsh ruler who ordered many executions for lesser reasons during his reign.

All the gospel accounts agree that Joseph of Arimathea, variously a secret disciple or sympathiser to Jesus, and possible member of the Sanhedrin, arranged with Pilate for the body to be taken down and entombed. According to most accounts Jesus' mother, Mary, and other women, notably a female follower of Jesus, Mary Magdalene were present during this process.

The Resurrection

Main article:Resurrection of Jesus Christ

According to the Christian Gospels, Jesus' disciples encountered him again on the third day after his death, raised to life. He met them in various places over a period of forty days before "ascending into heaven".

The historicity of Jesus

Main article: Historicity of Jesus Christ

Some historians have disputed the actual existence of Jesus, claiming his existence was either an invention or he was a figure further removed in history.

Alleged relics of Jesus

Main article: Alleged relics of Jesus Christ

There are many items that are purported to be authentic relics of the Gospel account. The most famous alleged relic of Jesus is the Shroud of Turin.

Christian perspectives on Jesus

Main articles: Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Messiah

Christianity is centered on the belief that Jesus is the savior of man. According to Christians, Jesus was born in Bethlehem to Mary. He preached the new covenant across Judea, which angered traditional Jews and disturbed the Romans as he was seen as a threat to public order. One of his twelve apostles, Judas, betrayed him; and later committed suicide in remorse. Jesus was crucified by the Romans. However, he rose from the dead three days later.

Jewish perspectives on Jesus

Main articles: Judaism and Christianity and Jewish Messiah

Jesus Christ is deemed a false prophet in most sects of Judaism, and religious Jews are still awaiting the arrival of the Messiah. Christianity originated as a sect of Judaism, but developed into its own religion.

Islamic perspectives on Jesus

Main article: Isa

Muslims believe that Jesus, or Isa in Arabic, was a prophet and Messiah. However, they do not consider him to be a son of Allah (God), other than in the metaphorical sense that we are all children of Allah.

Other perspectives on Jesus

Main article: Other perspectives on Jesus

Jesus is considered as a manifestation of God by the Baha'i. Mandaeanists see Jesus Christ as something of a false prophet as compared to John the Baptist. Jesus was seen as the savior and bringer of gnosis by various Gnostic sects. In modern times many New Ageists have reinterpreted Jesus as a misunderstood guru preaching enlightenment.

Sizeable minorities of Buddhists and Hindus have beliefs about Jesus; these Buddhists have seen Jesus as manifestation of Maitreya, while some Hindus have considered Jesus to be an avatar.

Latter-day Saints and those who believe in Mormonism believe that Jesus Christ visited The Americas shortly after His resurrection or ascension. The account may be found in the Book of Mormon.

Fictional portrayals of Jesus Christ

Main article: Fictional portrayals of Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ has been featured in many films and media, sometimes as a serious portrayal, and other times as satire.

Further reading

External links


Historical context