The Historical Jesus

When the scientific revolution of the mid 19th Century, best represented by the advances in geology and biology made by Darwin and his contemporaries, called into question the historical accuracy of the Biblical text (notably Genesis 1-2), one of the responses was to use archaeology, historical studies and literary criticism to establish the "Historical Jesus" to show that he had really existed and was not only a theological product of the New Testament. The only additional sources to it are the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus.

This attempt to reduce the Risen and Preached Saviour Jesus Christ to an historical figure, or to reduce the full, theological person of Jesus to a character recorded in history, was largely a failure; but here, for what it is worth, is my best assessment of what we know of the "Historical Jesus":

Between 7-4 BC towards the close of the Reign of Herod the Great, a Jewish boy to be named Jesus (Yeshua) was born to his mother Mary (Miriam) and his putative father Joseph (Yosef) either in Bethlehem or Nazareth; he grew up in the latter and was known as the "Nazarene". He never left the Roman Province of Palestine. His native language was Aramaic, he probably had a practical knowledge of Greek and he was Synagogue educated. New Testament passages, notably Mark 6:3, speak of brothers and sisters; the word Adelphos can be metaphorical but Jesus probably had siblings. This is problematical but not incompatible with the "Virgin birth" which is a profoundly Christological notion only found in the birth narratives ([passage=MAT 1:2; Luke 2:2) and beyond the scope of historical enquiry.

Jesus was a layman not from the priestly tribe who began his ministry c28 AD as a disciple, by virtue of his baptism, of his cousin John Baptist whom he succeeded (the account of John's death by Josephus is preferable to Mark 6:17-29). The relationship between the two was problematical for all the Evangelists, because of questions of status, which underlines its veracity. The radical change in Jesus appears to be his welcome for sinners, salvation not judgment.

In his early ministry he was engaged in calling for metanoia: appealing to the public to recognise God as an urgent reality; healing and giving hope; and confronting Judaic legalism. Optimism turned to confrontation and the prospect of a violent death. His followers may have thought he was the Messiah but Jesus never claimed nor denied this until his trial and he was proclaimed as such after his death. He was condemned by the religious and civil authorities to be flogged and crucified (15 Nisan) c30 AD, a deliberately degrading process. He was assisted in carrying his cross beam, refused drugged wine, had his clothes taken by his executioners and died remarkably quickly, in some six hours. He was wrapped, unannointed, and placed in a niche of the former quarry, now rubbish dump, of Golgotha, an apparent failure.

Partly taken from:

Meier, John P.: A Marginal Jew: Vol.1. Rethinking The Historical Jesus, Doubleday, 1991.

KC viii/05

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