Jesus - the historical Jesus
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Life of Jesus

carving of a woman lying in bed
The birth of Jesus
(Ivory carving from the 500s AD)

May 2016 - Everything we know about the life of Jesus comes from the Bible. Jesus' name is not mentioned in any other source written during his lifetime, or within the lifetimes of people who might have known him (More about this). According to the Bible, Jesus was born during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus, about 4 BC (there is some disagreement about exactly when). He was born in Israel, in the town of Bethlehem according to the Bible, and he grew up near Bethlehem, in Nazareth. When he was about 30, in the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, Jesus took to preaching in public like his cousin John the Baptist.

Jesus had many new ideas to talk about. He told people that after the Last Judgment at the end of time they would either go to Heaven or go to Hell. He told people that faith in God, and in Jesus as the son of God, were the most important ways of getting into Heaven. He said that God no longer wanted animal sacrifices, because Jesus himself was going to be the biggest sacrifice ever, and if you believed in Jesus then his sacrifice would be for you too.

mosaic of jesus and a man wrapped in white cloth
Jesus raises the dead man Lazarus back to the living
world (mosaic from Ravenna, 500s AD)

Like some other men of his time, Jesus acted like a holy man. He wore simple clothes, and wouldn't take money for anything he did for people. He healed sick people, and he travelled around.

mosaic of a man kissing another man
Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss
(mosaic from Ravenna, 500s AD)

After a few years of preaching, (again according to the Bible) Jesus got in trouble with the Jewish leaders in Israel. They didn't believe he was the son of God, and so they didn't like him going around telling people that. The Jewish leaders asked the Roman governor of the province, Pontius Pilate (whose name does appear in an inscription found by archaeologists), to get rid of Jesus, and, afraid that Jesus might be leading a rebellion against Rome, Pilate ordered his soldiers to hang Jesus from a cross until he was dead (This was a normal Roman punishment for criminals).

Learn by doing: read the book of Matthew in the Bible
More about the Apostles

Bibliography and further reading about the history of Christianity:

The Apostles and Saint Paul
More about Christianity home

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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 29 April, 2017