Jesus, or Jeshua ben Joseph (pronunciation: /yeshua-been-yozef/), as he was known to his contemporaries, was a Jew who appeared as a prophet, a teacher, and a sage in Palestine about 30 AC. His followers believed him to be the Messiah of Israel, the one in whom God had definitely deposited the salvation of His people (hence, the title Christ, a Greek rendition of the Hebrew word meshiah, meaning "the anointed"). This belief took distinctive form when after the execution of Jesus by the Romans (acting on the recommendation of the Jewish authorities), he reportedly presented himself alive to some of his disciples. The resurrection of Jesus became a fundamental tenet of the religion that would soon be called Christianity. According to Christian belief, Jesus as God made man (he was called both "Son of God" and "Son of Man" and identified as the second person of the Holy Trinity); his life and his death by crucifixion are understood to have restored the relationship between God and mankind -- which had been broken by the latterís sinfulness or original sin (this original sin is reported in the book of Genesis, chapter 3); and his resurrection (the event celebrated by Easter) affirms Godís total sovereignty over his creation and offers humankind the hope of Salvation.

These core beliefs about Jesus are summed up in the words of the Nicene Creed: "I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father, by Whom all things were made: Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from Heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into Heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the alive and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end".

The Christ-myth school of the early 20th century held that Jesus never lived but was invented as a peg on which to hang the myth of a dying and rising God. Yet the evidence for the historical existence of Jesus is good.

a) Non-Christian sources

Among Roman historians, Tacitus (Annals 15.44) records that the Christian movement began with Jesus, who was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate. Suetonius (Claudius 25.4) refers to the expulsion of the Jews from Rome because of a riot instigated by one "Chrestus" in c. 48 AC, and this is usually taken to be a confused reference to the Christians and their founder. Pliny the Younger (Epistles 10.96), writing to Emperor Trajan, says that the early Christians sang a hymn to Christ as God. Most of the Jewish evidence is late and anti-Christian propaganda, but an early reference in the Babylonian Talmud says that Jeshu ha-Nocri was a false prophet who was hanged on the eve of the Passover for sorcery and false teaching. The evidence from the historian Josephus is problematical. He recounts (Antiquities 20.9.1) the martyrdom of James, "the brother of Jesus called the Christ", in 62 AC. Another passage in the Antiquities (18.3.3) gives an extended account of Jesus and his career, but some features of it are clearly Christian interpolations. Whether this passage has an authentic nucleus is debated.

Thus the Roman sources show a vague awareness that Jesus was a historical figure as well as the object of a cult; the reliable Jewish sources tell us that he was a Jewish teacher who was put to death for sorcery and false prophecy and that he had a brother named James. The Jewish evidence is especially valuable because of the hostility between Jews and Christians at the time: it would have been easy for the Jewish side to question the existence of Jesus, but this they never did.

b) The Gospels

The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the first four books of the New Testament of the Bible, are the principal sources for the life of Jesus. These works are primarily testimonies to the faith of the early Christian community, however, and have to be used critically as evidence for the historical Jesus. The methods include source, form and redaction criticism. Source criticism studies the literary relationships between the Gospels, and the generally accepted view is that Mark was written prior to and was used by Matthew and Luke, and that Matthew and Luke also had another source in common, unknown to Mark, which consisted mostly of sayings of Jesus. Some would add two other primary sources, the material peculiar to Matthew and that peculiar to Luke. There is a growing consensus that the fourth Gospel, despite a heavy overlay of Johannine theology in the arrangement of the episodes an in the discourses, also enshrines useful historical information and authentic sayings of Jesus. Form criticism investigates the history of the oral traditions behind the written Gospels and their sources, whereas redaction criticism isolates and studies the theology of the editorial work of the evangelists.

These methods provide criteria to sift through the redaction and tradition and reconstruct the message and the mission of the historical Jesus. The criteria of authenticity are dissimilarity both to contemporary Judaism and to the teachings of the post-Easter church; coherence; multiple attestation; and linguistic and environmental factors. The criterion of dissimilarity establishes a primary nucleus of material unique to Jesus. The criterion of coherence adds other materials consistent with this nucleus. Multiple attestation -- material attested by more than one primary source or criticism -- provides evidence for the primitivity of the Jesus tradition. Palestinian cultural background and Aramaic speech forms provide an additional test.

c) The Life of Jesus

Application of the critical methods described above reveals that the gospel tradition apparently started originally with Jesusí baptism by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34). The stories concerning the birth of Jesus were probably later additions. These stories -- the annunciations to Mary and Joseph, their journey to Bethlehem for the Roman census, and Jesusí birth there (Luke 2:1-7); the visits of the shepherds (Luke 2:8-20) and the three magi from the East (Matthew 2:1-12); and the flight of the family to Egypt to escape from the massacre of young boys that had been ordered by King Herod (Matthew 2:13-23) -- may be characterized conveniently, if loosely, as "Christological midrash", expressions of Christological faith cast into narrative form. If there are any factual elements in them, these will be found among the items on which Matthew and Luke agree: the names of Mary, Joseph and Jesus; the dating of Jesusí birth toward the end of the reign of Herod the Great (c. 4 BC); and, less certainly, the Bethlehem location of the birth. Some would add the conception of Jesus between the first and second stages of the marriage rite between Mary and Joseph; Christians interpreted this in terms of a conception through the Holy Spirit.

After being brought up by Joseph and Mary, Jesus started, at the age of 30, his ministry in Israel. He walked around many sites in that land, passing by cities like Cafarnaum, Betsaida, Canaan, Bethlehem, Corazim. In the end of his life he preached in Jerusalem, where he was killed on the cross. At the third day he resurrected from the dead, and is the Son of God, alive for all who believe in him.


1. Compare the view the text makes of Christ with your personal view of Him. In what ways do these views become different/similar?

2. Explain how Christianity started.

3. What are the Gospels? What special features do they bring about Jesus?

4. Make a short summary about Jesusí life.

5. How do Christians see Jesus nowadays?

6. Make a research about the Protestant (Evangelic) and Catholic lines of Christianity. Build up a comparative table in which you show their differences in belief, faith and rituals. You can use the space below as a model.