This article is about Jesus of Nazareth. For other uses, see Jesus (disambiguation).



Jesus as Good Shepherd

(stained glass at St John's Ashfield)


7–2 BC/BCE[1]



30–36 AD/CE[3][4][5][6][7]


Cause of death



Peregrinus,[9][10] Judea Province,Roman Empire[not in citation given]



Home town

Nazareth, Galilee[12]

Jesus of Nazareth ( /ˈdʒiːzəs/; 7–2 BC/BCE to 30–36 AD/CE), also referred to as Jesus Christ or simply Christ, is the central figure of Christianity and is also regarded as an important prophet of God in Islam. Most Christian denominations venerate him as God the Son incarnated and believe that he rose from the dead after being crucified.[13][14] The principal sources of information regarding Jesus are the Bible's four canonical gospels,[15]which most biblical scholars find useful for reconstructing Jesus' life and teachings.[16][17][18][19] Scholars have correlated the New Testament accounts with non-Christian historical records to arrive at an estimated chronology for the major episodes in the life of Jesus.[20][5][3][21]

Most modern historians agree that Jesus existed and was a Jewish teacher from Galilee inRoman Judaea, who was baptized by John the Baptist, and was crucified in Jerusalem on the orders of the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate.[22][23][24][8] Scholars have offered competing descriptions and portraits of Jesus, which at times share a number of overlapping attributes, such as a rabbi, a charismatic healer, the leader of an apocalypticmovement, a self-described Messiah, a sage and philosopher, or a social reformer who preached of the "Kingdom of God" as a means for personal and egalitarian social transformation.[25][26][27][28]

Christians traditionally believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, performed miracles, foundedthe Church, died sacrificially to achieve atonement, rose from the dead, and ascended intoheaven, from which he will return.[14] The majority of Christians worship Jesus as the incarnation of God the Son, and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.[29] A few Christian groups, however, reject Trinitarianism, wholly or partly, believing it to be non-scriptural.[29][30] Most Christian scholars today present Jesus as the awaited Messiah promised in the Old Testament and as God,[31] arguing that he fulfilled many Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament.[32]

Judaism rejects the belief that Jesus was the awaited Messiah, arguing that he did not fulfill the Messianic prophecies in the Tanakh.[33] In Islam, Jesus (in Arabic: عيسى‎ in Islamic usage, commonly transliterated as Isa) is considered one of God's importantprophets,[34][35] a bringer of scripture, and the product of a virgin birth, but not the victim of crucifixion.[36] Islam and the Bahá'í Faith use the title "Messiah" for Jesus,[37][38] but do not teach that he was God incarnate.

Contents [hide]

Etymology of name

A series of articles on



Jesus Christ andChristianity


Jesus and Islam


Cultural-historical background


Jesus and history


Perspectives on Jesus


Jesus in culture

Further information: Jesus (name), Holy Name of Jesus, Yeshua (name), and Messiah

"Jesus" is a transliteration, occurring in a number of languages and based on the Latin Iesus, of theGreek Ἰησοῦς (Iēsoûs), itself a hellenization of the Hebrew יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (Yĕhōšuă‘, Joshua) or Hebrew-Aramaic יֵשׁוּעַ (Yēšûă‘), both meaning "Yahweh delivers" or "Yahweh rescues". In Arabic, it isعيسى‎.[39][40]

The etymology of the name Jesus in the context of the New Testament is generally expressed as "Yahweh saves",[41][42][43] "Yahweh is salvation"[44][45] and at times as "Jehovah is salvation".[46]The name Jesus appears to have been in use in Judaea at the time of the birth of Jesus.[46][47]Philo's reference (Mutatione Nominum item 121) indicates that the etymology of Joshua was known outside Judaea at the time.[48]

In the New Testament, in Luke 1:26-33, the angel Gabriel tells Mary to name her child "Jesus", and in Matthew 1:21 an angel tells Joseph to name the child "Jesus". The statement in Matthew 1:21 "you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins" associatessalvific attributes to the name Jesus in Christian theology.[49][50]

"Christ" ( /ˈkraɪst/) is derived from the Greek Χριστός (Khrīstos), meaning "the anointed" or "the anointed one", a translation of the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ (Māšîaḥ), usually transliterated into English as "Messiah" ( /mɨˈsaɪ.ə/).[51][52] In the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible (written well over a century before the time of Jesus), the word "Christ" (Χριστός) was used to translate the Hebrew word "Messiah" (מָשִׁיחַ) into Greek.[53] In Matthew 16:16, the apostle Peter's profession "You are the Christ" identifies Jesus as the Messiah.[54] In postbiblical usage, "Christ" became viewed as a name, one part of "Jesus Christ", but originally it was a title ("Jesus the Anointed").[55][56][57]


Main article: Chronology of Jesus


Although a few scholars have questioned the existence of Jesus as an actual historical figure,[58], and some early Christian sects denied that Jesus existed as a physical being (see below), most scholars involved with historical Jesus research believe his existence, but that the supernatural claims associated with him cannot be established using documentary and other evidence.[59][60][61][24][62][63] As discussed in the sections immediately below, the estimation of the year of death of Jesus places his lifespan around the beginning of the 1st century AD/CE, in the geographic region of Roman Judaea.[64][65][66][67][68]

Roman involvement in Judaea began around 63 BC/BCE and by 6 AD/CE Judaea had become a Roman province.[69] From 26-37 AD/CE Pontius Pilatewas the governor of Roman Judaea.[70] In this time period, although Roman Judaea was strategically positioned in the Near East, close to Arabia and North Africa, it was not viewed as a critically important province by the Romans.[71][72] At the time the Romans were highly tolerant of other religions and allowed the local populations such as the Jews to practice their own faiths.[69]

Year of birth

Further information: Anno Domini, Common Era, and Year zero

Two independent approaches have been used to estimate the year of the birth of Jesus, one by analyzing the Nativity accounts in the Gospels of Luke andMatthew along with other historical data, the other by working backwards from the estimation of the start of the ministry of Jesus, as also discussed in the next section.[5][21]

In its Nativity account, the Gospel of Matthew associates the birth of Jesus with the reign of Herod the Great, who is generally believed to have died around 4 BC/BCE.[21][73] Matthew 2:1 states that: "Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king" and Luke 1:5 mentions the reign of Herod shortly before the birth of Jesus.[21] Matthew also suggests that Jesus may have been as much as two years old at the time of the visit of the Magi and hence even older at the time of Herod's death.[74] But the author of Luke also describes the birth as taking place during the first census of the Roman provinces of Syria and Iudaea, which is generally believed to have occurred in 6 AD/CE.[75] Most scholars generally assume a date of birth between 6 and 4 BC/BCE.[76] Other scholars assume that Jesus was born sometime between 7–2 BC/BCE.[77]

The year of birth of Jesus has also been estimated in a manner that is independent of the Nativity accounts, by using information in theGospel of John to work backwards from the statement in Luke 3:23 that Jesus was "about 30 years of age" at the start of his ministry.[3][5] As discussed in the section below, by combining information fromJohn 2:13 and John 2:20 with the writings of Flavius Josephus, it has been estimated that around 27-29 AD/CE, Jesus was "about thirty years of age".[78][79] Some scholars thus estimate the year 28 AD/CE to be roughly the 32nd birthday of Jesus and the birth year of Jesus to be around 6-4 BC/BCE.[3][5][80]

However, the common Gregorian calendar method for numbering years, in which the current year is 2012, is based on the decision of a monk Dionysius in the sixth century, to count the years from a point of reference (namely, Jesus’ birth) which he placed sometime between 2 BC and 1 AD.[81] Although Christian feasts related to the Nativity have had specific dates (e.g. December 25 for Christmas) there is no historical evidence for the exact day or month of the birth of Jesus.[82][83][84]

Years of ministry


John 2:13.

There have been different approaches to estimating the date of the start of the ministry of Jesus.[3][78][79][85] One approach, based on combining information from the Gospel of Luke with historical data about Emperor Tiberius yields a date around 28-29 AD/CE, while a second independent approach based on statements in the Gospel of John along with historical information from Josephus about the Temple in Jerusalem leads to a date around 27-29 AD/CE.[5][78][79][86][87][88] A third method uses the date of the death of John the Baptist and the marriage of Herod Antipas to Herodias based on the writings of Josephus, and correlates it to Matthew 14:4.[89][90][91]

The estimation of the date based on the Gospel of Luke relies on the statement in Luke 3:1 that the ministry of John the Baptist which preceded that of Jesus began "in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar".[78] Given that Tiberius began his reign in 14 AD/CE, this yields a date about 28-29 AD/CE.[3][78][80][92][93] The estimation of the date based on the Gospel of John uses the statements in John 2:13 that Jesus went to the Temple in Jerusalem around the start of his ministry and in John 2:20 that "Forty and six years was this temple in building" at that time.[5][78]According to Josephus (Ant 15.380) the temple reconstruction was started by Herod the Great in the 15th-18th year of his reign at about the time that Augustus arrived in Syria (Ant 15.354).[3][78][94][95] Temple expansion and reconstruction was ongoing, and it was in constant reconstruction until it was destroyed in 70 AD/CE by the Romans.[96] Given that it took 46 years of construction, the Temple visit in the Gospel of John has been estimated at around 27-29 AD/CE.[5][78][86][87][88][97]

Although both the gospels and Josephus refer to Herod Antipas killing John the Baptist, they differ on the details, e.g. whether this act was a consequence of the marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias, as indicated in Matthew 14:4, or a pre-emptive measure by Herod which possibly took place before the marriage, as Josephus suggests in Ant 18.5.2.[98][99][100][101] The exact year of the marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias is subject to debate among scholars.[90] In his analysis of Herod's life, Harold Hoehner estimates that John the Baptist's imprisonment probably occurred around AD 30-31.[102] The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia estimates the death of the Baptist to have occurred about AD 31-32.[91] The death of John the Baptist relates to the end of the major Galilean ministry of Jesus, just before the half way point in the gospel narratives, before the start of Jesus' final journey to Jerusalem through Judea.[103][104[104]][105]

Luke 3:23 states that at the start of his ministry Jesus was "about 30 years of age", but the other gospels do not mention a specific age. However, in John 8:57 the Jews exclaimed to Jesus: "Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?" suggesting that he was much less than 50 years old during his ministry.[5] The length of the ministry is subject to debate, based on the fact that thesynoptic gospels mention only one passover during Jesus' ministry, often interpreted as implying that the ministry lasted approximately one year, whereas the Gospel of John records multiple passovers, implying that his ministry may have lasted at least three years.[3][5][106][107]

Year of death


A number of approaches have been used to estimate the year of the death of Jesus, including information from the canonical gospels, the chronology of the life of Paul the Apostle in the New Testament correlated with historical events, as well as different astronomical models, as discussed below.

All four canonical gospels report that Jesus was crucified at Calvary during the prefecture of Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect who governed Judaea from 26 to 36 AD/CE. The late 1st century Jewish historian Josephus,[64] writing in Antiquities of the Jews (c. 93 AD/CE), and the early 2nd century Roman historian Tacitus,[65] writing in The Annals (c. 116 AD/CE), also state that Pilate ordered the execution of Jesus, though both writers use the title "procurator" instead of "prefect".[66]

The estimation of the date of the conversion of Paul places the death of Jesus before this conversion, which is estimated at around 33-36 AD/CE.[4][108][109] (Also see the estimation of the start of Jesus' ministry as a few years before this date above). The estimation of the year of Paul's conversion relies on a series of calculations working backwards from the well established date of his trial before Gallioin Achaea Greece (Acts 18:12) around 51-52 AD/CE, the meeting of Priscilla and Aquila which were expelled from Rome about 49 AD/CE and the 14-year period before returning to Jerusalem in Galatians 2:1.[4][108][109] The remaining period is generally accounted for by Paul's missions (at times withBarnabas) such as those in Acts 11:25 and 2 Corinthians 11:23, resulting in the 33-36 AD/CE estimate.[4][108][109]

For centuries, astronomers and scientists have used diverse computational methods to estimate the date of crucifixion, Isaac Newtonbeing one of the first cases.[67] Newton's method relied on the relative visibility of the crescent of the new moon and he suggested the date as Friday, April 23, 34 AD/CE.[110] In 1990 astronomer Bradley E. Schaefer computed the date as Friday, April 3, 33 AD/CE.[111] In 1991, John Pratt stated that Newton's method was sound, but included a minor error at the end. Pratt suggested the year 33 AD/CE as the answer.[67] Using the completely different approach of a lunar eclipse model, Humphreys and Waddington arrived at the conclusion that Friday, April 3, 33 AD/CE was the date of the crucifixion.[68][112][113]

Life and teachings in the New Testament

See also: Scholars have debated the sources for the gospels for millennia, and have proposed various hypotheses of how the synoptic gospels were written and how they influenced each other, going back to the Augustinian hypothesis in the 5th century.[145] In the 20th and 21st centuries hypotheses such as the two-source, four-source, Farrer or the Markan priority hypothesis have been debated.[145][146][147]Each hypothesis assumes a specific order in which the gospels were written, or that other as yet unknown and hypothetical documents such as the Q source or the M source influenced various gospels in various ways. Each hypotheses has had support among some scholars, while problems with and weaknesses in it have been pointed out by opponents.[145][146][147][148]

Since the 2nd century attempts have been made to harmonize the gospel accounts into a single narrative; Tatian's Diatesseron perhaps being the first harmony and other works such as Augustine' book Harmony of the Gospels followed.[149][150] A number of different approaches to gospel harmony have been proposed in the 20th century, but no single and unique harmony can be constructed.[151]While some scholars argue that combining the four gospel stories into one story is tantamount to creating a fifth story different from each original, others see the gospels as blending together to give an overall and comprehensive picture of Jesus' teaching and ministry.[150][152][153][154] Although there are differences in specific temporal sequences, and in the parables and miracles listed in each gospel, the flow of the key events such as Baptism, Transfiguration and Crucifixion and interactions with people such as the Apostles are shared among the gospel narratives.

Key elements and the five major milestones

The five major milestones in the gospel narrative of the life of Jesus are his Baptism, Transfiguration, Crucifixion, Resurrection andAscension.[157][158][159] These are usually bracketed by two other episodes: his Nativity at the beginning and the sending of the Holy Spirit at the end.[157][159] The gospel accounts of the teachings of Jesus are often presented in terms of specific categories involving his "works and words", e.g. his ministry, parables and miracles.[160][161]

The gospels include a number discourses by Jesus on specific occasions, e.g. the Sermon on the Mount or the Farewell Discourse, and also include over 30 parables, spread throughout the narrative, often with themes that relate to the sermons.[162] Parables represent a major component of the teachings of Jesus in the gospels, forming approximately one third of his recorded teachings, and John 14:10positions them as the revelations of God the Father.[163][164] The gospel episodes that include descriptions of the miracle of Jesus also often include teachings, providing an intertwining of his "words and works" in the gospels.[161][165]

  • Betrayal

  • Genealogy and Nativity

Major events in Jesus' life from the Gospels

The accounts of the genealogy and Nativity of Jesus in the New Testament appear only in the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew. While there are documents outside of the New Testament which are more or less contemporary with Jesus and the gospels, many shed no light on the more biographical aspects of his life and these two gospel accounts remain the main sources of information on the genealogy and Nativity.[143]


Main article: Genealogy of Jesus

Matthew begins his gospel in 1:1 with the genealogy of Jesus, and presents it before the account of the birth of Jesus, while Luke discusses the genealogy in chapter 3, after the Baptism of Jesus in Luke 3:22when the voice from Heaven addresses Jesus and identifies him as the Son of God.[166] At that point Luke traces Jesus' ancestry through Adam to God.[166]

While Luke traces the genealogy upwards towards Adam and God, Matthew traces it downwards towards Jesus.[167] Both gospels state that Jesus was begotten not by Joseph, but by God.[168] Both accounts trace Joseph back to King David and from there to Abraham. These lists are identical between Abraham and David (except for one), but they differ almost completely between David and Joseph.[169][170] Matthew gives Jacob as Joseph’s father and Luke says Joseph was the son of Heli. Attempts at explaining the differences between the genealogies have varied in nature, e.g. that Luke traces the genealogy through Mary while Matthew traces it through Joseph; or that Jacob and Heli were both fathers of Joseph, one being the legal father, after the death of Joseph's actual father—but there is no scholarly agreement on a resolution for the differences.[171][172][173]


Main article: Nativity of Jesus

The Nativity is a prominent element in the Gospel of Luke, comprises over 10% of the text, and is three times the length of the nativity text in Matthew.[174] Luke's account takes place mostly before the birth of Jesus and centers on Mary, while Matthew's takes place mostly after the birth of Jesus and centers on Joseph.[175][176][177] According to Luke and Matthew, Jesus was born to Joseph and Mary, his betrothed, in Bethlehem. Both support the doctrine of the Virgin Birth in which Jesus was miraculously conceived in his mother's womb by the Holy Spirit, when his mother was still a virgin.[178][179][180][181]

Luke is the only gospel to provide an account of the birth of John the Baptist, and uses it to draw parallels between the births of John and Jesus.[182] Luke relates the two births in the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth[174] and further connects the two births by stating that Mary and Elizabeth are cousins.[183] InLuke 1:31-38 Mary learns from the angel Gabriel that she will conceive and bear a child called Jesus through the action of the Holy Spirit. When Mary is due to give birth, she and Joseph travel from Nazarethto Joseph's ancestral home in Bethlehem to register in the census of Quirinius. In Luke 2:1-7. Mary gives birth to Jesus and, having found no place in the inn, places the newborn in a manger. An angel visits the shepherds and sends them to adore the child in Luke 2:22. After presenting Jesus at the Temple, Joseph and Mary return home to Nazareth.[176][184]

The nativity account in chapters 1 and 2 of the Gospel of Matthew appears to differ from Luke in implying that Jesus and his family are already living in Bethlehem.[185] However, Matthew does not state that Joseph lived in Bethlehem prior to the birth of Jesus.[186]Following his betrothal to Mary, Joseph is troubled in Matthew 1:19-20 because Mary is pregnant, but in the first of Joseph's three dreams an angel assures him not be afraid to take Mary as his wife, because her child was conceived by the Holy Spirit.[187] In Matthew 1:1-12, the Wise Men or Magi bring gifts to the young Jesus after following a star which they believe was a sign that the King of the Jews had been born. King Herod hears of Jesus' birth from the Wise Men and tries to kill him by massacring all the male children in Bethlehem under the age of two (the Massacre of the Innocents).[188] Before the massacre, Joseph is warned by an angel in his dreamand the family flees to Egypt and remains there until Herod's death, after which they leave Egypt and settle in Nazareth to avoid living under the authority of Herod's son.

Title attributions

Main article: Names and titles of Jesus in the New Testament

The New Testament attributes a wide range of titles to Jesus by the authors of the gospels, by Jesus himself, a voice from Heaven (often assumed to be God) during the Baptism and Transfiguration, as well as various groups of people such as the disciples, and evendemons throughout the narrative.[272][335] The emphasis on the titles used in each of the four canonical gospels gives a different emphasis to the portrayal of Jesus in that gospel.[152][336][337]


Two of the key titles used for Jesus in the New Testament are Christ and Son of God.[55][338] The opening words in Mark 1:1 attribute both Christ and Son of God as titles, reaffirming the second title again in Mark 1:11.[339] The Gospel of Matthew also begins in 1:1 with the Christ title and reaffirms it in Matthew 1:16.[339] Beyond the declarations by the Gospel writers, titles are attributed in the narrative. The statement by Peter in Matthew 16:16 ("you are the Christ, the Son of the living God") is a key turning point in the Gospel narrative, where Jesus is proclaimed as both Christ and Son of God by his followers and he accepts both titles.[256] The immediate declaration by Jesus that the titles were revealed to Peter by "my Father who is in Heaven" not only endorses both titles as divine revelation but includes a separate assertion of sonship by Jesus within the same statement.[258]

In the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to himself as the Son of God far more frequently than in the synoptic gospels.[340] In a number of other episodes Jesus claims sonship by referring to the Father, e.g. in Luke 2:49 when he is found in the temple a young Jesus calls the temple "my Father's house", just as he does later in John 2:16 in the Cleansing of the Temple episode.[238] However, scholars still debate if Jesus was making a claim to divinity in these statements.[341][342][343] In John 11:27 Martha tells Jesus "you are the Christ, the Son of God", signifying that both titles were later used (yet considered distinct) in the narrative.[344] While the Gospel of John frequently uses the Son of God title, the Gospel of Luke emphasizes Jesus as a prophet.[345]

One of the most frequent titles for Jesus in the New Testament is the Greek word Kyrios (κύριος) which can mean God, Lord or master and is used to refers to him over 700 times.[346][347] In everyday Aramaic, Mari was a very respectful form of polite address, well above "Teacher" and similar to Rabbi. In Greek this has at times been translated as Kyrios.[348]The Rabbi title is used in several New Testament episodes to refer to Jesus, but more often in the Gospel of John than elsewhere and does not appear in the Gospel of Luke at all.[349] Although Jesus accepts this title in the narrative, in Matthew 23:1-8 he rejected the title of Rabbi for his disciples, saying: "But be not ye called Rabbi".[349][350][351]

Some New Testament scholars argue that Jesus claimed to be God through his frequent use of "I am" (Ego eimi in Greek and Qui est in Latin). This term is used by Jesus in the Gospel of John on several occasions to refer to himself, seven times with specific titles.[352][353] It is used in the Gospel of John both with or without a predicate.[353] The seven uses with a predicate that have resulted in titles for Jesus are: Bread of Life, Light of the World, the Door, the Good Shepherd, the Resurrection of Life, the Way, the Truth and the Life, the Vine.[352] It is also used without a predicate, which is very unusual in Greek and Christologists usually interpret it as God's own self-declaration.[353] In John 8:24 Jesus states: "unless you believe that I am you will die in your sins" and in John 8:59 the crowd attempts to stone Jesus in response to his statement that "Before Abraham was, I am".[353] However, many modern scholars believe that Jesus never made a claim to divinity.[354][355] John Hick says that this "is a point of broad agreement among New Testament scholars".[356]

The Gospel of John opens by identifying Jesus as the divine Logos in John 1:1-18. The Greek term Logos (λόγος) is often translated as "the Word" in English.[357] The identification of Jesus as the Logos which became Incarnate appears only at the beginning of the Gospel of John and the term Logos is used only in two other Johannine passages: 1 John 1:1 and Revelation 19:13.[358][359][360][361] John's Logos statements build on each other: the statement that the Logos existed "at the beginning" asserts that as Logos Jesus was an eternal being like God; that the Logos was "with God" asserts the distinction of Jesus from God; and Logos "was God" states the unity of Jesus with God.[290][359][362][363]

Some authors have suggested that other titles applied to Jesus in the New Testament had meanings in the 1st century quite different from those meanings ascribed today, e.g. "messiah" and “Son of David” is found elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible and other Jewish texts to refer to the heir to the throne; "son of God" to refer to a righteous person; and "son of man" to signify the third person in the subjective case and a polite way to refer to one's self.[364]

Historical views


Main articles: Jesus Myth, Historicity of Jesus, and Chronology of Jesus

See also: Josephus on Jesus and Tacitus on Jesus



The Christian gospels were written primarily as theological documents rather than historical chronicles.[141][142] However, the question of the existence of Jesus as a historical figure should be distinguished from discussions about the historicity of specific episodes in the gospels, the chronology they present, or theological issues regarding his divinity.[367] A number of historical non-Christian documents, such as Jewish and Greco-Roman sources, have been used in historical analyses of the existence of Jesus.[365] Most critical historians agree that Jesus existed and regard events such as his baptism and his crucifixion as historical.[368][369][23][370]

Robert E. Van Voorst states that the idea of the non-historicity of the existence of Jesus has always been controversial, and has consistently failed to convince scholars of many disciplines, and that classical historians, as well as biblical scholars now regard it as effectively refuted.[24] Walter P. Weaver, among others, states that the denial of Jesus’ existence has never convinced any large number of people, in or out of technical circles.[23][370][371]

Separate non-Christian sources used to establish the historical existence of Jesus include the works of 1st century Roman historians Josephus and Tacitus.[365][372] Josephus scholar Louis H. Feldmanhas stated that "few have doubted the genuineness" of Josephus' reference to Jesus in Antiquities 20, 9, 1 and it is only disputed by a small number of scholars.[366][373][374][375] Bart D. Ehrmanstates that the existence of Jesus and his crucifixion by the Romans is attested to by a wide range of sources, including Josephus and Tacitus.[376]

The historical existence of Jesus as a person is a separate issue from any religious discussions about his divinity, or the theological issues relating to his nature as man or God.[377] Leading scientific atheist Richard Dawkins specifically separates the question of the existence of Jesus from the attribution of supernatural powers to him, or the accuracy of the Christian gospels.[378] Dawkins does not deny the existence of Jesus, although he dismisses the reliability of the gospel accounts.[378] This position is also held by leading criticG. A. Wells, who used to argue that Jesus never existed, but has since changed his views and no longer rejects it.[379]

In antiquity, the existence of Jesus was never denied by those who opposed Christianity.[140] While theological differences existed among early Christians regarding the nature of Jesus (e.g. monophysitism, miaphysitism, Docetism, Nestorianism, etc.) these were debates in Christian theology, not about the historical existence of Jesus.[380][381] Although a very small number of modern scholars argue that Jesus never existed, that view is a distinct minority and most scholars consider theories that Jesus' existence was a Christian invention as implausible.[367][382][383]

Language, race and appearance

See also: Aramaic of Jesus, Race and appearance of Jesus, and Cultural and historical background of Jesus

Jesus grew up in Galilee and much of his ministry took place there.[384] The languages spoken in Galilee and Judea during the 1st century AD/CE include the Semitic Aramaic and Hebrew languages as well as Greek, with Aramaic being the predominant language.[385][386] Most scholars agree that during the early part of 1st century AD/CE Aramaic was the mother tongue of virtually all women in Galilee and Judae.[387] Most scholars support the theory that Jesus spoke Aramaic and that he may have also spoken Hebrew and Greek.[385][386][388][389] In a review of the state of modern scholarship, Amy-Jill Levine stated: "Beyond recognizing that 'Jesus was Jewish' rarely does scholarship address what being 'Jewish' means."[390]


[391][392] A Chinese illustration, Beijing, 1879.

The New Testament includes no description of the physical appearance of Jesus before his death and its narrative is generally indifferent to racial appearances and does not refer to the features of the people it discusses.[393][394][395] The synoptic gospels include the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus during which he was glorified with "his face shining as the sun" but do not provide details of his everyday appearance.[207][226] The Book of Revelation describes the features of a glorified Jesus in a vision (1:13-16), but the vision refers to Jesus in heavenly form, after his death.[396][397]Old Testament references about the coming Messiah have been projected forward to form conjectures about the appearance of Jesus on theological, rather than historical grounds; e.g. Isaiah 53:2 which refers to the coming Messiah as "no beauty that we should desire him" and Psalm 45:2-3which describes him as "fairer than the children of men", often interpreted as a description of his physical appearance.[398][399][400][401]

Despite the lack of direct biblical or historical references, from the 2nd century, various theories about the race of Jesus were advanced, e.g. by Justin Martyr based on arguments on the genealogy of Jesus.[402] These arguments have been subject to debate for centuries among modern scholars.[402] Another suggestion by anti-Christian pagan author Celsus (who was likely aware of the gospel texts, and mocked them) that Jesus' father was a Roman soldier named Pantera drew responses from Origen who considered it a fabricated story, and scholars continue to view it as having no historical basis.[403][404][405][406][407][408]

By the Middle Ages a number of documents, generally of unknown origin, were circulating with details of the appearance of Jesus, e.g. a forged letter by Publius Lentulus, the Governor of Judea, to the Roman Senate, which according to most scholars dates to around the year 1300 and was composed to compensate for the lack of any physical description of Jesus in the Bible.[394] Other spurious references include the Archko Volume and the letter of Pontius Pilate to Tiberius Caesar, the descriptions in which were most likely composed in the Middle Ages.[409][410][411]

By the 19th century theories that Jesus was of Aryan descent, in particular European, were developed and later appealed to those who wanted nothing Jewish about Jesus, e.g. Nazi theologians.[395][412] These theories usually also include the reasoning that Jesus was Aryan because Galilee was an Aryan region, but have not gained scholarly acceptance.[395][413] By the 20th century, theories had also been proposed that Jesus was of black African descent, e.g. based on the argument that Mary his mother was a descendant of black Jews.[414] By the 21st century the race of Jesus was being addressed on television, e.g. a 2001 BBC program that suggested specific physical characteristics for him.[415][416] In the 21st century, the race of Jesus also had a cultural component in cinematic portrayals, e.g. actor James Caviezel was made-up to look semitic as he portrayed Jesus.[417][418]


Main article: Depictions of Jesus

Despite the lack of biblical references or historical records, for two millennia a wide range of depictions of Jesus have appeared, often influenced by cultural settings, political circumstances and theological contexts.[391][392][394] As in other Christian art, the earliest depictions date to the late 2nd or early 3rd century, and survivors are primarily found in the Catacombs of Rome.[419] In these early depictions, which use popular rather than elite Greco-Roman styles, Jesus is usually shown as a youthful figure without a beard and with curly hair, often with different features from the other men in the scenes, such as his disciples or the Romans.[393]


Although some images exist at the synagogue at Dura-Europos, Judaism forbade images, and there is no record of its influence on the depictions of Jesus.[391] Christian depictions of the 3rd and 4th centuries typically focused on New Testament scenes of healings and other miracles.[419] Following the conversion of Constantine in the 4th century, Christian art found many wealthy donors and flourished.[419] In this period Jesus began to have more mature features, and was shown with a beard.[393] A new development at this time was the depiction of Jesus without a narrative context, but just as a figure by himself.[393]

By the 5th century depictions of the Passion began to appear, perhaps reflecting a change in the theological focus of the early Church.[419] The 6th century Rabbula Gospels includes some of the earliest surviving images of the crucifixion and resurrection.[419] By the 6th century the bearded depiction of Jesus had become standard in the East, though the West, especially in northern Europe, continued to mix bearded and unbearded depictions for several centuries. The depiction with a longish face, long straight brown hair parted in the middle, and almond shaped eyes shows consistency from the 6th century to the present. Various legends developed which were believed to authenticate the historical accuracy of the standard depiction, such as the image of Edessa and later the Veil of Veronica.[393] Partly to aid recognition of the scenes, narrative depictions of the Life of Christ focused increasingly on the events celebrated in the major feasts of the church calendar, and the events of the Passion, neglecting the miracles and other events of Jesus's public ministry, except for the raising of Lazarus, where the mummy-like wrapped body was shown standing upright, giving an unmistakable visual signature.[citation needed] A cruciform halo was worn only by Jesus (and the other persons of the Trinity), while plain halos distinguished Mary, the Apostles and other saints, helping the viewer to read increasingly populated scenes.[citation needed]

The Byzantine Iconoclasm acted as a barrier to developments in the East, but by the 9th century art was permitted again.[391] TheTransfiguration of Jesus was a major theme in the East and every Eastern Orthodox monk who had trained in icon painting had to prove his craft by painting an icon of the Transfiguration.[420] However, while Western depictions aim for proportion, in the Eastern icons the abolition of perspective and alterations in the size and proportion of an image aim to reaches beyond man's earthly dwellings.[421]

The 13th century witnessed a turning point in the portrayal of the powerful Kyrios image of Jesus as a wonder worker in the West, as theFranciscans began to emphasize the humility of Jesus both at his birth and his death via the nativity scene as well as the crucifixion.[422][423][424] The Franciscans approached both ends of this spectrum of emotions and as the joys of the Nativity of were added to the agony of crucifixion a whole new range of emotions were ushered in, with wide ranging cultural impact on the image of Jesus for centuries thereafter.[422][424][425][426]

The Renaissance brought forth a number of artists who focused on the depictions of Jesus and after Giotto, Fra Angelico and others systematically developed uncluttered images that focused on the depiction of Jesus with an ideal human beauty.[391] Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper which is considered the first work of High Renaissance art due to its high level of harmony became well known for depicting Jesus surrounded by varying emotions of the individual apostles at the announcement of the betrayal.[427][428] Meanwhile, theProtestant Reformation, especially in its first decades, violently objected to almost all public religious images as idolaterous, and vast numbers were destroyed.

By the end of the 19th century, new reports of miraculous images of Jesus had appeared and continue to receive significant attention, e.g. Secondo Pia's 1898 photograph of the Shroud of Turin, one of the most controversial artifacts in history, which during its May 2010 exposition it was visited by over 2 million people.[429][430][431] Another 20th century depiction of Jesus, namely the Divine Mercy imagebased on Faustina Kowalska's reported vision has over 100 million followers.[432][433] The first cinematic portrayal of Jesus was in the 1897 film La Passion du Christ produced in Paris, which lasted 5 minutes.[434][435] Thereafter cinematic portrayals have continued to show Jesus with a beard in the standard western depiction that resembles traditional images.[436]

Analysis of the gospels

Main articles: Higher criticism, Textual criticism, and Historical reliability of the Gospels

The historical-critical method (or higher criticism) is used to examine the Bible for clues about the historical Jesus, whereby sayings and events that are more likely to be genuine in the opinion of scholars are used to construct their portraits of Jesus. Standard historical methods are used to discern the authorship of each book, and its likely date of composition.[437]

The earliest extant texts which refer to Jesus are Paul's letters (mid-1st century), which affirm Jesus' crucifixion. Keulman and Gregory hold that the Gospel of Thomas, a collection of 114 sayings of Jesus, predates the four orthodox gospels, and believe it may have been composed around mid-1st century.[438][439]


Biblical scholars hold that the works describing Jesus were initially communicated by oral tradition, and were not committed to writing until several decades after Jesus' crucifixion. After the original oral stories were written down in Greek, they were transcribed, and later translated into other languages. The books of the New Testament had mostly been written by 100 AD/CE, making them, at least the synoptic gospels, historically relevant.[440] The Gospel tradition certainly preserves several fragments of Jesus' teaching.[441] The Markan priority hypothesis holds that the Gospel of Mark was written first c. 70 AD/CE.[442][443][444] Matthew is placed at being sometime after this date and Luke is thought to have been written between 70 and 100 AD/CE.[445][446] According to the Q source hypothesis supported by a majority of modern scholars, the gospels were written not by the four evangelists themselves but derived from other sources.[437] A minority of prominent scholars, such as J. A. T. Robinson, have maintained that the writers of the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John were either apostles and eyewitness to Jesus' ministry and death, or were close to those who had been.[447][448][449[449]]

Critical scholars consider scriptural accounts more likely when they are attested in multiple texts, plausible in Jesus' historical environment, and potentially embarrassing to the author's Christian community. The "criterion of embarrassment" holds that stories about events with aspects embarrassing to Christians (such as the denial of Jesus by Peter, or the fleeing of Jesus' followers after his arrest) would likely not have been included if those accounts were fictional.[450] Sayings attributed to Jesus are deemed more likely to reflect his character when they are distinctive, vivid, paradoxical, surprising, and contrary to social and religious expectations, such as "Blessed are the poor".[451] Short, memorable parables and aphorisms capable of being transmitted orally are also thought more likely to be authentic.[451]

Scholars use textual criticism to determine which variants among manuscripts is original and how much they may have changed. Contemporary textual critic Bart D. Ehrman cites numerous places where he maintains that the gospels, and other New Testament books, were apparently altered by Christian scribes.[152] Craig Blomberg, F. F. Bruce and Gregory Boyd view the evidence as conclusive that very few alterations were made by Christian scribes, while none of them (three or four in total) were important.[447][448][449] According to Normal Geisler and William Nix, "The New Testament, then, has not only survived in more manuscripts than any other book from antiquity, but it has survived in a purer form than any other great book─a form that is 99.5% pure"[449]:p.367

Historical analysis

Main articles: Historical Jesus and Quest for the historical Jesus


After the Enlightenment, scholars began producing characterizations of the life of Jesus by comparing New Testament accounts with other sources that shed light on the social and political background of his time, and used the historical method to produce their own version of the "life of Jesus" which aimed to fill gaps in gospel accounts, as well as excluding some material scholars deemed historically implausible.[452][453][454][455] By the end of the 19th century hundreds of such accounts existed, and in the early 20th century this resulted in the Quest for the historical Jesus, a term coined by Albert Schweitzer.[452]

The historical analysis has relied on Biblical criticism, as well as the political, cultural, and religious crises and movements in late Second Temple Judaism and in Roman Judaea, including differences between Galilee and Judaea, and between different sects such as the Pharisees, Sadducees,Essenes and Zealots,[456][457] In the 1950s the second Quest began and resulted in a number of new models and theories.[452] The third Quest began in the 1990s, and continued into the 21st century, producing a variety of perspectives on the life of Jesus.[452] Scholars generally agree that Jesus was a Jewish Galilean, but not a Roman citizen.[458][459] Christina Kreinecker states that Jesus was simply a peregrinus (i.e. subject) of the Judea Province of the Roman Empire.[10]

However, although scholars agree on basic historical facts such as the crucifixion of Jesus, the various "portraits of Jesus" they construct often differ from each other, and from the image found in the gospels.[27][460]

The portraits of Jesus constructed by scholars often share a number of common, and at times overlapping building blocks, such as healer, philosopher, sage, apocalyptic preacher, or social reformer.[26][27][28] However, Bart Ehrman and separately Andreas Köstenberger contend that given the scarcity of historical sources, it is generally difficult for any scholar to construct a portrait of Jesus that can be considered historically valid beyond the basic elements of his life.[461][27][462] However, some scholars have suggested caution when reading modern meanings into terms such as rabbi at Jesus' time.[463] At the time of Jesus the title rabbi was merely a general title for "teachers of the Law" and did not involve an official appointment.[464] Martin Hengel states that as a "teacher of Wisdom", Jesus was not a typical representatives of the official establishment of the time.[465] William Herzog states that although Jesus was called a rabbi and a teacher he rejected the title rabbi in the synoptic gospels and did not identify himself with the established notion of rabbi at the time.[350]

An attribute used by many scholars to describe Jesus is a healer, a number of the same scholars also stating that he preached the restoration of God's kingdom.[466][467][468] Many scholars also hold that the movement Jesus led (and his eschatology) were apocalyptic, as were the preachings of John the Baptist, but some scholars makes a distinction between John's apocalyptic ministry and Jesus' ethical teachings.[469][470] Another attribute used to describe Jesus are a sage who preached the wisdom of God, offering new interpretations of Old Testament teachings.[27][471] Two other views of Jesus are as a cynic philosopher and a social reformer who renounced material possessions and taught a new form of egalitarianism, social justice and equality among men and women as well as the abandonment of social class hierarchies.[462][27][472][473] Some historians argue that Jewish and Roman authorities in Jerusalem were wary of Galilean patriots, and that Jesus' preachings were regarded as troubling, and he was hence executed on political charges.[17][474][475][17]

Historicity of events

Modern scholars consider the baptism of Jesus and his crucifixion to be the two historically certain facts about him, James Dunn stating that these "two facts in the life of Jesus command almost universal assent".[8] Dunn states that these two facts "rank so high on the 'almost impossible to doubt or deny' scale of historical facts" that they are often the starting points for the study of the historical Jesus.[8] Bart Ehrman states that the crucifixion of Jesus on the orders of Pontius Pilate is the most certain element about him.[476]John Dominic Crossan states that the crucifixion of Jesus is as certain as any historical fact can be.[477]

Craig Blomberg states that most scholars in the third quest for the historical Jesus consider the crucifixion indisputable.[478] Although scholars agree on the historicity of the crucifixion, they differ on the reason and context for it, e.g. both E.P. Sanders and Paula Fredriksen support the historicity of the crucifixion, but contend that Jesus did not foretell of his own crucifixion, and that his prediction of the crucifixion is a Christian story.[479] Geza Vermes also views the crucifixion a historical event but provides his own explanation and background for it.[479] John P. Meier views the crucifixion of Jesus as historical fact and states that based on the criterion of embarrassment Christians would not have invented the painful death of their leader.[480] Meier states that a number of other criteria, e.g. the criterion of multiple attestation (i.e. confirmation by more than one source), the criterion of coherence (i.e. that it fits with other historical elements) and the criterion of rejection (i.e. that it is not disputed by ancient sources) help establish the crucifixion of Jesus as a historical event.[481]

Role of archaeology

See also: New Testament places associated with Jesus


[485] Although Roman Emperor Augustus called himself "Divi filius", and not "Dei filius" (Son of God), the line between been god and god-like was at times less than clear to the population at large, and the Roman court seems to have been aware of the necessity of keeping the ambiguity.[482][483] Later, Tiberius who was emperor at the time of Jesus came to be accepted as the son of divus Augustus.[482] Reed discusses this coinage in the context of Mark 12:13-17 (known as Render unto Caesar...) in which Jesus asks his disciples to look at a coin: "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" and then advises them to "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." Reed states that "the answer becomes much more subversive when one knows that Roman coinage proclaimed Caesar to be God".[485]

David Gowler states that an interdisciplinary scholarly study of archeology, textual analysis and historical context can shed light on Jesus and his teachings.[489] An example is the archeological studies at Capernaum. Despite the frequent references to Capernaum in the New Testament, little is said about it there.[494] However, recent archeological evidence show that unlike earlier assumptions, Capernaum was poor and small, without even a forum or agora.[495][489] This archaeological discovery thus resonates well with the scholarly view that Jesus advocated reciprocal sharing among the destitute in that area of Galilee.[489] Other archeological findings support the wealth of the ruling priests in Judea at the beginning of the first century.[487][496]

First century Jewish religious movements

Scholars refer to the religious background of the early 1st century to better reconstruct Jesus' life. Some scholars identify him with one or another group.

Pharisees were a powerful force in 1st-century Judaea. Early Christians shared several beliefs of the Pharisees, such as resurrection, retribution in the next world, angels, human freedom, and Divine Providence.[497] After the fall of the Temple, the Pharisaic outlook was established in Rabbinic Judaism. Some scholars speculate that Jesus was himself a Pharisee.[498] In Jesus' day, the two main schools of thought among the Pharisees were the House of Hillel, which had been founded by the eminent Tanna, Hillel the Elder, and the House of Shammai. Jesus' assertion of hypocrisy may have been directed against the stricter members of the House of Shammai, although he also agreed with their teachings on divorce.[Mk 10:1–12][499] Jesus also commented on the House of Hillel's teachings (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a) concerning the greatest commandment[Mk 12:28–34] and the Golden Rule.[Mt 7:12] Historians do not know whether there were Pharisees in Galilee during Jesus' life, or what they would have been like.[500]

Sadducees were particularly powerful in Jerusalem. They accepted the written Law only, rejecting the traditional interpretations accepted by the Pharisees, such as belief in retribution in an afterlife, resurrection of the body, angels, and spirits. After Jesus caused a disturbance at the Temple, it was to have been the Sadducees who had him arrested and turned over to the Romans for execution. After the fall of Jerusalem, they disappeared from history.[501]

Essenes were apocalyptic ascetics, one of the three (or four) major Jewish schools of the time, though they were not mentioned in the New Testament.[502] Some scholars theorize that Jesus was an Essene, or close to them. Among these scholars is Pope Benedict XVI, who supposes in his book on Jesus that "it appears that not only John the Baptist, but possibly Jesus and his family as well, were close to the Qumran community."[503]

Zealots were a revolutionary party opposed to Roman rule, one of those parties that, according to Josephus inspired the fanatical stand in Jerusalem that led to its destruction in the year 70 AD/CE.[504] Luke identifies Simon, a disciple, as a "zealot", which might mean a member of the Zealot party (which would therefore have been already in existence in the lifetime of Jesus) or a zealous person.[504] The notion that Jesus himself was a Zealot does not do justice to the earliest Synoptic material describing him.[505]

Mythical view

Main article: Christ myth theory

See also: Jesus Christ in comparative mythology and Quest for the historical Jesus

The term "Christ myth theory" is an umbrella term that applies to a range of arguments that in one way or another question the authenticity of the existence of Jesus or the essential elements of his life as described in the Christian gospels.[506][507][508][509] One viewpoint is that there was no real historical figure Jesus and that he was invented by Christians. Another viewpoint is that there was a person called Jesus, but much of the teachings and miracles attributed to him were either invented or symbolic references. Yet another view holds that the Jesus portrayed in the gospels is a composite character constructed from multiple people over a period of time.[506][507][508][509]

Supporters of the various Christ myth theories point to the lack of any known written references to Jesus during his lifetime and the relative scarcity of non-Christian references to him in the 1st century, and dispute the veracity of the existing accounts about him.[510]



Among the variants of the Jesus myth theory, the notion that Jesus never existed has little scholarly support, and although some modern scholars adhere to it, they remain a distinct minority; most scholars involved with historical Jesus research believe that his existence can be established using documentary and other evidence.[59][60][61][24][62][63]

In the context of historical theories, the hypothesis that Jesus never existed is a rather recent topic, and in antiquity his existence was never doubted, even by those who were critical of Christian teachings.[140]In the early 18th century, friction between the church establishment and some theologians, coupled with the growing emphasis on rationalism, resulted in discord between the English deists and the church, andJohn Toland, Anthony Collins and Thomas Woolston planted the seeds of discontent.[511][512]

The beginnings of the formal denial of the existence of Jesus can be traced to late 18th-century France, and the works of Constantin-Volney and Charles Dupuis.[513] The more methodical writings of David Friedrich Strauss caused an uproar in Europe in 1835, and Strauss became known as the founder of Christ myth theory, his approach having been influenced by the epistemological views of Leibnitz andSpinoza.[511][514] Strauss did not deny the existence of Jesus, but believed that very few facts could be known about him and characterized the miraculous accounts in the gospels as "mythical".[515][514][516] At about the same time in Berlin, Bruno Bauer supported somewhat similar ideas.[513][517] Although both Strauss and Bauer drew on Hegel, their views did not coincide, and often conflicted.[518][519] Karl Marx, a student and at the time a close friend of Bauer, was significantly influenced by him, as well as Hegel and Strauss, setting the stage for the denial of Jesus within communism.[517][520][521]

By the beginning of the 20th century, Arthur Drews, William B. Smith and John M. Robertson became the most recognized proponents of the Christ myth theory.[513][522] However, these authors were not performing purely atheist attacks on Christianity, e.g. Drew did not consider religion as outdated, but argued for a different form of religious consciousness.[513] W. B. Smith argued for a symbolic interpretation of gospel episodes and contended that in a parable such as Jesus and the rich young man the rich young man never existed and symbolically referred to the land of Israel.[523] Smith also argued that Jesus never healed anyone physically, but only spiritually cured them of their paganism.[523] J. M. Robertson on the other hand viewed the gospel accounts as a collection of myths gathered by a large number of anonymous authors, over time.[523]

When Marxist–Leninist atheism became part of the state ideals in communist Russia in 1922, the theories of Arthur Drew gained prominence there.[524] The communist state not only supported the Christ myth theory but embellished it with scientific colloquialisms, and school textbooks began to teach that Jesus never existed, making Russia a bastion of Jesus denial.[524][525][526] These ideas were rebuffed in Russia by Sergei Bulgakov and Alexander Men, copies of whose book began to circulate underground via typewriters in the 1970s to reintroduce Christianity to Russia.[524][527]

In the 20th century, scholars such as G. A. Wells, Alvar Ellegård, and Robert M. Price produced a number of arguments to support the Christ myth theory. Non-scholarly works on the Jesus myth theory have since been published by mass-media authors such as Doherty,Freke and Gandy. In parallel, a number of historians and biblical scholars such as Paula Fredriksen, Geza Vermes, E.P. Sanders and others involved in the quest for the historical Jesus performed detailed analyses of historical and biblical documents. Almost all of these scholars accept the existence of Jesus, but differ on the accuracy of the details of his life within the biblical narratives.[528] Robert Van Voorst stated that among "New Testament scholars and historians the theory of the non-existence of Jesus remains effectively dead as a scholarly question".[529][530]

The Christ myth theory is still being debated in the 21st century, with Graham Stanton stating in 2002 that the most thorough analysis of the theory had been by G. A. Wells.[531] But Wells' book Did Jesus Exist? was criticized by James D.G. Dunn in his book The Evidence for Jesus.[532] And the debates continue, e.g. Wells changed his views over time and while he used to argue that there was no historical evidence supporting the existence of Jesus, he later modified his position, and in his later book The Jesus Myth accepted the possible existence of Jesus based on historical sources, although still disputing the gospel portrayals of his life.[529][533][530][534]

Religious perspectives

Main article: Religious perspectives on Jesus

By and large, the Jews of Jesus' day rejected his claim to be the Messiah, as do Jews today. For their part, Christian Church Fathers, Ecumenical Councils, Reformers, and others have written extensively about Jesus over the centuries. Christian sects and schisms have often been defined or characterized by competing descriptions of Jesus. Meanwhile, Gnostics, Mandaeans, Manichaeans, Muslims, Baha'is, and others have found prominent places for Jesus in their own religious accounts.[citation needed]

Christian views

Main articles: Jesus in Christianity and Christology


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Although Christian views of Jesus vary, it is possible to summarize key elements of the shared beliefs among major denominations such as Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, and most Protestant groups, based on their catechetical or confessional texts.[535][536][537]

Almost all Christian groups regard Jesus as the "Savior and Redeemer", as the Messiah (Greek: Christos; English: Christ) prophesied in the Old Testament,[538] who, through his life, death, and resurrection, restored humanity's communion with God in the blood of the New Covenant. His death on a cross is understood as the redemptive sacrifice: the source of humanity's salvation and the atonement for sin,[539] which had entered human history through the sin of Adam.[540] Christians profess that Jesus suffered death by crucifixion,[541] androse bodily from the dead in the definitive miracle that foreshadows the resurrection of humanity at the end of time,[542] when Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead,[543] resulting in either entrance into heaven or damnation.[544]

Christians profess Jesus to be the only Son of God, the Lord,[545] and the eternal Word (a translation of the Greek word Logos),[546] who became man in the incarnation,[547] so that those who believe in him might have eternal life.[548] They further hold that he was born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit in an event described as the miraculous virgin birth or incarnation.[549] Christians believe that Christ is the true head of the one holy universal and apostolic church.

Most Christian denominations believe in some form of the doctrine of the Trinity, i.e. that Jesus, as the second person of the Trinity, is fully God. As the 6th-century Athanasian Creed says, the Trinity is "one God" and "three persons... and yet they are not three Gods, but one God." This belief is not shared by non-Trinitarian denominations.

Christians consider the Gospel and other New Testament accounts of Jesus to be divinely inspired. Christian writers, such as Benedict XVI, proclaim the Jesus of the Gospels, discounting the historical reconstruction of Jesus as entirely inadequate.[550]

Gnostic views

Main article: Gnosticism

Early Christian Gnostic sects during the first three centuries denied that Jesus was crucified, because they believed he did not have a physical substance. Basilides promoted the idea that Simon of Cyrene substituted Jesus at the crucifixion, and that Jesus himself took the form of Simon, and stood by and laughed at them.[551]

Docetists held the view that Jesus Christ only seemed to exist (their name was derived from the Greek word dokes, meaning "to seem"). To them Jesus existed as an incorporeal phantasm, a pure spirit and hence could not physically die. [380]

Marcion of Sinope (c.100-c.160) promoted the doctrine that "Jesus did not really take human flesh. He was not even born, but simply appeared on earth during the reign of Tiberius. He was a celestial being with the appearance of a human body." [552] To Marcion there was a contrast between Yahweh, the Evil God of the Old Testament and the Good God of the New Testament who sent his son Jesus to redeem mankind. Marcion believed that matter was evil and spirit was good and that was why he rejected the physical substance of Christ.

Jewish views

Main article: Judaism's view of Jesus

See also: Jesus in the Talmud

Classic texts of Rabbinic Judaism reject any notion of an anthropomorphic God. Tractate Ta'anit of the Jerusalem Talmud states explicitly that “if a man claims to be God, he is a liar.”[553] Furthermore Exodus Rabba 29 says, "'I am the first and I am the last, and beside Me there is no God' I am the first, I have no father; I am the last, I have no brother. Beside Me there is no God; I have no son."[554]

Judaism rejects the idea of Jesus being God, or a person of a Trinity, or a mediator to God. Judaism also holds that Jesus is not theMessiah, arguing that he had not fulfilled the Messianic prophecies in the Tanakh nor embodied the personal qualifications of the Messiah. According to Jewish tradition, there were no prophets after Malachi, who delivered his prophesies about 420 BC/BCE.[555]

The Talmud includes stories which some consider accounts of Jesus in the Talmud, although there is a spectrum[556] from scholars, such as Maier (1978), who considers that only the accounts with the name Yeshu יֵשׁוּ refer to the Christian Jesus, and that these are late redactions, to scholars such as Klausner (1925), who suggested that accounts related to Jesus in the Talmud may contain traces of the historical Jesus. However the majority of contemporary historians disregard this material as providing information on the historical Jesus.[466] Many contemporary Talmud scholars view these as comments on the relationship between Judaism and Christians or other sectarians, rather than comments on the historical Jesus.[557][558]

The Mishneh Torah, an authoritative work of Jewish law, provides the last established consensus view of the Jewish community, inHilkhot Melakhim 11:10–12 that Jesus is a "stumbling block" who makes "the majority of the world err to serve a divinity besides God".

Even Jesus the Nazarene who imagined that he would be Messiah and was killed by the court, was already prophesied byDaniel. So that it was said, "And the members of the outlaws of your nation would be carried to make a (prophetic) vision stand. And they stumbled."[Dan. 11:14] Because, is there a greater stumbling-block than this one? So that all of theprophets spoke that the Messiah redeems Israel, and saves them, and gathers their banished ones, and strengthens their commandments. And this one caused (nations) to destroy Israel by sword, and to scatter their remnant, and to humiliate them, and to exchange the Torah, and to make the majority of the world err to serve a divinity besides God. However, the thoughts of the Creator of the world — there is no force in a human to attain them because our ways are not God's ways, and our thoughts not God's thoughts. And all these things of Jesus the Nazarene, and of (Muhammad) the Ishmaelite who stood after him — there is no (purpose) but to straighten out the way for the King Messiah, and to restore all the world to serve God together. So that it is said, "Because then I will turn toward the nations (giving them) a clear lip, to call all of them in the name of God and to serve God (shoulder to shoulder as) one shoulder."[Zeph. 3:9] Look how all the world already becomes full of the things of the Messiah, and the things of the Torah, and the things of the commandments! And these things spread among the far islands and among the many nations uncircumcised of heart.[559]

According to Conservative Judaism, Jews who believe Jesus is the Messiah have "crossed the line out of the Jewish community".[560]Reform Judaism, the modern progressive movement, states "For us in the Jewish community anyone who claims that Jesus is their savior is no longer a Jew and is an apostate".[561]

Islamic views

Main article: Jesus in Islam


In Islam, Jesus (Arabic: عيسى‎ ʿĪsā) is considered to be a Messenger of God and the Masih(Messiah) who was sent to guide the Children of Israel (banī isrā'īl) with a new scripture, theInjīl or Gospel.[562] The belief in Jesus (and all other messengers of God) is required in Islam, and a requirement of being a Muslim. The Qur'an mentions Jesus twenty-five times, more often, by name, than Muhammad.[563][564]

There is no mention of Joseph in the Quran, but it includes the annunciation to Mary (Arabic:Maryam) by an angel that she is to give birth to Jesus while remaining a virgin, a miraculous event which occurred by the will of God (Arabic: Allah).[565][566][567] The details of the Mary's conception are not discussed during the angelic visit, but elsewhere the Quran states (21:91 and 66:12) that God breathed "His Spirit" into Mary while she was chaste.[566][567][565][568] In Islam, Jesus is called the "Spirit of God" because he was born through the action of thespirit, but that belief does not include the doctrine of his pre-existence, as it does in Christianity.[565]

Numerous other titles are given to Jesus in Islamic literature, the most common being al-Masīḥ ("the messiah"). Jesus is also, at times, called "Seal of the Israelite Prophets", because, in general Muslim belief, Jesus was the last prophet sent by God to guide the Children of Israel. Jesus is seen in Islam as a precursor to Muhammad, and is believed by Muslims to have foretold the latter's coming.[569][570]To aid in his ministry to the Jewish people, Jesus was given the ability to perform miracles, all by the permission of God rather than of his own power.

The Qur'an emphasizes that Jesus was a mortal human being who, like all other prophets, had been divinely chosen to spread God's message. Islamic texts forbid the association of partners with God (shirk), emphasizing a strict notion of monotheism (tawhīd). Like allprophets in Islam, Jesus is considered to have been a Muslim (i.e., one who submits to the will of God), as he preached that his followers should adopt the "straight path" as commanded by God.[571][569]

Islam rejects the Christian view that Jesus was God incarnate or the son of God, that he was ever crucified or resurrected, or that he ever atoned for the sins of mankind. The Qur'an says that Jesus himself never claimed any of these things, and it furthermore indicates that Jesus will deny having ever claimed divinity at the Last Judgment, and God will vindicate him.[572] According to Muslim traditions,Jesus was not crucified but instead, he was raised up by God unto the heavens. This "raising" is understood to mean through bodilyascension. Muslims believe that Jesus will return to earth near the day of judgment to restore justice.[571][569]

Ahmadiyya views

Main article: Jesus in Ahmadiyya Islam

The Ahmadiyya Movement considers Jesus a mortal man who died a natural death. According to the early 20th century writings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement),[573] Jesus survived his ordeal on the cross, and after his apparent death and resurrection, he fled Palestine and migrated eastwards to further teach the gospels. Jesus eventually died a natural death of old age inKashmir, India and is believed to be buried at Roza Bal.[574]

Although the view of Jesus having migrated to India has also been researched in the publications of independent historians with no affiliation to the movement,[575] the Ahmadiyya Movement are the only religious organization to adopt these views as a characteristic of their faith. The general notion of Jesus in India is older than the foundation of the movement,[576] and is discussed at length by Grönbold[577] and Klatt.[578]

The movement also interprets the second coming of Christ prophesied in various religious texts would be that of a person "similar to Jesus" (mathīl-i ʿIsā). Thus, Ahmadi's consider that the founder of the movement and his prophetical character and teachings were representative of Jesus and subsequently a fulfillment of this prophecy.[579]

Bahá'í views

The Bahá'í Faith, founded in 19th-century Persia, considers Jesus, along with Muhammad, the Buddha, Krishna, and Zoroaster, and other messengers of the great religions of the world to be Manifestations of God (or prophets), with both human and divine stations.[580]Bahá'ís refer to this concept as Progressive Revelation, which means that God's will is revealed to mankind progressively as mankind matures and is better able to comprehend the purpose of God in creating humanity. In this view, God's word is revealed through a series of messengers: Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Bahá'u'lláh (the founder of the Bahá'í Faith) among them. In the Book of Certitude, Bahá'u'lláh claims that these messengers have two natures: divine and human. Examining their divine nature, they are more or less the same being. However, when examining their human nature, they are individual, with distinct personalities. For example, when Jesus says "I and my Father are one",[John 10:30] Bahá'ís take this quite literally, but specifically with respect to his nature as a Manifestation. When Jesus conversely stated "...And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me",[John 5:36-37] Bahá'ís see this as a simple reference to the individuality of Jesus. This divine nature, according to Bahá'u'lláh, means that any Manifestation of God can be said to be the return of a previous Manifestation, though Bahá'ís also believe that some Manifestations with specific missions return with a "new name",[Rev 3:12] and a different, or expanded purpose. Bahá'ís believe that Bahá'u'lláh is, in both respects, the return of Jesus.

Other views

Buddhist views of Jesus differ. Some Buddhist views on Jesus including Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama[581] regard Jesus as abodhisattva who dedicated his life to the welfare of human beings. It was recorded in 101 Zen Stories that the 14th century Zen masterGasan Jōseki, on hearing some of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels, remarked that he was "an enlightened man", and "not far from Buddhahood".[582]

In a letter to his daughter Indira Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote, "All over Central Asia, in Kashmir and Ladakh and Tibet and even farther north, there is a strong belief that Jesus or Isa travelled about there."[583]

Mandaeanism, a very small Mideastern, Gnostic sect that reveres John the Baptist as God's greatest prophet, regards Jesus as a false prophet of the false Jewish god of the Old Testament, Adonai,[584] and likewise rejects Abraham, Moses, and Muhammad.

Manichaeism accepted Jesus as a prophet, along with Gautama Buddha and Zoroaster.[585]

The New Age movement entertains a wide variety of views on Jesus. The creators of A Course In Miracles claim to trance-channel his spirit. However, the New Age movement generally teaches that Christhood is something that all may attain. Theosophists, from whom many New Age teachings originated, refer to Jesus of Nazareth as the Master Jesus and believe the Christ, after various incarnationsoccupied the body of Jesus.[586]

U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, a deist, created the Jefferson Bible, an early (but not complete) gospel harmony that included only Jesus' ethical teachings because he did not believe in Jesus' divinity or any of the other supernatural aspects of the Bible.[587][588]


Main article: Criticism of Jesus

Criticism of Jesus has existed since the earliest days of Christianity. The New Testament states that Jesus was criticized by the Jewish authorities of his time, e.g. the Pharisees and scribes who criticized Jesus and his disciples for not observing the Mosaic Law, not washing their hands before eating (Mark 7:1-23, Matthew 15:1-20), or gathering grain on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-3:6). Later critics included Celsus in the 2nd century and Porphyry who wrote a 15 volume attack on Christianity as a whole.[589][590]

Jesus continued to be criticized by Judaism, and in the early 12th century, the Mishneh Torah (the last established consensus of the Jewish community) called Jesus as a "stumbling block" who makes "the majority of the world err to serve a divinity besides God". Criticism of Jesus continued into the 19th century, with Nietzsche being highly critical of Jesus. For instance, Nietzsche considered Jesus' teachings anti-natural in their treatment of topics such as sexuality.[591] In the 20th century Bertrand Russell was also critical of Jesus in Why I Am Not a Christian stated that Jesus was "not so wise as some other people have been, and He was certainly not superlatively wise."[592]