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The Jesus of History

By HistoryNet Staff
11/26/2013 • HistoryNet

Who is Jesus?

'Head of Christ, Crowned with Thorns,' by Guido Reni. Detroit Museum of Art
'Head of Christ, Crowned with Thorns,' by Guido Reni. Detroit Museum of Art
To more than two billion Christians worldwide, he is the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, God made flesh, the door to eternal salvation. To the world’s billion-and-half Muslims he is an honored prophet. Among the half-billion Buddhists, he is a wise, enlightened man whose teachings are similar to those of Siddhartha, the Buddha. To Jews, the group into which he was born, his name was for centuries something to fear, associated with the murder and oppression of their people carried out by fanatics who claimed to be acting in his name; with improved Judeo-Christian relations in the second half of the 20th century, Jesus is now being re-considered in many Jewish circles. In the words of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, he was “a rabbi who rocked the boat.”

Savior. Prophet. Teacher. Social rebel. However he is viewed, there is one undeniable truth: This Jewish carpenter from Nazareth became the most influential single individual in history. As his followers spread the word of his ministry to every corner of the world, the ripple effects created waves in religion, politics, law, art, literature, architecture—it is difficult to think of an area of human endeavor that has not in some way been touched by that solitary life.

Yet the history of that life, the world in which he lived, and the ways in which the story of his life was interwoven into the fabric of societies over centuries are often not well understood, even by those who profess to worship him.

Who is the Jesus of history? That is the question at the heart of a special publication from World History Group: Jesus of History.

As its introduction states, “He had an unlikely pedigree: A carpenter’s son from a small village in a minor Roman province on the fringe of the empire. In his lifetime, he never did anything particularly important, certainly nothing that would attract the headlines back in Rome or rattle the quills of historians.

“Yet this Jesus of Nazareth, later called the Christ, became the centerpiece of Western history, his teaching and moral law largely defining civilized society, seeking justice tempered by mercy and love recognized as generosity of spirit.”

In examining the life of Jesus, the spread of the faith that became known as Christianity, and the impact of that faith on society, the arts and other realms, Jesus of History examines the story told in the Gospels. It looks into what was learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Rabbis and other scholars discuss the world in which Jesus was born and the early years of the new faith. A timeline shows the effects of Christianity on ancient Rome, and a chapter titled “Failing Jesus” examines how Christians went from being the oppressed to—too often—being the oppressors when politics and greed were allowed to corrupt his message. A gallery of paintings and sculptures raise the question, “What did Jesus look like?” The publication also explores “7 ways Jesus influenced America.”

Whatever your views on Jesus as a religious figure may be, we’d like to ask: What do you regard as the most significant impact Jesus and the faith that grew up around him had on the course of history and/or the arts?

You can leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

11 Responses to The Jesus of History

  1. ROBERT says:


  2. Rudy says:

    No doubt about it, those who scoff at Jesus and don’t want to hear or know anything about Him, but later confess and believed became a different person. A changed individual who live a moral and straight life.

  3. Peter Hof says:

    Constantine the Great transformed Christianity from a virtually unknown cult into one of the world’s major religions by making it the official religion of the Roman Empire. Curiously, most studies of Jesus omit this central fact.

    • Baldur Dasche says:

      Constantine gave Christianity an organizational framework that, at its time, was as effective as the original had been. Remember we’re talking about a new religion that, with a minimal number of adherents, and those well outside what would beconsidered the ‘ruling class’, had moved the ‘church’ from the backwater of Palestina to the heart of tthe Emopire. And turned it into a force that the emperor would consider mobilizing for his benefit.

      Constantine’s edict helped but I don’t believe it was mission-critical. Christianity was as vital a force for change as Islam would prove to be 300 years later.

      • Peter Hof says:

        Sorry but I don’t agree. The efforts of Constantine – especially his mother – to create an “organizational framework” was intense, prolonged, and unprecedented, without which Christianity would have remained what it was at the time of Constantine’s military victory over his rivals – a tiny group of unknown oddball adherents to an equally unknown leader. Similar efforts were made on behalf of Islam.

  4. Francis X. Barden says:

    If you will allow the thoughts of a skeptic in this discussion, what historical proof is there that Jesus ever existed? – no evidence outside of the supposed writing of four \apostles\ has ever been produced, yet, millions of Jews were slaughtered over the centuries by Christians for having, supposedly, murdered this man who may never have existed in the first place

    • Mark says:

      None. But Lack of Evidence is not Evidence of Lack. Consider this: evidence of the existence of one individual 2000 years ago is unlikely – even if he did exist. I may not believe that Jesus was the Son of God but I do believe he existed. Yet “believe” is not history (as you point out).

      By the way, the slaughter of Jews (and others) by Christians is due to human fallibility not the existence or non-existence of Jesus.

  5. JoJo Biggins says:

    Nothing could have contained the spread of Christianity. Whether Constantine, someone else, or some other way, nothing could stop the spread of God’s new revelation.

    We can always look back at the beginning of something great and say, Well, if this hadn’t happened or if this had happened. The fact remains that things happened the way they did, they happened for a purpose. and the new truth spread worldwide because of it.

  6. Juan says:

    If you believe what the Bible says about Jesus, then you will not have any doubt that he is the Christ. Anyone can talk about Constantine, Muhammad, Buddah, etc…however,;Jesus, among all the other gods or prophets was the only one who resuscitate according to the Bible.

  7. Mark says:

    This was rather disappointing for a history book. Dr. Dana Huntley states in the intro: “The history Jesus made with his life day by day is recorded in primary sources…” and again “We have more reliable account texts for the Bible than for almost any other writings…” Perhaps, but these sources are (by their own account) highly partisan. The truth is the exact opposite of what Dr. Huntley and this book proclaim. We have NO reliable historical accounts of “his life day by day”.
    Everything in the Gospels may indeed be true. I do not claim that it is not. Just that it is not history. Biblical historians use 3 principles given that their only sources are highly partisan ones. 1) being mentioned in more than one gospel. 2) not being in the interest of early Christians to point out. and 3) historical context.
    “Jesus of History” does none of these items. Very disappointing.

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