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.