Jesus of Nazareth: Events, Life & Teachings

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  • 0:01 Jesus of Nazareth
  • 0:37 Life & Teachings
  • 5:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, explain a few of the problems with arriving at a clear picture of Jesus, and discuss the facts as we know them.

Jesus of Nazareth

If you had to name one person who most influenced the United States of America, who would that be? You might choose George Washington, the first President and a general during the Revolutionary War, or you might choose Abraham Lincoln, who saw the country through the Civil War, which threatened to tear it apart.

As important as these figures are, when you start talking about the most influential people in the history of the world, your scope has to get much larger. One person whose impact has been large enough to fit this bill is Jesus of Nazareth - the icon of today's largest religion, Christianity. In this lesson we'll look at the life, teachings, and death of Jesus of Nazareth.

Life & Teachings

This ideal can be much harder than it might seem. The most authoritative voices we have on the life of Jesus of Nazareth are also the ones that seek to aggrandize him the most: the gospels of the Christian Bible's New Testament. No physical evidence remains to give us clues about Jesus's life, so it is really from the gospels and a few ancient writers who mention the preacher that we gain all of our information.

Regardless of the difficulties of piecing together the true man who many in the world today consider a deity, many historians and literary scholars have tried to do just that. The details we know of Jesus's early life are scant and incomplete.

We do know that Jesus was born to a Jewish family in Bethlehem, in modern Palestine, and his father was a carpenter by trade. An exact date is unknown, though estimates invariably revolve around 0 A.D. Whether he had a happy childhood or not is virtually unknown; few sources relate any stories concerning Jesus's adolescence. It's possible though that Jesus showed an interest in religious matters early in life, as one story from the gospel of Luke claims his parents once found him in discussion with Jewish priests.

We know far more about Jesus as a man. Most gospels pick up the story of Jesus when he was about 30. By that point, Jesus was a wandering preacher, who traveled from settlement to settlement speaking about the importance of love and kindness, often challenging the traditional Jewish law of the day. Authorities were often suspicious of any type of wandering preacher, and Jesus was often forced to do his preaching from hillsides several miles outside principal settlements. There he purportedly drew large crowds and performed miracles for his followers as well, including turning water into wine and reviving a dead man.

According to the gospels, Jesus of Nazareth often taught his followers using parables. For example, Jesus used a story about two sons, one who stayed beside his father on the father's farm, and another who took his half of his inheritance and left to look for his fortune elsewhere. When he returned years later, penniless and hungry, the father threw an enormous feast for his prodigal son. When the son who had stayed asked why he had never been thrown a feast, his father reminds him that all his father's land will be his, and that they should still celebrate the return of the other son because he was dead to them, and has essentially returned from the dead. The story was used by Jesus to display the messages typical of his teachings: the unconditional love the Christian God has for all humans, the unconditional love that all humans should have for one another, and the idea of redemption.

While the parables and lessons Jesus taught were certainly important to his followers, perhaps even more important to the Christians of today are the stories concerning Jesus's birth and afterlife.

According to Christian theology, Jesus's mother conceived him without having sexual intercourse. This story - the Immaculate Conception, as it is known - is used by Christians today as evidence of Jesus's divine heritage. In addition, after Jesus's death, his closest followers, the Apostles, state that Jesus was resurrected after three days before ascending to heaven. These purported events surrounding Jesus of Nazareth are perhaps the two most important events to Christian theology today.

Death & Impact

Jesus of Nazareth's message appealed to many in ancient Palestine, especially among the poor and destitute of the country who flocked to hear Jesus's sermons proclaiming such millenarian messages as the meek shall inherit the Earth.

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