Back To CourseWorld History: High School
27 chapters | 278 lessons
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Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.
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.
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.
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.
Jesus's popularity, however, rubbed some authorities the wrong way. Jewish priests were shocked by his teachings, which were based on Judaism but radically different in practice. They were also horrified to hear that Jesus made allusions to being the son of the Jewish God. Most dangerously, Jesus's high profile soon came to the attention of the Roman Empire who ruled over Palestine during Jesus's lifetime. Roman authorities worried Jesus could lead a revolt of Palestine's Jewish population against Roman rule.
When Jesus's popularity became too much of a threat to the Roman authorities and Jewish priests, Jesus was arrested after being betrayed by one of his followers. Jesus was condemned by Jewish priests for blasphemy against the Jewish faith, who then took him to the Roman governor of the region, Pontius Pilate. There he was condemned to death by Pilate at the behest of a crowd that had gathered around Pilate's administrative center. Jesus was crucified along with other criminals, a common Roman death sentence that was meant as an example to those who might commit the same crimes.
After Jesus's death, his chief followers traveled across the Roman world, spreading his teachings and starting enclaves of followers of Jesus's teachings. The small enclaves of Christians remained a small religious cult for several centuries. Though these early Christians experienced intermittent persecution at Roman hands, the Roman emperor Constantine eventually converted to the religion in the early 4th century, setting the religion on its popular and mainstream course that it still enjoys today.
As the Christian gospels are our chief source for the life of Jesus of Nazareth, it can be difficult to truly ascertain the facts about his life. Regardless, the gospels of the Christian New Testament and a smattering of ancient writers do tell us a lot. For example, Jesus was born at some point early in the first century A.D. to a Jewish family in Bethlehem, in modern Palestine.
Likely by age 30, Jesus had become a wandering preacher who traveled across the country preaching to all who would listen. Jesus's message was largely one of love and kindness, not only between humans, but between a God and all humankind. In front of his followers, Jesus also supposedly performed miracles, such as turning water into wine and raising a man from the dead.
Before long, Jesus's popularity concerned Jewish and Roman officials alike, who both disagreed with his teachings. After being betrayed by one of his followers, Jesus was condemned for blasphemy by Jewish priests and crucified by Roman authorities. Despite his premature death, his followers continued to spread his word, creating Christianity as you and I know it today.
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Back To CourseWorld History: High School
27 chapters | 278 lessons