Jesus's Life: His Youth, Baptism, Followers, Events

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Jesus Exhortation to the Apostles by James Tissot
Jesus of Nazareth was a Jewish teacher, carpenter and healer who lived in the first century A.D. Although he is accepted to have been an actual person, little known about him outside the stories found in the Bible. In the Gospels, there is only one reference to Jesus between the time of his birth and when he is a young man in his 30s.

The New Testament offers some telling details of Jesus’ life: He was rude to his parents, he was circumcised, he walked a great deal, he liked to discuss sheep, he rode donkeys, he cried, he got angry, even flipping over tables in The Temple, and he shared meals with his followers. But the New Testament also leaves a lot out — about Jesus’ sex life and hygienic habits for example [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, June 1, 2019]

Based on how Jewish tradesmen lived in his time, it is believed that Jesus attended classes in the local synagogue and learned his trade as a carpenter and most likely worked in his father’s workshop. Both Jesus and his father would probably have worn wood chips behind their ears, the badge of carpenter in those days. In Jesus’s time most carpenters were illiterate and were of relatively low status.

Jesus is believed to have died sometime between A.D. 29 and A.D. 33. But his age at death is still a contentious issue among scholars, according to "Dating the Death of Jesus" by Helen Bond and published online by Cambridge University Press in 2013. Jesus was born around 4 B.C. and was crucified in A.D. 30, according to the PBS Frontline show "From Jesus to Christ." Britannica cites his birth year as ranging from 6 to 4 B.C. and has the same death year as Frontline. Depending on which calendars or accounts of Jesus’ final days people use, it is difficult to find one specific answer on when Jesus died and as a result, how old he was. Some cite Jesus’ death as happening on 14th of Nisan, which would be “Friday April 7th A.D. 30 or April 3rd 33,” based on a scholar's timeline preference. But Bond does not accept these dates. Bond argues that Jesus died around Passover, between A.D. 29 and 34. Considering Jesus’ varying chronology, he was 33 to 40 years old at his time of death. [Source: Daryl Perry, USA TODAY August 7, 2022]

Websites and Resources: Jesus and the Historical Jesus Britannica on Jesus Jesus-Christ ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ ; Jesus Central ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ; Christianity BBC on Christianity ; Sacred Texts website ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast ; Christian Answers ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible Biblical History: Bible History Online ; Biblical Archaeology Society

Jesus in a Jewish World

Pharisees and Saduccess (another Jewish sect) tempt Jesus

Professor Harold W.Attridge told PBS: “Jesus was certainly subject to the influence of the traditions of Israel, there's no doubt about that. But in what form those traditions came to him in Galilee at the beginning of the first century is somewhat unclear. He certainly would have known of the Temple in Jerusalem, and probably, as traditions report..., would have gone up to Jerusalem for the major pilgrimage festivals. He would have known of the rituals of the Temple, their atoning ignificance. He would have celebrated Passover, I suspect, with his family, and would have known of the hopes embedded in Passover for divine deliverance. [Source: Harold W. Attridge, Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament Yale Divinity School, Frontline, PBS, April 1998]

Professor Paula Fredriksen told PBS: “What astonishes me when I read the stories about Jesus in the New Testament, is how completely embedded he is in this first century... Jewish world of religious practice and piety. We tend to get distracted by the major plot line of the gospels, because we're waiting for the story to develop up to the crucifixion. [Source: Paula Fredriksen, William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998]

“But, within that story, and the stories that are told by the evangelists that fills in the gap between the Galilee and Jerusalem, Jesus presented continuously as going into the synagogue on the Sabbath. He is presented as going up to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage holidays, specifically in John, for any number of pilgrimage holidays, and in the synoptic gospels, most importantly, for Passover. Jerusalem at Passover is not the sort of place you'd want to be in unless you were really committed to doing an awful lot of ritual activity with tremendous historical resonance.

“[W]hat we've learned from the gospel stories is not that Jesus was not Jewish. Quite the opposite. He's completely embedded in the Judaism of his time. What we learn from the gospels is that he's not a member of one of the groups whose identifying characteristics Josephus gave to us. He's not a Sadducee. He's not a Pharisee. He's always arguing with the Pharisees. He's not an Essene. He's not an insurrectionist. And the fact that he's arguing with other people who may be members of these other groups just simply signifies that he's a Jew, because that's what these Jews all did with each other -- argue with each other all the time...

Nazareth and Holy Land in the Time of Jesus

According to the Bible Jesus lived in Nazareth, a village near Galilee, from age 3 to his early 20s. Archaeological excavations have revealed that Nazareth in Jesus’s time consisted of 50 or so homes spread over six acres with perhaps two or three clans living in them. Archaeologists have uncovered remains of winemaking basins, watchtowers, irrigation channels, and terraces from Jesus's time in Nazareth. Nazareth was about an hour's walk from Sepphoris, a fairly large commercial center, visited by Greeks, Romans and people from all over the Middle East. Although there is no mention of Sepphoris in the Bible it is likely that Jesus visited it. Some think it is the “city on a hill” mentioned in Matthew 5:14.

Mary's Spring in Nazareth

Sepphoris has been extensively excavated by archaeologists since 1985. Among the more interesting finds there has been the discovery of rich Roman-style villas with frescoed walls reminiscent of villas at Pompeii but with ritual bathes that indicate they were owned by Jews. Excavations of trash dumps found the inhabitants stayed true to the Jewish diet until the A.D. 4th century when pig bones began turning up.

During the time of Jesus, Judea (Israel) was a Roman colony lead by Herod and his descendants. The Emperor of Rome was Augustus until around the time Jesus was 18. Augustus was succeeded by Tiberius in A.D. 14. Alexandria, not Rome or Athens, was the cultural and philosophical center of the world.

Nazareth appears to have been a religious center for some time. Archaeological digs in Nazareth have uncovered that it was a major cult center 8,000 years before Christ. Excavations at Kibbutz Kfar Ha-Horesh, three kilometers from the town, produced a decorated human skull, which indicates complex ritual burials. Children were buried with fox mandibles. One headless men was found on the top of bones of 250 aurochs (wild oxen) and human bones arranged in the shape of an auroch. Some of the skulls are covered in plaster and painted red ocher.

In the time of Jesus traditional mixed agriculture, orchard crop raising and herding came under pressure from Roman taxation. Many people were dislocated by the changes. Josephus wrote that during the rule of Herod Antipas a "promiscuous rabble, no small contingent being Galilean, with such as were drafted...and brought forcibly to the new foundation."

Young Jesus

The New Testament doesn't say much about the early life of Jesus. Twelve-year-old Jesus grows into a thirty year old man and meets his childhood friend John the Baptist by the river Jordan where the Holy Spirit, which always proceeds the Christ, can enter into him.

The one reference to Jesus’s youth occurred when he was around 12, and he went to Jerusalem with his parents as part of a Passover pilgrimage, perhaps in anticipation of his bar mitzvah. According to Luke II 42, 45-7: “The child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem: and Joseph and his mother knew not of it...And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him...After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.”

Reza Aslan wrote in the Washington Post: “The first Christians seem to have had little interest in Jesus’s early years. Stories about His birth and childhood are conspicuously absent in the earliest written documents about Him: the letters of Paul (written between A.D. 50 and 60) and the Gospel of Mark (written after A.D. 70). But as interest in the person of Jesus increased, the nascent Christian community tried to fill in the gaps of His youth to align His life and mission with the myriad, and often conflicting, prophecies about the messiah in the Hebrew scriptures. [Source: Reza Aslan, Washington Post, September 26, 2013. Reza Aslan is the author of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth”]

Jesus Depicted as an Unruly Brat in the Infancy Gospel

What was Jesus like as a child, youth and young man. Except for a story in the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus storms off to the Temple and starts to teach people about the law around the age of 12, there is nothing in the Bible about Jesus until his baptism at age 29. However, a second-century apocryphal text (outside an accepted canon) known today as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas — and in the ancient world as the Paidika or “Childhood Deeds” — describes Jesus’s early years in detail and give the impression he was quite a handful. [Source:Candida Moss, Daily Beast, December 21, 2014]

Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: To be sure, Jesus is a real help around the house: He produces a whole feast from a single grain, saves his brother James from snake poison and resurrects a construction worker when he dies. On one occasion when his father Joseph is constructing a bed, Jesus stretches the beam of wood so that it fits...But he’s a bit tough to teach: impossible, in fact. Every attempt to teach Jesus fails, and Jesus ends up sassing his instructors. Admittedly, the incarnate word of God and author of creation probably doesn’t need a lot of formal schooling, but talk about a disruption in class.

And that’s on his good days. On his bad days he’s a preschooler with supernatural powers prone to throwing murderous tantrums in public. On one occasion, another child, the son of a priest, disturbs a miraculous pool of water Jesus was playing with. Jesus does the natural thing and causes the child to “whither up wholly.” No one likes it when their sandcastle is knocked over, but his reaction is a bit, err, extreme. In another incident, a more innocent playmate accidentally runs into five-year-old Jesus’s shoulder. Jesus takes this a touch personally and utters a curse that kills him. Lovely. When Joseph reprimands Jesus for drawing negative attention to them, Jesus responds by blinding his critics.

Of course, none of these stories are actually in the Bible and they don’t tell us anything about Jesus’s actual childhood. Which in some ways makes them more interesting: Why did pious Christians living in the century that followed the death of Jesus like to imagine their Lord and Savior as only slightly better than Damien from the Omen movies? Scholars differ in their explanations. At least one, Kristi Upson-Saia, has argued that the Infancy Gospel of Thomas started out as anti-Christian polemic before being incorporated into traditions about Jesus. Others think that Jesus’s outbursts emphasize his humanity by demonstrating that he was just a regular kid. At least some medieval readers were made uncomfortable by the stories and changed the details in the manuscripts in order to justify and soften Jesus’s behavior.

Growing Up in Galilee in Nazareth, Near Sepphoris

Mona Lisa of Galilee in Sepphoris

Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “Jesus grew up in Nazareth, a village in the Galilee. Now the Galilee, by most of the traditional accounts, is always portrayed as a kind of bucolic backwater ... cherubic peasants on the hillsides. And yet, our recent archaeological discoveries have shown this not to be the case. Nazareth, itself, is a village ... a small village at that. But, it stands less than four miles from a major urban center, Sepphoris. Now, we see Jesus growing up, not in the bucolic backwater, not... in the rural outback, but rather, on the fringes of a vibrant urban life. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, School, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

“Sepphoris was founded as the capitol of the Galilee. And so, it was really invested, much like Caesarea Maritima, with all the trappings of Greek or Roman city life as a major center of political activity for that region of the country. As a result, the excavations at Sepphoris have found extensive building programs, theaters, amphitheaters, and that sort of thing, just like Caesarea. What this tells us about the story of Jesus, though, is that Jesus himself would not have been far removed from that vibrant intersection of Greek culture, on the one hand, and traditional Jewish homeland culture on the other.

“Sepphoris seems to have been a very cosmopolitan city. We know that it was at least trilingual and maybe tetralingual. That is to say we know that they spoke Aramaic, the vernacular language of most people of the Jewish homeland, but Greek was also quite prominent as well. Some people probably used Latin, although not very many, one would guess. And maybe there are some other languages floating around in the immediate vicinity, as well, because of the various kinds of people that would have gone through Sepphoris. Sepphoris stood right on the major overland route between Caesarea, on the coast, and the Sea of Galilee.

“The impact of this cosmopolitan trade center, Sepphoris, can be seen from the fact that weights were found, presumably from the marketplace. On one side of the weight, it's registered in Aramaic, on the other side, in Greek. Showing that people could be reading it from whichever tradition they might have come.

Young Jesus: a Peasant Boy in a Peasant Village

Professor John Dominic Crossan told PBS: “Jesus being born in Nazareth and growing up in Nazareth tells us that he was a peasant boy in a peasant village. Maybe we might estimate 100 to 200 people maximum in this tiny village perched up in a hill, within sight, by the way, of a fairly major city, Sepphoris, but one of its surrounding villages.... [Source: John Dominic Crossan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies DePaul University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998]

“There's a theory, though, that Jesus' place of birth gives us a clue to a rather more sophisticated character. Somebody who was just on the doorstep of a Hellenized small town, multi-lingual. He possibly spoke Greek or would have heard it spoken. Possibly could have been influenced by Greek thought or Hellenistic thought. In other words a far more sophisticated guy. Do you reconcile these images or do you flatly disagree with that?

Twelve-year-old Jesus and the Doctors of the Faith

“Well, the interesting thing is that as a fact, Jesus never mentioned Sepphoris. And he doesn't use metaphors that tell us profoundly he knows urban societies. He may talk about land owners or bailiffs or stuff like that. There is no evidence that Jesus is any way involved in the urban life of Sepphoris, which is within viewing distance of Nazareth. But to live close to a city in the ancient world was not necessarily a good thing.

“A lower class peasant is somebody who is in interaction, not necessarily happy interaction, with a local city. If you take away the city, you don't have a peasant, you have a farmer, a happy farmer, probably. So, first of all, Jesus never mentions Sepphoris, although he grew up within sight of it. He doesn't seem to be talking urban images.

“And if he knew anything about Sepphoris, what would he know? He would know that aqueducts take the water from the countryside into the city. And aqueducts run in only one direction. And the city people were the washed, they're the people with the public baths. So, from the countryside into the city, and I don't see any aqueduct coming back, Jesus was sophisticated [enough] to know what the city was, which was the seat of peasant oppression.

“If you take three parables that are used in the common material in the Q gospel and in the Gospel of Thomas, for example, the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the mustard seed, or the parable of the leaven. All of those are absolutely ordinary, everyday, rural experiences. They presume no profound knowledge. Anyone would understand them. They speak strict to the rural audience of Jesus. No matter, in a way, who Jesus is or what his background, he is certainly telling his stories for a rural audience. It seems to me, born in Nazareth, speaking to a rural audience, it seems Jesus is a peasant, speaking to peasants.”

Daily Life in the Time of Jesus

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Romans picking grapes
People in the Nazareth area in the time of Jesus made their living by growing grapes, olives and grain on terraces cut in the limestone hills. During harvest time villagers gathered together to stomp the grapes with their feet or took turns standing guard in watchtower to protect their produce from thieves.

The richest people were landowners, aristocrats, high-level government officials and high-level priests. The middle class included tax collectors, merchants and craftsmen. Most people were poor peasants. Women generally married when they were teenagers and endured seven or eight pregnancies to have three of four children.

Mary's daily chores probably consisted of grounding corn, wheat or barley to make bread; doing the laundry, fetching water, cleaning; and making the meals, usually a thick porridge made of wheat or barley supplemented by a vegetable, such as beans, lentils, or cucumbers. As was true with all families at that time the Holy Family ate from a common bowl.☺

Did Jesus Defecate? — A Serious Theological Question

Whether or not Jesus defecated has been a serious theological question taken up saints, would-be popes and historians since the dawn of Christianity. Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast; In the A.D. 2nd century a popular Christian teacher named Valentinus wrote in a letter to a man called Agathopous that Jesus “was continent, enduring all things. (The risen) Jesus digested divinity: he ate and drank in a special way without excreting his solids. He had such a great capacity for continence that the nourishment within him was not corrupted, for he did not experience corruption.” In other words Jesus was special and never defecated although, as scholar Christoph Markschies has written, Valentinus was talking about Jesus after his resurrection so we are already in “special” territory.[Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, June 1, 2019]

At the time Valentinus was a priest and a teacher in Rome. At one point he even came close to being elected the bishop of Rome (the pope). Later, at the insistence of those who disagreed with him, he would be removed from his position and, later still, condemned as a heretic....There were other “orthodox” Christians who agreed with Valentinus on this point. Ismo Dunderberg, a professor at the University of Helsinki and author of Beyond Gnosticism, pointed out that the orthodox Christian philosopher and teacher Clement of Alexandria (now a saint) agreed: “The one point that Clement agreed with Valentinus on was that Jesus didn’t do number two.” Clement also wrote that Jesus being divine didn’t have to eat but he did so to avoid giving the impression that he wasn’t human.

Why is everyone talking about this? Well there’s a lot at stake here. Much of early Christian theological debate is taken up with the issue of how Jesus is both a god and a human being. Early on there were some early Christians who thought that Jesus only “seemed” to have a human body but in reality was a god. You can see why Christians who held this position thought Jesus never went to the bathroom. This position, which is known as Doceticism, would come to be rejected as heresy, but those who wanted to argue that Jesus was truly human have to explain how the combination of humanity and divinity works. While they are doing that they are also trying to avoid the idea that the divinity in Jesus is somehow defiled by or corrupted by all the disgusting aspects of human bodies. Excrement, in particular, was just the kind of disgusting thing that people wanted to avoid.

typical peasant home in ancient Palestine

As late as the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., a period when pretty much all Christians agree that Jesus had a real human body, Christians are still debating the poop question. Epiphanius, a late fourth century monk and bishop who spent a great deal of his time denouncing heretics, denies that Jesus ever eliminated solid waste (Panarion 77). Kelley Spoerl, a professor at St. Anselm College and the author of several important articles on this subject, told me that what’s interesting is the context in which Epiphanius does this. During this section of the Panarion he was fighting with a group of Christians known as Apollinarians. Apollinarians believed that Jesus did not have a rational human soul and Epiphanius (and all modern Christians) strongly rejected this idea. Where Epiphanius was willing to agree with the Apollinarians was on the question of bathroom visits. As Spoerl told me: “Epiphanius agrees with those Apollinarians who think Jesus did not excrete solid waste even though he disagrees with their other theories about Jesus’s lack of a rational human soul or the claim that Jesus’s body/flesh is somehow different from ours.” So once again you have theologians who disagree on other points of this issue ‘reaching across the aisle’ on the question of digestion.

Today there’s really no ‘official’ position on Jesus’ bathroom habits. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, following the statements of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE , that Jesus is “truly man and truly God” and is “like us in all things but sin.” As excretion is a normal part of being human, Jesus would have passed solid waste just like everyone else.

Homes, Villages and Schools in the Time of Jesus

Dwellings in many rural parts of Israel have changed little since Biblical times. Jesus himself probably lived in a blocklike one-room house of stone and dried mud or a two story house with a lower level for animals and the upper level for people. His family probably would have risen at daybreak and perhaps had a chunk of bread and a handful of olives. In December 2009, the Israelis Antiquities Authority unveiled an excavation of the first ever house in Nazareth that had been dated to the time of Jesus. Because Nazareth was so small there is good chance that Jesus knew the occupants of the house. Based on clay and chalk shards, Yardena Alexander, chief archaeologist at the site, said the dwelling appeared to be the house of a “simple Jewish family.” “This may well have been a place that Jesus and his contemporaries were familiar with,” he said. “It’s a logical suggestion.” Jewish farming villages in Jesus's time had stone houses, paved streets, wine and olive presses, warehouses, stables, traditional Jewish ritual baths, candles, pottery and utensils.

People who were educated were schooled at home, in synagogues or by private tutors. Greek culture was largely admired. Many parents gave their children Greek names. Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic were the main spoken languages. Jesus may have spoken all three languages.

The Gospels contain 45 references to boats and fishing. In 1986, when waters in the Sea of Galilee were lowered by an extended drought, a boat was discovered that dates back to the time of Jesus and is likely to have been similar to boats used by some of Jesus's followers. The boat was a 26-foot-long wooden dory with two oars on each side, a keel and a mast. It carried a seine net and was large enough to accommodate four rowers and a helmsman. At least seven kinds of wood was used constructing the boat, including scraps from older boats. The way the boat was patched and nails were removed seems to indicate that the boat owner had fallen on hard times.

Baptism of Jesus

20120507-Baptism of of Christ Meister_von_Daphni_0.jpg There first real mention of Jesus as an adult takes place when he is his early 30s and he went to hear John the Baptist speak. John the Baptist, said to be Jesus’s cousin, had earlier predicted that the arrival of a Messiah was near. When he saw Jesus he recognized his power and believed he was the fulfillment of his prophecy.

According to some accounts Jesus was so moved by John’s speech that he decided to be baptized and was baptized by John the Baptist along with numerous sinners on the banks of the Jordan River. Explaining why the Son of God needed to be baptized, Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his book on Jesus, “The real novelty is the fact that he — Jesus — wants to be baptized, that he blends into the gray mass of sinners waiting on the banks of the Jordan. Baptism itself was a confession of sins and the attempt to putt off an old failed life and to receive a new one. Is that something Jesus could do?”

While Jesus was in the waters he had a deeply religious experience in which he heard a voice from Heaven that proclaimed he was the Son of God. According to Mark 1:10-11: “And at once, as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending to him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved: my favor rests on you.”

The Ford of Hijlah, up the Jordan River a short distance from the Dead Sea, is the traditional place where Jesus was baptized. Kasar el Yehud is another place that claims to be the Jesus was baptized. In the area around it are the remains of dozens of churches and monasteries built by the Byzantines. Both the Ford of Hijlah and Kasar el Yehud are on the western side of the Jordan River in Israel and the West Bank. According to the Book of John, Jesus was baptized on the east side of the Jordan River. Wadi al-Kharrar, on the east bank of the Jordan River in Jordan, is where Jordanians claim Jesus was baptized.

Jesus is Tempted by the Devil During 40-Day, 40-Night Fast

After his baptism, Jesus took on the responsibility of being a representative of God and began to prepare for that duty. As a test of his faith and endurance he spent 40 days in the desert alone, praying and fasting and being tempted by Satan. Lent is an effort to relive Jesus's 40-day fast in the wilderness. Forty days is also the length of time in which Moses and Elijah waited for their meeting God on Mt. Sinai.

Jessica A. Johnson wrote in the Athens Banner-Herald: The biblical meaning for the number 40 is testing. Scripture details that Jesus was met with three great temptations by the devil that included physical hunger, the glamour of worldly power and the allure of false worship. Jesus was at a vulnerable moment in his natural body because he was weak from not eating, so "the tempter" came to try to derail Jesus' divine assignment from the Father. [Source: Jessica A. Johnson, Athens Banner-Herald March 13, 2022]

The devil tested Jesus in three ways during his 40 day, 40 night fast. First he asked a hungry Jesus to use his powers to make bread from stones. Second he told him to win fame by throwing himself off the roof of the Temple and getting angels to save him. Third, he took Jesus to a high a place and promised him all things.

On the third test, a passage in Chapter 4 of the Book of Matthew explains: “The devil taketh him up into an exceedingly high mountain and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and saith unto him: all these things I will give the if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” Jesus refused, saying "Get away, Satan! It is written: 'The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.'" Mount of Temptation (near Jericho) is traditional place where this event is said to have occurred.

Jesus Gains a Following

Jesus and Angels
In his late twenties, Jesus began teaching near his hometown of Nazareth in northern Palestine. He traveled throughout Galilee, gathering disciples (people who accept and help spread a leader's teachings), including fishermen Simon (whom Jesus renamed Peter, or "rock" in Greek) and Andrew. Soon he had gathered twelve disciples to travel with him as he spread a message of love, acceptance of others, and the power of God's love for humanity. Jesus inspired a sense of mutual affection and joy in his followers and urged them to break down the selfish barriers between people. [Source:]

Love and forgiveness were key elements of Jesus’s teachings. In Matthew 22:37-40) he said: "You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." Jesus also preached that those who followed the word of God would have everlasting life. In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus addressed the power of forgiveness: "If you forgive men their trespasses, our heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." For Jesus, love and forgiveness were the keys to salvation.

Jesus soon attracted many followers. According to the Bible, he had the power to heal and perform miracles; he helped the lame walk again, restored sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf. His followers came to believe he was the Messiah for whom all Jews had been waiting. The Jewish Bible speaks of a Messiah, a person similar to the Jewish king David appointed by God to deliver the Jews from their enemies and then to become King of the Jews.

Jesus's Disciples and Roman and Jewish Authorities

Jesus was often accompanied by 70 or so followers, with the core group being his 12 disciples: 1) Peter (originally known as Simon and Simon Peter); 2) Andrew (Simon’s brother); 3) James the Elder (the “disciple that Jesus loved”); 4) John (James the Elder’s brother); 5) Philip; 6) Bartholomew; 7) Matthew (or Levi); 8) James the Less (or James the Younger, possibly Jesus’s brother); 9) Thaddeus (or Jude or Judas, brother of James the Less); 10) Thomas (“Doubting Thomas”); 11) Simon Zelotes; and 12) Judas Iscariot. After Jesus's death, the disciples became the Apostles (a Greek word that means “ones sent forth”).

According to Luke VI 12-13: Jesus “went out into a mountain to pray and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve.” All of Jesus's disciples were males and Jews. Four were fishermen, including Peter, James and John, and one, Matthew, was a toll collector. When Andrew and Peter joined up they were disciples of John the Baptist. Jesus told them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

It must have been a big sacrifice for his followers to follow him. Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: During his ministry Jesus and his followers lived close to what we could call the breadline. They received some financial support from his wider group of supporters (particularly women), and they could depend on friends and community members for occasional food and lodging, but life was hard. Organizing the group’s limited funds and resources would have been a difficult task. Many disciples had left behind his family, home, and hopes of reliable employment when he had decided to follow Jesus.[Source:Candida Moss, Daily Beast, April 13, 2019]

Some of Jesus's disciples were militant Jewish freedom fighters. James and Mark were described as "the fierce, wrathful ones." Judas of Galilee was guerilla leader who, Josephus said, was "a very clever rabbi" who "aspired to royalty." We know nothing of his death, but we do know that his sons continued the struggle against Rome, two were crucified and another claimed to be a Messiah. At least one of Judas's offspring died at Masada.

Eventually, the activities of Jesus and his followers attracted the attention of the authorities. Although the area of Palestine where Jesus lived was nominally under Roman control, traditional Jewish leaders retained a great deal of authority. The governing body at the time was a group of seventy-one Jewish elders called the Sanhedron. The Sanhedron felt threatened by Jesus' teachings and the popular belief that he might be the Messiah. They did not have the authority to eliminate Jesus, but they knew that the Romans did. The Romans did not want any mass movements in Palestine that might challenge their authority. When Jesus visited Jerusalem for the Jewish holy days of Passover, he had a final meal with his followers.

Sermon of the Mount

Sermon of the Mount
On top of a hill near Capernaum, sometimes called the Mount of Beatitudes, is where Christ is said to have given the Sermon on the Mount speech: "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven...Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.” Scholars thinks it is unlikely that Jesus really gave a Sermon on the Mount speech. They say that Jesus may have given a message like the one conveyed in the speech but most likely used different wording.

The Sermon on the Mount is a collection of sayings spoken by Jesus of Nazareth found in the chapters 5, 6, and 7 of the Gospel of Matthew that emphasizes his moral teachings and central tenets of Christian membership. It is the first of five discourses in the Gospel and is one of the most widely quoted sections of New Testament. The Sermon on the Mount occurs relatively early in Matthew's portrayal of Jesus' ministry — his baptism, his temptation in the desert, and his early preaching in Galilee. [Source: Wikipedia]

Traditionally, the Mount of Beatitudes has been commemorated as the physical site at which the sermon took place. Other locations, such as Mount Arbel and the Horns of Hattin, have also been suggested as possibilities. Among the the most widely quoted sections of the sermon is the commonly recited version of the Lord's Prayer. It also contains what many consider to be the The setting for the sermon is given in Matthew 5:1-2. There, Jesus is said to see the crowds, to go up the mountain accompanied by his disciples, to sit down, and to begin his speech.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) , Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, 1994); Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Live Science,, Archaeology magazine, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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