The Historical Figure of Jesus of Nazareth

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In this topic, we will look at the area of theology known as Historical Jesus research. This is the attempt to study Jesus of Nazareth as an historical figure in order to reconstruct his life and his teachings. The teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, regardless of whether one believes he is the Son of God, have shaped western civilisation for thousands of years. Although much of the western world has become secularised, it remains steeped in its Christian heritage and Jesus of Nazareth is probably the most famous, and certainly the most influential person who has ever existed. Charities have been founded, incredible works of art have been painted and wars have been started in the name of this man. When we think critically about what this man actually said and did, we find that many of the commonly held beliefs about Jesus are unfounded and often simply factually incorrect.

Although studying Jesus historically is immensely interesting and important, it is rarely easy. There are many things about Jesus’ life (and especially about his early years) that we do not know, and probably never will. Furthermore, as one would expect for a subject as emotive and important as this, there is little scholarly consensus regarding much of Jesus’ life. There are only a few facts that are almost universally accepted by scholars: Jesus of Nazareth existed, was baptised by John the Baptist, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate. As we will see, most other areas of Jesus’ life are the subject of much debate.

In these resources, you will look at four areas of discussion:

1) Sources we can use for studying Jesus as an historical figure

2) The birth of Jesus

3) Jesus and his opponents

4) The death of Jesus.


Once you have read these resources, have a go at completing the questions in the 'task' PDF and discuss your ideas in the forum. You only need a Bible to complete these, but take a look at the ‘Further Reading’ if you want to think about these in more depth.

Key books are referenced in the text using footnotes. You do not need to have access to them for the purposes of these exercises but you may be able to find them in your school, local library or online. Key sources are cited in the text. Often they appear with the name of the source or an abbreviated version and then followed by some numbers, usually chapters followed by verses, rather than page numbers. This means that you can find that reference regardless of which edition you are using.

List of abbreviated books of the Bible used in the activities:

Exod. Exodus
Gal. Galatians
Matt. Matthew
Cor. Corinthians