What do we know about Jesus' life?

Recently there has been an effort by scholars to sort out the "historical" Jesus from the Jesus Christ we know through faith and tradition. Their task would have been a great deal simpler had Jesus left a diary, or if archaeologists could find a sign that said "Jesus slept here." As it is, they (and we) are left to solve the mystery from a few clues.

We can look to sources aside from the Gospels to recreate the times and places in which Jesus lived. The Torah, for example, gives us an understanding of the laws that most Jews observed. The writings of Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, mentions a few names and events also recounted in the Gospels. The topography of the land itself supports the settings for the Gospel stories. The Dead Sea Scrolls show us the diversity that existed in Judaism at the time. Finally, archaeology provides us with material evidence of how people lived. But the man himself does not emerge from these sources.

The four Gospels are our primary source not only for understanding Jesus the Christ, the center of our faith, but also for the information we have about his life on earth. The problem is that the Gospels were not written until at least 40 years after Jesus' death.

The Gospel writers saw Jesus' life from the overwhelming perspective of the Resurrection. Although the Gospels do contain historical facts, the evangelists wrote statements of faith, not historical or even biographical documents. Such details were not their main concern.

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