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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