David Heddle wrote Church History Lesson 4 (The Life of Jesus) at his blog He Lives. I rarely write about topics like this. Gilson, Heddle and many others do a better job. But since comments that, either relate directly to Christianity or touch on it tangentially, are fairly common at Telic Thoughts I thought I would note Heddle's blog entry to make some points. First, I would note that David did an excellent job of summarizing the history of the time. The blog entry was informative and easy to read. I'll quote from the first paragraph of each section and add comments of my own.
The Life of Jesus
How much do we know about the life of Jesus? In terms of biographical data, we know almost nothing. Apart from birth narratives in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and a description, in Luke, of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem at age twelve, we know nothing of His first thirty-odd years. It is only that last two to three years that we have a substantive picture, and even then the sum total of the written accounts covers no more than forty days, and only the last week receives intense coverage. Some information can be reasonably inferred from scripture. He had four brothers and some sisters.1 He probably was the breadwinner of the family after the death of Joseph (Mark 6.3). And he lived as a pious Jew (Luke 4:16).
The narratives known as the Gospels were written by those who lived while Christ was alive. Matthew and John (apostles) were close followers of Christ. The narratives were penned close in time to the events themselves. Too close to allow for mythological insertions. Many of the major characters in the events described were still alive.
Jesus grew up in Nazareth. It was not idyllic as it is often portrayed. It lay on the main highway connecting Egypt and Syria, a road often used by the armies of Rome.
The Gospels depicted real places and events. The information provided can be cross checked with secular historic sources.
The No-Tax Party
It is significant that the rebellion of Judas of Galilee was about refusal to pay a tribute to Caesar. For one thing, the party founded by Judas of Galilee and his followers was called the Zealots, known for their passion in opposing Roman rule. Understanding that the Galilean’s rebellion was still on the minds of the people, and that the Zealots were still spreading insurrection, and that one of Jesus' apostles was a Zealot2, gives you a better appreciation of Jesus' exchange on this same matter:
Historians do not doubt the existence of many of the individuals alluded to directly in the Gospels or indirectly by reference to events they were associated with. They certainly do not doubt the existence of Christ and some recorded events linked to him.
Jesus the Rabbi
In opposition to the Zealots were the chief priests who sought to maintain a semblance of order through cooperation with the Romans. One of the most successful chief priests was Caiaphas, who was chief priest for eighteen years, during the last ten of which Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea.
Caiaphas, a Jewish priest and Pontius Pilate, a Roman procurator, became reviled figures in subsequent ages. Anti-semetic acts, which have been all too common throughout history, are distinctly at variance with both the spirit of Christianity and its doctrines. Jesus grew up in a Jewish family and lived within a Jewish culture. His closest friends and followers were Jewish. Most of those celebrated in the New Testament for their words, deeds and relationship to Christ were Jewish. You cannot do evil to Jews (or any group of people) and be right with God.
The End is Near
Early in A.D. 30, Jesus raised His friend Lazarus (of Bethany) from the dead. The commotion caused by this miracle spread throughout Judea. The Sanhedrin decided that it was finally time to act, fearing that Jesus’ followers would ultimately attempt a rebellion that would bring severe Roman retribution upon the land.
Human nature changes little through the ages. While our technology advances our conduct remains rooted in self-serving acts. Like contemporary leaders the Sanhedrin was focused on keeping its own power intact. The interests of the powerful are prioritized.
In the Passover season of A.D. 30, Jesus was crucified. Not of his followers shared his death, for they all fled at the time of His arrest. His closest disciple, the one most demonstrative in his promise of steadfastness, joined the crowed temple courtyard, only to deny Jesus when he was identified as a follower by his appearance and his Galilean accent.
In the aftermath of the crucifixion the political and social environment was hostile to those who followed Christ. Many of his closest followers were beaten and killed. They refused opportunities to recant their beliefs. It was behavior inconsistent with monetary motives and personal gain.