FACTUAL AND APPROXIMATED HISTORY ABOUT JESUS CHRIST
In the science of history, not an exact but still an established science, factual history as the words imply does not encompass all history. However, it normally is the start and frequently sets the informational base that can enable us to understand and lead to not-so-factual meaning. Even factual history frequently has to be constructed from knowledge of other ancillary disciplines, such as archaeology, linguistic analysis, and cultural anthropology, to mention a few. This construction can be called “historical approximation” which within the boundaries of the criteria employed for a given historical analysis enables us to understand and interpret much more accurately the not-so-factual context.
Mankind’s accurate written and then printed memory of its past is relatively recent, uneven in different civilizations as we know them, depending on physical and institutional technological advances. With minor personal modification we want to present in this post what can be considered factual about Jesus the Christ according to the science of history as recorded in Jose Pagola’s book, Jesus An Historical Approximation.(See: Transformative). To finalize the post we will mention Pagola’s criteria used in establishing or approximating factual historicity. We include a link to clarify their explanation.
The following brief outline of what can be considered the factual history of Jesus’ life corresponds to data considered reliable by the majority of historical and scriptural experts in this area.
PROBABLE FACTUAL DATA
Without being able to pinpoint an exact date Jesus was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus probably between 6 and 4 B.C. Again the birthplace cannot be determined exactly, most probably Nazareth, as the narrative about Bethlehem in Matthew and Luke, clearly identifiable as genres of religious intent, hardly reflect factual information. (See: John Meier’s A Marginal Jew. Vol. I, pp.208-214).
Jesus spent most of his life in Nazareth, apparently working as an artisan, far from the international commercial routes that crossed other parts of his native Galilee. He spoke Aramaic and most probably knew some Hebrew. Without certain data about Jesus it is safe to say that most young people of his age in Nazareth certainly did not know how to read and write.
We know that Jesus as a follower of John the Baptist had a notable religious experience at the river Jordan, but at the same time it is not clear how long he formed part of John’s group. All the evidence points to the fact that at one point he retired to the desert after which he began his own movement, quite different from that of John. For Jesus this meant leaving Nazareth breaking family and local ties. He chose to work out of Capharnaum. It appears that his family thought him weird or even crazy, but some apparently joined his following later on.
Jesus initiated his itinerant missionary vocation as a prophet imbued with a special filial bond with the God of Israel. From the gospel accounts communion with his father occupied many long nights in what would appear to be mystical contemplation. His experiences teemed over into his teaching when he invited listeners to find their God in the flight of birds, the lilies of the field, everywhere, even in the hairs of their heads. Jesus called his followers to work and pray to establish the reign of his father here on earth, where men and God would be able peacefully and with dignity to live out their relationship. Pagola finalizes his short paragraph on Jesus as the “Prophet of the reign of God” with the quote: “At the center of his preaching was an experience of God as a Father who ‘makes the sun rise on the evil and the good,’….essential was his exhortation to ‘enter’ the reign of God, and to be ‘compassionate’ like the Father in heaven…” (Appendix, BRIEF HISTORICAL PROFILE OF JESUS,p. 459).
Jesus was a “healer,” considered a “wonder worker” in the historical sources of his time even though today the majority of his cures might be categorized as faith healing and/or an astute use of psychological techniques when working on the deranged or possessed. When challenged by his enemies to produce spectacular signs he refused to give them any satisfaction.
Based on generally accepted data Jesus could be styled an exceptional student of human nature in the use of wisdom aphorisms and his call to radical, almost eccentric behavior. He demanded exceptional radical changes in social attitudes to enter and work in his father’s kingdom. Returning an insulting blow on the cheek by offering the other, forgiving injuries 7 times 77, extending your shirt when a thief steals your cloak, and loving your enemies, are formulas at any time for extreme changes in attitude and behavior. To be a worker in and for his father’s kingdom meant going beyond being a good, religious practicing Christian or Israelite.
Jesus taught by example the meaning of radical behavior. He flouted many of the predominant social codes of his environment to exhibit what living together as children of his father entails. The conventional norms of ritual purity, almost impossible for the marginalized, were only external signs of a purity, meaningless to his father who wants our hearts; fasting and observation of the sabbath practice, important religious rituals had to cede to basic human needs or even a good deed for one’s neighbor. He ate with social outcasts and freely associated with women. Flying in the face of the social scorn he admitted them to his company and fellowship. All were children of his father and in the context of traditional Christian theology Pagola draws a notable and innovative corollary:
“There was nothing haphazard about the way Jesus did these things. He was intentionally, graphically showing people that God’s reign is open to everyone, with no one excluded or marginalized.”(p. 460). In God’s creation Jesus made it clear that all, everyone is graced.
Jesus did not intend to establish a church or movement outside of Judaism but according to customs his continuous invitation to enter the reign of God drew followers who formed a group around his teachings a revolutionary step at the time. He drew a considerable following with his radical opposition to prevailing customs and opposition to social and prevailing religious mores. However, nothing in the Quellen (The Lost Gospel) is mentioned of the apostles or a following looking to a reestablishment of the twelve tribes of Israel, a supposition of some scholars.
Pagola in contrast to the gospel narratives apparently finds little historical data to approximate details of Jesus’ final days and execution in Jerusalem. In Galilee his charismatic personality and message had created momentum gaining him a recognizable following, considered dangerous, as well as the hostility of the governing authorities all the way to Jerusalem. When he went up to the holy city and within the confines of the temple itself staged a scene considered hostile to the politico-religious regime, the priestly aristocracy brought pressure to bear on the Romans leading to his arrest. And though never formally tried he was crucified in the year 30 AD as a criminal under a death sentence issued by the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate. Based on the strength of verbal tradition Pagola surmises with respect to the Last Supper: “Apparently expecting his violent death, Jesus celebrated a farewell dinner with his disciples, at which he performed a symbolic gesture with bread and wine.” and notes as well: “His closest followers abandoned him at the time of the arrest.”(p.461).
It is, as Pagola states, “…historically verifiable…that between 35 and 40 A.D. the first generation of Christians were using a variety of formulas to confess the belief they all shared, which spread rapidly across the Roman Empire: ‘God has raised Jesus from among the dead.’”(p. 462).
INTERPRETIVE AND HISTORICITY CRITERIA
- Jose Pagola is a Catholic scripture scholar who in interpreting and approximating history adheres to the historical-critical approach in use by the experts from his field, Christian, Jewish and non-believing serious historians. He lays out general criteria for his interpretive methodology in two appendices, General Criteria of interpretation and Criteria if historicity. ( See Appendices of Transformative ) as follows:
- General Interpretive Criteria(p.463):
- A non-fundamentalist approach to texts
- Historical-critical method as indispensable
- Required analysis from tools of cultural anthropology
- A forgotten emphasis on the poor from liberation theology
- Feminist exposure of the preponderant bias of men in a patriarchal society
- Contextual affinity between writer and religious reality of message
- Consciousness of the faith of the contemporary believer