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3 Jesus’ origin in:

Steuart Campbell

The Rise and Fall of Jesus, page 45 - 58

A Complete Explanation for the Life of Jesus and the Origin of Christianity

3. Edition 2019, ISBN print: 978-3-8288-4346-2, ISBN online: 978-3-8288-7327-8, https://doi.org/10.5771/9783828873278-45

Tectum, Baden-Baden
Bibliographic information
Jesus’ origin Where was Jesus born? Only Matthew and Luke describe Jesus’ origins and it is generally thought that they copied a common source. Even so the two Birth Narratives are not identical and may have been embroidered by each evangelist. Unlike the events of Jesus’ ministry, the circumstances of his birth were unnoticed and unrecorded. Only when he became known and noted as a leader could anyone have shown interest in his background; in fact he was probably dead before anyone thought to enquire. It seems that Jesus’ mother survived him and it would have been natural for her to give any details of the birth that were sought by the curious. Perhaps this is what happened. Perhaps also her memory was not perfect and she misunderstood what she did remember. It is curious that the disciple John, who is supposed to have cared for Mary after the Crucifixion, records no data about Jesus’ birth in the Gospel attributed to him. Plainly the Birth Narrative has been written and arranged to justify the faith placed in Jesus as the incarnation of God. At the time the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written there must have been a great need for a description of Jesus’ origin. As we have seen, it cannot have been Jewish Christians who needed this description. Only Gentile (‘greek’) converts could have wanted to know how their Lord came into the world. But Christians could also read the Jewish Scriptures in Greek and they needed to be convinced that Jesus, as Messiah, had fulfilled the ancient prophecies. As Christianity spread, both in space across the Mediterranean to countries whose peoples knew little or nothing about Palestine and in time away from Jesus’ actual existence, so a need grew for a complete account of his origin. As the disciples died and with them access to eyewitnesses so a written substitute was 3 45 required. Later it may have been thought necessary to add an account of Jesus’ origin. To convince the early Christians that Jesus was the Messiah of the Jews and God’s personal representative it was necessary to show that his life fulfilled all the forecasts of the prophets. The most obvious requirement was that he should be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2). Apparently this prophecy was well known in Israel and when Jesus appeared his provenance was immediately questioned. When he was introduced by Philip to Nathaniel (John 1:45–46), the latter asked, ‘can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’.* Surely Nathaniel believed that the Messiah should come from Bethlehem. Again John recorded (John 7:43) that there was a dispute over Jesus on account of his coming from Galilee and that Nicodemus was told to search the Scriptures and see that no prophet comes out of that province (John 7:52). Despite the popular belief that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, there must be doubt that this is correct. Neither the Talmud nor Josephus† make any reference to Nazareth. This has led some to claim that, in Jesus’ time, it did not exist. However archaeological excavations show that, in Roman times, Nazareth was a very small village (Crossan). Consequently, while it existed, it does not seem to have been the place described by the evangelists, a town with a synagogue. There must also be doubt that the Greek words Nazarenos (Mark 1:24) and Nazoraios (Matt. 26:71) refer to Nazareth. While Moore saw no philological obstacle to deriving both nazarenos and nazaraios from Nazareth, his view does not look conclusive (Foakes-Jackson and Kirsopp Lake) and Lehmann noted that someone from Nazareth would be called something like ‘nazarethene’. Borsch observed that it is unlikely that Nazorene (sic) was derived from Nazoret or Nazoreth (sic). Wells noted this discrepancy, but saw it as more evidence that Jesus is a myth. However this begs the question of what was meant by ‘nazarene’ (see below), why it was applied to Jesus and why the term was later made to signify a provenance in Nazareth. Either the evangelists who explained ‘nazarene’ as one from Nazareth really believed this or they did so to conceal another explanation. It is conceivable that * This question may be an interpolation. † Josephus mentioned a large number of towns and villages in Galilee. 3 Jesus’ origin 46 readers of the early text, in which Jesus was described as a Nazarene*, not knowing any other meaning presumed that it referred to his provenance. Believing that Jesus came from Galilee, they looked for a place that sounded like the appellation and found the modern town of Nazareth, not realizing that the foundation of the town was later than Jesus’ death. Robertson (1953) noted that the derivation from Nazareth was probably invented by people ignorant of Hebrew and hazy about geography. Alternatively it is not impossible that the evangelists knew the real meaning of Nazarene and deliberately concealed it. It had a significance, as we shall see, that was inappropriate to the purpose of the early Church.† Whether or not Jesus came from Nazareth, there is no dispute that he came from Galilee. Neither Jesus nor his followers claimed that he came from Bethlehem in Judaea. If Jesus believed that he had been born in Bethlehem, he would surely have made the most of it. He would have pointed to it as further proof of his authority. His silence on this matter indicates that he knew of no connection between himself and that town. His Galilean provenance was well known, accepted by him as well as everyone else. How is it then that Jesus could maintain, in private at least, his claim to be the Messiah? No one seems to have been able to answer this question. Perhaps he understood Micah to have forecast that the Messiah would emerge from Bethlehem on his way to claim his throne in Jerusalem. But it is strange that the Gospels contain no mention of this interpretation. To explain how it was that, while he came from Galilee, Jesus was yet born in Bethlehem, Luke tells us that Joseph took his pregnant wife from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a distance of 70 miles (112 km). He explained that this was caused by the Roman enrolment for taxation, which required every man to go to his own city. Luke claimed that Joseph was a descendant of King David and that he was required to go * Jesus is described as a/the ‘Nazarene’ 19 times in the Greek text, as follows: Matt. 2:23; 26:71; Mark 1:24, 10:47, 14:67, 16:6; Luke 4:34, 18:37, 24:19; John 18:5,7, 19:19; Acts 2:22, 3:6, 4:10, 6:14, 22:8, 24:5, 26:9. All but two are mistranslated in the AV as 'Nazareth'. † Tabor claimed that Jesus was brought up in Nazareth, of royal and priestly descent, and that ‘Nazarene’ derives from that village, whose name means ‘Branch’. Where was Jesus born? 47 to Bethlehem because it was ‘a city of David’, implying that Joseph’s ancestors came from Bethlehem. Now Luke, when he wrote, well knew that there had been an enrolment in Judaea (Acts 5:37) and he knew that each man, but not each woman and child, was required to enter his own city for the enrolment. But he went too far in claiming that this applied to everyone in the Empire. Helms asked ‘who could imagine the efficient Romans requiring millions in the empire to journey scores of hundreds of miles to villages of millennium-old ancestors merely to sign a tax form!’ (Helms 1989:59). Even as it applied to Judaea, the Romans cared nothing for a Jew’s ancestry, whether he was of this or that tribe. Nor did they want the chaos that would have resulted from each family attempting to reach its ancestral home. Half of Israel would have been on the move. The Romans required only that each head of a family register for taxation at his local town or city. If he lived out of town, then only a short journey would be necessary; wives and children did not need to register. All the Romans wanted was that Jews, in the words of Josephus (Antiq. 17:1:1), ‘gave account of their estates’. This was to determine the amount of tribute money that Judaea would have to pay to the Imperial exchequer. The taxation referred to by Luke took place in 6 when Rome took over direct rule in Judaea. Not only was this (see below) six years after Jesus’ birth, but Galilee, where Jesus was born, was not affected by the taxation. There can have been no reason for Joseph to take his pregnant wife on a hazardous journey to Bethlehem and Luke’s account is fiction. Strauss may have been the first to point out that the journey to Bethlehem was probably contrived to show fulfilment of the prophecy of Micah. Matthew asks us to believe that, instead of travelling from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Joseph took his wife and newly-born son from Bethlehem to Nazareth. But they had to make a detour via Egypt in order to fulfil prophecy (Hos. 11:1) and to indulge the Alexandrian Jews for whom Matthew wrote. No rational person can believe that Joseph took his family on a journey of 450 miles (720 km) into Egypt and back. We are given no reason for the journey, nor any details of its route or precise destination. Clearly it is a fabrication for Christological reasons. Matthew was very concerned to show Egyptian connec- 3 Jesus’ origin 48 tions where he could; he probably resided in Alexandria.* He had to convince his Jewish readers that Jesus fulfilled many prophecies. The Hosean prophecy is one of five that he mentions in his first two chapters. Not only did he invent a story that appears to fulfil prophecy, he invented prophecy to explain events. His claim (Matt. 2:23) that there was a prophecy to the effect that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene is false; there is no such prophecy. Thiering believed that ‘egypt’ was Qumran when it was occupied by Egyptian ascetics and Kersten & Gruber (1995:191) claim that Jesus really was brought up in Egypt by Buddhist monks (Therapeutae). This is the reason, they claim, why little is known of Jesus’ youth. If Jesus was born in neither Bethlehem nor Nazareth, where was he born? It is accepted by all that he came from Galilee and, of all the towns in that province that figure in the Gospels, the most prominent is Capernaum on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias). As Sanders has noted (1993:98), Jesus’ work was centred on this town. Indeed, it became known as ‘his own city’ (Matt. 9:1). It may have been so-called because it was his native city. Four of the disciples were fishermen on Lake Tiberias when Jesus called them to follow him. Matthew the former tax collector was probably based in Capernaum. The Roman garrison there warranted the presence of a centurion (Matt. 8:5). Jesus performed many of his ‘miracles’ in the city (Matt. 11:23) and taught in the synagogue there (Mark 1:21). It seems likely therefore that Jesus was born in or near Capernaum. Thiering believed that he was born near Qumran in a building called the ‘manger’. It is recorded that Mary named her son ‘Jesus’. In Hebrew this name is yehoshua’ (Joshua), the meaning of which is ‘yahveh saves’. The English name ‘Jesus’ is derived from Iesous, a Greek approximation of the Hebrew. Other languages use other forms derived from the Greek. Jesus may have been given the name as a consequence of the fact that the firstborn was dedicated to God. But he was not alone in bearing this name; it was quite common. It is fortunate for Christians however that their Lord’s very name revealed him to be the Saviour they be- * Powell believed that Matthew was written in Rome. Where was Jesus born? 49 lieved him to be. But perhaps he would not have embarked upon his mission if he had borne any other name. Kersten & Gruber (1995:145) surmised that ‘Joshua’ may have been an epithet for someone embodying the divinely ordained office of liberator and that it may not have been Jesus’ real name. The Birth Narrative If Jesus was not born in Bethlehem, what of The Birth Narrative that is centred on that town? What of the Wise Men, the Star and the Massacre of the Innocents? What of the Virgin Birth? It is plain that in the first century the Church needed to give Jesus a background and origin commensurate with his deification. Because the Birth Narrative gives Jesus this origin it must be suspect. Support for this conclusion comes from Josephus; while he was ready to relate the many atrocities committed by Herod the Great, he made no mention of a mass infanticide in Bethlehem or anywhere else for that matter. Carpenter may be correct in proposing that it was invented to show fulfilment of prophecy. Helms compares it with Suetonius’ story of a decree forbidding the rearing of any male child for a whole year when the Senate heard that Augustus (Octavian) was about to be born. Kersten & Gruber (1995:83) point to parallels between the story of Jesus’ birth and that of the Hindu god Krishna, who was born while his parents were on a journey to pay taxes, who was born in a manger among shepherds, who escaped infanticide ordered by a tyrant and who was taken into exile. It has been suggested that the story of the Wise Men (visiting Essenes, according to Thiering) was constructed by Christians from the visit to Nero in 66 by Tiridates I of Armenia. He was accompanied on the journey by Zoroastrian magi. The Church may have wanted to show that its Lord, the future world ruler, was recognized by astrologers. Salibi (1988:36) claimed that the story is inspired by Isaiah 60:3, but this seems unlikely. Since astrologers watched the skies, it was natural to imagine that the Magi saw signs of Jesus’ birth in the heavens. The phrase ‘his star’ (Matt. 2:2) is an echo of the same phrase in the apocryphal The Testa- 3 Jesus’ origin 50 ment of the Twelve Patriarchs (18:3), ‘and his star shall rise in heaven like a king’. The idea that a real star would appear to herald the appearance of the Messiah is a logical development of the frequent symbolism that placed a star for the Messiah.* The Talmud went further and claimed that ‘when the Messiah is to be revealed a star will rise in the east … and seven other stars round it will fight on every side’. Having no notion of the true nature of stars and imagining them to be lamps set in a canopy, the evangelist had no difficulty in describing how the ‘star’ guided the Magi (just like a lamp) until it came to rest over the stable in Bethlehem. However he is forced to allow the Magi to lose sight of it temporarily, so that they have to approach Herod and ask him where the new king is born. This hiatus is introduced solely to show how Herod learned of Jesus’ birth. Jesus’ status is raised if the contemporary ruler not only recognized a royal threat but attempted to extinguish it. The story of the Star may also have been borrowed from Mithraism, perhaps in an attempt to usurp that widespread religion. Carter drew attention to the fact that the Mithraic books tell how, when Mithras was born, a star fell from the sky and was followed by Zoroastrian priests called ‘magi’ on their way to worship him. Ignorant of the symbolism involved, many have wasted time searching for a celestial event that could account for the story. Suggestions have included novae and supernovae, comets and planetary conjunctions, the last because of the astrological interpretation that is possible. However no celestial phenomenon has been found for 1 BC and this has led many to conclude that Jesus must have been born either earlier or later (usually earlier). Attempts are made to link this shift with that which is thought necessary to bring Jesus’ birth within the reign of Herod the Great, who is believed to have died in 4 BC. Hence there has been much interest in the idea that the ‘star’ was the conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation Pisces in 7 BC. This idea goes back at least to Johannes Kepler in 1614; it may date from 1285. Even today the idea has its supporters (Hughes). In fact, the conjunction placed the two planets nearly 1o (two Moon diameters) apart in the sky, hardly a spectacular sight worthy of the Magi’s * As in the Septuagint version of Num. 24:17, 'a star shall rise out of Jacob'. The Birth Narrative 51 attention. Conjunctions between Jupiter and Venus in 2 and 3 BC have also been suggested. Astronomy has ignorantly attempted to explain a problem that does not exist. There never was a Star of Bethlehem. Sanders (1993:55) criticized those who tried to match the story of a star that stood over Jesus’ birthplace with the appearance of a comet, which he thought would ‘blaze across the heavens’.* Even if there had been a celestial phenomenon and its significance had been pointed out to him by astrologers, Herod could hardly afford to be seen to have taken any notice. As magic or sorcery, astrology was forbidden to Jews; augury and witchcraft were condemned by the Law of Moses (Lev. 19:26) and wizards were to be killed (Lev. 20:27). It is to be wondered how Matthew’s Jewish readers reacted to the idea that the Messiah’s birth was revealed by forbidden means. Luke extends his version of the myth with stories that can be traced to contemporary beliefs. The story of Jesus’ birth in a manger or crib (Luke 2:7) may have been borrowed from that attributed to the pastoral god Hermes, who was cradled in a basket and surrounded by oxen (Robertson 1953). Alternatively or in addition it may be based on Isaiah 1:3 (Helms 1989:60). The shepherds appear to have come from the Mithraic legend where they witnessed the ‘birth’ of Mithras. They told how Mithras emerged full-grown from a rocky cliff after a blinding beam of light from the sky (Cf. Luke 2:9) had carved out his figure (Carter). Kersten & Gruber (1995:83) draw attention to the Buddhist belief that, during Gautama’s conception and birth, a great light shone over everything in the world. Nor is there any reason to believe Luke when he tells us that Jesus was taken, at a week old, to the Temple in Jerusalem. It may be true that Simeon and Anna hung about the Temple at that or some other time looking for the Messiah. Many believed that the Messiah could be born at any time and they would expect him to be brought to Jerusalem for dedication. Simeon and Anna may have been in the habit of seizing on each firstborn son as if he were a potential Messiah, just to be on the safe side. Since Luke believed that Jesus was the Messiah, he could have presumed that Jesus was taken to Jerusalem and * A comet’s apparent movement is so slow that it appears to be stationary. 3 Jesus’ origin 52 that he was recognized by those who were looking for him. It is possible that Simeon was the priest appointed to conduct circumcision of infants and that he always mentioned the possibility that the male child in his hands was the coming Messiah. In fact Jesus was more probably circumcised in Galilee in his home town by a local Rabbi. Kersten & Gruber (1995:85) observe that the story has an echo in the story of the newly born Buddha being recognized by the seer Asita. They claim that Luke incorporated the Asita legend, depicting it as a Jewish custom. The story of the Virgin Birth arises from a misreading of the Old Testament. Matthew asks us to believe that Isaiah prophesied that ‘a virgin shall conceive and bear a son’ (Isa. 7:14). In fact the Hebrew word used by Isaiah was ha-’almah (the damsel), i.e. ‘The damsel shall conceive and bear a son’, and the context of the original text has no connection with the life of the Messiah. If Isaiah had intended to describe an unmarried girl, he could have used the word bethulah (the virgin). The reason that we read ‘virgin’, both in Matthew’s quotation and the AV of Isaiah is that in the Septuagint the Hebrew ha-’almah has been translated as parthenos (a virgin) instead of neanidas (a damsel) (see S. of S. 1:3; Ps. 68:25). Mowinckel suggested that the translators of the Septuagint rendered almah as ‘virgin’ because of a popular belief of the time about a supernatural woman who would bear a son whose birth would be an omen of a great and happy transformation. Alternatively he offered the idea that ‘virgin’ was used because of a custom that a goddess was called a ‘virgin’, even though she bore a god’s son. It may be that both these ideas influenced the translators, who must have had some very good reason for not giving a faithful translation. Thiering claimed that Mary was described as a ‘virgin’ because that was the title given to a betrothed Essene nun. Whatever the reason, Greek-speaking Jews and later Christians, who relied entirely on the Septuagint, were misled into believing that Isaiah prophesied parthenogenesis. Such a misunderstanding was convenient; during the first century there was a common superstition that gods did not have human fathers. Danae the mother of Perseus was believed to have been impregnated as a virgin by Zeus as a shower of gold, Nana was believed to have given birth to Attis after eating a The Birth Narrative 53 pomegranate and the births of Plato, Pythagoras and Augustus himself were explained as the result of divine intervention (Guignebert 1935). Alexander the Great was believed by some to have been the son of Zeus after his mother was hit by a thunderbolt (Lane Fox 1973:214). There can be no doubt that the evangelists needed to show that Jesus was truly a god, not just a Jewish Messiah. Gentiles were unlikely to accept Jesus’ divinity without some ‘evidence’ that his birth was unusual; in fact they would have expected it to have been as miraculous as those of the gods already known to them. Frend wrote that the Virgin Birth had a teleological significance; for people who believed themselves to be dominated by hostile astral powers, the unnatural birth of the Saviour was the chosen way of deceiving the demons. Clearly belief in Virgin Birth overcame the previous belief that Jesus was a legitimate descendant of King David. To Jewish Christians it was important that the Messiah was born of the lineage of David. All through his ministry, whether or not he had any royal blood, Jesus had been known as a ‘son of David’. If he had no human father he could not have been a legitimate descendant of David.* However to Gentiles it was important that Jesus was seen to be an incarnation of God, preferably born of a virgin. They had no real interest in the Jewish Messianic aspirations and the legitimate descent from a distant patriarch. The evangelists ended up claiming that Jesus was both the legitimate descendant of David and fathered supernaturally. But these two claims are mutually exclusive. A Jewish Christian would have had to renounce any belief that Jesus was a legitimate descendant; he would have had to cease to be a Jew. Gentile Christians gradually gained power and turned the gospel to suit the world in which they lived, moving even further from Judaism and the beliefs that gave birth to the religion. They took the Jewish Messiah and turned him into an Olympian. Of course Jesus was human and his origin was that of every other human being. However there will always be doubt that he was legitimate. That Jesus was described as ‘the son of Mary’ (Mark 6:3) suggests that Joseph was not his father and Luke’s statement that Jesus was ‘supposed’ to be the son of Joseph (Luke 3:23) is open to an interpretation other than that given to it by the Church. Stauffer noted that when the * Except perhaps via his mother, as Tabor claims. 3 Jesus’ origin 54 father was unknown a child bore its mother’s name. There is also a legend that Jesus’ father was a Roman legionary named Panthera (panther), a name that may have arisen as a pun on parthenos. Tabor claimed to have found evidence that a Roman soldier with the surname ‘pantera’ was stationed in Palestine at the right time to be Jesus’ father; he found his gravestone in Germany. Salibi explained that ‘ben Pantera’ (son of a she-leopard) was a common insult (1988:42). In Harrison’s story, Jesus was the son of Nicodemus. It could be argued that the evangelists’ statement regarding Jesus’ parentage arises simply from their claim that he was the direct offspring of God. In that case they could hardly give him a human father, even though such a course allowed others to claim that he was illegitimate. It is doubtful that the evangelists knew anything for certain about Jesus’ true origins. When was Jesus born? Those who do not realize the fictional character of the Birth Narrative attempt to date Jesus’ birth from the belief that he was born in the reign of Herod the Great and at the time of a census (taxation). Their problem is then to reconcile the fact that, although Herod died about 4 BC, the census referred to by Luke occurred nine years later. This assessment, necessary when Judaea was made a Roman province, was conducted by the imperial legate of Syria-Cilicia, Publius Sulpicius Quirinius. Rome found it necessary to assume direct rule when Herod’s son Archelaus abused his power and became intolerable to the people of Judaea and Samaria.* Some, who have supposed that there must have been an earlier taxation in the time of Herod the Great, have propagated the myth that Jesus was actually born in 4 BC, the latest possible year under this scenario. But special pleading apart, the taxation of Luke 2:1 must be the same as that of Acts 5:37; Luke made it plain that this ‘first’ taxation took place when * Luke overstated the case; it was not all the inhabited Earth (oikoumenos) that was to be enrolled (Luke 2:1), it was only the province of Judaea. When was Jesus born? 55 ‘cyrenius was governor of Syria’. Quirinius did not become imperial legate of Syria-Cilicia until 6. Others, whose knowledge of astronomy is greater than their knowledge of history and the vagaries of the evangelists, have concluded that Jesus was born in 7 BC (Hughes). Thiering reconciled this with a birth in 6 by regarding Jesus’ separation from his mother at the age of 12 as his ‘birth’. These adjustments necessarily impugn the chronology devised in 525 by the Scythian monk Dionysius Exiguus, who devised a calendar with an origin at the birth of Jesus.* His calendar reflected the age of Jesus and the number of the year was ‘the year of our Lord’ (Anno Domini), thought to be still alive in heaven. The calendar has become widespread, at least in predominantly Christian countries, since it was adopted by Bede in the eighth century. Dionysius is often accused of having made an error in his calculations. However such an accusation is only made by those who believe that Jesus must have been born in the time of Herod the Great. Hughes believed that Dionysius omitted the four years during which Augustus ruled under his own name of Octavian. Let us try to follow Dionysius’ own calculation. His only data were those contained in the Gospels, in fact two statements by Luke. The evangelist tells us that, at the time of Jesus’ Baptism, he had just turned 30 years of age (Luke 3:23) although, as Salibi points out, this may be symbolic (1988:39). He also tells us that John the Baptist began to proclaim the kingdom of God: Now in the fifteenth year of the government of Tiberius Caesar while Pontius Pilate was governing Judaea, while Herod ruled as tetrarch of Galilee, Philip his brother ruled as tetrarch of Ituræa and Trachonitis country, Lysanias ruled as tetrarch of Abilene, in the time of the high priest Anna[s] and Caiaphas, … [Luke 3:1–2, from the Greek text; Rome had replace Annas by Caiaphas but this was not recognized by the Jews.] From the calendar, we can deduce that Dionysius assumed that one year elapsed between the time of John’s first proclamation and the Baptism.† Tiberius’ fifteenth year was the Year of Rome (AUC) 780, * At the time, the calendar had its origin at the foundation of Rome. † See table COMPARATIVE CHRONOLOGY OF THE TIMES OF JESUS on p. 58. 3 Jesus’ origin 56 which the Christian Era knows as the year 28. Pilate was in his third year as governor and Herod Antipas and his brother Philip were both in their thirty-second year as tetrarchs of their respective territories. Lysanias ruled Abilene from about 27 to 28 or possibly 29. Annas was deposed as high priest by the Romans in 15, but he continued to be regarded by Jews as high priest until his death. Joseph Caiaphas, who was appointed high priest by the Romans in 18, held that post until 36. If Jesus was 29 years old in AUC 781, then he was born in AUC 752, a year the Christian Era knows as 1 BC. Assuming that Luke’s data are correct (the weakest point must be the assessment of Jesus’ age at the Baptism), the only error that can occur is in the time between the commencement of John’s preaching and the Baptism. Dionysius’ guess is as good as that of anyone else and probably not far out. There seems to be little wrong with his calculation and no reason to believe that he knew that Herod the Great died before Jesus’ birth or that the census took place after it. In any case, Dionysius must have preferred biblical to secular data. He should be acquitted of the charges unjustly made against him. It should be noted that, on this chronology, Jesus was born (in Galilee) under the rule of a Herod-Antipas. Herod was the royal family name. Matthew did not claim that ‘herod the king’ (Matt. 2:1,3) was Herod the Great, although that may have been his intention. SHOULD THERE BE A YEAR ZERO? Some mathematically minded people insist that, between 1 BC and 1, there should be a year 0 (zero) (e.g. King). Unfortunately the concept of the zero came too late to become part of our yeardating system. The years ‘BC’ have already been allocated without the use of a zero, such that, by the sixth century, it was the general belief that 1 BC was the year of Christ’s birth. We cannot now shift all BC dates by one year. WAS JESUS JEWISH? Because of the strong colonies of Phoenicians, Syrians, Arabs and Greeks who had settled in Galilee, causing a racial mix that was not regarded as pure, Galileans were regarded with contempt in Judaea. Consequently, as Renan noted, it is not possible to be sure what blood flowed in Jesus’ veins. Goguel (1933) stated that ‘it is not absolutely impossible that Jesus was not entirely of Jewish descent’. One can imagine the incredulity with which Judaeans received the news that the Messiah had come from Galilee. A Galilean could not be sure that he was really Jewish. When was Jesus born? 57 3 Jesus’ origin 58

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Abstract

What really happened to Jesus? Did he rise from the dead, and if not why do Christians believe that he did? Did he have a plan and, if so, what was it? Did he accomplish his purpose or did the plan fail? If it failed, what were the consequences?

Steuart Campbell, once a Christian, takes a rationalist look at the problem of Christian origins and shows that no previous writer has completely solved the riddle of Jesus. Here he shows us a new hypothesis, one that explains Jesus‘ curious behaviour.

Here is Jesus in historical context, the leader of an obscure Jewish sect which believed that it was fulfilling a divine plan revealed in the Scriptures. This plan required the Messiah to die and rise again to become the king of Israel, throwing the Romans out of Judaea and even replacing the Emperor as ruler of the known world. Read how Jesus expected to accomplish this.

The author displays immense knowledge of the Bible and the history of the Jews and he explains many mysteries. He builds on the work of many other authors and constructs what is surely the true explanation for the origin of Christianity. This should be the last word on the historical Jesus. It is certainly an excellent review of the many attempts to solve the mystery.