The context of jesus’ life

Jesus’ people were fishermen and farmers  (The Marvelous Draught of Fishes by Raphael 1515)

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Fishing on the Sea of Galilea

Jesus was a 1st-century Jew who lived in the Roman province of Judea.  

The Jerusalem Temple was the holiest place of worship for the Jewish people (destroyed by  the Romans in 70 C.E.).

Model of Second Jerusalem Temple


To begin our New Testament study, we will look at the cultural and historical context of Jesus’ life – his time, his place, and his people.  Understanding a person’s context increases our ability to understand why certain things were said, or why things happened in a particular way.  

Objectives for this section

  • In this section, you will gain a better understanding of the following aspects of Jesus’ life:
    • The historical/political circumstances in Judea at the time of Jesus’ life 
    • First-century Jews under Roman rule: a multicultural melting pot
    • Jesus was born, lived, and died as a Jew
    • The complexity of his religious identity
    • The landscape in which Jesus lived

Steps for achieving the objectives

Complete the following steps in the order listed and by the due dates listed below.   

Hint:  If you complete all of the reading by the end of Week 2, you will be well prepared for completing the assignments due in Week 3.  Remember:  Procrastination = STRESS!!!   :-/

General Discussion Forum The purpose of this discussion forum is to give the whole class a chance to come together and talk about any course-related topics you choose!   You can use it to ask each other questions, discuss a particular assignment, idea or passage – or to simply share something interesting with the class. 

  1. Watch Flight of Faith:  The Jesus Story  (This 48-minute video will give you an overview of the landscape in which Jesus lived – and how it looks today.  The narrator tells the traditional story of Jesus’ life, but as we go through the semester, we will see that there are many other ways of understanding Jesus and his teachings.)
  2. Read Frontline Jews and the Roman Empire. Judea was the province in which Jesus lived located within the massive Roman Empire.  (Just read down through “Tensions in Judea at the Time of Jesus’ Birth.”)  
  3. Read The Human JourneyJesus and the Origins of Christianity – A Multicultural Story
  4. Read Frontline  The Tensions Between Faith and History: Can Christian faith be reconciled with an historical approach to Jesus and the Bible?  This article will address the possibility of conducting a historical study of Jesus while holding firm to religious belief in Jesus.  
  5. Read Frontline Jesus was born, lived and died as a Jew. 
  6. Read Frontline   The Complexity of His Religious Identity.  Jesus was viewed as many things: healer, wisdom teacher, apocalyptic preacher, and anointed one (Messiah).
  7. Historical references to Jesus’ life.  There isn’t a lot of outside evidence of Jesus’ life, but there is some. 
  8. By September 4th at 11:59 p.m., post your writing in the Discussion Forum;  Note:  This Discussion Forum is for the assigned writing only.  For general discussion, please use the General Discussion Forum above.]
  9. By September 6th at 11:59 p.m. respond to two of your classmates. 
  10. By September 9th at 11:59 p.m. Take this little Quiz to see how well you’ve understood the main points in the above resources.


Instructions for writing your post:

  1. Click here for general instructions and guidelines for writing your discussion forum posts.
  2. Click the 3-dot icon in upper right corner of this page to access a detailed grading rubric for this assignment. 

Writing prompt: 

Over the next 16 weeks, we are going to be looking at the complexity of Jesus’ identity.  There are several resources this week that discuss this complexity, as well as the difficulty of uncovering the historical Jesus (apart from what the church has written about him).  After reading all of the resources for this section – most especially Frontline: The Tensions Between Faith and History – please write a discussion forum post in which you address the following points:

1.  What do these scholars have to say about how they reconcile their Christian faith with an historical study of Jesus and the Bible?

2.  What do the scholars have to say about how an historical/critical study of Jesus benefits and enhances their faith?

3.  What do you see as the dangers of studying Jesus from a historical/analytical approach?

Due on 09/03 11:59 P.M EST

Follow up post


1. The scholars themselves have accepted both History and Faith. They believe both can exist at the same time and together. The scholars even believe the acceptance of History about Jesus Christ to help strengthen their faiths. “I approach it the same way. Anything I find historically, I cannot imagine how it could destroy faith, since faith is about the meaning of history not about the facts of history. So, I’ve never experienced a conflict myself (The tensions between Faith and History).” A quote by scholar John Crossan really helps strengthen the point about how important history and faith is. Due to the recorded knowledge and information of Jesus Christ, it only means a Divine Man as himself indeed walked the earth. 

2. Jesus shouldn’t cease to exist or be considered lesser due to the existence of History, instead History should be a defining example of all of Jesus’ amazing works and acts alone. This was made very clear by the scholars and their powerful worship and faith towards Jesus Christ. The scholars believed the less the work contradicted one another, History and the teaching of the bible, the better it was for them to accept Jesus’ miracles and works. Like any case study, even in the court of law. If there are no contradictions to one’s statement or actions, then it only means they are that much closer to the truth. If anything, it seems it was harder to speak about History within a religious faith more so than the other way around. Certain scholars felt they were unable to speak about their Historical findings of Jesus Christ with other worshipers and believers. 

3. The dangers I see from studying Jesus from a historical approach is I’m afraid they may leave out some of Jesus’ miracles. Under the pretense of “superstition” or “unrealistic” isn’t enough for me alone. Jesus’s miracle is a defining trait of his character and what makes him such a legendary man. Those are some of my only concerns. 



  1. What do these scholars have to say about how they reconcile their Christian faith with an historical study of Jesus and the Bible?

To me, learning history about Christianity is important to understand the base of my Faith. Likewise, the scholars have stated that doing research or being a scholar does not intervene with their faith. Professor Emeritus in the Frontline, (The Tensions Between Faith and History), stated that “I find absolutely no conflict between being a historian and being a believer”. This statement clarifies the fact that history makes the Biblical reading more understandable. For example, sometimes we find it hard to understand a scripture from the bible because we do not have any understanding of the social and cultural background of the people who lived in that era. But understanding it through history about the cultural practice of the people before and after Christ was born is important to Christians today.  Moreover, Professor Emeritus has stated teaching on Sunday Adult forum has helped church preachers better understand the bible before preaching it. Moreover, the scholars made a differentiation between faith and fact as one of the professors stated: “this is a statement of faith; it’s absolutely valid as such. This is a statement of fact, and therefore I have to be able to debate that in the public arena.” Even in a medical world, patients belief and faith plays a huge role in the process of patient recovery. We have learned that medicine by itself is not the best approach to heal a patient; we practice a holistic approach in medicine. So my interpretation of faith is something dipper, whether it is backed up by history or research. There are always areas in faith where history or research cannot back up and according to those scholars, it is a statement of faith. But what is beautiful about history is it makes you understand the meaning at that time in history.

2. What do the scholars have to say about how a historical/critical study of Jesus benefits and enhances their faith?

According to Professor Woolsey, we all have some kind of tradition that we all stand and for her Christianity was her tradition. From the reading, it can be inferred that she is very much contributing her part by sharing the fundamental truth about her faith through history and research. To most of the scholars in the Frontline (The Tensions Between Faith and History), the historical and critical study helped them better understand their faith. For example, when one of the scholars was asked if being a bible scholar creates tension, she stated as such: “on the contrary, I always found it extremely helpful to be a learned Biblical scholar for whatever I did in preaching and teaching in the church”

3. What do you see as the dangers of studying Jesus from a historical/analytical approach?

Studying Jesus as a historical or analytical approach will be challenging for scholars whose faith is Christianity. While reading some of the interviews of the scholars, it came to my understanding that their research might not be accepted by the church leaders. Moreover, if one can’t differentiate faith and history, then they can easily lose their faith if they can’t find any evidence of their faith.

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