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Weird History

Actual Historians Answer Questions About Jesus

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Vote up the most interesting answers to historical questions about Jesus.

Jesus of Nazareth is one of the world's best known figures - and also one of its most mysterious. What exactly do we know about the life of Jesus? Actual historians and religious scholars have tackled some common and unique questions about the man and story behind one of the most influential religions in world history.

What evidence is there that Jesus lived? How much of a windfall was 30 pieces of silver? How quickly did Jesus' teachings spread throughout the Roman world? And what language would Jesus have used to communicate with his followers? Read on to discover the answers to these and other questions about the historical Jesus. Vote up the direct-from-historian answers that illuminate the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth.

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  • When Did Early Christians Begin Identifying As 'Christians'?
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    322 VOTES

    When Did Early Christians Begin Identifying As 'Christians'?

    Redditor u/UnRenardRouge asked:

    I am an average person living near Jerusalem during the earliest periods of the Christian church. While I am of Jewish descent, I also recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah. At what point would I cease to consider myself a Jew and see myself as only Christian?

    Redditor u/Emragoolio answered:

    Theologian here. The answer to question is: Well, that depends. Christian and Jewish explanations of the separation differ.

    To the best of our understanding, Jesus himself never communicated that participation in the “Way” of his teaching was incompatible in any way with Jewish identity. Rather, he presented an interpretation of Jewish tradition in which his fellowship was an authentic fulfillment of Jewish identity, a (or, rather, “the”) natural progression of Jewish teaching. [...] Jesus is also recorded as having participated in traditional Jewish ritual celebrations and communal gatherings.

    The same appears to have been true for the early disciples of Christ. They kept Sabbath, attended festivals and synagogues, and generally saw no conflict between being Jewish and being a follower of Jesus.

    The tension between these two identities begins to arise in the decades following the crucifixion as two factors emerged for the growing circle of adherents comprising the school/community of Christ. First, Jewish Christians were increasingly excluded from Jewish religious communities. Second, the teachings of Jesus expanded to include a growing number of adherents outside of the Jewish community for whom Jewish traditions and customs (particularly circumcision) were a significant obstacle to participation.

    According to the New Testament, the term “Christian” was first applied to the school of adherents following on the teachings of Jesus in Antioch under the leadership of Paul (Saul) in Acts, Chapter 11. If true, this would be a decade or so after the Crucifixion. [...]

    By the first century, it’s safe to say that, from the Christian perspective, Christians and Jews were separate groups. Early disagreements had already begun to give way to entrenched animosities. You could put this earlier. Between 66-73 CE, for example, the Roman government exempted Christians from the fiscus judaicus, a tax applied to Jews following the revolt of 66 CE. So, clearly Christians were differentiated from Jews in the eyes of [the] Roman government by that time. [...]

    So to answer your question: If you’re a Jewish Christian in the years immediately following the death of Christ, you could live your entire life without feeling that Jewish identity and Christian identity were antithetical. You might have some arguments or even violent encounters, but such things were not uncommon in the religious life of the near East between rival schools of thought. A few generations later and things would be different.

  • What Would Jesus' Career As A Carpenter Have Been Like?
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    507 VOTES

    What Would Jesus' Career As A Carpenter Have Been Like?

    Redditor u/RikikiBousquet asked:

    If Jesus was a carpenter, what kind of thing[s] would he build? What were the lives [...] of carpenters [like] in the Levant around the first century?

    Redditor u/QuickSpore answered:

    To start off, how do we even know that Jesus was a carpenter? It comes from two references, one in Mark and the other in Matthew, both describing the same event. Here’s Mark 6:1-6:

    Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

    “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, a Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

    Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

    Matthew 13 tells fundamentally the same story but instead [of] calling Jesus a carpenter, Matthew calls him the son of a carpenter. Those two references are the only ones that tell us anything about Jesus or Joseph’s profession.

    In both passages, the authors use the same word to describe the profession, τέκτων or tekton. Unfortunately, tekton is a very versatile Greek word. It can mean a skilled woods craftsman. But it can also mean general laborer, mason, or builder.

    There’s two good reasons to think Mark and Matthew probably meant something closer to day laborer rather than master craftsman. First is the lack of respect Jesus is awarded in the passages. Contextually, it’s pretty clear the locals were not impressed by Jesus’ reputation for wisdom. The fact that he’s swooping in and telling parables and teaching is apparently above his station. A skilled craftsman was a respected position. One wouldn’t expect the locals to diss a craftsman.

    The implication is thus that Jesus and Jospeh [sic] represented a tekton of lesser prestige. The fact that Matthew apparently didn’t like that description and instead changed it so that Joseph was the tekton provides more support that it wasn’t viewed as a prestigious job.

    Secondly, archeology shows Nazareth was a small peasant village with a few dozen families and no more than a couple hundred inhabitants. It likely wasn’t large enough to support skilled tradesmen. Any woodworker in Nazareth likely would have been employed by his fellow peasants doing relatively simple work.

    If Jesus was a tekton from Nazareth, he likely would have spent his days building rough houses, repairing pasture fences, [and] making simple tools and farming implements like yokes and wooden plows. This all, however, is largely speculative. We only have Mark’s single line describing Jesus as a tekton and no example of what he thought that entailed.

  • How Important Was Jesus To The Roman Empire At The Time Of His Passing?
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    409 VOTES

    How Important Was Jesus To The Roman Empire At The Time Of His Passing?

    Redditor u/unfortunape asked:

    Why do I never hear anything about Jesus when I read about Roman history of the time?

    Redditor u/JJBrazman answered:

    [...] To start with, the period you’re asking about is largely before the point at which Jesus was born, let alone when he would have been even remotely notable or relevant to the Empire at large.

    Jesus’ birth is usually taken to be somewhere around 4 BCE, the year of the death of Herod of Judea. This would not have been a notable event from the perspective of the Roman Empire. Our best guesses as to the population of the Roman Empire at the time lie at around 50 million people - and at the point of his birth, Jesus would have been far from the centre of the Empire politically, economically, and geographically.

    After that, even the Bible suggests that Jesus did nothing of particular interest until he began his "ministry," i.e., started actively teaching. Again, we don’t have an exact date for this, but Luke claims that he was about thirty years old at the time, and there are a number of other references that broadly line up with this, meaning that Jesus would only have even started to put himself on the map in the latter few years of the time window we’re interested in.

    But even then, even up to the point of his death (which is usually estimated as being in 30 or 33 CE), Jesus did nothing that bore any immediate relevance to the wider Roman Empire. He was by no means the only itinerant "miracle worker" of the time - we also know of "Honi HaMe'agel," "Simon Magus," and others, so not even the claims of his resurrection can be considered particularly notable (Honi is associated with a not-dissimilar story of falling into a long sleep for many years and waking again).

    The time period you’re considering includes the establishment of the Roman Empire in 27 BCE, the first proper succession in the handover to Tiberius, and a massive expansion to the empire itself, including the conquest of Egypt and Hispania. All this was accompanied by numerous killings, wars, decrees, and triumphs - and Jesus is relevant to none of it.

    It took a long time for Christianity to be taken seriously by the Romans - Tacitus writes that Nero blamed them for the Great Fire of Rome in 64 CE, one of the earliest references to Christianity that we have, when they were a relatively unknown sect. The next time they really became relevant to the Empire was a persecution 100 years later.

    So, in answer to your question, you don’t hear anything about Jesus between 30 BCE and 30 CE, or even for some considerable time after, because Jesus’ existence simply wasn’t relevant to the larger Roman Empire. He was just one individual in an empire of millions, and he wasn’t particularly notable in any way that seemed apparent at the time (except to the Christians, who were one of very many fringe religious sects at the time).

  • What Would Jesus' Diet Have Been Like?
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    140 VOTES

    What Would Jesus' Diet Have Been Like?

    Redditor u/Hezekiah_the_Judean asked:

    What kinds of food would Jesus of Nazareth have eaten?

    Redditor u/LordHussyPants answered:

    Firstly, the Bible makes a good source on this. However, it's only a secondary source, and that's always best backed up with primary evidence. To that end, I present archaeological evidence from Near Eastern Archaeology. [...]

    Contextually, this period in history was a heavily religious time, and ritual was important in this regard, especially with the varying subgroups in religions (I think the appropriate term is cult, but not in the modern meaning). Food was thus divided into two groups - that which was regularly consumed, and that which was consumed in keeping with the cultic practices.

    Also important is the idea of food as a cultural concept, which functioned as an identifier of a person's cultural group - especially in a time without strictly defined borders.

    With these two points in mind, we can make a list of what was available, and then look at the dietary restrictions of Judaism.

    Grain [...]

    Meat was not a daily meal for the regular person, but most likely a once weekly food.

    Domesticated cattle: Sheep, goats, cows

    Seafood

    Poultry: Chickens, ducks, geese [...]

    Dairy [...]

    Fruit: Figs, pomegranates, grapes, apricots, dates, apples, olives [...]

    Vegetables [...]

    Honey as a sweetener

    Olive oil

    Grasshoppers and locusts

    Seasoning such as salt and herbs

    Vinegar

    The festive occasions are described "as the entertaining of guests or civic and cultic festival." These events would almost certainly have featured meat, with certain cuts being reserved as the best parts of the animal for the guest.

    Nobles ate in finer style than the common folk, as might be expected. Sinuhe, who lived several (read: 19 or so) centuries before Jesus was an Egyptian nobleman who ate bread, meat (both domesticated and desert animals that were hunted) daily, as well as wine.

    A final point: obviously not everyone would be able to hunt, or fish, and to this end there were markets where these items were readily available for purchase.