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The story of Jesus’s life and his teachings:
It is strange to say that Jesus was born in 4 BC, or one or two years before it. At that time, Herod the Great, the Jewish emperor was still on the throne. This issue along with some evidences including a sentence in the Gospel of Luke convinces us that Jesus was born in the eleventh year of the reign of Tiberius Julius Caesar. It also makes us consider the real date of Jesus Christ’s birth a few years earlier than its current date. According to the text of the Gospel of Matthew and Luke, he was born in Bethlehem which was located in the south of Jerusalem. It was when Joseph and Mary had temporarily traveled there. Only Luke states that they had gone to that city in order to participate in a local census. All authors of the quadruple Gospels agree that the birthplace of that family was the city of Nazareth which was located in the region of Galilee. They all believed that Jesus was a carpenter and he had spent thirty years of his life except a few weeks in that city. There is not any direct information regarding the story of Jesus' life in his childhood and youth. Materials contained in the Bibles indicate that he was from a middle-class family, but very religious. Jesus always went to synagogue along with them and for the practice of ritual worship and he also memorized long parts of Torah and the scrolls of the prophets. It is likely that in addition to synagogue he went to (Maktab) elementary school in order to acquire knowledge and as a result he was informed of the news and information regarding the scrolls of the prophets. Therefore, he did trust in what Pharisees and scribes superficially and poorly taught. He also worked as a carpenter and that’s why he was interested in the middle class workers and artisans from the heart. Additionally, on the basis of the Biblical scriptures, that family had various members including six other children who had been living with Jesus in that house. In addition to four brothers who were called James and Joseph and Simon and Judas, he also had several sisters that their number had not been mentioned. In the Gospel of Luke there are some references to religious practices of Jesus during his early childhood. In that Gospel it also has been referred to various points regarding the time that Jesus went to the temple during his childhood. Above all it tries to prove that from the beginning of his life, Jesus had a particular interest in religious issues. He was drowned in the faith in God in such a way that he never thought about his absence and the degree of the anxiety of his friends and others. The eighteen year period of Jesus’s adolescence is said to be the “quiet and silent” years because we have no reliable information regarding the events happened at that time and also because at that time there was no statement about Joseph. We can speculate that in those days when he had passed away, Jesus as the senior descendant of the family had continued the craft of carpentry and his brothers also assisted him. Regarding the speculations of the recent scientific, it is interesting to note that at the beginning of this period, Jesus like a master of carpentry had traveled to Safuriah which was located within four miles the north of Nazareth. The reason lied in the fact that the city caught fire in 6 BC or at that time of the riot of the extremists Jews (Zalut) and then it was rebuilt anew by the order of Herod Antipas. If this conjecture is true, it becomes clear that Jesus had participated in rebuilding process of that city based on Greek-style and had gained a lot of experience. However, there are stronger evidences that prove Jesus as a master carpenter had been working for rebuilding the house of Galilee; especially he had been making agricultural equipment such as plows and chariot for the farmers around Nazareth.
Baptism and trial:
When Jesus was almost thirty years old, one of the profound experiences and events of his life was occurred. It means that he was baptized by John the Baptist. Accordingly, the same mystical revelation which had happened to the former prophets like, Amos and Isaiah and Jeremiah, happened to him and this incident put an end to his quiet life in Nazareth and it totally changed his way of life. At that time John the Baptist had suddenly gone to the banks of the Jordan River and had announced to the people that: “repent of your sins because the other world is near”. He had lived in the deserts around the Jordan and had spent long time thinking about an issue which had been of utmost importance at that time. It has been mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew that: “John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey”. Accordingly he was living as an ascetic. Of course, John’s (Yahya) isolation period caused that he makes sure the Apocalypse has come and the advent of the Messiah who shall judge the world and the Day of Judgment which is the day for repentance is near. That day was considered so near in his mind that he metaphorically said: “The ax is already at the root of the trees” (Gospel of Matthew 3:10). There is also an allegory about the harvesting wheat: “His winnowing fork is in His hand, and he (Messiah) will thoroughly clear his threshing floor; and he will gather his wheat into the barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Gospel of Matthew 3:12). Presumably John was not the only one who believed that the Apocalypse is near but there were others who had the same beliefs including the Essenes sect. However, he did not act according to their codes of conduct but he considered himself socially responsible in such a way that it prevented him from isolation like what others did. Therefore he left the desert and passionately began a period of preaching and guidance for informing and warning the unaware people. So he was successful and a large number of people gathered around him to hear his words from around Palestine. Since the audience were impressed by his words, John brought them into the bank of Jordan River in order to baptize them in the water. It was an indication that they repented of their sins and intended to apparently wash their sins and inner dirt by the water. Hence they called him John, “the Baptist”. John did not act according to some superficial rituals but at the same time he taught the people a series of great moral principles and guided them to haste and make their own way of justice individually and collectively before the advent of Messiah. “And the multitudes asked him, saying, what then must we do? And he answered and said unto them, whoever has two coats, let him impart to him that has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise." He guided the tax collectors and said: "Do not take more than what is prescribed” (Gospel of Luke 13: 3). Finally he criticized Herod Antipas who was the King of Galilee for committing adultery with his brother’s wife and at the end it gave rise to the king’s rage. Thus he was imprisoned and murdered in the prison. John had numerous loyal followers who remained loyal to him and his teachings. Accordingly even thirty years later Bulus who was one of the Apostles had found a group of his followers in the city of Ephesus. It was natural that Jesus had been fascinated by the teachings of John the Baptist. Accordingly in the first chapter of Mark's Gospel, we read this story briefly, but very clearly: “in those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. When he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased”. The description of what happened to Jesus fully affirms it. When he was twelve years old, his entire relatives observed that he was very interested in religious matters. Due to the high Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and also because he paid attention to social matters, he was ready to undertake the prophecy in his life and therefore he was chosen for accomplishing this divine mission. After this meditation, Jesus went to the desert across Jordan and there, he began thinking about the event of his life and the duty for which he was responsible. According to Christian’s sayings of that time and also as it’s been stated in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, this reflection, meditation and Arbaeen (forty days) period was called (Chelleh) and it was also said that during this period Satan had tried hard to deceive him. These Satanic temptations were in three different forms including imagination and also in real life manifestations. It means that he should seek whether to earn money or to gain people’s attention by his deeds or to be on divine trial through the remembrance of God and to gain wealth and political authority in order to save the children of Israel from the ills of the time. He was tempted in all of these different forms by the Satan but Satan could not deceive him. During his life, Jesus chose a way that was totally different from the Jewish sholars of his time. He rejected the Zealotry because he clearly observed that it was useless and at the same time fatal. As he later said: "Those who are taking the sword shall be killed by the sword too." In this regard, many of the Jews had the same idea. Unfortunately a large number of people in Nazareth and Safuriah observed that the rebel of Qanyan sect after 6 AD only resulted to their own death and destruction. Jesus also refused to follow the Pharisees and totally opposed them. Based on his statements in chapter twenty-three of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus blamed them and said: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you tithe mint, and anise, and cummin, and have left the weightier things of the law; judgment, and mercy, and faith. These things you ought to have done, and not to leave those undone.” (Gospel of Matthew 23: 23). Although Jesus had fewer contact with Sadducees, apparently he had the same idea in opposing them as with Pharisees. On the other hand he could not follow the Essenes sect because like John he was extremely sensitive to his social duties and he did not satisfy himself to stay in isolation like what Essenes did. In fact Jesus cannot be considered as so-called Mortaz because he was always in contact with the same class of simple-hearted people from among whom he had come. He took part in their weddings and parties to the extent that Pharisees considered that as a flaw and cried out that: Jesus is in contact with tax collectors and the irreligious people and he does not observe Torah’s laws regarding the alcoholic drinks, however, John the Baptist observed the custom of fasting and did fast. But Jesus said that one must fast by his heart rather than out of habit and according to Special customs and rituals. Not only was his approach different with John’s but also he was liberally in contact with villagers, rural and the poor classes of people in his carpentry shop. He talked to them about the daily life issues and like John, he did not believe that the world was coming to an end in the near future. Additionally, John was mostly like a preacher who invited people to listen to his words. Jesus, however unlike him went among the people and visited them. He talked to them individually and advised them wherever he saw them.
The beginning of prophethood in Galilee:
Almost when John was imprisoned, Jesus had passed Jordan River and had reached to Galilee and according to Mark who was one of the Apostles, regarding the glad tidings from God, he had preached to the people that: time is over and the other world is near, therefore repent of your sins and believe in the glad tidings of the Bible. His divine words as it was pronounced caused them to reach an absolute certainty in such a way that four of his Apostles including Peter and his brother Andrew, Jacob and his brother John and also the children of Zabdy who were all fishermen left their fishing nets and followed him. At that time, there were populated cities around the Sea of Galilee like Tiberias and Turkey, Kufr Nahum and etc. Jesus began his mission in these cities and chose the Kufr Nahum as the center. The reason was that Peter lived there. At first he began to preach the sermon in the synagogue but after a while when a large group of people gathered around him and as a result there was not enough space for them at the synagogue, he went to the market or farms outside the city and there he preached to the people. The first chapter of the Gospel of Mark contains details about the story of Jesus in the first Sabbath day in the city of Kufr Nahum.
First, it says that Jesus came in the Sabbath day and began teaching people. Apparently there were several temples in the city and Jesus had gone to one of them to which he had been invited. Inside the synagogue was too simple and unadorned. Facing to the Temple in Jerusalem, the worshipers went to their own places. In front of them, he had made a high and raised place and on top of it there was a pulpit for reading. Against the wall or in a corner of the synagogue, there were boxes containing manuscripts of the Holy Scripture (Torah). Additionally, a curtain was hung over it with an always bright light during the rituals and worship which was the place for specific elders and leaders of the Pharisees. They stood in front of the worshipers and then recited and repeated a word which meant “You”. It was the main part of their worship. Sometimes while the leader of the synagogue recited the chanting, the worshipers were supposed to stand on their feet and repeat it. Then the librarian (Shazahn) brought them out the manuscripts of Torah from the box and some parts of it were recited. First he read it in Hebrew, then he repeated the translation into Aramaic. Finally the leader or the person who had been invited, stood and preached to the congregation and guided them. Presumably Jesus had first preached the sermon to the people in same way. It is said that when he began to speak, all of the audience were filled in wonder and astonished at his teachings. “Because he spoke firmly and not like the scribes of the synagogue "(Gospel of Mark 23: 1). It means that he expressed his statements courageously, explicitly and from the bottom of his heart and not habitually and through imitating the scribes. At this moment an exciting event occurred. There was a man among the audience who everybody believed Satan had entered into him and had given rise to his physically and mentally abnormal behavior. At that time they considered the above mentioned reason as the cause of some mental disorders. This person suddenly interrupted the preacher (Jesus) and cried out that: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God. But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.” (Gospel of Mark: 23. 1-27). Jesus had apparently been astonished by the healing power which had been bestowed upon him. (It became clear from what happened in next morning). In judging such cases, one must always bear in mind that Jesus, like other people of that time, had no doubt in diagnosis of mental disorders and had believed that such illnesses had caused by entering the evil satanic powers into the soul of the patients. His audience certainly had no doubt about it, because again we read in the Gospel of Mark that: “And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” (Gospel of Mark: 28. 1). Therefore, Jesus’s fame immediately spread everywhere throughout the surrounding regions of Galilee. Again it is said that after preaching in the synagogue, Jesus along with his disciples went to Peter's house, where his mother-in-law had fever and was lying. Jesus went to her bedside, took her hand and lifted her up. Suddenly the fever went away and she began serving him. After this incident, one of the major events of the first mission of Jesus occurred. Accordingly: “That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons and the whole city was gathered together about the door and he healed many who were sick with various diseases…. ” (Gospel of Mark: 23. 1-24). It is noteworthy that Jesus could not heal the patients by himself rather they did so by virtue of the patients’ faith and he denied that this is his own power. He said to those who had been healed that: “leave and do not commit the sin any more, your faith has healed you”. It indicates that Jesus was dissatisfied with his extraordinary power and his reputation. According to the Gospel of Mark: “And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed and Simon and those who were with him pursued him, and they found him and said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." He said to them, "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.” (Gospel of Mark: 35. 1-39). However, his story in Kufr Nahum was the same as other cities and he could not overtly enter the city for a few days but he stayed in quiet and remote places and people gathered around him from everywhere, therefore he achieved great fame and popularity. People came to him, he had a bright future ahead of him and all had high expectations of him. So according to Mark who was one of the Apostles, when he returned again to Kufr Nahum “a great multitude immediately gathered around him in such a way that even there was not an empty space out door” at that time a very large crowd gathered around his house and therefore preparing food was almost impossible. In another time, there was such a large crowd on the lake shore that he ordered his disciples to bring a boat in order not to be pressed by the people.” so that he got into a boat and sat in it almost away from the shore talked to the whole crowd beside the shore and taught them many things in parable” (Gospel of Mark: 1. 4).
Opposition and moving to the North:
The outpouring of emotion among the people during the travels of Jesus to towns and villages of Galilee, drew the attention of Pharisees and Sadducees in Jerusalem to him. The earlier sect who considered themselves as the Guardian of the Law and also the latter as the Guard of Jewish temple became concerned and sent out spies to the North. They did some investigations about him and reported their observations. When these letters reached to Jerusalem, they were different from each other. So several groups and Pharisees and Sadducees chosen to go to Galilee for contestation and debate. Frequent arguments and debates occurred among them that by which the essence of principles and teachings of Jesus was determined. One of these prominent debates and discussions occurred when Jesus’s disciples were going through a grain field in the Sabbath day. Going through the field, they began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to Jesus, " why are you doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" Jesus replied: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the Sabbath." Although Pharisees could not deny the veracity of this issue, they did not like his outspoken statements. Since treating the patients had been forbidden by physicians on the Sabbath day, again when he was healing the patients on this day, Pharisees objected him and asked him to explain the reason of doing his unlawful act. Another time, they observed that some of his disciples were eating food without washing themselves according to the formal laws. Thus they accused Jesus of negligence. Jesus said that I want you all to listen and understand, nothing from the outside of the human can enter and possess them rather what is inside them can make them impious. When his disciples asked him the meaning and interpretation of his words, he replied that: …. What is inside a human is the cause of his impiousness because it comes out of the inside of his heart. Evil fantasies, adultery, immorality, murder, theft, greed, betrayal, guile lecherousness, pride, ignorance, disbelief and all the evil deeds originate from the inside of a human and make him impious. What suffered Pharisees most, was simply Jesus’s total freedom in the interpretation of Law of Moses (Torah) and the scrolls of the prophets because he interpreted them without considering the Jewish traditions and sayings. The following phrase has been used by Gospel of Matthew where the “preaching of Jabal” has been recorded: “Have you heard your ancestors were told, but now I tell you that ….” Some of the Pharisees listened to his words carefully and then walked around and gossiped about him and said: the reason of Jesus’s rhetorical statements and that he has been able to take away such a great people from the traditions of Pharisees and gather them around himself and also the reason why he could interpret the Torah’s verses with a more comprehensive and accurate approach is that, an evil spirit has entered into him and this superficial purity is due to his hypocrisy. They said: In fact, he has risen up against the commandments, divine traditions and the Law of Moses and intends to mislead his followers. Gossips regarding entrance of the sevil spirit into Jesus spread in Nazareth more than anywhere else. When Jesus returned from a trip to his home town and began preaching in the local synagogue on the Sabbath day, he was amazed by the people who were hesitant and weak in their faith and said: "No prophet is without respect except in his hometown and among his relatives in his own house ... and he was astonished by their disbelief and moved to the nearby villages and began teaching». According to Mark who was one of the Apostles, when Jesus’s relatives came to Kufr Nahum to prevent him, said that “he has been hexed” and he finishes this story by this satetment: And his mother and his brothers came and standing outside. They sent to him and called him. Then a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, "Now your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you." He replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" then looking around on those who sat about him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother." The only answer of Jesus to these accusations regarding the entrance of Satan into him was that: "How can Satan cast out Satan? If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end”. It was obvious that Pharisees did not accept this reasoning from Jesus. The Zalut community also turned back from him because he said: "Those who are taking the sword, shall be killed by the sword too. “In spite of all his peaceful thoughts, all he did, all people’s attention to him and also his great moral and religious teachings, they did not believe that Jesus is Messiah”. So many people gradually became skeptical about him and therefore, they disappointed and took back from him. Jesus’s enemies redoubled their objections and intended to kill him. In such a situation Jesus moved toward the northern lands, first to Suur and Seydun -which both of them were out of the Palestine- and then traveled to the southern lands. It becomes clear that in the exile, he had intended to wait for a good opportunity in order to make a critical decision regarding his mission and to prepare his Apostles for it. His twelve Apostles always accompanied him wherever he was. When he got to the city of Philippi Caesarea (Philip’s throne) there the story of famous confession of Peter who was one of the Apostles occurred. It was in such a way that Jesus asked the Apostles: “Do people know me?” he replied: “John the Baptist” and some people said: “Elijah” and some other said: “one of the prophets” and he asked them: “You know me, don’t you?” Peter replied that: “You are Messiah”. The Bible says that Jesus ordered his disciples that no one should be informed of his arrival. Jesus informed him that he would be traveling to Jerusalem and there he would tolerate great suffering from the elders, chief priests and scribes and he would be killed in order to finish his mission. However, his twelve Apostles did not believe his words and peter who was one of the Apostles prevented him from his travel. Then he turned to his Apostles and looked at them and blamed them and moved slowly toward Jerusalem until he got there in Passover.
Suffering of Jesus and crucify him:
At that time, Crowds of Jewish pilgrims from around the world had come to the great Temple in Jerusalem in order to hold the great annual feast. Roman emperor, Pilate came to Jerusalem from the coastal town of Caesarea in order to maintain the discipline and to prevent any possible riots and uproar. Herod Antipas, the Jewish ruler also traveled from Galilee to participate in the Passover ceremony, and to accompany the Jewish believers in the rituals of worship. All Inns were full of passengers. Inhabitants of Galilee inevitably raised their tents in the valley between the city and the Mount of Olives and stayed there. Jesus borrowed a donkey and headed toward the city of Galilee along with his Apostles. He was welcomed joyful shout of Galilee’s inhabitants. They spread palm branches on his way and said: “Who is this? Who is this?” and other people who were worshiping replied that: This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee" (Matthew: 12. 21).
Then Jesus along with his Apostles took an amazing action. Accordingly he entered the temple and overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons and drove out all of those who were buying and selling at the courtyard of Jerusalem. Then he cried out that: "Is it not written, `My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers." (Gospel of Mark: 18. 11-15). This action was apparently admired by general public, but the chiefs of the temple had nothing to say, and they were forced to remain silent. Chief priests and the Jewish scribes and clerics decided to prevent him from doing that. Therefore they said swear words to him in order to belittle him in front of people. They tried to criticize him during these consecutive days which he was preaching and also accuse him of blasphemy. But he gave them no pretext and always invited general people to convert to his religion and to believe his heavenly mission. All people listened to him with the utmost enthusiasm. His enemies wavered him when they asked him whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not? But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, why put me to the test…? "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." everybody was amazed by his word. It gradually becomes clear that people’s opposition against him was increased and he was gradually making an impact on the people. The inhabitants of Herodes also began to oppose him. Thus, Jesus began to talk to people using proverbs and anecdotes. He said that God first invited the Jewish people to His divine feast but since they refused to accept the divine invitation, God invited others to His feast. According to the Bible, Jesus addressed Pharisees and Sadducees and said: tax collectors and prostitutes enter the kingdom of God before you. Thus you did not believe in John but tax collectors and prostitutes believed in him. “Therefore I say to you ....you have been deprived of the kingdom of God and it will be granted to the nation that bear their own fruit "….
All authors of the quadruple Gospels agree that when Jesus was informed of the extent of the enemies’ opposition, he recognized that they intended to kill him, thus he made himself ready to die. While narrating the events, all of them have reflected the interest and enthusiasm of the early Christians. They have also recorded Jesus’s last hours of his life. Especially the story of the food he had in his last night with his disciples in a house in Jerusalem have also been carefully recorded. So according to the early Christians, Jesus not only predicted that he was going to be murdered, but also he even knew who would betray him. Therefore he prepared a simple feast and for the last time he ate with his Apostles. He intended to make his twelve Apostles ready for the separation. It has been stated in the Bible that when they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take and eat, this is my body. “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. Then he said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Shortly after that in a garden (Gethsem'ane) one of his Apostles who was called Judas Iscariot surrendered him to a crowd of people with swords and clubs. The chief priests had sent them after him. So, they brought Jesus to the Assembly of the priests and all of them sentenced him to death for the crime of blasphemy. Then they took him to the Roman Pilate and asked him to execute the decree. He sent him to Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee. It is said that Pilate tried hard to save Jesus but the crowd of people in the courtyard of his house believed that Jesus was the members of the Qanyan sects and asked Pilate to release Barab'bas who was a burglar instead of him. So Pilate hanged Jesus. After three hour from evening, they brought him to the gallows and everybody left him except a number of women who were with him until the last moment and grieved for him. The crowd of people around him were shouting and he was praying for them and said: “O father forgive them because they do not know what they are doing…” (Gospel of Luke: 34. 23). Then he cried out loud and said: "God, God, why did you leave me?" And he died. Christians who believe that the Cross of Jesus is the symbol of faith, sainthood and respect state that Jesus suffered for the atonement and forgiveness of his people’s sins. They believe that he is a great exemplar of self-sacrifice for the love of God. Then, for not leaving his body on the gibbet in the Sabbath day, Joseph of Arimathea who was a member of the priests’ assembly, prepared a new tomb from stone for the burial of Jesus. Then he laid a large stone over it and left.
(To be continued ...)
Comprehensive History of Religions by John Binias , translated by Ali Asghar Hekmat, pp. 582-607
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