Throughout the course of human history, people all over the world have sought answers as to where they have come from and where they are headed. Out of this comes organized religion, and almost always an accompanying figurehead. For the Jews, this figurehead might be Moses, or even Abraham; for Muslims, it is Allah; and for the approximately one third of the global population that practices some form of Christianity, that person is Jesus of Nazareth. The life of Jesus transformed an innumerable amount of people over the last two thousand years. As mentioned above, those who believe Jesus had the divine spirit within number in the billions. Interestingly, all of these people know of Jesus only through the writings of the New Testament which is comprised of Gospels that chronicle his life. Unfortunately, since those writing the Gospels were writing close to seventy years after the death of Jesus, it is absolutely impossible to verify that all of what is written is undeniably factual. Perhaps this is where the notion of faith comes into play. Regardless, historians must use only what is presented in front of them to make an educated determination as to the what went on during the days of Jesus. The information presented herein comes from the New Testament in The New Jerusalem Bible published by Doubleday.
With so much uncertainty as to what went on during the life of Jesus, our most accurate, (yet still shrouded with ambiguity), source is that of the four canonical Gospels in the New Testament. The three Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke are collectively known as the Synoptic Gospels. The fourth Gospel, which was written by John, bears some stark distinction between itself and the Synoptic Gospels. It is important to understand that the Gospels, which were written around 70 A.D., are not biographies or eyewitness accounts of Jesus. Instead, they are sermons about the meaning of Jesus' life. Moreover, the Gospels are two generations removed from the actual life of Jesus. The first generation would be considered the life of Jesus himself from approximately 4 B.C. through 30 A.D.. Had Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John actually been close to Jesus during his life, perhaps the Gospels would likely be different from what they are today. The second generation is made up of earlier accounts written by numerous sources between the death of Jesus at roughly 70 A.D.. As a result of this forty-year gap between the actual life of Jesus and what we know of today as the Gospels, it can be assumed that what is written in the Gospels are in no way a detailed account of Jesus' life.
Interestingly, what we read in the Gospels as the words and actions of Jesus does hold a certain amount of truth. However, while writing the Gospels, certain speeches and other appearances might have been moved around to promote a certain agenda that each of the authors wanted to promote. For example, it is clear that Matthew makes several comparisons between Jesus and Moses in hopes of bolstering Jesus' status as a leader of the people of Israel. On page 1152 of The New Jerusalem Bible, Matthew tells the story of the Sermon on the Mountain. "Seeing the crowds, he went onto the mountain. And when he was seated his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak." (Bible, 1152. 5:1). In this Gospel, Jesus goes up a mountain, much the way Moses did when he received the Ten Commandments. However, in Luke's Gospel, Jesus delivers the same sermon in a different fashion. "He then came down with them and stopped at a piece of level ground where there was a large gathering of his disciples." (1214, 6:17). In a direct contradiction to Matthew's Gospel, Luke tells a story of Jesus coming down onto level ground, as opposed to going up a mountain. This can be seen as a comparison to King Samuel, an important figure in the Old Testament that led Israel for a number of years, as a king would come down to speak with his people on their level. It is important to recognize...
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