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Period: Jesus' Life and Death

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Summary

Jesus was probably born about 5 B.C.E., although the exact date is not known. Matthew and Luke tell of his birth in Bethlehem, which was the town of David, Israel's most famous king. Jesus' mother was Mary, who was married to a carpenter named Joseph. Jesus spent his youth in the village of Nazareth in Galilee.

In the early first century, Galilee was part of the Roman Empire and governed by Herod Antipas. The region was populated by Jewish people, who farmed, fished, or worked in commerce and trades. Synagogues provided centers for prayer and the reading of Scripture. The region also had larger cities such as Sepphoris and Tiberias, which included both Jews and Gentiles. These urban centers shared the wider Greek and Roman culture.

According to the New Testament Gospels, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and began preaching in Galilee. Jesus lived for a time in Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee, and gathered a group of disciples. Among these were Peter, Andrew, James, and John, who were fisherman. Jesus taught in local synagogues and was known as a healer. As he traveled to the north and east of Galilee, his reputation as a teacher, prophet, and miracle-worker grew. Many of his best-known teachings were parables that used familiar images to announce the coming of God's kingdom. Some Jewish leaders opposed Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners, and for healing on the Sabbath when no work was to be done. From their perspective, his message and actions seemed to violate the Jewish law.

Jesus' final days were spent in Jerusalem near the time of Passover. The crowds initially welcomed him by spreading their cloaks and leafy branches on the road. But Jesus generated opposition by driving the money changers and merchants out of the temple. As he taught in the temple, some responded favorably while others considered him a threat to the social order. On Thursday evening of his final week, Jesus ate a last supper with his disciples, then went to the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, east of the city. There one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, arranged to have him arrested. Jesus was interrogated by some Jewish leaders, who denounced him as a would-be king to Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate had Jesus flogged and crucified alongside two criminals. Jesus was placed in a rock-hewn tomb. The Gospels conclude with the message of Jesus' resurrection.

AUTHOR: Craig R. Koester, Professor of New Testament, Matt Skinner, Associate Professor of New Testament