Was Jesus a Christian or a Jew?

Jesus, a Jew from Nazareth "Quite one of us"

Annette Merz: "Jesus of Nazareth was a Jewish prophet who was imbued with the expectation of the kingdom of God."

Stefan Schreiber: "He was convinced that now, with his appearance, the kingdom of God on earth will become a reality."

"Oh how happy are the poor; for the kingdom of God is yours. Oh how happy are those who are hungry now; for you will eat as much as you want. Oh how happy are those who cry now, for you will laugh. " (Lk 6.20-21) *

Walter Homolka: "Well, Julius Wellhausen already said: Jesus was a Jew. And all the Jewish Life-Jesus researchers who followed this Protestant theologian have repeatedly pointed out that Jesus was deeply Jewish, that his teachings were Jewish, above all rabbinical-Pharisaic, and that he certainly did not want to found his own religion. "

Jeschu ben Josef - science has been trying to reconstruct his life for around 250 years. It does not ask about the Christ of faith, but about the historical man Jesus of Nazareth.

"I would say, from a historical point of view, it is most likely that Jesus of Nazareth existed - simply because we have such a broad tradition about him. Of course the whole range of Christian sources, but also notes, short texts in the ancient literature, which also testify to this figure, "says Stefan Schreiber, Catholic professor for the New Testament at the University of Augsburg.

Jesus probably actually lived

Like him, the majority of research assumes that Jesus actually lived - including Annette Merz, Protestant professor for the New Testament in Groningen:

"Especially the diversity and sometimes the contradiction of the Jesus traditions are an indication that we are really dealing with historical facts."

Annette Merz, Professor of New Testament at the Protestant Theological University, Campus Groningen (private)

The source of the year of birth is contradicting itself. It was almost certainly not the year 0.

"If we look at our texts, it is noticeable that it is always mentioned that Jesus was born in Herod's time, that is, Herod the Great. And he died four before Christ, as is well known. says Stefan Schreiber. He therefore tends - like many - to a year of birth "shortly before four before Christ."

"I think we don't really know anything about the year of birth," says Annette Merz. "And that has everything to do with the fact that Jesus only became famous when he was maybe 30 or so. He is a very unknown son of a craftsman from Nazareth, probably."

The place of birth of Jesus cannot be determined with any historical certainty either. The research tends predominantly - not to Bethlehem, as it is in two Gospels, but to Nazareth.

"His family lived there, in this rather smaller place. He probably grew up there like a normal Jewish child, with several siblings that we also know about," explains Stefan Schreiber.

"Nazareth was a little town there"

James, Joses, Judas and Simon - these are the names of Jesus' brothers according to the Bible. He also has at least two sisters, but their names are not known. Nazareth then had around 200 inhabitants. Everyday language is Aramaic, some may also speak Greek.

"It is very likely that writing and reading lessons for the children will also be organized in the context of the synagogue," said Merz. "Nazareth was a small town there, but a synagogue has been handed down there too. And you have to imagine: going to the synagogue every Sabbath and having the scriptures read out loud - if you are interested, then you will get a good knowledge of the Torah, the prophets, the scriptures. "

View of the city of Nazareth - at the time of Jesus it was still a "little town", says Annette Merz. (dpa / picture alliance)

Whether Jesus can read and write is a matter of dispute. Later, when he appears as a preacher, it becomes clear that he is well versed in the religious traditions of Israel.

"It looks like the family of Jesus - all of his brothers have biblical names - that this is a family that is anchored in the traditions of Israel, and then reading the scriptures will very likely also be part of it," says Annette Merz . Stefan Schreiber adds:

"It has been handed down that Jesus supposedly was 'Tekton', which today is usually translated as 'building craftsman' - perhaps also his father, who may have largely disappeared from tradition because of this. So a kind of assembly worker, so to speak could also apply to Jesus of Nazareth for a while. "

"Jesus distances himself from his own family"

Much has been speculated about the family of Jesus - also polemicized. Was he an illegitimate child? Or does Joseph, Jesus' father or adoptive father, later no longer appear in the Gospels because he died?

"The interesting thing is that, at least at the beginning of Jesus' appearance, the family was not one of his followers at all, but was very skeptical of him. We have traditions that Jesus distances himself from his own family," said Merz.

"If someone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and also his own life, he cannot be my disciple." (Lk 14.26)

Stefan Schreiber (private) Jesus of Nazareth lives in troubled times. Judea, the "land of the Jews", is occupied by Rome. Many hope that the promised Messiah will appear and redeem the Jewish people. Enter preachers, charismatics, prophets. One of them is John, called "the Baptist".

"I suspect that Jesus received his main information about the interpretation of the Torah at a time when he was living as a student of John the Baptist," says Stefan Schreiber, Catholic theologian.

"The ax is already at the root"

Why Jesus joins John is unclear. Also, when exactly - probably in the mid to late 20s. John proclaims asceticism, repentance, end times. The rule of God on earth is imminent, and people will soon have to answer before God's judgment.

"This judgment thought makes Johannes very strong," said Schreiber. "For example in the picture:"

"The ax is already at the root of the trees." (Mt 3:10)

Schreiber: "That means in plain language: You only have to strike a few more times, then the tree will fall. And because the time is short, John maintains this rite of baptism. In other words, a cleansing rite that prepares you to close before God stand and say: 'Yes, I expect this kingdom of God.' "

According to Christian tradition, Bethany is the place where Jesus was baptized by John. Here the Jordan is just a small river. (Deutschlandradio / Philipp Eins)

"It was at that time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and submitted to John to be immersed in the waters of the Jordan." (Mk 1.9)

"Jesus as Successor of John"

Complete immersion in river water is still a relatively new ritual in some currents of Judaism. People should be cleansed of their sins. The purified Jesus may have a prominent position in the Anabaptist movement.

"He - unfortunately we only learn from a very small note in the Gospel of John - maybe even baptized himself, so to speak as a representative of John the Baptist. But then, at a certain point in time, he separated himself from the Baptist and is his went our own way, "says Stefan Schreiber. Annette Merz contradicts:

"I wouldn't say that he broke away. I think more that Jesus really saw himself as a successor to John."

John the Baptist is executed by the Romans. When and why is controversial. At least some of the Johannes followers join Jesus. He sets out as an itinerant preacher, is called "Rabbi", "Teacher" by his Jewish followers.

"I think that the Jesus movement was actually the second wave of the Anabaptist movement," said Merz. "The judgment was announced, one was baptized - and then the judgment did not come. And Jesus actually interpreted that as a time of grace - an extra-given time."

"If I cast out demons by the finger of God, the kingdom of God has come upon you." (Lk 11.20)

"A really extremely radical life"

Jesus quickly gains the reputation that he can heal the sick and free them from their demons. It mainly addresses simple people: fishermen, farmers, customs officers and prostitutes.

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Mk 10.25)

The "Turin Shroud" shows traces of blood and the imprint of a human body - but certainly not the historical Jesus, as was believed for a long time (picture alliance / dpa)

Merz: "You moved around and didn't really take anything with you. You didn't take any money with you, you didn't take any provisions for more than a day. So Jesus and his disciples who accompanied him lived - shaken by this message of the closeness of God - also in a really extreme way radical life. "

"Go and sell all your possessions and give them to the poor, then you will have a treasure in the heavens and come, follow me!" (Mk 10:21)

Not all people in Jesus' home region want to follow this uncompromising message. Some are hostile to him.

"See, an eater and wine drinker, a friend of tax collectors and sinners." (Mt 11:19)

"He is possessed by Beelzebul and through the prince of demons he drives out demons." (Mk 3.22)

"I don't think that Jesus spoke Greek"

Jesus also accepts women as students, which is unusual. However, research has no evidence that he is married or has children. The center of his work is the city of Capernaum on the north shore of the Galilean Sea. How long Jesus has been a preacher there is unclear, explains Annette Merz:

"It is clear that it did not take many years. But whether it was a year or three, we cannot make any serious historical statements about it, I would say."

In "The Passion of the Christ" director Mel Gibson had Jesus speak Aramaic - nevertheless the film was criticized as unhistorical (AP)

What exactly Jesus preached, researchers like Annette Merz have to reconstruct from the Gospels. These were not written down until a few decades after Jesus' death - in Greek, but in all probability Jesus taught in Aramaic.

"There is always speculation about translation errors and misunderstandings," says Merz. "But that Jesus spoke fluent Greek, as some believe, I personally don't think so."

So how reliable are the Gospels as sources about the historical Jesus?

"On the basis of modern memory research, the Jesus tradition has also been redesigned," explains Annette Merz. "One aspect always comes out clearly, and that is that people can be unbelievably wrong in details, but that the basic lines of the message were mostly still reproduced correctly even after years and decades."

"Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other cheek. And if someone wants to accuse you and take your tunic away from you, give them your caftan too." (Mt 5, 39-40)

"The basic message comes across"

Merz: "The basic message that comes across. And these are things like: the love of one's enemies. These are things like: the closeness of God, the love of God, God's willingness to forgive. We have that in so many Jesus words and in so many biographical notes and details so that we can make historically reliable statements about it. Even if we often have to say about the historicity of a single word: Yes, we don't know. "

At the center of the message of Jesus is - as with his teacher John - the expectation that the rule of God on earth is imminent.

Scribe: "There is this word from Jesus that is narrated in the Gospel of Luke."

"I saw Satan fall like lightning from the heavens." (Lk 10.18)

Schreiber: "This is basically the idea: In heaven the cause of evil has already been overcome, has already fallen from heaven. And that means: Now something new is breaking out. Now a new time begins. And that is precisely this idea of ​​the Kingdom of God, which is now dawning on earth. "

The life of Jesus is difficult to reconstruct historically - he certainly did not wear a golden crown like the one here in Swiebodzin, Poland. (picture-alliance / dpa / Lech Muszynski)

Merz: "This idea of ​​God's closeness is also accompanied by an intensification of ethics, which can be grasped, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount."

"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Mt 5.44)

"A Salvation Time for Israel"

Jesus tightened some commandments of the Torah - for example that one should not only love one's neighbor, but also one's enemies. Or that you can't get a divorce.

"What God has united, man must not separate." (Mk 10.9)

He loosens other commandments - especially with regard to ritual purity: Jesus abolishes food commandments and turns to non-Jews as well as the sick, lepers and "sinners".

"There is nothing that goes into a person from outside that could make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a person that make him unclean." (Mk 7.15)

Jesus confidently interprets the traditions and commandments of Judaism. His work is oriented towards the future of Israel and the Jewish people, explains the Catholic theologian Stefan Schreiber:

"Jesus symbolizes this primarily by gathering a circle of twelve disciples around him. In my opinion, the twelve are not a coincidence, but they stand for the twelve tribes of Israel, for the restituted Israel. So a salvation time for Israel, the started. "

It is historically unlikely that Jesus was actually tortured with a crown of thorns - Willem Dafoe in the film "The Last Temptation of Christ" by Martin Scorsese (1988) (picture-alliance / dpa)

"And all of this at a time when, of course, it was not God who ruled, but the Romans in Palestine - the Romans together with the Jewish elite, which also goes hand in hand with the great poverty of the population," says Protestant theologian Annette Merz.

"Give us the bread we need every day"

With his religious message, Jesus also reacts to the actual need of the Jewish population. She needed confidence - and enough to eat, according to Merz:

"I would say that the Lord's Prayer, for example, is one of the traditions that we too are very sure of that they really reflect what Jesus was about."

"When you pray, say: Our Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us the bread we need day after day. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive all who owe us something. And do not lead us into temptation. " (Luke 11: 2-4)

After teaching in Galilee for a while and after growing his following, Jesus set off south, about 150 kilometers.

"Pesach approached quickly, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem." (Jh 2.13)

"We do not know for sure whether he really had a very specific intention. What we are reading is a traditional pilgrimage that many pious Jews from Galilee undertook at least once a year," said Merz.

"Everything will be torn down"

Jerusalem is the center of political power in Judea - and through the temple also the center of the Jewish religion. But Jesus' message challenges the Jewish elite. By freely forgiving sins, he undermines the power and privileges of the temple.

"And then things like what we call the temple action happen in this context," explains Schreiber.

"Jesus went into the consecrated house and began to drive out the sellers and buyers; and he knocked over the money changers 'tables and the pigeon dealers' stalls. (Mk 11.15)

"Not a single stone will remain on another. Everything will be torn down." (Mk 13.2)

Schreiber: "Its historicity has of course been very controversial for a long time - whether it is even possible that Jesus throws out traders somewhere in the temple forecourt or knocks down tables."

"Was it not written: 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations"? But you have made it a den of robbers. " (Mk 11.17)

"Personally, I tend to believe that there might be something historical behind it - a prophetic act of Jesus that is supposed to show: The way things are going here at the temple now does not correspond to what I think of God's kingdom." says Schreiber.

"The Political Implications of the Annunciation of the Kingdom of God"

Historic or not, the temple action reflects the conflict between Jesus and the Jewish elite. When he was still an itinerant preacher in Galilee - one of many - Jesus was not a threat to the political order. In Jerusalem it is.

"The political implications of the proclamation of the Kingdom of God were of course most evident in the center of power," explains Merz. "And the fact that it happened on Passover naturally contributed to the escalation of the situation. It is not by chance that Pilate and his troops were present in Jerusalem for this festival. These are the festivals in which - yes - Jewish self-confidence came up. "

The Western Wall in Jerusalem: a remnant of the Second Temple in which Jesus is said to have preached (picture-alliance / dpa / Atef Safadi)

An example of this are Jesus and his followers with their demand for the kingdom of God. Such plans of overthrow cannot please the Roman rulers either.

"Those who initially came into conflict with Jesus in Jerusalem were probably not the Romans, but were initially the Jewish authorities," said Schreiber. "They were attacked by Jesus in a certain way - or felt attacked. They noticed that Jesus had gathered a certain following around them."

"Amen, I say to you: the tax collectors and the whores will go into the kingdom of God before you." (Mt 21:31)

Schreiber: "And it would be obvious that the Jewish authorities would then have said: Before something worse happens here, we will get Jesus out of the way. We cannot do that ourselves, we turn him over to the Romans, with the charge that Jesus is political Riot in Jerusalem is causing unrest, and - yes - that we recommend the Romans to get him out of the way. "

Died on April 7, 30?

It was in the interests of the Romans to eliminate potential rebels early on. Jesus is captured by them - interrogated, condemned and executed. The life of the historical man Jesus of Nazareth ends on the cross.

There are many research theories about the date of Jesus' death. April 7th in the year 30 is often mentioned.

Schreiber: "There are at least such calculations that point us to around the year 30. And I consider that to be historically conceivable and plausible."

Merz: "I also say here: We really can't know that."

So there is hardly any reliable historical knowledge about him - about perhaps the most influential person in history, Jeschu ben Josef - Jesus of Nazareth.

Schreiber: "So the question remains: Who is this Jesus actually?"

Homolka: "Yes, if you ask the Jew, it is a complex story."

Rabbi Walter Homolka dealt intensively with Jewish research on Jesus (Martin Schutt, dpa)

Rabbi Walter Homolka is a professor of Jewish religious philosophy in Potsdam. He has dealt extensively with Jewish perspectives on Jesus:

"It is clear that he can be classified in this contemporary Jewish context of the Roman occupation and that he is also increasingly perceived as someone who is completely one of us."

Was Christianity a mistake?

"Just one of us" - if Jesus lived and taught as a Jew through and through, if he did not want to found a new religion and of course did not celebrate Christmas either - is Christianity then a mistake?

"No, definitely not," says Annette Merz. "But it is a development that was initiated by Jesus of Nazareth, which was greatly accelerated by the experience of his death and then the visions of Easter."

Schreiber: "And from this results, so to speak, within Israel - still within Israel - a community of its own that is attached to this Jesus. And from this the Church has developed over the centuries."

Homolka: "Christianity is above all a reality. And Shalom ben Chorin was the one who pointed out to the Jews that Jews had to face this reality. Judaism also does not exclude that God works in Christianity - and also in Islam . That is a valid assumption from the Jewish side. "

In all scientific probability, the man Jesus of Nazareth did not rise from the dead. However, the historical fact is that people believe in Jesus' resurrection shortly after his death. At first Jews, but quickly also Greeks, Romans and others. The Jesus movement becomes a new, independent religion.

A development, says the Protestant theologian Annette Merz, "which the historical Jesus certainly did not want or foresee. In this respect: Christianity is not an error. And it is - it is a tragic development that very quickly a sharp enmity between Judaism and Christianity came into being - that so it was forgotten that Jesus was Jewish and never wanted to be anything else. But yeah, it's just a story that went on. "

And so Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas to this day. Catholic and Protestant biblical scholars celebrate with them - even if they come to the conclusion with historical-critical research that Jesus did not want to be a founder of religion at all. Nevertheless, his work resulted in a new religion.

* The translation of the quotations from the Gospels is based on the English-language "Orthodox Jewish Bible"