In this most recent addition of A.D. History, Paul K. DiCostanzo and Patrick Foote dive into the study of historical Jesus regarding his adult life, public ministry and crucifixion. Paul and Patrick also break ground of the lesser known Kushan Empire, the Central Asian power that served as dual gatekeeper and buffer state for both the ancient Far East and West.
What do historians know about the life of Jesus of Nazareth?
In the study of history, Jesus of Nazareth is a figure of great interest. Yet the study of his life through the historian’s lens is very different than that of a theologian or religious studies scholar, however none are mutually exclusive to the others – sharing some similarities. In this segment Paul and Patrick seek to explore various aspects of Jesus in regards to history, how he would have been viewed at that juncture, and where these events fit in the bigger picture.
Most credible scholars relating to the study about Jesus of Nazareth as a historical figure concur on a few key points regarding the events of his lifetime. Foremost, historians believe he was born under unknown circumstances between 1BC and 4AD. Moreover, Jesus was also a single figure, raised in the Jewish tradition, likely spoke in part several common languages used in 1st Century Roman Palestine such as ancient Aramaic. Additionally, Jesus had a well known movement via his public ministry lasting three years, between 28AD and 33AD. As well as that he was sentenced to death under Roman authority, and died by crucifixion on or near Passover in Jerusalem in his early 30’s.
Historians aside from these aforementioned points enjoy far less certainty or consensus about Jesus of Nazareth’s life. Titus Flavius Josephus and Roman historian Tacitus serve as the best early, non-Christian sources making unambiguous and meaningful reference to Jesus’ life, his following during his life, and the growth of Christianity after his death.
Josephus, a former Roman slave and hellenized Jew, makes first mention of Jesus’ life and fate in his noted history of Judaism leading to the first century in Antiquities of the Jews, written in the mid 90’s AD.
Tacitus in writing The Annals during the 120’s AD, also mentions Jesus in his recounting of Emperor Nero using Roman Christians as scapegoats, wrongly blaming and subsequently torturing them for the famous great fire of Rome in 64AD.
Paul and Patrick also explore various archeological findings that might shed further light on figures mentioned in the Christian New Testament, such as the Roman governor of First Century Roman Palestine, Pontius Pilate. As well as Joseph ben Caiaphas, the head of the Sanhedrin – a body tasked with matters pertaining to governing the Jews on issues deemed within their scope of local autonomy.
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Kushan Empire: The Gatekeeper for the Eastern and Western Worlds
In the ancient world of this period and region, history is often dominated by the Roman and Han Chinese juggernauts. Yet these two powers never shared a common border, and their spheres of influence end in Central Asia. In a large portion of the significant territory separating them, one of the major rising powers was the Kushan Empire.
The Kushan Empire, founded in approximately 30AD, at its height extended throughout the territories of modern Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan as well as portions of eastern Iran and western India. Furthermore, the Kushans extended their direct reach to the Caspian Sea and Indian Ocean. Thus the Kushans were extremely well placed on a geostrategic basis, serving as a valuable bridge supporting an immense amount of economic activity between Europe, Africa, Eurasia and their Indian subcontinent as well as Far Eastern Asian counterparts.
The Kushan Empire is believed by scholars to have formed from the Yuezhi people, originally a nomadic group that may have originated from a region roughly located near where modern-day western Mongolia is situated. However the relationship between the Kushans and their Yuezhi predecessors is still not fully understood.
The Kushan Empire was very unique in regards to it’s cultural identity, and their many surprising external influences. Kushans – in part due to their geographical location – was a crossroads where European and near eastern cultural practices integrated directly with those of East Asia. The cultural amalgam between East and West was most prominent in religion. In addition to the fact Kushans are believed to have spoken a distinctly Indo-European language.
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