March 28, 2019

A Time Line For The Life of Jesus


The life of Jesus is not fully described in the New Testament. The Gospels were not written by historians. They were never intended to be a written history of his life. Thus the record of his life is incomplete. But is it possible to create a timeline of the events that framed his life?

Of course. It is possible to establish credible dates for the events that shaped the life of the man we call Jesus. What follows is a rather long discussion for those seeking to understand the man and his mission. It is more accurate and more credible than anything I could find on the Internet.

Introduction

One cannot write a realistic novel without creating a timeline of events. The action must evolve in a credible sequence. A novel’s characters must react to these events, and acknowledge their occurrence both during and after the fact.  If the events in a novel occur over a long period of time - say years - then the novel’s characters must age. We need to know how old they are, chapter after chapter, event after event, and how life has affected them intellectually, emotionally, and physically. Establishing a timeline provides a frame of reference for the reader and acts as a map for the story line.

Developing a timeline for the life of Jesus is a challenge. One is exposed to cynical comments, contradictory information, erroneous information, and endless (frequently unfounded) opinion. Credible dates are hard to find. Historical data is incomplete and scarce. There are only a few clues in the New Testament.  

Early church theologians and elders ignored the first 30 years of his life because they believed ordinary human life was too “dirty” for a man they wanted to caste as a God who was far above kings and emperors. In so doing, the early church distorted his message, caused theological problems that have plagued Christian discourse for thousands of years, and debased the credibility of his mission in a 21st century America. If we want to be accurate, we have to ignore the words of early church elders and Roman politicians who used the words and life of Jesus to promote their own objectives.

One is forced to sift through available information, select the data that makes sense, is consistent with other information, and construct a time line that is both credible and logical. Dates for the construction of buildings, Jewish rebellions, and Roman characters are relatively easy to find. Descriptions of 1st century Jewish culture provide clues about religious practices and expected behaviors. Rebellion leaders, the effect of their rebellion, and the Roman response have been documented. Information is available about 1st century medical science, education, technology, mathematics, construction, and food production.

It is from these resources that I constructed my timeline for “Am I Your Son?”

Some Background

Jesus would have been influenced by the Jewish mores and traditions of his time, including expectation he would be married at an early age and have children.

Jesus became a carpenter and stone mason, worked at his trade in Nazareth, Sepphoris and Capernaum. He may also have worked on Roman structures in Tiberias, Judea and Alexandria, Egypt.

The events of his life were framed by Jewish insurgence against the Romans. He would have been encouraged and tempted to join the rebellion. Jewish rebellion activity, which has been documented, provides us with reference points for the events in the life of Jesus.

Several of his Apostles were initially Jewish Nationalists who were attracted to Jesus because he was a natural leader whom they thought could lead them against the Romans. To his everlasting credit, Jesus diverted their energy toward a far greater mission.

Most of his followers believed Jesus could use his powers to expel the Romans from Israel. When he failed to do so, many turned against him. That is why, for example, toward the end of his ministry he was not welcome in Capernaum. That is also why adoration suddenly turned to disbelief, cynicism, and hatred the week of his crucifixion in Jerusalem.

The Life of Jesus
From my novel: Am I Your Son?

Constructing a realistic timeline for the life of this baby, boy, teenager, man and son of God presented an interesting challenge. The following timeline I developed for my gospel “Am I Your Son” is, I believe, very credible - if not perfect.

6 B.C. September. Mary was busy with morning chores when she heard the front yard gate close with a clatter. Curious, she looked out the small kitchen window to see who was coming to the door. It was Joseph. (Note 1). And so begins the love story of Joseph and Mary. Incidentally, it has been alleged Mary was actually born in Sepphoris to Anna and Joachim. They apparently moved to Nazareth after her birth.

6 B.C. October. It is time for Joseph to consummate his betrothal to Mary, Jacob (Joseph’s father) decided. He abruptly moved to act on his decision.

6 B.C. November. “Mary of Nazareth,” a young man’s voice called out to her “we meet again.” It was Maximus, the Roman Centurion. I introduce Maximus, who is a sympathetic character, to illustrate the attitudes of Jesus and Mary towards a Roman soldier.

25 B.C. December. Mary (age 14) and Joseph (age 15) were married in a traditional village ceremony.

6 B.C. June. The aches and pains of age troubled Zechariah (the date is correct: John was born before Jesus). Elizabeth had become pregnant six months before Joseph and Mary were married.

5 B.C. January. Word went out to the family Elizabeth was having trouble with her health. Mary volunteered to help Elizabeth until she gave birth. Although they had been married for only two weeks, Joseph reluctantly agreed.

5 B.C. February. Mary was just finishing breakfast when she suddenly jumped up from the table and ran outside. Several minutes later she returned, looking very ill. (Most women will recognize morning sickness. Mary was pregnant.).

5 B.C. Mid-March. The shriek of pain coming from the bedroom told Mary that John (who would become known as John the Baptist) was coming into the world.

5 B.C. April. Three weeks after John’s birth, Mary returned home to be with the man she loved.

5 B.C. Late August. Although Joseph had steadfastly resisted being drawn into the rebellious hatred mounting in Nazareth, Sepphoris, Cana, Nain, and elsewhere, he knew he was being ridiculed for his attitude. Jewish nationalists were threatening the safety of any man who refused to join the rebellion. (Mounting anger had been ignited by the enumeration ordered by King Herod in late 6 B.C. or early 5 B.C. Matthews story about the census, which did not occur until after the birth of Jesus in 6 A.D., is a mistake.)

5 B.C. September. It is likely that Joseph and Mary, like thousands of other Jews, left Israel to escape the coming carnage. Joseph also knew there would be many opportunities for employment in Alexandria, reinforcing the selection of Egypt as their destination.

5 B.C. Late September or early October. Although Joseph and Mary had intended to visit Jerusalem as they traveled south toward Egypt, it was obviously too dangerous to do so. They circumvent the city and head south. By the time they reach Bethlehem, Mary can travel no further and gives birth to Jesus. (Note 1 and 2).

4 B.C. When Herod died all Judea erupted. Pious Jews, Jewish nationalists, and would be Messiahs rose up, all hoping to restore Judea's liberty.  Publius Quintilius Varus, governor of Syria, led three complete legions and numerous Arab auxiliaries into Judea, marched on Sepphoris and down the center of Judea to Jerusalem, systematically and brutally suppressing all opposition. After occupying Jerusalem, he crucified 2000 Jewish rebels. This was, of course, the bloodshed Joseph wanted to avoid by taking Mary to Egypt.

4 B.C. While in Egypt, Mary gave birth to a second child, a girl named Deborah, and in April of 2 B.C. Mary gave birth to a boy, whom they named James (who will become known as the Apostle James the Lessor).

2 B.C. July. Wanting to establish a more permanent home among friends and family, Mary and Joseph start the long walk back to Nazareth.

6 A.D. There was a commotion in the street. The people of Nazareth were gathering to meet a large band of armed men who had gathered at the village well. Mary went to the door of the shop. “Who is that man in front?” “He is known as Judas of Galilee,” Joseph said quietly “he is from the village of Gamala.” “He is leading a rebellion against the Romans.” This second rebellion, which made a great impression of a young Jesus, also failed.

 9 A.D. A whisper of a breeze brought welcome relief to the heat of a summer afternoon. Deborah (11), James (10), Joses (9), Jude (8) Simon (7) and Rachel (5) were playing a lively and animated game of hide and go seek. (Yes. Mary had seven children.)

12 A.D. Jesus liked working with his father in Sepphoris. Here he falls in love with Sarah. Jesus and Sarah were married in December, 12 AD. He was 16. Sarah was 17. The wedding was held at Jamel’s home in Sepphoris.

14 A.D. Some of the women in Nazareth would turn away from Sarah as though she were unclean. The men of the village gossiped and joked about Jesus. Because they had no children.

14 A.D. Late Spring. Sarah shows her compassion and healing ability for a little girl.

14 A.D. Summer. Jesus and Sarah had few possessions. With the help of Joses and Jude it took them only two and one half hours to pull the cart to Sepphoris.

 18 A.D. Jesus had worked as a carpenter and mason in Sepphoris for almost four years. Sarah was struggling up the hill to her home when she was suddenly confronted by two of Herod’s mercenary soldiers.

18 A.D. “Thankfully April rains and the darkness of night should cover your escape.

20 A.D. Late summer. James and John persuaded Jesus to go with them to help Simon move from Bethsaida to Capernaum.

20 A.D. James, John, Simon and Jesus returned to Bethsaida with two carts to help Andrew move to Capernaum. As they climbed the hill into town, Jesus saw a familiar figure on the road ahead. It was Salome, his mother’s sister 

23 A.D. Summer. According to local gossip, Matthew was the richest man in Capernaum. That’s because he was the local tax collector for Herod Antipas.

23 A.D. Early November. Jesus had just celebrated his 27th birthday.

24 A.D. April. Although the pain of Sarah’s death had ebbed away with the healing power of time, Jesus was lethargic, depressed and restless.

24 A.D. August. Early the next morning he left Capernaum for Bethsaida, pulling the cart behind him. He meets and has a conversation with a shepherd (who is Micah the angel). Jesus is surprised to find John at Salome’s house.

24 A.D. September. Upon reaching Caesarea Maritima, John and Jesus find a way to work their fare to Alexandria. (I choose to believe Jesus wanted to heal. In Alexandria he could learn from some of the best physicians of the first century.)

25 A.D. Late Spring. Jesus had been diligent in his studies and was ready to leave Alexandria. Joseph dies in late August.

26 A.D. Late Fall. Jesus remained in Capernaum and developed a method of resistance to Roman harassment. A strong, robust, self-confident and charismatic man had begun to emerge from the humble image of the carpenter. Jesus has just turned 30.

27 A.D. Early Spring. Jesus had resolved his nationalistic feelings and wanted to focus his attention on the spiritual health of his people. He knew he wanted to heal both spiritually and physically, but he was unsure of what to do. Connects with God.

27 A.D. May. Without saying a word about his conversation with God, he closed up his shop in Capernaum. In late May he leaves Nazareth for the Essene communal structures of Qumran to prepare himself for his mission. By late July Jesus was thoroughly proficient in the message he was to deliver. Then God connects: And I will call you son. That too is a familiar name for someone whom I love.

27 A.D. Late July. John was baptizing on the east bank of the Jordan River where the road from Jerusalem and Jericho crosses into the lands of Peraea. John baptizes Jesus. After two days Philip, Simon and Andrew join Jesus for his trip to Galilee.

27 A.D. September. Jesus accompanied Mary, his brothers Simon and Joses, and his sister Deborah on the 4.5 hour walk to Cana. In January, 28 A.D. he moves to Capernaum with Mary and Joses.

28 A.D. March. One evening Jesus gathered together with Peter, Andrew, James and John Boanerges, Simon Zealotes, and Bartholomew around a fire. They were soon joined by his brothers James and Jude along with Philip, all from Bethsaida. Jesus addressed the group. “I plan to preach in Magdala and Tiberias. If two or three of you could find the time to go with me, I would be pleased to have your company.”

29 A.D. Two important events occurred in early 29 A.D. Jesus selects his Apostles and gives what is known as The Sermon on the Mount. He later learns John has been sent to prison in Herod’s fortress at Machaerus.

29 A.D. Accompanied by his Apostles and several women, Jesus began his second tour of Galilee.

29 A.D. Two men approached the shop where Jesus was working. “John the Baptist has been beheaded.”

29 A.D. September. Jesus walked to the shore of the Sea of Galilee with Peter, Matthew and his brother Jude. He looked gravely at his companions. The Romans have beheaded John the Baptist. Now they will come after me.

29 A.D. October. Judas came into the shop where Jesus was working, stood for a moment as though uncertain what to say, and then sat down on the bench. Jesus knew what Judas was thinking.

30 A.D. March. Traveling to Passover was a mixture of fatigue, discomfort, aggravation, fear, elation, happiness, noise, and ceaseless activity. (Note 3)

30 A.D. Wednesday April 5. A man dressed in a white robe with a purple sash appears on the top step of the entrance to the inner Temple Courtyard. It is the High Priest. “These fools can talk of nothing but this man Jesus. We must be ready to deal with him. Assemble the Sanhedrin Counsel.”

30 A.D. Friday.  Passover (which by Jewish tradition, started at dusk last night and will end at dusk next Thursday night) had begun. On the following Sunday Jesus will make a triumphant entrance to the Temple in Jerusalem and briefly speak to an enthusiastic crowd. On Monday he will again enter the Temple Mount and go into the Court of Gentiles to preach. Jesus will also go to the Temple Mount on Tuesday with his Apostles and a number of disciples. 

Late Wednesday afternoon, Caiaphas the High Priest called another session of the Sanhedrin Council. “For three days that renegade has preached in the Court of Gentiles and below the Temple Mount. The first day, everyone who heard him was filled with joy. The second day, many began to have doubts he would be their liberator. Today the crowd dwindled down to a handful of disciples and curious pilgrims. He is losing favor with our people. Today someone even jeered that he has lost his magic power.... I have decided to act. With the help of the Levites, we can turn the crowd against him.”

Thursday afternoon the Sanhedrin Council had a meeting to decide on a number of matters, including their rising concern about the rebellious preacher from Galilee. They decide: “We will look for Jesus and take him to the Romans. They will crucify him.”

Passover ends Thursday afternoon after Sundown. Tomorrow most of the pilgrims will leave Jerusalem for home. Judas convinces the High Priest he must capture Jesus before he can leave the city. They find Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane where he is waiting for the mob. Thus begins an ordeal that lasted approximately 20 hours.

......................

Note 1: After substantial research, I have concluded Jesus was born in 5 B.C. by the Gregorian calendar.

If we assume he was born before the death of King Herod the Great, who died in early 4 B.C., then he would have been born in either 6 or 5 B. C.

According to general consensus, Mary his mother was born in 20 B.C. That means she would have been eligible for betrothal in 7 B.C. and Marriage in 6 B.C. Jesus, her first son, would have arrived in late 5 B.C. (September or October).

 Jesus began his ministry, according to tradition, in August of 27 A.D. at age 30. Counting backward places the date of his birth in 5 B. C.

The enumeration ordered by Herod began in late 6 or early 5 B.C., causing general rebellion among the Jewish population who believed any kind of census was illegal according to God’s laws. The death of King Herod in 4 B.C. gave the rebels an opportunity to elevate their rebellion into open war. Thus the only time of relative safety for travel would have been in mid-5 B.C. between months of high tension, further supporting 5 B.C. as the year of birth.

Note 2: We celebrate the birth of Jesus on December, 25 because that date was chosen by early church leaders to replace a pagan holiday. Given the sequence of events, late September or early October is more likely. Ironically, Jesus could have been conceived on December 25, 6 B.C.

Note 3: According to 1st century Jewish Passover dates, 30 A.D. is the only one that fits Matthew’s story of the crucifixion (which was affirmed by Luke), and the timeline for the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Note 4: This is, of course, an attempt to clarify the traditional Christian story about the life of Jesus. It makes no attempt to resolve the interesting parallels between the life of Jesus and the historical information we have about the life of Judas of Galilee.

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