Christians traditionally believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, performed miracles, founded the Church, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, from which he will return. The majority of Christians worship Jesus as the incarnation of God the Son, and "the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity". A few Christian groups, however, reject Trinitarianism, wholly or partly, believing it to be non-scriptural. Most Christian scholars today present Jesus as the awaited Messiah promised in the Old Testament and as God, arguing that he fulfilled many Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament.
Judaism rejects assertions that Jesus was the awaited Messiah, arguing that he did not fulfill the Messianic prophecies in the Tanakh. In Islam, Jesus is considered one of God's important prophets, a bringer of scripture, and the product of a virgin birth, but not the victim of crucifixion. Islam and the Bahá'í Faith use the title "Messiah" for Jesus, but do not teach that he was God incarnate.
Although a few scholars have questioned the existence of Jesus as an actual historical figure, most scholars involved with historical Jesus research believe his existence, but not the supernatural claims associated with him, can be established using documentary and other evidence. As discussed in the sections immediately below, the estimation of the year of death of Jesus places his lifespan around the beginning of the 1st century AD/CE, in the geographic region of Roman Judaea. The New Testament also refers to the Sea of Galilee which is about 75 miles north of Jerusalem.
Roman involvement in Judaea began around 63 BC/BCE and by 6 AD/CE Judaea had become a Roman province. From 26-37 AD/CE Pontius Pilate was the governor of Roman Judaea. In this time period, although Roman Judaea was strategically positioned between Asia and Africa, it was not viewed as a critically important province by the Romans. The Romans were highly tolerant of other religions and allowed the local populations such as the Jews to practice their own faiths.
Two independent approaches have been used to estimate the year of the birth of Jesus, one by analyzing the Nativity accounts in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew along with other historical data, the other by working backwards from the estimation of the start of the ministry of Jesus, as also discussed in the section below.
In its Nativity account, the Gospel of Matthew associates the birth of Jesus with the reign of Herod the Great, who is generally believed to have died around 4 BC/BCE. Matthew 2:1 states that: "Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king" and Luke 1:5 mentions the reign of Herod shortly before the birth of Jesus. Matthew also suggests that Jesus may have been as much as two years old at the time of the visit of the Magi and hence even older at the time of Herod's death. But the author of Luke also describes the birth as taking place during the first census of the Roman provinces of Syria and Iudaea, which is generally believed to have occurred in 6 AD/CE. Most scholars generally assume a date of birth between 6 and 4 BC/BCE. Other scholars assume that Jesus was born sometime between 7–2 BC/BCE.
The year of birth of Jesus has also been estimated in a manner that is independent of the Nativity accounts, by using information in the Gospel of John to work backwards from the statement in Luke 3:23 that Jesus was "about 30 years of age" at the start of his ministry. As discussed in the section below, by combining information from John 2:13 and John 2:20 with the writings of Josephus, it has been estimated that around 27-29 AD/CE, Jesus was "about thirty years of age". Some scholars thus estimate the year 28 AD/CE to be roughly the 32nd birthday of Jesus and the birth year of Jesus to be around 6-4 BC/BCE.
However, the common Gregorian calendar method for numbering years, in which the current year is 2011, is based on the decision of a monk Dionysius in the sixth century, to count the years from a point of reference (namely, Jesus’ birth) which he placed sometime between 2 BC and 1 AD. Although Christian feasts related to the Nativity have had specific dates (e.g. December 25 for Christmas) there is no historical evidence for the exact day or month of the birth of Jesus.
Years of ministry estimates
Israel Museum model of Herod's Temple, referred to in John 2:13.
There have been different approaches to estimating the date of the start of the ministry of Jesus. One approach, based on combining information from the Gospel of Luke with historical data about Emperor Tiberius yields a date around 28-29 AD/CE, while a second independent approach based on statements in the Gospel of John along with historical information from Josephus about the Temple in Jerusalem leads to a date around 27-29 AD/CE. A third method uses the date of the death of John the Baptist and the marriage of Herod Antipas to Herodias based on the writings of Josephus, and correlates it to Matthew 14:4.
The estimation of the date based on the Gospel of John uses the statements in John 2:13 that Jesus went to the Temple in Jerusalem around the start of his ministry and in John 2:20 that "Forty and six years was this temple in building" at that time. According to Josephus (Ant 15.380) the temple reconstruction was started by Herod the Great in the 15th-18th year of his reign at about the time that Augustus arrived in Syria (Ant 15.354). Temple expansion and reconstruction was ongoing, and it was in constant reconstruction until it was destroyed in 70 AD/CE by the Romans. Given that it took 46 years of construction, the Temple visit in the Gospel of John has been estimated at around 27-29 AD/CE.
Although both the gospels and Josephus refer to Herod Antipas killing John the Baptist, they differ on the details, e.g. whether this act was a consequence of the marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias, as indicated in Matthew 14:4, or a pre-emptive measure by Herod which possibly took place before the marriage, as Josephus suggests in Ant 18.5.2. The exact year of the marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias is subject to debate among scholars. In his analysis of Herod's life, Harold Hoehner estimates that John the Baptist's imprisonment probably occurred around AD 30-31. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia estimates the death of the Baptist to have occurred about AD 31-32. The death of John the Baptist relates to the end of the major Galilean ministry of Jesus, just before the half way point in the gospel narratives, before the start of Jesus' final journey to Jerusalem through Judea.
Luke 3:23 states that at the start of his ministry Jesus was "about 30 years of age", but the other Gospels do not mention a specific age. However, in John 8:57 the Jews exclaimed to Jesus: "Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?" suggesting that he was much less than 50 years old during his ministry. The length of the ministry is subject to debate, based on the fact that the Synoptic Gospels mention only one passover during Jesus' ministry, often interpreted as implying that the ministry lasted approximately one year, whereas the Gospel of John records multiple passovers, implying that his ministry may have lasted at least three years.
Year of death estimates
A number of approaches have been used to estimate the year of the death of Jesus, including information from the Canonical Gospels, the chronology of the life of Paul the Apostle in the New Testament correlated with historical events, as well as different astronomical models, as discussed below.
The estimation of the date of the conversion of Paul places the death of Jesus before this conversion, which is estimated at around 33-36 AD/CE. (Also see the estimation of the start of Jesus' ministry as a few years before this date above). The estimation of the year of Paul's conversion relies on a series of calculations working backwards from the well established date of his trial before Gallio in Achaea Greece (Acts 18:12-17) around 51-52 AD/CE, the meeting of Priscilla and Aquila which were expelled from Rome about 49 AD/CE and the 14-year period before returning to Jerusalem in Galatians 2:1. The remaining period is generally accounted for by Paul's missions (at times with Barnabas) such as those in Acts 11:25-26 and 2 Corinthians 11:23-33, resulting in the 33-36 AD/CE estimate.
For centuries, astronomers and scientists have used diverse computational methods to estimate the date of crucifixion, Isaac Newton being one of the first cases. Newton's method relied on the relative visibility of the crescent of the new moon and he suggested the date as Friday, April 23, 34 AD/CE. In 1990 astronomer Bradley E. Schaefer computed the date as Friday, April 3, 33 AD/CE. In 1991, John Pratt stated that Newton's method was sound, but included a minor error at the end. Pratt suggested the year 33 AD/CE as the answer. Using the completely different approach of a lunar eclipse model, Humphreys and Waddington arrived at the conclusion that Friday, April 3, 33 AD/CE was the date of the crucifixion.