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In the Days of Jesus

Tradition begins the story of Christianity with the birth of Jesus. Like all traditions, this story reflects a combination of history and legend, layers of religious interpretation and factual accounts. Virtually the only sources for understanding the life and personality of the historical Jesus are the books of the New Testament, which were composed in the second half of the first century, decades after his crucifixion. The authors of these works viewed Jesus as the Messiah and believed in his teachings; their mission was to spread the message of the new faith. They collected oral traditions and early writings, which emphasized the spiritual dimension of Jesus’ life, but were not overly concerned with historical fact.

In attempting to reconstruct the details of Jesus’ life on the basis of New Testament sources alone, it becomes apparent that our knowledge of the historical Jesus is full of gaps. Even the place and date of Jesus’ birth are uncertain. Archaeological evidence, too, has been unable to contribute much to the little we already know. Yet there seems to be no doubt that Jesus indeed lived some two thousand years ago, and that his personality and deeds were the catalyst for all that was to ensue after his death.

Our knowledge of life in the Land of Israel during the time of Jesus, the late Second Temple period, and of the major events of those decisive years is based on the writings of Josephus and on other literary sources, as well as extensive archaeological excavations conducted throughout the country, particularly in Jerusalem. This evidence has enabled us to reconstruct the atmosphere during the days of Jesus and his disciples, to understand the background to his sermons and the reasons for his censure, and to grasp the intense sense of messianic expectation that pervaded Jewish society in those years. In this section of the exhibition, we have attempted to present events from the life of Jesus against the backdrop of objects from that period, which have been unearthed in excavations in this country and which have an actual or presumed connection to his life story.

The Sea of Galilee in a photograph from the 19th century
Photo: Félix Bonfils, Israel Museum Collection, Gift of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs


Stone Ossuaries with the names of the Deceased in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek

The custom of reburying the bones of the deceased in ossuaries was widespread among Jews of the late Second Temple period, particularly those living in Judea. Along the ossuary walls, relatives would carve the names of the interred in the languages spoken at that time – Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek.

The ossuaries exhibited here bear names familiar to us from the New Testament, suggesting that the names of Jesus, his relatives, and his disciples were popular among the inhabitants of the land during this period.

Stone ossuary of
"Judas son of Jesus (Yeshua)"
Israel Antiquities Authority, 80-501
Photo: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem / by Avraham Hay

Names of deceased carved on ossuaries
Drawings: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem / by Pnina Arad

Jesus son of Alot

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In the Days of Jesus |In the Early Church |Pilgrimage |Images & Symbols |Monasticism in the Holy Land

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