For years, one of the most controversial theories put forth about Jesus Christ was that he was actually married during his short life. Documentary Treasures Decoded: Was Jesus Married? explores this question in depth, calling upon scholars, theologians and historical evidence to uncover the truth. In this spirit, we have highlighted a bunch of other surprising facts about Jesus you probably weren’t aware of.
He wasn’t born on December 25
As many people will no doubt have reminded you as you grumble about traffic and dash out for a last-minute present buying frenzy, Christmas is actually about celebrating the birth of Jesus. Only, there is no real evidence he was born on this day - or even in the same month.
People didn’t even celebrate the day until 336 AD, with a date arrived upon by early Latin Christians, who did some mathematics based on Jesus’s supposed conception on March 25 - the date of the feast of the Annunciation. In 200 AD, Clement of Alexandria had given Jesus the approximate birth date of May 20, based on Bible writings that mention farm work which simply wouldn’t be carried out in the deep winter of December. This is actually the only clue in the Bible as to the time of year Jesus was born.
Other dates proposed include June 17 and September 11 - both of which were arrived at by studying constellation charts, past eclipses and other celestial happenings to figure out what the “bright light” in the sky leading the wise men to Jesus would have been, and when it would have most likely been visible.
Either way, nobody knows for sure, so the odds of landing on the exact date are, well, 1 in 365.
He probably wasn’t even born in the year we think he was
Jesus’s birth date has long been assumed to be 1 AD, so much so that our entire calendar system kinda hinges on this one detail.
It’s quite surprising, however, to learn scholars cannot agree upon which year he was born, with many landing somewhere between 7 BC and 2 BC. The mistake was ingrained into history when 6th century monk Dionysius Exiguus invented the calendar and totally mucked up the dates. You had one job, Dionysuis!
This historical blunder has even been acknowledged by Pope Benedict XVI, who said, “The actual date of Jesus's birth was several years before.” The pope agrees his actual birth date would have fallen into the date range of 7 BC and 2 BC, which means the end of the '80s was actually the start of the '90s. Chew on that for a bit.
He wasn’t even born in a stable
Oh no, it’s getting worse. Not only was Jesus not born in the same year or on the date we assumed, but he wasn’t even born in a stable! If there is any physical emblem, save the Christmas Tree, of that time of the year, it’s a wooden nativity scene starring the three wise men, various lambs and a little baby in a manger.
So where was he born? Theories range from a cave-like dwelling to the ground floor of a multi-storey house. Lawrence H Schiffman, a professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at NYU, believes Mary probably gave birth in the bottom floor of a small stone house without windows. The lower area is traditionally where animals were kept, which accounts for the cheery stable scene we’re all used to. All the details of Jesus’s birth found in the Bible come from one measly chapter in Luke, which doesn’t add anymore to the tale. Yup, Jesus’s was a home birth.
To remove the romance of the situation completely, it is likely Mary was only 14 years old at the time and she almost definitely gave birth standing upright, leaning on a midwife, while she delivered a miracle. And the manger? Probably a feeding trough.
He was definitely not white, possibly black, maybe Indian and most likely Middle Eastern
Based on his supposed genealogy and the geography of where the Bible’s most Jesus-centric tales take place, it should follow that Jesus was Middle Eastern, with hair and skin tone representative of this linage. However, the agreed-upon image of Jesus finds him with flowing, straight hair, pale skin, a hipster beard and decidedly Western features.
A 2001 BBC/Discovery doco reconstructed Jesus’s face with the aid of forensic sculpting and Jewish skulls preserved from the 1st century - and the results show him to have a large nose, a wide face and tight wiry curls. Many zealots weren’t impressed by these findings.
Early Roman art from the 2nd century showcases a young, beardless, curly-haired Jesus, and a ban on religious imagery in early Judaism muddied things further. By the time the 4th century rolled around, Constantine The Great had been converted to Christianity, and art depicting Jesus flourished, much of which showed a middle-aged man with a full beard and straight red hair.
As various forms of racism and antisemitism came in and out of prominence over the centuries, Jesus’s features morphed to resemble the picture we have in our heads today. Luminaries such as Martin Luther King even espoused the idea that Jesus was black, with a bloodline stretching back to Africa. Others believe he was Indian, and that this was where the actual events portrayed in the bible took place.
Obviously this will remain a hot-button issue for as long as Jesus remains a revered, holy figure. Until we have definitive proof, which looks unlikely considering the distinct lack of Kodak products in the New Testament, everyone will want to claim a Jesus that looks like them.
Watch Was Jesus Married? on Sunday 18 June at 7:30pm on SBS.