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I think to truly understand the historical Jesus, you have to understand both the context in which Jesus lived and equally as important the context in which the Gospels were written. The context in which the Gospels were written was in post-70 C.E. Judaism; this was after the destruction of the temple, after the destruction of Jerusalem, after the exile of the Jews from the Holy Land. This was a time in which the apocalyptic expectation—the sense that something profound was going to happen, that the Kingdom of God was about to be established—was violently destroyed and, so, what you have in the Gospels is a story about Jesus that is being written in a political environment that didn’t exist when Jesus himself was alive and so it’s important to read them as such.
Why is Jesus’ radical, political consequences of his teachings, why are they deliberately made more temperate, more easy to accept in a particularly Roman context? Why, for instance, is his Jewish identity somewhat suppressed in the Gospels? I mean the Gospels themselves were not written for a Jewish audience; otherwise, they wouldn’t go through such great lengths to explain every Jewish thing that Jesus does. Why is there so much effort in removing blame from Rome for Jesus’ death? All of those things have to be understood in the context of this catastrophic event that happened in the year 70 C.E. It’s really probably the most important thing to know when coming to the Gospels, when figuring out how to read it, is the political context in which they were being written.