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Monday, 26 March, 2001, 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK
Looking for the historical Jesus
Jesus: a facial reconstruction
Is this the face of the Son of God?
By BBC News Online's Alex Webb

He has been the source of faith for billions of people, the inspiration of great art and music, and an excuse for war.

Son Of God is BBC One's new investigation into the life of Jesus Christ, presented by the BBC's former Middle East correspondent Jeremy Bowen.

Bowen admitted to BBC News Online he brought a certain amount of scepticism to the programme.

I thought you couldn't corroborate anything that was in the Gospels, frankly

Jeremy Bowen

"To start with I didn't know there was a historical character called Jesus - I thought that you had to believe in Jesus the same way as you have to believe in God.

"I discovered that in fact there is a lot of historical corroboration for the existence of this man - for example there's a Romanised Jewish historian who writes about a man called Jesus, a Jew who attained a following of people in his area, who was known as a worker of deeds and who was put to death by the authorities.

Jeremy Bowen
Jeremy Bowen has concentrated on the 'history' of Jesus' life

"It's a different question whether or not you believe Jesus was the Son of God and our Saviour - that's a religious question."

The series has used the latest scientific and historical research to reconstruct the main events of Jesus' life.


Forensic and archaeological techniques have been used to reconstruct how Jesus might really have looked - from a first century Jewish skull.

"I thought you couldn't corroborate anything that was in the Gospels, frankly - it was all made up by people who were trying to push a point," said Bowen.

"But actually, amidst the fables and literature and poetry in the Gospels there's also history - we've tried to concentrate on the history."

This historical emphasis serves to support some Gospel stories - and question others.


"There are aspects of the Christmas story which aren't quite what we imagine - there are some biblical scholars who say that Jesus wasn't even born in Bethlehem, he was born in Nazareth.

"He certainly wasn't born in a stable as the picture postcards have it, made of wood with a little manger - it was more likely to have been a cave.

"That's how people kept their animals and still do in the West Bank - we went to places in the West bank where people were giving birth in the same cave as the animals."

Bowen also said his involvement with this series on the Holy Land had influenced his perception of the troubled region today.


"No question about it - religion is as major a part of life now as it was then.

"Jesus' disputes with the temple priests are interesting in so far as you can see Jews having huge disputes now in Israel like 'Who is a Jew?'.

"And in a sense that's what Jesus was doing - there were a whole lot of people who weren't able to take part in religion because they were sick, they were lame, they were mentally ill - and he said no, he could forgive them, make them clean and they could then take part.

"These debates are every bit a vivid today as they were then."

Jesus' statue in Rio de Janeiro
The faith of 2 bn people

But Bowen's fascination with his subject hasn't quite gone as far as making him a believer.

"I'd say I'm not religious, really - I wouldn't rule it out.

"The important thing is not what he was or what he wasn't - the important things is what people believe him to have been.

"A massive world wide religion, numbering more than two billion people follows his memory - that's pretty remarkable, 2,000 years on."

Son Of God starts on BBC One on 1 April.

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See also:

26 Mar 01 | TV and Radio
BBC unveils hi-tech Jesus
09 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Religion not sensation, say art lovers
16 Feb 01 | Americas
'Naked Jesus' angers Giuliani
05 Feb 01 | Americas
Jewish fury at 'Holy Land' park
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