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3.1 Introduction

The Bible is the base on which rests the traditional story of Jesus. More information can be found elsewhere, for instance in the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Apocrypha and the legends and myths from Christianity and from other cultures. Moreover sciences, archaeology and astronomy are useful in different ways. There are many data on Jesus outside the Bible, they are not always reliable but they offer a new light on the person; however the Bible is the main source.

The culture of the old Hebrews was such that religion was intermixed with legal and political matters. As a result, the Old Testament refers to the coming of the Messiah in religious or political terms and in both depending the circumstances. The Messiah assumes then the form of a prophet, a King, a priest or a combination of these three roles. An old Hebrew custom put kings and priest apart of the rest of the population by anointing them with oil.

The first Old testament prophecy was the promise made by God to Abraham. Abraham, known at first as Abram, was born in Ur in Mesopotamia. The Chaldeans who were living there were worshipping the moon. Abraham was told by God to leave his homeland and go to a land that God would indicate to him in due time. Abraham and his wife Sarah crossed the great Sahara desert, went to Egypt, and finally reached Canaan, a country known by the name of one of the pagan peoples living there. God told him that he would be the ancestor of a great people and that they would be given a land of their own. By this he meant that the land he could see would be his and his descendants’ (Genesis 13:14-15).This land has had different names in different periods of time: Canaan, Israel, Judea, Palestine and, since 1948, the State of Israel. Sarah gave a son to Abraham who called him Isaac. Isaac had many children, including Jacob who became known as Israel. Israel, in his turn, had twelve sons from whom the Twelve Tribes of Israel descended. One of them was called Judah. The second promise of God to Abraham was not fulfilled when, centuries later, the Hebrews left Egypt, where they were slaves, to go to the Promised Land.

At Mount Sinai Moses received the Ten Commandments and the promise from God that a prophet would come from his people (Deuteronomy 18:18). Moses’ successor, Joshua, captured Jericho and led the Twelve Tribes into Canaan, the land promised to Abraham. The next prophet, David, ruled over the twelve tribes and was told by God that one of his descendants would come on earth to build his Kingdom and the house of God (II Sam.7:12-13; I Chron.17:11). Solomon, David’s son, the wisest man who ever lived according to the Old Testament, built the First Temple. David’s grand son entered into a civil war that split the monarchy. A few hundred years later, in 722 BC, the Assyrians carried away the ten Northern tribes that disappeared for ever.

In 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar, led the Babylonians against Jerusalem, and deported the last two tribes in the land where Abraham was born. The Persians who followed the Babylonians were closer to the Hebrews with whom they believed in monotheism. Their king, Cyrus, allowed some Hebrews to come back to Jerusalem where they became known as Jews after one of Jacob’s son, Judah.

Palestine was then conquered in succession by the Macedonians under Alexander the Great, the Ptolemies of Egypt, and then by the Seleucids of Syria. Under the next conquerors, the Maccabees, the Jews were given some freedom but they were again taken over again, this time by the Romans under Pompey who took Jerusalem in 63 BC.