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Is this the childhood home of Jesus?
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The power of Mary, mother of Jesus
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The special bond between Jesus and Lazarus
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Where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead
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The stone that proves Pilate's existence
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What we know about the trial of Jesus
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Why King Herod feared baby Jesus
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Was Herod the Great really evil?
Editor’s Note: This article first published in 2015 and has been updated. To learn more about the historical Jesus, watch the CNN Original Series ‘Finding Jesus,” Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CNN.
With Lent underway, and the original series “Finding Jesus” back on CNN, you’re going to hear a lot about Jesus.
You may hear revelations from new books that purport to tell the “real story” about Jesus, opinions from friends who have discovered a “secret” on the Web about the son of God, and airtight arguments from co-workers who can prove he never existed.
Beware of most of these revelations; many are based on pure speculation and wishful thinking. Much of what we know about Jesus has been known for the last 2,000 years.
Still, even for devout Christians there are surprises to be found hidden within the Gospels, and thanks to advances in historical research and archaeological discoveries, more is known about his life and times.
With that in mind, here are five things you probably didn’t know about Jesus.
1.) Jesus came from a nowhere little town.
Nearly all modern-day archaeologists agree the town of Nazareth had only 200 to 400 people. Jesus’ hometown is mentioned nowhere in either the Old Testament or the Talmud, which notes dozens of other towns in the area.
In fact, in the New Testament it is literally a joke.
In the Gospel of John, when a man named Nathanael hears the messiah is “Jesus of Nazareth,” he asks, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” He’s dissing Jesus’ crummy backwater town.
2.) Jesus probably didn’t know everything.
This is a thorny theological question. If Jesus is divine, wouldn’t he know all things? (Indeed, on several occasions Jesus predicts his death and resurrection.)
On the other hand, if he had a human consciousness, he needed to be taught something before he could know it. The Gospel of Luke says that when Jesus was a young man he “progressed” in wisdom. That means he learned things. (Otherwise how would he “progress”?)
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus initially refuses to heal the daughter of a non-Jewish woman, saying rather sharply, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
But when she replies that even the dogs get the crumbs from the table, Jesus softens, and he heals her daughter. He seems to be learning that his ministry extends beyond the Jewish people.
The vessel held here by Pope Francis is said to contain the dried blood of Saint Januarius. The vial is kept in Italy's Naples Cathedral. It's brought out three times a year for prayer ceremonies, during which it is said to liquefy. However, the blood doesn't always assume its liquid state -- as was the case on December 16, 2016. According to legend, that could foreshadow disaster in the coming year. To learn more about the evidence behind Christian relics, artifacts and the historical Jesus, watch CNN's original series "Finding Jesus," Sunday nights at 9 ET/PT.
Saint Anthony, often invoked by Catholics when they've lost something, is buried at the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua, Italy. The church also houses a large reliquary containing his tongue. According to church legend, when Saint Anthony's body was exhumed years after his death, most of his body had turned to dust. His tongue, however, is said to have appeared moist and alive.
Pope Francis holds a box -- found in a tomb beneath Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City -- which the Catholic Church claims contains the bones of Saint Peter. The relics were first discovered in the 1940s, but Pope Francis put them on display to the public for the first time in 2013.
Over the years, countless supposed fragments of the cross on which Jesus was crucified have turned up. Historians say the spread of these relics can be traced to Saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. Helena traveled to Jerusalem and while there, excavators working for her discovered three crosses buried beneath a temple. It's claimed that, through a miraculous revelation, Helena was able to discern which of the crosses was the "true cross." She left one piece of it in Jerusalem and took the rest to Europe.
Saint Catherine of Siena was known for her miraculous visions and her work helping the sick and poor. Today visitors to the city can see a slightly macabre memorial to her. More than 600 years after her death, Saint Catherine's head remains on display at the Basilica of San Domenico.
Marco Destefanis/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images
The Shroud of Turin —
The shroud is believed by many Christians to be the burial shroud of Jesus -- but science suggests otherwise. Carbon dating indicates it dates to the 13th or 14th century. The cloth is regarded by the scientifically minded as a medieval forgery.
Legend has it that as Jesus was being led to the hill where he was crucified, Saint Veronica encountered him. She used a cloth to wipe the sweat and blood from his face, and the veil was supposedly imprinted with his image. The existence of the veil has never been proven or disproven -- but there are a number of copies and purported originals scattered across Europe.
According to the Bible, a crown of thorns was placed on Jesus' head before his crucifixion. Today a number of relics of the crown are venerated by Christians. The one pictured above is held in Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral.
According to the Gospel of John, a Roman soldier pierced Jesus' side with a spear during his crucifixion. A number of relics purporting to be the tip of this "Holy Lance" have surfaced throughout history. Also known as the "Spear of Destiny" and supposedly bestowing supernatural powers on its owner, there are at least three relics at different locations that claim to be part of the original.
Meaning "sweat cloth" in Latin, the Sudarium of Oviedo is a bloodstained piece of cloth that was allegedly used to wrap the head of Jesus after his crucifixion. Today, the relic is kept in a chest in the Cathedral of San Salvador in Oviedo, Spain.
Chartres is home to one of Europe's most stunning Gothic cathedrals. The church also houses one of Christianity's most venerated relics --The Sancta Camisia. The tunic is said to have been worn by the Virgin Mary during Jesus' birth.
According to the Bible, Herod Antipas ordered John the Baptist's beheading after his step-daughter, Salome, requested it be presented to her on a platter. But what became of John's head? Some claim it's held at the Basilica of Saint Sylvester the First in Rome. Other traditions place it in France or the Middle East.
3.) Jesus was tough.
From age 12 to 30, Jesus worked in Nazareth as a carpenter. “Is not this the carpenter?” say the astonished crowds when he begins to preach.
The word used for Jesus’ profession in the original Greek is tekton. The traditional translation is “carpenter.” But most contemporary scholars say it’s more likely a general craftsman; some even translate it as “day laborer.”
A tekton would have made doors, tables, lamp stands and plows. But he probably also built stone walls and helped with house construction.
It was tough work that meant lugging tools, wood and stones all over Galilee. Jesus doesn’t simply stride onto the world stage after having dreamily examined a piece of wood when the mood suited him. For 18 years, he worked—and worked hard.
4.) Jesus needed “me time.”
The Gospels frequently speak of Jesus’ need to “withdraw” from the crowds, and even his disciples.
Today by the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus carried out much of his ministry, you can see how close the towns were, and how natural it would have been for the enthusiastic crowds to “press” in on him, as the Gospels describe.
There’s even a cave on the shoreline, not far from Capernaum, his base of operations, where he may have prayed.
It’s called the “Eremos Cave,” from the word for “desolate” or “solitary,” from which we get the word “hermit.” Even though Jesus was the son of God, he needed time alone in prayer with the father.
5.) Jesus didn’t want to die.
As he approaches his death, and prays hard in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus says, “Remove this cup.” It’s a blunt prayer addressed to the father, whom he affectionately calls Abba. He doesn’t want to die.
Unlike the way some Christians portray Jesus as courting death, and even desiring it, like any human being, the idea of death is terrifying. “My soul is sorrowful even unto death,” he says.
In other words, “I’m so sad that it feels like I’m going to die.” But once Jesus realizes that this is somehow the will of the father, he assents to death, even on a cross.
It’s natural to want to know as much as we can about Jesus; that’s one reason I wrote my new book. But beware of the more outlandish claims about the son of God (he fathered children, he was married to Mary Magdalene, he spent time in India and so on.)
Many of these claims tend to project our own desires on a man who will always remain somewhat elusive, hard to fully understand and impossible to pin down.
In the end, as theologians like to say, Jesus is not so much a problem to be solved as a mystery to be pondered.