National Geographic has an Easter season special issue (in supermarkets) for coffee tables, “Jesus and the Apostles: Christianity’s Early Rise”, 128 pages. This booklet succeeds "The Story of Jesus" from NatGeo, March 29, 2016 here.
The editor, Chris Johns, the Chief Content Officer of the National Geographic Society, opens with “A Matter of Faith”, starts out by saying “Faith … is a firm belief in something for which there is no proof”.
There follows a keynote essay (p. 28) by Don Belt, “Life in the Time of Jesus”. One of the remarkable points made by the essay is the rampant lawlessness of ordinary life in the country. That would continue past Roman times into Europe and contribute to a medieval system of feudalism. There was a lot of vigilantism and populism in the desire to resist external Roman rule by various Jewish sects.
All of this is carried much further in the recent film on PBS, (“Last Days of Jesus” ) which brings up the role of Roman deputy Sejanus, kept out of the Gospels out of political repression, not covered in this booklet.
Another essay, “Taking the Stage” (p. 40) makes the point (as did the film) that it is not completely clear if Jesus saw himself as a Messiah (despite the Temptation), at least until his baptism by John the Baptist and his ministry, which frankly advocated communalism and distributed consciousness. There are the Miracles (rather like a young Clark Kent’s powers), and a Jesus imploring others to stand by their feelings for him and “believe”, indeed a moral paradox of upward affiliation. But this was an era when people thought the end of time could come soon. Did it make sense to have children?
When Jesus took on the money changers, it’s interesting, as the film points out, that the authorities didn’t resist much.
“The Gospels” looks at the three synoptics and questions whether there is a common hidden source “Q”.
The booklet looks at both the Gospel of Judas and later the Gospel According to Thomas, “The Secret Sayings” (of Doubting Thomas). Could Judas’s have been a forgery? The booklet does take up a little bit the controversy of “Judas Kiss”, and the 2011 gay sci-fi film of that name may have more to do with that then critics recognize.
The booklet goes on to enlarge the disciples into the Apostles, and account for the formal creation of Christianity by Emperor Constantine by the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.