Collection Louvre Museum/Photo by Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY

A HALO AROUND HIS HEAD, Jesus prepares to dine at the head of a humble table, in this 18th-century painting by German artist Fritz von Uhde. The peasants bow their heads in deference as Jesus blesses the steaming food. Jesus never shirked from the people, no matter if they were lepers, prostitutes or infested with demons.

How would first-century society judge a man who dined with lepers and hung around with fallen women? Insights from cultural anthropology are providing a fresh look at the day-to-day life of the historical Jesus.