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Was Jesus A Carpenter?

19 Nov

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Neil Godfrey is reviewing Thomas Brodie’s memoir Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery which is Thomas Brodie’s journey from a historical Jesus to an ahistorical Jesus. Brodie points out an interesting bit of evidence concerning Mark’s use of the word “carpenter”; which is the popular English translation of the Greek τέκτων::tekton (where we get the word architecture). Neil quotes from chapter 17:

Mark 6:1-6

He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him.

On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him.

Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

[…]

Brodie begins with the context. It is the reported miracles of Jesus that are the critical concern of the people. (Brodie identifies these miracles in particular as related to themes of “creation, life and death (Mk 4.35-5.43).”) Moreover, he identifies this section of Mark as having a

significant literary dependence on the (Septuagintal) book of Wisdom. Beginning in Wisdom 10, several chapters of the book of Wisdom speak of both God’s role as creator and life-giver and of the failure of many people to recognize God as the true technites, the supreme craftsman (Wis. 13:1; cf. Wis. 13.22, Wisdom is technites panton, ‘the worker of all things’).

Instead the people’s vision is limited to the kind of vision found in the woodcutter (the tekton, Wis. 13.11); that is all they can see

[…]

“The mindless people in Wis. 13:1-9 do not recognize the technites, the supreme craftsman, and turn their minds instead to lifeless things such as the tekton produces (Wis. 13:10-14:4). And the audience at Nazareth do not recognize the presence of the Creator in Jesus the miracle-worker but can focus only on the world of woodcutting, and so they call him a tekton.”


Brodie draws the conclusion that should be obvious. Wisdom 13, especially its account of the failure of the people to discern the works of the Creator, seeing only the works of a tekton,

“provides an adequate explanation for Mark’s use of tekton; it accounts fully for Mark’s data. In essence: once the literary connection is seen, the historical explanation is unnecessary; it goes beyond what is needed to explain the data.”

This reads like a pretty solid conclusion. Of course, resting the entire argument that Mark is using other writings and not oral tradition/historical memory on this one instance is fallacious. But under the assumption that Mark is using other literature — e.g. the Wisdom literature — in the construction of his narrative this observation seems to fit like a glove. Under an alternative assumption, e.g. a historical one, it either adds too many hypotheses (this pericope is a result of Wisdom literature plus history) which is a worse explanation than one that leaves the plus out of it.

Which side of the argument you land on at this juncture depends on your prior probability that Mark is using historical memory, oral tradition, or some other non-historical source.

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Posted by on November 19, 2013 in early Christianity, historical jesus, jesus myth

 

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