Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Jesus at the Jobcentre

Was Jesus a carpenter that got religion? I suggest carpenter is too narrow and that he also did a stint as a steward. Yes, today you'd think of stone and brick as well as wood and perhaps the steward doing tea and coffee on Network Rail or even on the HS2 to come in 14 years (wnhen others will be building maglevs). So the question is about whether Jesus was a builder and can he fix it yes he can.

For a time I liked the idea that Jesus as a carpenter was 'Tekton', a Greek mistranslation of the Aramaic 'Naggar' which can be both carpenter or scholar, and thus Jesus was actually a scholar. But no. Such is against the evidence of given metaphors in the gospels and that in the Septuagint it comes from the Hebrew charash meaning craftsman. Tekton is an artificer but archi-tekton is a master-builder and the use of tekton in the Septuagint is in the context of the building trade.

He'll have been self-employed like many of those who became his disciples. Good one for the new and coming right wing New Testament.

In Palestine at the time, houses were built of sun dried mud or clay on a stone foundation. The stones were rough, except for the corner stone that was made squared off. Timbers in walls may have been inserted to keep the walls supported as they dried off unwarped; timbers were used on flat rooves with coverings of lathing and plaster. Thus a builder handled stone, wood, plaster and bricks, being a mason and carpenter.

The reason Jesus gets called a carpenter is likely because the Authorised Version of the Bible translates more narrowly according to timber framed houses of its own day with a greater division of labour.

Really? Well, look at the metaphors. Onlookers will mock the person who lays down the foundations but can't finish the job in building a tower, says Jesus. There is a tower in a vineyard. There is a house built on sand compared with a house built on rock. Jesus's assebly will be built on stone, and the stone the builders rejected will be made into the corner stone (those Kingdom reversals again).

The best one though is the mote and the beam. Builders went about carrying beams of wood on their shoulders. Look out, they might say, and people certainly did. But someone might be rubbing their eye with a splinter in it, and thus not see the beam about to clobber them in the face. A nice almost binary opposite for Jesus to play with.

The metaphors are not from carpentry: they are from building, and so Jesus becomes the archetypal and indeed reversal by theology Bob the Builder.

But a steward, even a bar steward (careful!)? This is based around the apparent first miracle, and only in John's Gospel, of water becoming wine and the wine getting better later in the event. It fulfils no scriptural (Hebrew Bible) purpose in messianic times, and (as important, given mistakes) that John does not say it does. So it is presumably based on something happening, an event recalled that adds in to the early Church theology of Jesus.

One speculation has been that it was Jesus's own wedding, but there is no need for a rabbi to be married and nor a reason that must follow to suppress or make secret his marriage as such. Not in John's Gospel anyway. Jesus's mother is present, unusually, as the family was abandoned during his ministry; Cana is close to Capernaum (speculating as Jesus's birth place and home), and given that the steward of the wine would be bt custom a friend or relative of the family getting married then Jesus could well have been doing that job as organised by his mum (or mum and dad). Mum turns to Jesus about the wine running out, and this is the basis of his job.

But the builder might well be a bit of a newbie doing the stewarding job. Stewarding means oganising the servants doing the heavy lifting. The wine that most common people drank at that time was a pretty horrible vinegary stuff, as in John's gospel elsewhere, where water was added as of need and made it worse. The story starts with water going into the big pots, but of course it all will have started with undiluted wine sitting in them so high for some time and forgotten about regarding the start of the celebrations. Water gets tipped in at the beginning, and wine comes out in the usual kind. In that it gets better simply means tipping in some mixture to appear to reverse the usual diluting as time went on.

Theologically it has come to be another of those ethical reversals, so things get better as the Kingdom of God nears and will come.

See Campbell, Steuart (1996), The Rise and Fall of Jesus: the Ultimate Explanation for the Origin of Christianity, Edinburgh: Explicit Books, 57-58 and 115-117.

1 comment:

As I see it... said...

Yesterday I had a meeting with a lady who told me how she was so proud of her son a carpenter " the same job as our Lord" she told me. I hadn't the heart to tell her of your blog I'd read that morning.
As a child our Methodist Minister told of being turned down in the first instance for ministry training as his previous profession was not in keeping with the demands of a cleric - he too was a carpenter...