Archaeology against Tradition?

I was in a New Testament class of mine, and yes it is at a public school, and we watched a video on the early years of Christianity: the world Christ was in and recent archaeological evidence suggests that Jesus was not a peasant rather a “middle class” and Joseph would be called into a very wealthy city, Sepphoris, near Galilee to work on buildings.

So Jesus was face-to-face with Roman and Greek thought (which could mean he took some of those ideas), as well as the radicals of Judaism. We assume John the Baptist was an Essene, but could it have been possible for Jesus to have followed John the Baptist and splintered off of him after the Baptism? And wouldn’t Jesus being Baptized by John mean he was lesser than Him? At least that was hat they were trying to covey.:shrug:

In the Gospel of Luke, an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah to tell him his wife, Elizabeth, will bear a son and he is to be called John. He’ll prepare the people to be ready for the Lord. John went through the Jordan valley preaching a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins.

As for John baptizing Jesus, John even states he is unworthy to baptize Jesus because he was unfit (a sinner) to baptize the spotless Lamb of God. There are several reasons why it was fitting for John to baptize Jesus at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus was about to embark on His great work, and it was appropriate that He be recognized publicly by His forerunner. John was the “voice crying in the wilderness” prophesied by Isaiah, calling people to repentance in preparation for their Messiah (Isaiah 40:3). By baptizing Him, John was declaring to all that here was the One they had been waiting for, the Son of God, the One he had predicted would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).

Simply put, Jesus asked John to baptize Him simply as an act of obedience to God’s purposes. God had given John the promise of a coming Messiah and the way to identify Him. Jesus fulfilled that promise.

I tend to advise a maximum of caution when it comes to academics in public schools and the opinions they express on matters related to the Faith. They can be very biased in their thoughts, with their own agendas to advance.

There are archaeologists who are quite solid in terms of history and science as well as the Catholic faith, such as the late Father Bargil Pixner, OSB, from Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem; his writings you might enjoy.

Ultimately, the teachings of Jesus must be understood as the teachings of the Second Person of the Trinity Who assumed a human nature in order to live among us, teach us by word and example and, ultimately, suffer and die and rise from the dead in accomplishment of the redemption.

It is not a matter of His thought being influenced by the thoughts of others or received from John the Baptist or indeed any other person. As John the Apostle says in the Prologue of his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Word became flesh and dwelt among us – Jesus.

Migrant carpenters in Nazareth were not ‘middle class’ but part of the very poor during the 1st century.

It is very unlikely Jesus knew any Greek. He spoke Aramaic. There was really no reason for him to learn Greek to do carpentry in and around the small village of Nazareth.

If Joseph went to Galilee to work for the rich gentiles he would have been an outsider. We have lots of examples even here in the US of migrant workers coming in and doing, say roof repairs. By and large they don’t study English philosophical works. Instead they stay among themselves. Same thing happened during the 1st Century only the separation was actually stricter. Add to that the fact that Nazareth was looked at as a poor village. The saying “nothing good comes from Nazareth” was because even Jews looked down on the town.

Thanks for the insight, it just bothered me to suggest that Jesus was not a peasant and just a special case of radicalism that was common at the time.

From what I remember, it was suggested that Jesus wasn’t poor but rather quite wealthy due to His family being skilled labor and hired out to the local Roman city. But again being in Nazareth it wasn’t exactly New York. Honestly it felt like they were trying to pin something on the wall without a pin.

Jesus a peasant? Never heard that, nor never saw any scriptural indication.

The infancy narratives tell us he resided with his mother and father (who was a carpenter, not a farmer).

In his adult years there is no evidence he was a farmer, fisherman, or of what his trade was…only that he was an itinerate preacher…by Jewish custom, he most likely would have learned his father’s trade…

but a peasant? No. Almost certainly not.

Matthew makes it very clear that is not the case.

Matthew 3 11-15:

I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him.

Jesus is setting an example for us by being baptized. It is not because he needed it but because he wanted it for us.

Here’s the thing. When many historical Jesus scholars use the word ‘peasant’, they basically mean it in the sense of ‘not wealthy’ rather than ‘utterly destitute’. In other words, they apply it as a blanket term to the majority of the population who were not part of the rich elite. In fact, they would argue (contra to the video the OP saw) that there was no “middle class” so to speak back then: you’re either ‘rich’ or you’re ‘poor’ (which could encompass a broad spectrum ranging from ‘working-class artisans and laborers’ to ‘homeless beggars’). The closest thing you had to a ‘middle class’ back then were those artisans, and even then, daily life for most of the people was burdened to an extent by multiple taxes and bills (the Temple tax, taxes to Antipas and/or Rome, tolls, fees, etc.) that even those artisans don’t exactly live like modern-day ‘middle class’ folks. You had to work hard to have money to pay all those bills and save just enough to put food on the table for your family - and when I say ‘family’, it’s not just the nuclear family: it was common for members of the extended family to live in the same house. Peter’s mother-in-law was apparently living with him in Capernaum; even Jesus’ ‘brothers’ were probably living with Him and Mary and Joseph, and maybe even Mary’s sibling(s) (the parents of the ‘brothers’ of Jesus?) were living with them too.

We often translate tekton as ‘carpenter’, and the idea of Joseph and Jesus as woodworkers is a very old one, but the term itself is very broad: in fact, tekton just means ‘artisan’ or ‘craftsman’. So while both (foster) father and Son could have engaged in some woodworking here and there, they would have also done other related jobs like housebuilding or masonry. (Quality wood - such as the cedars of Lebanon - was an imported commodity, not something just lying around in the backyard; the only stuff you could make out of the inferior lumber in the area were mainly practical implements like plows or yokes or boats. On the contrary, in the Galilee, stone was more common than wood, and so you’d make more money making stone houses and buildings or stone cups than wooden furniture.)

So Jesus was face-to-face with Roman and Greek thought (which could mean he took some of those ideas), as well as the radicals of Judaism.

This is really an old idea, which is related to the theory that the Galilee in the 1st century was a ‘gentile’ area, filled with non-Jews and ‘half-Jews’ (i.e. those people who converted / were made to convert to Judaism but were never really faithful or devout). Those who hold this idea usually point to Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah, which speaks of “Galilee of the nations” (i.e. gentiles) as a sort of hint in support of their theory.*

Some people still think this is the case, but now, a growing number of scholars have pointed out the problems with this picture of a ‘gentile’ Galilee. First of all, it’s really unsupported by the actual evidence we have, which point to the Galilee being a Jewish area by the time of Jesus. I’ll give you two links here:

Jesus in Historical Context (E.P. Sanders)
(Mark A. Chancey)The Myth of a Gentile Galilee

  • In a way, it’s probably related to the fad among 18th-19th century scholars of thinking that Jesus was influenced by anything other than Judaism, which they sort of excoriated as a backward superstition fixed on legalism and mysticism. This is also the origins of theories such as Jesus going to learn from Greek philosophers or going to India or Tibet (because we all know Greek philosophy / Buddhism / Hinduism are more ‘rational’ philosophies than that nasty Jewish religion. :rolleyes:)

This is exactly right. Jesus was likely a stonecutter.

*"Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. (Matthew 7:24-25)

Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures: `The very stone which the builders rejected
has become the head of the corner;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
(Matthew 21:42)

And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!" And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2)*

Jesus tells Peter that he the rock upon which the Church will be built. The manger in which Jesus was laid as a newborn is always pictured as a wooden box full of straw but it was likely a stone feeding trough.


Actually, it’s very likely that Jesus spoke some Greek; the lingua franca then would have been Koine Greek. We even see clues that this is the case: Jesus has a conversation with the Syro-Phoenician woman (who is identified as ‘Greek’) in Tyre. Later, He goes to the Decapolis. One might wonder how a man who knows no Greek might have preached and taught those in the gentile Hellenistic area of the Decapolis… :wink:


It does seem that Jesus was a stone worker. Not sure where the carpenter thing came from. But perhaps it is not that important.

It’s symbolism: Jesus died on a wooden cross, so apparently the early Christians thought that it was fitting that He should be a carpenter making wooden yokes (hey, yoke = patibulum = crossbeam) and plows. (cf. also Matthew 11:29-30)

Not necessarily. It’s actually a complicated process.

At first, some people in the 18th-19th century thought that Jesus was an Essene or a puppet of the Essenes. Back then it was pretty common for some fiction writers to imagine the Essenes as this sort of secret cabal (y’know, kind of like the Freemasons or the Illuminati in the popular mind ;)) of ‘enlightened’ - by enlightened, I mean they’re proto-rationalists who believe in Greek philosophy and stuff rather than that nasty ol’ Jewish religion :rolleyes: - do-gooders who are seeking to free the Jews out of their backward fire-and-brimstone superstition (there it is again!) To achieve their goal of enlightening the Jews, the Essenes reared Jesus from His childhood by teaching Him Greco-Roman philosophy and stage-managing His ‘miracles’ and His ‘resurrection’, that sort of thing. In other words, He was their puppet messiah. Yeah, it’s really crazy: just about every other person connected to Jesus is claimed to be an Essene.

By the 20th century, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, this idea underwent some modification. This time, it’s John the Baptist that’s connected with the Essenes (which are now linked with the ‘Community’ who lived in Qumran). Scholars pointed out the similarities: both John and the Qumran sect were in the desert, they believed in and preached Jewish apocalypticism - the belief that the present world order is going to end soon and that God is going to intervene and make things right - and they performed ritual immersions (= baptism). Because of this, John is sometimes presented as a member or an ex-member of the Qumran sect.

Eventually, however, later scholars looked back and critiqued these supposed similarities. They argue that while there are similarities between what we know about John and the Qumran sect, and while both may have had some form of contact with one another at one point, it’s not enough to prove conclusively that John was an Essene or an ex-Essene. (In fact, it’s also being questioned by a number of people whether the sect at Qumran were really Essenes at all.) There are also differences between John and the Qumran sect that are equally weighty.

but could it have been possible for Jesus to have followed John the Baptist and splintered off of him after the Baptism?

To be fair, that was some scholars think: Jesus joined John the Baptist’s group - or had some close contact with it - but eventually went His own way and started His own movement after John was arrested and killed. Now for more conservative Christians, that might sound rather problematic (due of course to the idea of the divinity of Christ), but personally (just speaking my opinion here), I’m not entirely closed to that possibility. I mean, Jesus was baptized by John - even though He was clearly superior to John and didn’t have to. So maybe Him condescending to become (at first) a follower of another in His humanity was also done as an example for people just like His baptism was?

Anyways, the movement Jesus founded was more effective than John’s. In John’s case, it was a monopoly: John ran the whole show - you apparently had to come to John himself and be baptized by him - so if John was killed, the movement is pretty much over. In Jesus’ case, it was a franchise: He authorized His disciples to baptize and preach and to pass on that authority to others, thereby ensuring that His movement will continue even after He was gone.

Perhaps he was a generalist, working with stone AND wood.

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