Note: Was Jesus Poor or not? (further)

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Although Monday’s note argues that Jesus’ father was a respected craftsman, and that James, Jesus’ brother, was likely either himself a Pharisee or respected by them, there is some evidence that Jesus was bereft of personal resources when he died.

The Gospel accounts have many accounts of Jesus being hosted by others, or being supported by them. His disciples are seen gleaning some grain from a field. At the “feeding of the multitudes”, Jesus and his followers seem not to have any food, nor the funds to get any: they rely on what someone says he has in the audience. Not things that indicate cash.

When he is required to pony up some taxes, he has his disciples get it from a fish they catch.

Jesus is also buried in someone else’s grave. “Joseph of Arimathea” is described variously as a member of the Sanhedrin (Jewish council in Jerusalem), a rich man, a follower of Jesus. They would have needed a different grave even if Jesus’s family had one back in Galilee, or even in another part of Jerusalem. Josephus says that applying Jewish religious codes regarding dead bodies not being left uncovered after sundown was so important that it was even applied to criminals. He also dies right before the Sabbath begins, and it is likely to have been an even greater offense to the community. Note: Jesus would have been considered, at least by many, as an executed criminal. The grave in at least one account was simply nearby.

He also has non-family putting spices on his body for the burial, at least initially. One account has a Pharisee, Nicodemus, doing it. However, women associated with him (and his family) do come after the Sabbath restrictions for work are lifted.

There was enough in the accounts (or money bag) for Judas to be embezzling. That could have been a small quantity. In one story, Judas complains about expensive perfume being poured onto Jesus, saying that it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. The money bag may have been for judicious alms, although the story says Judas wanted the cash for his own uses. It also implies that the perfume was more some multiplier of the petty cash. That said, it was some pretty valuable spice.

Religious leaders were paid through taxation of the populace, through the offerings at the Temple. It is consistent that Messiahs like Jesus would also have been cashless but always provided for by followers, or even people who wanted to be associated with a popular figure.

If “tekton” really referred to a scholar or teacher, instead of a craftsman, then Joseph may have been in a similar situation. While he lived, as a respected teacher, he would have been provided for. He may even have been comped on the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When he died, his family would not necessarily have had much coming in, although they would have been respected. This may be why Jesus mother is able to command the servers at the wedding party to do anything Jesus tells them to do. (Spoiler: he turns water into wine.) His mother also seems to have a status sufficient enough for her to be with Jesus’ brothers (spoiler: they thought he was crazy and wanted to come take him away, probably so he didn’t embarrass them any further).

It also explains why Jesus knows how to read (he reads the scroll), although that is not the only way that could have happened.

Jesus could have been like the child of PhD parents today: well educated but not well off.

Either job would explain how his parents could flee with the infant Jesus to the Jewish community in Egypt during the reign of Herod. A trained stone mason would be able to take his tools and get by with his hands. A teacher might be well-received in communities that aren’t near the epicenter of the religious life. Either would benefit from having relatives down there already.

Maybe the problem, that we think so important, wasn’t to the gospel writers at all. There is probably something in the later gospels, like the Infancy Gospels (and isn’t there a gospel of Joseph?) but I don’t think that it would be more useful, especially if it was written after the second Jewish revolt. The canonical gospels, those in the Christian bible, were written earlier (yes, there is controversy over dating, and the age of the stories being recounted, but three were likely before 80 CE).

The reasonable possibility that Joseph was a learned man creates some interesting possibilities for understanding Josephus’s comments about James (Jacob), the brother of Jesus, and even understanding Jesus’ conflict with the Pharisee group.

As I said in the first note, there is something amazing when you discover that something you thought you know has more layers.

Image Credit: Jesus @ Stained glass @ Paroisse Saint-Etienne-du-Mont @ Montagne Sainte-Geneviève @ Paris. By Guilhem Vellut [CC BY 2.0]

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps individuals and companies find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants, both as individuals and as leaders of organizations at least as diverse. [contact]

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