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Re: [Synoptic-L] Virtue and Poverty

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic Cc: GPG In Response To: Dennis Dean Carpenter On: Trades and Literacy From: Bruce Dennis has already given some of the answers (as I see them) to
    Message 1 of 35 , Apr 6, 2010
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      To: Synoptic
      Cc: GPG
      In Response To: Dennis Dean Carpenter
      On: Trades and Literacy
      From: Bruce

      Dennis has already given some of the answers (as I see them) to Dennis
      Goffin's previous query. I take up a few additional points.

      DENNIS: 1. If one accepts that "Joseph" was a tekton, one might as
      well accept Nazareth as the home of the family. If one does this, his
      location of Nazareth would very probably exclude him from a
      "profitable local building enterprise," since there wasn't much in the
      way of "buildings" in first century Nazareth, according to the

      BRUCE: Last I heard, 1c Nazareth was a complete blank
      archaeologically. This can't be right, so either they have dug
      incompletely or they have the wrong place. The [probable] location
      might seem somewhat out of the way, but see further below.

      DENNIS: 2. If one suggests that it was Jesus who quoted the LXX
      (generally) instead of it being a technique of the authors, one is
      also suggesting that he was a Greek speaker/reader. Many will argue
      that this use of scripture (technique) was a product of the early
      "Christianity" using scripture to "understand" Jesus, as opposed to a
      historical portrayal of Jesus quoting scripture.

      BRUCE: Right. I must also point out that there is a sort of Literacy
      Trajectory: Jesus in Mark explicitly quotes a little Scripture and
      must be assumed to be acquainted with considerable more (Pentateuch,
      Psalms, Isaiah, Malachi and that crowd). The rest is Mark's background
      music. Matthew brings in the full organ on the background music,
      wrapping his version of the story in a continuous soundtrack of
      prediction. Luke makes Jesus more learned than the experts, and at the
      age of twelve, yet. And in John, if for a moment one likes to include
      the Pericope Adulterae, he is even shown as writing something, albeit
      in a perishable medium. Jesus is here, over time, being assimilated to
      the learning of those who preached him. None of the embellishments
      should be taken as fact; they are image adjustment by the later
      movement. Mark of course stands differently, and here as elsewhere
      stands as a probable minimum assumption.

      What I think that leaves us with is Jesus as well acquainted with the
      Jewish scriptures, at least at a certain level. And that in turn
      probably implies a certain amount of leisure at the right time. We
      probably also have to credit his brother Jacob with at least some of
      textual acquaintance as well as Temple piety (maybe not as much
      scriptural contact; Jesus after all was the oldest son, and an effort
      might have been made for him). None of this is really consistent with
      the idea of family beggary or radically uncertain Engels Quotients.

      DENNIS: 3. "Saul" as "Paul" is only mentioned once in the whole of the
      New Testament, Acts 13:9 (...But Saul, also known as Paul...)
      Likewise, Paul as "tentmaker" seems singularly another product of Acts
      18:3 (...by trade they were tentmakers). The mention in the Paulines
      of "tents" is allegorical (2 Cor. 5). As one finds, not only in the
      work of several nineteenth century scholars, Richard Pervo, Joseph
      Tyson and others (the consensus of the Acts Seminar, for instance)
      have laid out an excellent case that Acts was not "historical." There
      is, in other words, no reason to assume that Paul was known as Saul or
      that he was a tentmaker.

      BRUCE: Acts is risky; it didn't need any Acts Seminar to make that
      point. It is shaped to Luke's literary purpose, in the process
      conflicting strongly at some points with what we know from better
      sources. That it is radically unhistorical, meaning that everything it
      says is wrong, is maybe a little too much: life is not that simple
      either. But there are grave difficulties here: Acts alone claims that
      Paul was a disciple of Gamaliel, which I greatly doubt, but note that
      here too, as with Jesus, Paul is being assimilated to a higher
      standard of learning than he probably really possessed, to make him
      more imposing as a leader in his own time, and perhaps also to make
      him more comfortable company for the increasingly learned and pompous
      church leaders and Evangelists [not necessarily different persons] of
      later times. As to how much later, I decline to be drawn into that
      just now, but we see the same magnification of learning in Luke (of
      Jesus) as in Acts (of Paul).

      As for Paul working his trade, whatever it may have been, I think the
      evidence for that in the Pauline correspondence is decisively in
      favor: he is entitled to hospitality, but instead earns his keep to
      relieve his hosts of that burden. So Paul was in some way acquainted
      with Scripture, and he also personally, not just as the son of someone
      else, knew and could practice a remunerative trade. He could keep
      himself at need, though on the evidence, most easily in a fairly
      sizeable city.


      Paul's trade was obviously a portable one. How many trades might be
      equally portable? Can't usefully say. But to risk a contemporary
      parallel, I live in a small city, and there are lots of carpenters and
      other tradesmen listed for that city in the yellow pages. But when I
      or any of my savvy neighbors need to have a bit of carpentry done, we
      call on a guy living up in the hills around town, who is very good and
      also not exorbitantly expensive. Why does he not move into town, to be
      closer to most of his customers? I haven't asked. But possibly because
      living here in town is catastrophically expensive, and also because
      the snooty zoning laws prohibit leaving around your house the kind of
      tools and gear and piles of lumber that a carpenter might thinkably
      need. So also with the Tibetan stonemason who did much work for people
      on my block; he lives miles up in the hills. And the hills nearby are
      also dotted with the small houses and kilns of many local potters,
      some of them Japanese apprenticed (I arranged an exhibition of their
      work, alongside that of their school leaders, in my museum days). So
      residence in the hills and work in the town is not only feasible for
      the carpenter (and like persons in other crafts and trades), it is by
      far his best option: his ideal economic balance point. For other
      crafts, such as goldsmithing and gem cutting (my town has quite a few
      of those), the balance point is the city itself; not all trades and
      callings work the same way. But I note as possibly relevant the
      location of the heavier trades on the periphery, rather in the urban
      center, of the unit made up of a city and its hinterland.

      If this sort of situation can be transferred to an earlier period and
      a different culture, then the question for Joseph reduces to this:
      Given that Jesus's Nazareth was more or less where modern persons
      think it was, (a) how much would the basic toolkit of a carpenter of
      that period have weighed, and (b) how long a walk was it from there to
      the largest big town, which happens to be Sepphoris? Sepphoris, I note
      parenthetically, was the largest town in Galilee, and Herod Antipas's
      capital from the year 04 on, shifting to Tiberias in the year 19. As
      has often been noted, the time when Sepphoris was the capital
      corresponds to the youth and young manhood of Jesus. Further, since
      Sepphoris had been virtually destroyed in a previous war, there would
      have been an unusual amount of building going on in the early years of
      Herod Antipas's intention to make it his capital; considerably less so
      after the capital moved. Speaking of carpenters, the markets of
      Sepphoris are said to have featured trade goods like furniture, as
      well as the usual fish and olives and perfumes and so on.

      The first question I can't answer. Data for the second goes like this:
      (1) It is about 5 air miles from Nazareth to Sepphoris. (2) There was
      a road. I quote Dorsey, The Roads and Highways of Ancient Israel, 91:
      "During the Roman period a road corresponding closely to this route
      ran from Legio (the successor of Megiddo) to Diocaesarea (Sepphoris,
      just southeast of Hannathon) and then to Ptolemais (Acco). The stretch
      from Legio to Diocaesarea has been traced by its milestones by Hecker
      (1961). . . [The route from Sepphoris to Acco is here described in
      detail] . . .A main nineteenth-century road also followed this route
      except that it reached the site of Diocaesarea by way of Nazareth [PEF
      Map: Sheet 5]. An advantage of this alternate route to Acco was that
      it crossed the Kishon farther from the river's mouth, at a point where
      the waters were not so deep."

      Pending reports from modern hikers, or until I can put my hands on
      Sherman Johnson's little book, I would make that a practical two-hour
      trek each way, easier downhill than back, carrying a modest pack. Of
      course with a donkey, much larger possibilities of access and
      transport open up.

      Such as it is, I think this adds up moderately well. From it, I would
      conclude that the possibility of economic well-being existed for the
      putative family of Joseph, sufficient to allow at least the oldest son
      a modicum of leisure (he having perhaps shown particular aptitude at
      the regular synagogue meetings) for a limited amount of study. Quite
      possibly in Sepphoris, which had an archive (mentioend in the
      Rabbinical literature) and therefore was something of a center of

      Rabbinical expertise, I doubt it. More probably, Luke (a learned man
      and a not wholly incompetent researcher) is just romancing in his
      personal home key.


      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
    • Chuck Jones
      Jack, There was no personal income tax back then.  The owner of the land was taxed on the harvest, not the workers on the land.  The more you tax the owner,
      Message 35 of 35 , Apr 10, 2010
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        There was no personal income tax back then.  The owner of the land was taxed on the harvest, not the workers on the land.  The more you tax the owner, the less is left for wages.  This was far from the only dynamic in play in the poverty of peasants, but that's the way it worked.


        --- On Fri, 4/9/10, Jack Kilmon <jkilmon@...> wrote:

        I have to admit that by modern example killing the geese that lay the golden

        eggs seems just as stupid now as it was then.


        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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