Continuing the series on Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery, archived here.
In chapter 17 Brodie is analysing John Meier’s work, A Marginal Jew, as representative of the best that has been produced by notable scholars on the historical Jesus.
Sceptics See Only the Carpenter/Woodcutter
The passage under discussion is 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 argues that the common scholarly interpretations of this passage fail to take into account its literary background. Scholars have seen this passage as historical (not addressed by Brodie, but common among the scholarly works, is the view that this scene is “embarrassing” for early Christians because it shows Jesus being rejected by his family, so therefore must be historical) and Brodie singles out the disparaging dismissal of Jesus as a mere tekton (‘carpenter’ or ‘woodcutter’) as seeming to provide solid historical information.
(Of course, other scholars who are more interested in the literary analysis of the Gospels recognize that there is nothing embarrassing at all in this account of how Jesus’ family failed to recognize him. It puts Jesus in the wake of all the other great prophets whose greatness was accentuated by their enduring the rejections of their families — Abel, Joseph, Moses, Jephthah, David . . . . Or maybe Jesus was trying to model himself on these prophets so behaved badly to make his family hate him? (I’m kidding.))
Way back in 1998 I posted a query to a scholarly open discussion group soliciting feedback on my sense that Mark’s tekton reference had a double meaning, a mundane and a higher theological one. So it is encouraging to read Brodie’s view that that’s exactly the game Mark was playing with this word.
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. (p. 159, my formatting)
In other words,
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. (p. 159, my bolding)
So we have here a second instance where historical Jesus scholars typically go beyond the evidence and fail to recognize a case of literary borrowing and adaptation. Jesus was portrayed by writers as like Elijah and as a woodcutter and their sources are clearly evident in the textual material they had at hand.
These are only two examples. But they represent a phenomenon that riddles the Gospels and Acts. The view that the data is grounded in unsubstantiated oral tradition is occluded by the awareness that one text has simply adapted another.