Friday, December 29, 2006

On good wood

I've been fairly busy this holiday week. I put a new floor in the attic to allow use to store even more junk up there. I spent too much time getting a new portable configured so that it will actually work with my home network. I did various other odds and ends around the house to fill in my free time.
Being the pondering sort, with a degree in History and an insatiable curiosity for facts from the past, I can't help but compare my experiences with those of another carpenter some two thousand years ago. I had all sorts of wonderful gizmo's; a table saw to cut the boards, a chop saw to cut studs(that 2 by 4's), a nail gun, two drills (one for drilling holes, one for driving screws), a saber saw, to cut irregular shapes, not to mention things like mass produced nails and screws and the wood itself.
A couple of thousand years ago a carpenter probably made his own tools, or bought the blades and cutting implements from a blacksmith and assembled them into tools. All his work was done by hand, with human muscle, whether he cut his own wood or paid someone to cut it, the cutting was all done by hand, with axe or saw. And with lots a patience, because it takes longer to do work with only human muscle.
That made things made out of wood expensive, because a lot of man-hours went into them. That also made the carpenter a skilled worker, with a decent income, after a fashion.
Was Jesus a carpenter? Well Matthew and Mark both identify Jesus as "the carpenter's son". At the time the scripture describes St. Joseph is already dead it seems, and mentioned are Mary and Jesus other relatives (either cousins, as is believed in the Western Tradition or step siblings as is believed in the Eastern Tradition.) He himself is never described as a carpenter, but in those days most men learned their craft at their father's knee and it would have been highly unusual if Jesus was not at least trained as a carpenter, as a boy and young man.
The Gospels are very silent about Jesus' youth, telling only of the Holy Families trip to the temple when Jesus was just below the age of manhood. We know that the Holy family fled to Egypt, but not the exact year. Herod the Great, who is traditionally thought to be the Herod who ordered the innocents of Bethlehem murdered, died in 3 BC. Caesar Augustus ruled from about 27 BC until 14 AD. Quirinius was governor in Syria from about 1 AD until 12 AD, too late for Herod the Great to be the Herod mentioned in the bible. Josephus, the great Jewish historian tells us that Quirinius did indeed order a census. Not to worry there were several Herods in the area. Herod Archelaus was ethnarch of Samaria, Judea and Idumea, it was his shoddy tax collecting, which caused Quirinius to be appointed. Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, brother of Archelaus, who eventually had John the baptist killed. Herod Agrippa, only a boy in 1 AD, but later king of Judea, and mentioned in the Acts.
The gospel says that the Holy Family returned when it was safe and settled in Nazareth, in Galilee, where presumably Joseph worked as a carpenter.

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