According to Hebrew scholar Kwon Sung-dal, in an article appearing in the Korean Times, Jesus almost certainly was not a carpenter. While Christian tradition has held for over two-thousand years that Christ earned a living swinging a hammer, Sung-dal contends that it’s far more likely that he worked with a trowel.
His argument is largely based on two observations:
- Israel is a wood-deficient country; trees are fairly scarce in the region. This is especially true of Nazareth, the city that Jesus was from. Since the availability of wood is essential to carpentry, Sung-dal believes that it is highly unlikely that Jesus could have been a carpenter. On the other hand, stone is available in abundant supply throughout the region and especially in Nazareth. So if Jesus used any building material in his family trade, it would have most likely been stone.
- The Hebrew language has dual meanings for the words stonemason and carpenter; they are virtually interchangeable in many cases. Translators mistakenly inserted the word carpenter due to ignorance about Israel’s geography and natural resources.
The problem here, according to Sung-dal, is the disconnect between modern Christianity and Jewish culture and tradition. “Although the Christian population is increasing rapidly, knowledge on Israel and Jewish culture falls short,” Kwon said.
I’m not certain what tangible bearing Christ’s pre-ministry vocation has on Christian faith and practice, so I’ll take and leave all of this at face value. And while it would cast passages such as Mark 12:10-11 and Matthew 16:17-19 in a unique light, it could also give credibility to some of the more kookier ideas that link Jesus to the Freemasons.
However, I am inclined to agree with Kwon Sung-dal’s assertion that modern Christianity’s disconnect with – and subsequent ignorance of – Jewish tradition and culture often affects the lens through which we view Scripture. And sometimes what we see through that lens can be distorted as a result of our ignorance.