Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Better on foot

I've had car trouble this week. And that combined with other pressures (the sheer volume of work) means I haven't blogged for a while. Apologies.

I was reflecting on my car's inability to go, while reading Mark Goodacre's NT gateway blog (excellent - but he's been blogging less than me recently; get a grip, Mark). He wondered how fast Jesus walked - as you do...

The reason is that James Dunn in his enormous book Jesus Remembered suggests that the young carpenter would have walked regularly to Seppharis - just 5km away from Nazareth - and might therefore have been involved in building the theatre as well as other projects in that highly Gentile-influenced town.

It's fascinating to think of Jesus as an ordinary working man - which he would have been for at least 15 years of his life. What did he make? In Gibson's The Passion, Mel has him rather anachronistically making a table of the kind westerners sit at for meals, with Jesus quipping to his mother that he's sure it'll catch on.

The likelihood is that he would have made furniture and agricultural equipment but would have spent more of his time helping to build buildings of all kinds - mainly houses, maybe, but also larger public buildings. And in doing that he would have been mixing with people of many faiths - Sepphoris was full of Gentiles attracted there by the strong Roman presence; and other parts of Galilee had significant non-Jewish populations.

It makes you think doesn't it? The Son of God sitting down for a midday break with chippies from Roman provinces north of Judea, dealing with site managers employed by Pilate and his predecessors, sharing the time of day with soldiers and officials, traders and imperial hangers-on.

It raises all kinds of questions about what languages Jesus spoke - his gentile colleagues wouldn't have spoken Aramaic, so he must have known enough Greek to get by; about how he lived - was he away from home for extended periods of time (The movie with Jeremy Sisto playing Jesus has a scene with him and his father away from home seeking work in a struggling economy). It might also help us to see where Jesus acquired his understanding of ordinary working life, his stock of images drawn that life that appear in his parables. It also roots the Son of God in a very specific place and time with all the pressures that brings.

I am having to think about these things as I'm teaching a course in Sri Lanka in July on the social history of early Christianity - a slightly more daunting prospect than I was expecting when I agreed to do a few lectures when I visit friends on the island!

It promises to be fascinating preparing for it - if only I can fit in with everything else! Now where's the number of my breakdown service....

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