instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, February 19, 2004

A thought experiment

Through the centuries, a lot of people have spent a lot of time trying to prove a lot of peculiar things about Jesus of Nazareth (albeit few things as peculiar as the dogma of the Incarnation). It's probably not complete coincidence that a lot of these people would be able to say, as a corollary to the truth of their peculiar thing about Jesus, "That means I am better than you think I am."

In short, the peculiar things people want to prove about Jesus tend to be self-serving. (Of course, saying anything peculiar about Jesus is self-serving, to a certain extent, for a college professor, academic neophilia being what it is.)

I'm wondering whether we can learn anything useful from an attempt to prove something peculiar about Jesus that isn't self-serving.

Suppose I wanted to write a book called Jesus, Fisherman of Galilee, which advanced the thesis that Jesus was not, in fact, a carpenter, but a fisherman. (I'm guessing, though now I'm by no means sure, that no one else has written in support of this thesis yet.) What evidence could I bring of this from the Gospels? Off the top of my head:
  1. "He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea...." And what does a man do for a living in a city by the sea but fish?
  2. Just look at the passage where Jesus meets Simon and Andrew: "As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, 'Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.'" It makes no sense to think Jesus was simply walking by the sea. Obviously, He was working on it. Notice how He even speaks in fisherman terms. Need I even point out that the text says, "He said..."? If He weren't working in the same boat with them, He would have had to shout.
  3. Jesus knows fish. He knows where to catch fish, He knows which fish to catch, He knows how to cook fish. (and where do you suppose He got that fish, anyway? He caught it Himself, of course!)
  4. Jesus also knows the Sea of Galilee. He knows how to sail on it, He knows where to sail on it, He knows how to calm it. Heck, He even knows how to walk on it! Can anyone really believe He could learn all this in a carpenter's shop in Nazareth?
  5. And what evidence do we have that Jesus was a carpenter any way? Mark 6:3a -- "Is he not the carpenter?" -- is hardly enough to support the thesis, especially when we notice that the parallel in Matthew calls Him "the carpenter's son." That's an absurdly convoluted expression if Jesus Himself were a carpenter. Obviously, He moved to Capernaum to become a fisherman, possibly after His father's death. Could envy and resentment play into His rejection in Nazareth?
I think I'd better stop here; I'm starting to convince myself. Still, I'm pretty sure that with generous margins and a few chapters lifted from Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, there's enough to pad out into a book.

What lessons can be drawn from this little exercise? For one thing, the length and complexity of the defense of a thesis is no sure guide to the truth of the thesis. Another might be a generalized test all alleged proofs of peculiar things about Jesus should be able to pass: Being able to answer "No" to the question, "You're just making this up, aren't you?"