Jesus as Mamzer A Response to Bruce Chilton’s Reconstruction of the Circumstances Surrounding Jesus’ Birth in Rabbi Jesus -- By: Charles L. Quarles

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 14:2 (NA 2004)
Article: Jesus as Mamzer A Response to Bruce Chilton’s Reconstruction of the Circumstances Surrounding Jesus’ Birth in Rabbi Jesus
Author: Charles L. Quarles


Jesus as Mamzer
A Response to Bruce Chilton’s Reconstruction
of the Circumstances Surrounding
Jesus’ Birth in Rabbi Jesus

Charles L. Quarles

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography. By Bruce Chilton. New York: Doubleday, 2002. Pp. xxii + 330. ISBN 0-385-49793-8. $14.95 paper.

In his book Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography, Bruce Chilton argued that the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth raised suspicions about his paternity that led his community to regard him as a mamzer. The classification of Jesus as a mamzer is foundational to Chilton’s entire reconstruction of Jesus’ life and teaching. This article challenges Chilton’s theory that Jesus was a mamzer by suggesting that this theory misreads the NT evidence, misunderstands the rabbinic rulings concerning the criteria used to determine a child’s birth status, and overstates the ostracism that a declared mamzer endured.

The Birth And Childhood Of Rabbi Jesus

In Chilton’s reconstruction of Jesus’ life, Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Galilee about seven miles from Nazareth (p. 7). He was conceived through a union of Joseph and Mary after their betrothal but before they were formally married (pp. 8-13). Since Mary was visibly pregnant before the wedding ceremony, the identity of Jesus’ father was questionable. Consequently, Jesus was a mamzer, an Israelite of suspect paternity (p. 13). As a mamzer, Jesus was ostracized from the community, excluded from the synagogue, and ridiculed by other children (pp. 13-16). Joseph died when Jesus was only 12 years old and was no

longer able to insist that Jesus belonged to his progeny or shield Jesus from the rumors of the community. After Joseph’s death, Jesus’ status was diminished even further. Jesus, now a mamzer without any defense of legitimate paternity, was even prohibited from attending his father’s funeral service (p. 21). The exclusion that Jesus suffered as a mamzer had a profound effect on the formation of his religious teachings and in the development of his personality. Due to his isolation from the community, Jesus learned to distrust religious authorities (p. 17). Insults regarding his paternity prompted Jesus to develop his conviction that God was his Abba (pp. 17-18). The loneliness that Jesus suffered in these early years made him an intense, gregarious, critical, and independent person (p. 17). Jesus’ experience as a mamzer prompted him to become a runaway who lived as a street child in Jerusalem. His experiences as a street child ultimately drove him to John the Baptist, where he was intro...

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