Jesus The Stone Mason? -- By: Brian N. Peterson

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 29:1 (Winter 2016)
Article: Jesus The Stone Mason?
Author: Brian N. Peterson

Jesus The Stone Mason?

Brian N. Peterson

In my previous article in the Fall 2015 issue of Bible and Spade, I laid out the methods used for the construction of a basic courtyard-styled first-century home in the highlands of Israel. This construction technique was the same in the Galilee region, with the exception that basalt stones were the building material of choice as opposed to limestone, which is so prevalent in central Israel. Thus, houses in the region where Jesus lived were built mainly out of stones. By the end of that earlier article I realized that if Jesus was a “carpenter,” then maybe he was in fact a “builder” with stones.

Let me digress for a moment. Years ago, when I was doing carpentry full time, I received a keychain as a gift from a friend. On that keychain was the phrase, “My boss is a Jewish carpenter.” I erroneously thought, carpenters build houses and work with wood; Jesus was a “carpenter” (Mk 6:3); so, he must have built wooden houses as I did, right? This made sense to me at the time, even though I had never been to Israel, let alone studied first-century construction methods. However, as I researched the previous article and as I excavated the first- century dwellings at Khirbet el-Maqatir, I began to ask myself the question, “Was Jesus a carpenter as I see myself, or was he perhaps a stonemason who built homes?” I think that it may be the latter. I know that this may not sit well with some readers, but we do need to remember that the Bible was written in an ancient Israelite context!

As Western readers, we automatically draw connections from what we know from Western culture. A prime example of this is the numerous movies about the life of Jesus, where Jesus is always a very white and handsome Western-looking man, when in actuality Jesus was at the very least olive-skinned (perhaps even darker than that) and not overly attractive (Isa 53:2). Furthermore, when one begins to look at the building analogies that Jesus used when he taught, the case is even stronger that he worked as a “carpenter” who built stone houses; that is, he was a skilled stonemason as well!

Now. that is not to say that Jesus never touched wood when he built houses; he certainly would have had to have done that. Rather, we may have to rethink our image of Jesus wearing a carpenter’s tool belt and carrying a Black and Decker saw in a workshop. To be sure, some may immediately retort that Jesus was a carpenter who built furniture and the like in a woodworking shop (note the classic paintings of Jesus’ childhood; see Figs. 1 and 2). Of course this is always a possibility, but I think when the textual evidence is weighed, this c...

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