Was Jesus Really a Carpenter? Part II: The LXX Evidence

In our first installment we introduced the idea that Jesus was called a “carpenter” in Mark 6:3, and “the carpenter’s son” in Matthew 13:5. Aside from these two instances, nothing of the sort is found in the NT, leaving the meaning less than clear for modern readers. In this installment we will look specifically at the evidence from the Greek OT (LXX), the text of the Scriptures that the NT authors and their readers were familiar with.

This will be our methodology: we will look at instances of the word τέκτων in the LXX, with the English translation according to Brenton provided. The instances will be in bold italics for emphasis and for the benefit of those with little knowledge of Greek. Participial [verbal] forms of the word will not be noted unless they accompany a nominal form.

The reader is encouraged to invest as much time as they like in the material below. One can simply note that there are 21 different verses where the word occurs, indicating that the term was well known and had a well established meaning. Or one can read the entire verses for context, or follow the hyperlinks to find the individual chapters for a deeper understanding of the greater context.

Here they are:

1 Samuel 13:19  And there was not found a smith in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make themselves sword or spear.

καὶ τέκτων σιδήρου οὐχ εὑρίσκετο ἐν πάσῃ γῇ ᾿Ισραήλ, ὅτι εἶπον οἱ ἀλλόφυλοι· μὴ ποιήσωσιν οἱ ῾Εβραῖοι ρομφαίαν καὶ δόρυ.

 

2 Samuel 5:11  And Chiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar wood, and carpenters, and stone-masons: and they built a house for David.

καὶ ἀπέστειλε Χειρὰμ βασιλεὺς Τύρου ἀγγέλους πρὸς Δαυὶδ καὶ ξύλα κέδρινα καὶ τέκτονας ξύλων καί τέκτονας λίθων καὶ ᾠκοδόμησαν οἶκον τῷ Δαυίδ.

 

1 Kings 7:2  the son of a widow woman; and he [was] of the tribe of Nephthalim, and his father [was] a Tyrian; a worker in brass, and accomplished in art and skill and knowledge to work every work in brass: and he was brought in to king Solomon, and he wrought all the works.

υἱὸν γυναικὸς χήρας, καὶ οὗτος ἀπὸ τῆς φυλῆς τῆς Νεφθαλίμ, καὶ ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ ἀνὴρ Τύριος, τέκτων χαλκοῦ καὶ πεπληρωμένος τῆς τέχνης καὶ συνέσεως καὶ ἐπιγνώσεως τοῦ ποιεῖν πᾶν ἔργον ἐν χαλκῷ· καὶ εἰσηνέχθη πρὸς τὸν βασιλέα Σαλωμὼν καὶ ἐποίησε πάντα τὰ ἔργα.

 

2 Kings 24:14  And he carried away [the inhabitants of] Jerusalem, and all the captains, and the mighty men, taking captive ten thousand prisoners, and every artificer and smith: and only the poor of the land were left.

καὶ ἀπῴκισε τὴν ῾Ιερουσαλὴμ καὶ πάντας τοὺς ἄρχοντας καὶ τοὺς δυνατοὺς ἰσχύϊ αἰχμαλωσίας δέκα χιλιάδας αἰχμαλωτίσας καὶ πᾶν τέκτονα καὶ τὸν συγκλείοντα, καὶ οὐχ ὑπελείφθη πλὴν οἱ πτωχοὶ τῆς γῆς.

2 Kings 24:16  And all the men of might, even seven thousand, and one thousand artificers and smiths: all [were] mighty [men] fit for war; and the king of Babylon carried them captive to Babylon.

καὶ πάντας τοὺς ἄνδρας τῆς δυνάμεως ἑπτακισχιλίους καὶ τὸν τέκτονα καὶ τὸν συγκλείοντα χιλίους, πάντες δυνατοὶ ποιοῦντες πόλεμον, καὶ ἤγαγεν αὐτοὺς βασιλεὺς Βαβυλῶνος μετοικεσίαν εἰς Βαβυλῶνα.

 

1 Chronicles 4:14  And Manathi begot Gophera: and Saraia begot Jobab, the father of Ageaddair, for they were artificers.

καὶ Μαναθὶ ἐγέννησε τὸν Γοφερά. καὶ Σαραΐα ἐγέννησε τὸν ᾿Ιωὰβ πατέρα ᾿Αγεαδδαΐρ, ὅτι τέκτονες ἦσαν.

 

1 Chronicles 14:1  And Chiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar timbers, and masons, and carpenters, to build a house for him.

ΚΑΙ ἀπέστειλε Χιρὰμ βασιλεὺς Τύρου ἀγγέλους πρὸς Δαυὶδ καὶ ξύλα κέδρινα καὶ οἰκοδόμους καὶ τέκτονας ξύλων τοῦ οἰκοδομῆσαι αὐτῷ οἶκον.

 

1 Chronicles 22:15  And [of them that are] with thee do thou add to the multitude of workmen; [let there be] artificers and masons, and carpenters, and every skilful [workman] in every work;

καὶ μετὰ σοῦ εἰς πλῆθος ποιούντων ἔργα, τεχνῖται καὶ οἰκοδόμοι λίθων καὶ τέκτονες ξύλων καὶ πᾶς σοφὸς ἐν παντὶ ἔργῳ,

 

2 Chronicles 24:12  And the king and Jodae the priest gave it to the workmen employed in the service of the house of the Lord, and they hired masons and carpenters to repair the house of the Lord, also smiths and braziers to repair the house of the Lord.

καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτὸ ὁ βασιλεὺς καὶ ᾿Ιωδαὲ ὁ ἱερεὺς τοῖς ποιοῦσι τὰ ἔργα εἰς ἐργασίαν οἴκου Κυρίου, καὶ ἐμισθοῦντο λατόμους καὶ τέκτονας ἐπισκευάσαι τὸν οἶκον Κυρίου καὶ χαλκεῖς σιδήρου καὶ χαλκοῦ ἐπισκευάσαι τὸν οἶκον Κυρίου.

 

Proverbs 14:22  They that go astray devise evils: but the good devise mercy and truth. The framers of evil do not understand mercy and truth: but compassion and faithfulness are with the framers of good.

πλανώμενοι τεκταίνουσι κακά, ἔλεον δὲ καὶ ἀλήθειαν τεκταίνουσιν ἀγαθοί. οὐκ ἐπίστανται ἔλεον καὶ πίστιν τέκτονες κακῶν, ἐλεημοσύναι δὲ καὶ πίστεις παρὰ τέκτοσιν ἀγαθοῖς.

 

Wisdom of Sirach 38:27  So every carpenter and workmaster, that laboureth night and day: and they that cut and grave seals, and are diligent to make great variety, and give themselves to counterfeit imagery, and watch to finish a work:

οὕτως πᾶς τέκτων καὶ ἀρχιτέκτων, ὅστις νύκτωρ ὡς ἡμέρας διάγει· οἱ γλύφοντες γλύμματα σφραγίδων, καὶ ἡ ὑπομονὴ αὐτοῦ ἀλλοιῶσαι ποικιλίαν· καρδίαν αὐτοῦ δώσει εἰς τὸ ὁμοιῶσαι ζωγραφίαν, καὶ ἡ ἀγρυπνία αὐτοῦ τελέσαι ἔργον.

 

Hosea 13:2  And now they have sinned increasingly, and have made for themselves a molten image of their silver, according to the fashion of idols, the work of artificers accomplished for them: they say, Sacrifice men, for the calves have come to an end.

καὶ νῦν προσέθεντο τοῦ ἁμαρτάνειν ἔτι, καὶ ἐποίησαν ἑαυτοῖς χώνευμα ἐκ τοῦ ἀργυρίου αὐτῶν κατ᾿ εἰκόνα εἰδώλων, ἔργα τεκτόνων συντετελεσμένα αὐτοῖς· αὐτοὶ λέγουσι· θύσατε ἀνθρώπους, μόσχοι γὰρ ἐκλελοίπασι.

 

Zechariah 2:3  And the Lord shewed me four artificers.

καὶ ἔδειξέ μοι Κύριος τέσσαρας τέκτονας.

(note: this is at the end of Zech. 1:20 in the Hebrew numbering, but the only difference is in the chapter division, not in what precedes and follows this verse)

 

Isaiah 40:19  Has not the artificer made an image, or the goldsmith having melted gold, gilt it over, [and] made it a similitude?

μὴ εἰκόνα ἐποίησε τέκτων, ἢ χρυσοχόος χωνεύσας χρυσίον περιεχρύσωσεν αὐτόν, ὁμοίωμα κατεσκεύασεν αὐτόν;

Isaiah 40:20  For the artificer chooses out a wood that will not rot, and will wisely enquire how he shall set up his image, and [that so] that it should not be moved.

ξύλον γὰρ ἄσηπτον ἐκλέγεται τέκτων καὶ σοφῶς ζητεῖ πῶς στήσει εἰκόνα αὐτοῦ καὶ ἵνα μὴ σαλεύητε.

 

Isaiah 41:7  The artificer has become strong, and the coppersmith that smites with the hammer, [and] forges also: sometimes he will say, It is a piece well joined: they have fastened them with nails; they will fix them, and they shall not be moved.

ἴσχυσεν ἀνὴρ τέκτων καὶ χαλκεὺς τύπτων σφύρῃ ἅμα ἐλαύνων· ποτὲ μὲν ἐρεῖ· σύμβλημα καλόν ἐστίν· ἰσχύρωσαν αὐτὰ ἐν ἥλοις, θήσουσιν αὐτὰ καὶ οὐ κινηθήσονται.

 

Isaiah 44:12  For the artificer sharpens the iron; he fashions [the idol] with an axe, and fixes it with an awl, and fashions it with the strength of his arm: and he will be hungry and weak, and will drink no water.

ὅτι ὤξυνε τέκτων σίδηρον, σκεπάρνῳ εἰργάσατο αὐτὸ καὶ ἐν τερέτρῳ ἔστησεν αὐτό, εἰργάσατο αὐτὸ ἐν τῷ βραχίονι τῆς ἰσχύος αὐτοῦ· καὶ πεινάσει καὶ ἀσθενήσει καὶ οὐ μὴ πίῃ ὕδωρ.

Isaiah 44:13  The artificer having chosen a piece of wood, marks it out with a rule, and fits it with glue, and makes it as the form of a man, and as the beauty of a man, to set it up in the house.

ἐκλεξάμενος τέκτων ξύλον ἔστησεν αὐτὸ ἐν μέτρῳ καὶ ἐν κόλλῃ ἐρρύθμισεν αὐτὸ καὶ ἐποίησεν αὐτὸ ὡς μορφὴν ἀνδρὸς καὶ ὡς ὡραιότητα ἀνθρώπου στῆσαι αὐτὸ ἐν οἴκῳ.

 

 

Jeremiah 10:3  For the customs of the nations are vain; it is a tree cut out of the forest, the work of the carpenter, or a molten image.

ὅτι τὰ νόμιμα τῶν ἐθνῶν μάταια· ξύλον ἐστὶν ἐκ τοῦ δρυμοῦ ἐκκεκομμένον, ἔργον τέκτονος καὶ χώνευμα·

 

Epistle of Jeremiah 1:7  As for their tongue, it is polished by the workman, and they themselves are gilded and laid over with silver; yet are they but false, and cannot speak.

γλῶσσα γὰρ αὐτῶν ἐστι κετεξυσμένη ὑπὸ τέκτονος, αὐτά τε περίχρυσα καὶ περιάργυρα, ψευδῆ δ’ ἐστὶ καὶ οὐ δύνανται λαλεῖν.

 

Epistle of Jeremiah 1:45  They are made of carpenters and goldsmiths: they can be nothing else than the workmen will have them to be.

ὐπὸ τεκτόνων καὶ χρυσοχόων κατεσκευασμένα εἰσίν· οὐδὲν ἄλλο μὴ γένωνται ἢ ὃ βούλονται οἱ τεχνῖται αὐτὰ γενέσθαι.

 

 

General Observations

There is a lot of material above, but we can note a few a few key themes:

  1. The carpenters are all religious figures. That is to say that none of these people are constructing normal houses or jungle gyms. They are not secular workers.
  2. The carpenters are all either full of wisdom to build structures for the worship of God or they are deluded fools who build for the worship idols.
  3. The carpenters are mentioned in every section of the LXX except the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy).
  4. The carpenters are foreign. Even if they are born and raised in Jerusalem, if they are building idols they are doing so as foreigners. For the constructors of the Temple in Jerusalem, they ironically are Tyrians, not Israelites. God chooses foreigners to build the one Temple, and (some) Israelites follow the practices of foreigners in constructing idols to worship.
  5. These carpenters are overwhelmingly literal characters, working with actual wood and usually in company of metal workers and masons. They are not purely symbolic or metaphorical, with the exception of the references in Proverbs and Zechariah.

What we can take from this is that when Jesus is called a “carpenter” in Mark 6:3, the 1st-century reader would not have thought of him going to Home Depot, but rather constructing the Temple in Jerusalem or constructing idols. He was a sacred architect or an evil deceiver. The term could not be understood in a neutral way, but instead indicated either a saint or a blasphemer.

That is not to say that the doubters in Jesus’s hometown thought he was an idol maker. They simply doubted that he was a “real” carpenter like those who constructed the Temple. They thought that he was rather a common worker who was in a trade associated with idolatry. In terms of literary value (rather than the narrative content above), Mark taps in to the cultic associations of the carpenter. The crowd thinks Jesus is common (in the lowest sense of the word) while Mark’s readers know that he is the Messiah, the one who will be rejected yet build a Temple that makes the Jerusalem Temple look defiled and pathetic. He will do so precisely by allowing his body to be defiled by the leaders of Jerusalem cult and the Roman authorities. This inversion of power so essential to Mark and the entire Christian message is seen in Jesus the “carpenter,” building for himself a house for God (his body) through teaching the people Wisdom/Torah.

 

I hope to show in my next post the evidence that Mark most likely had 2 specific examples in mind when he called Jesus a carpenter. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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