Was the historical Jesus a carpenter?

In the fictional mishmash of the gospel story, one supposedly biographical detail pointed to by bibliolaters and historicizers is the designation of Jesus and his stepfather Joseph as “carpenters.” This purported biographical detail is mentioned only twice, briefly at Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3, the former in which Jesus is named as the carpenter’s son, and the latter in which he himself is designated a carpenter. Here, assert proponents, appears evidence that there was a historical figure who was either the son of God or a Jewish rabbi evemeristically blown up into a divine figure.

In the quest to create a Jesus biography, this purported “historical” detail of carpenter is rarely raised; instead, rabbinical status is conferred upon Jesus through the belief in the gospel tale that Christ was a great sage who stunned the Jewish elders and priests at a young age with his precocious wisdom. (Luke 2:39-52) Why such a child would then be allowed to grow up to be a simple carpenter seems to make little sense as biography but is comprehensible if understood mythologically.

Is this “carpenter” designation truly a “biographical detail?” Or is it yet another part of the mythmaking process that cobbled together various popular motifs from around the known world in order to create the “King of kings” and “God of gods?” The evidence points to the latter situation to be the case.

Tekton as ‘craftsman’

The Greek word used to describe Jesus and Joseph as a “carpenter” in the New Testament is τέκτων or tekton (Strong’s G5045), which is defined as:

1) a worker in wood, a carpenter, joiner, builder
a) a ship’s carpenter or builder
2) any craftsman, or workman
a) the art of poetry, maker of songs
3) a planner, contriver, plotter
a) an author

As we can see, the designation in English of this word as “carpenter” is arbitrary, and there is little reason to suspect that it is more accurate than these other renderings. Jesus, therefore, could have been any sort of craftsman, including one who works with stone, making of him a mason. In this same regard, the word tekton in modern Greek oddly means “Freemason.”

This same word tekton also appears some two dozen times in the Greek Old Testament or Septuagint, as at 1 Samuel 13:19. In the Hebrew of that verse, the word translated as tekton is חרש or charash (H2796), used 33 times in the Old Testament and defined as “craftsman, artisan, engraver, graver, artificer; graver, artificer…” It appears that Christ was made to be a tekton in order to represent the “carpenter” or “craftsman” guild, as the spiritual figurehead, a common occurrence with many other occupations, including smithcraft, fishing, sailing, masonry and funerary services.

The notion of craftsmen guilds, the head of which would be a “carpenter god,” can be seen in 1 Chronicles (4:14), which speaks of the residents of the Valley of Charashim, the plural of charash or “craftsmen,” “artisans,” etc. Tekton is also translated as “carpenter,” as at 2 Samuel 5:11. Here the Greek is τέκτονας ξύλων or “craftsmen of wood,” followed by τέκτονας λίθων or “craftsmen of stone,” translated as “masons.”

The role of carpenters, builders and masons was an important one in antiquity, as it was they who built the Temple of the Lord (2 Kings 22:6). At Isaiah 40:19-20, we read about the tekton who casts gold for an idol and sets up a graven image; likewise it is a tekton who creates the “calf of Samaria” (Hosea 8:6).

The oddest passage, perhaps, in which the word tekton is used is Zechariah 1:20: “And the LORD showed me four tektons,” here translated variously as “carpenters” (KJV), “craftsmen” (NIV), “smiths” (RSV) or “blacksmiths” (NLT). This vision occurred after “the word of the Lord” “came unto” Zechariah, to whom it is explained that the four tektons are the “horns which scattered Judah, so that no man raised his head; and these have come to terrify them, to cast down the horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter it.” As we can see, the word tekton is used in the Bible allegorically and mythologically as well, an important precedent to note.

God as demiurge

In this regard, there exists another intriguing passage at Hebrews 11:10, which states:

ἐξεδέχετο γὰρ τὴν τοὺς θεμελίους ἔχουσαν πόλιν ἡς τεχνίτης καὶ δημιουργὸς ὁ θεός.

The RSV renders this scripture:

“For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”

Of interest to us are the word τεχνίτης or technitēs, which, like tekton, means “artificer” or “craftsman,” and the phrase δημιουργὸς ὁ θεός or “demiurge [is] [the] God.” In other words, the builder or demiurge of the holy city (sought by Abraham) is God. Here God is the demiurge. Interestingly, δημιουργός or demiurge (Strong’s G1217) is defined as “workman for the public; author of any work, an artisan, framer, builder,” essentially the same as tekton. Demiurge also means “creator.” This term δημιουργός or demiurge is used dozens of times in pre-Christian literature, especially in Plato (Cratylus, Symposium, Protagoras, Gorgias, Republic, Timaeus, etc.).

The craftsman god

As we can see from these examples, the carpenter, artisan, mason or craftsman god or aspect of God in antiquity was important and prevalent. Craftsman-god examples can be found in numerous other cultures, such as the Indian, with the god Vishvakarma, the Divine Architect of the Universe, also known as the “Carpenter of the gods”:

Viśvákarma (Sanskrit: विश्वकर्मा viśvá-karman “all-accomplishing; all-creator” is the Hindu presiding deity of all craftsmen and architects. He is believed by Hindus to be the “Principal Universal Architect”, the architect who fabricated and designed the divine architecture of the Universe, the Lord of Creation….

The Mahabharata describes him as “The Lord of the Arts, Executor of a thousand Handicrafts, the Carpenter of the Gods, the most eminent of Artisans, the Fashioner of all ornaments … and a great and immortal God…”

In the Indian text the Rig Veda, dating to 3,000 years ago by conservative estimates, the “divine craftsman” Tvashtr forges weapons, like his later Greco-Roman counterpart Hephaistos-Vulcan. Such artisan deities are thus known from remote antiquity, as can be found in the Ugaritic texts as well, as concerns the “craftsman god” Kothar wa-Hasis. Concerning Kothar, in The Ugaritic Baal Cycle, Dr. Mark S. Smith (171) comments:

The craftsman-god’s names mean literally “Skilled and Wise” or a little less literally…, “Wise Craftsman.”

Kothar’s Mesopotamian craftsman counterpart is Ea, also called “wise.” In the Ugaritic texts (Rahmouni, 178), Kothar is designed by the epithet rš or charash, the same as the Hebrew חרש, previously discussed as at 1 Samuel 13:19. This fact means that this Canaanite god, Kothar, was designated by the same Semitic term rendered tekton in Greek, the precise epithet attached to Jesus in the New Testament.

There are many other such examples of craftsman, artisan and carpenter gods in antiquity, as I discuss further in my book Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled. Suffice it to say that we cannot hang a “historical” Jesus on this briefly mentioned and patently mythical detail from the gospels. On the contrary, this “biographical detail” adds to our logical conclusion that the “Jesus Christ” of the New Testament is a fictional composite of characters, based significantly on archetypical divine predecessors such as those explored here.

Jesus the Carpenter?

Further Reading

Jesus, Son of Joseph, and Horus, Son of Seb

32 Comments

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  1. Crush
    I’ve read many of your blogs, parts of your books, and viewed your credentials. I’m moved. I discovered your site, as well as the copy cat religion aspects, and astrological significance accidentally; whilst on my own quest for truth and knowledge. I think you’re an amazing person and I absolutely adore you. I would love to sit down with you and just pick your brain for hours… Please keep up the awe inspiring, eye opening work.
    Thanks- Johnny Lee

  2. Architect of the Universe
    Hi Acharya

    Yet another intriguing and informative nugget about the mythical identity of Jesus Christ. Thank you. Masons call God the Architect of the Universe, and this is the sense in which Jesus should be considered as tekton or builder.

    Hebrews 3:3-4 says “Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.” In case you missed it, Moses is likened to the house of which Jesus is the builder. This is quite bizarre if we think of Jesus as a historical carpenter, but as builder of the universe, the equal of God, he is ‘worthy of greater honor than Moses’ as ‘builder of everything’. The esteem given to Jesus is not as a man, but as builder of the house of the world.

    Revelation and Hebrews use holy city or heavenly Jerusalem as allegory for the visible stars of the night sky, and especially for the zodiac. So God (who is equated with Jesus) designs and builds the “city with foundations” (Heb 11:10) where live “descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky”, and Revelation 21 tells us these foundations of the holy city are the same twelve jewels that Judaism saw as holy symbols for the twelve signs of the zodiac. This activity of Christ of ‘building’ a symbolic heavenly Jerusalem in the stars is a form of ideal construction, making the natural shape of the visible universe meaningful for human culture. The mythical meaning found in the Gospel story of Jesus as carpenter is purely astrotheological.

  3. Excellent points, Robert.

    I think you’d like my ebook Jesus Christ: Mason of God ([url]http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Christ-Mason-God-ebook/dp/B004L2LKHA/truthbeknownfoun[/url])].

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  5. Fact check please?
    Has anyone actually done a fact check / source check on the writer? Everything she writes is fiction with no real facts.

    1. If you are talking about me, perhaps you should fact check yourself, as what you have stated about my work is utterly FALSE. Did you even read the original post before you wrote such libelous drivel?

      Almost everything I write – included this very post itself – is thoroughly backed up by primary sources and the work of credentialed authorities.

      Does not your Bible tell you that bearing false witness breaks one of the 10 commandments?

      1. I suggest that some people may have a problem with you assuming everything you believe or say is true which is what you do. Some people deny the historical existence of Jesus, and reject all the written evidence to prove it. I could deny the existence of you with that approach. Asking for more evendince after your skreed is not too much to ask.

        1. And your remarks are fallacious as well. It is clear that you do not know my work in the least. I am constantly backing up everything I claim, with serious scholarship. Did you even read the article here before making calumnious remarks?

          No, you did not. Please actually study the work before making falsehoods about me and it.

          Again, as I stated above, this entire post is FULL of the evidence you are requesting, as is the rest of my work.

          Saying, “Everything she writes is fiction with no real facts” is simply an asinine and completely false lie, and you are agreeing with such ridiculous mendacity?

          Once more, I ask, does religious fanaticism create such utter dishonesty?

  6. Tekton
    There is a good mp3 at http://www.thejesusdiscovery.com that looks at Joseph the tekton

  7. Thank you, but I question whether or not you actually did read the original post, as your comments amount not to an intelligent or scientific observation but to little more than ad hom personal attacks and insults.

    As such, such disparagement and abuse will be ignored, as we continue to investigate scientifically the factual origins of religious ideas, rather than engaging in simple-minded, religiously fanatical hate speech.

    The facts are as stated above, and no amount of derogation and calumny will change them. The carpenter god motif is a mythical attribute added to the Christ myth that indicates his non-historicity, allegorical and mythical nature.

    The good this scientific study will accomplish in the long run is to expose the truth, which in turn helps unite the world’s peoples, rather than dividing them along the lines of religious fanaticism. Such divisiveness and bigotry allow for others to go to stranger’s blogs and post religious calumny against their persons. Getting rid of that religiously fanatical human hatred and sociopathy will go a long way to the betterment of the world.

  8. reading this made me see and understand how someone who once BELIEVED actually lost that which he once professed…so sad indeed!!

    i liken this to the image of a blind leading the blind…

    Without God’s Spirit opening our eyes we will never know Christ and Him crucified..He will remain a myth..

    u can say and write and research all u want and call it superior scholarship..but the Bible calls it simply: vanity!!

    i wonder what good this will accomplish in the end??

  9. I must say I find it very amusing to see Xians arguing from the bible against scholarship that calls the bible into question. Their logical structure (if they can be said to have one) is that your work cannot disprove the bible because the bible says so. I wonder how far in life that type of invincible ignorance/circular reasoning would get them if they applied it to more mundane matters.

    With all the great work that is coming out now and in the near future the desperation and mindlessness of theists will become ever more obvious and comical. For thousands of years man’s intellect was held hostage by faith. The time is quickly coming where the bonds will be break and mankind will finally know freedom.

  10. Great he’s not a carpenter, so?

    1. So, the impression that Jesus was a “historical” carpenter is erroneous, and we can throw out that purported biographical detail.

      In reality, the “Jesus Christ” of the New Testament is a fictional compilation of characters, including evidently the popular carpenter/craftsman god.

      1. The “Jesus” mentioned several times in Quran a fictional character too?

        1. Yes, certainly, as he is based on the gospel story, obviously, several centuries after the purported facts. Moreover, the Koran makes the mistake of conflating the New Testament Jesus with the Old Testament figure of Joshua, whose name is “Jesus” throughout the Greek OT/Septuagint.

          The Koran is merely repeating biblical and noncanonical traditions, not reflecting divine knowledge from the omniscient God.

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  12. Turmel: Jesus & Jospeh were engineers, not carpent
    Jct: I don’t think the Crown Prince of the Jews was at the bottom of the technology totem pole, I think he and Joseph were at the top. Do you really think a trust-fund baby with gifts of money from the Magi had to work in the shop? I’ve heard he got his education in India during the years when we hear nothing about him. Makes sense the Crown Prince might get an overseas education.

  13. “tekton” is almost definitely “carpenter” which is the classical Greek meaning, although since Koine is a debased version it could have any number of meanings to do with manual work and indeed there is also the tradition that it would mean any “wise worker” – but that is from classical Greek as a very low-down-the-list meaning; Mark and Matthew were not very literate people. I recently read an amusing comment, by someone slightly ignorant of history [square brackets mine.]

    “Jesus lived in a small town, Nazareth, which was right next door [one hour’s walk] to a big city in the process of being [re-]built – Sepphoris [by Herod Antipas, after Varus had burnt it down and sold the inhabitants “and those who lived near it” to slavery, or at least raped them, er, hence the “Yeshu ben Parthena” comment in the Talmud… at around 4 BCE] … The building of the city was mainly done in stone [in a very strict pattern as Josephus says “the ornament of Galilee” – Herodians were great stone-builders to emulate their Roman masters, Antipas called it “Autoctoratis” in honour of Augustus.] Anyone in the area looking for work as a tekton would probably be doing stone work. It is not impossible that wood work would also have been involved, but masonry was the main need. The Greek does not specify what kind of tekton work Jesus was doing. So, judging by the circumstances, Jesus was a stone worker… Maybe Peter heard about Jesus’ earthly occupation, and was thinking about that, when he wrote I Peter 2:4-8, where believers are called “living stones”. Also, maybe Jesus’ former occupation was the reason the disciples pointed out the stones of the Temple to Jesus, when they were looking for some distraction after a confrontational situation, in Matthew 23-24.”

    …and of course all the other “stone” allusions in the NT, including Peter his-self. There are very few carpentry allusions, erum… apart from that rather obvious one at the end of each of the four gospels!

    Since Sepphoris was built on a hill, it would have been visible for miles, perhaps from Nazareth? This may be the city that Jesus spoke of when he said (Matthew 5:14-16), “A city [polis] set on a hill [epano ourous] cannot be hidden.”

    So it looks as if Joseph was an imperialist ass-licker as were his children. How any woman worth her salt (ahem) would have gotten away from Varus’ men is most probably a miracle. Jesus would have grown up seeing the bright lights of the big city up on the hill. Oh… and he didn’t like his mother very much either. Typical reaction from a male child born of a rape victim.

    I think I prefer the less historical version of Jesus!

  14. I just have one question. If this post is about “architects of the Universe”, and the author of the post is stating that is why Jesus is called a carpenter, then why is Joseph, his father, called a carpenter as well. Joseph was God, nor was he supernatural in any way. So, if the purpose of the word tekton was to describe a “universal architect” then Jesus should be the only tekton in the family.

    1. Like Jesus, Joseph is a fictional character. It is possible that those who created the Christ figure simply wanted to give an “earthy” touch by making Jesus’s purported male role model also a tekton. When one is writing fiction, one can precede as one wishes, and often there are several reasons for a particular motif.

      Be sure to read the following article about Joseph’s mythical nature:

      Jesus, Son of Joseph, and Horus, Son of Seb

      Seb as “Carpenter?”

      Christian tradition holds that both Jesus and his father were “carpenters” (Mt 13:55, Mk 6:3). It is important to note that the Greek word in the New Testament for “carpenter,” τέκτων or tekton, means not only “carpenter” but also “builder” and “any craftsman, or workman,” including in “the art of poetry” or as a “maker of songs.” It also means “planner, contriver, plotter” as well as “an author” (Strong’s G5045). Interestingly, in modern Greek tekton means “freemason” (Collin’s Contemporary Greek Dictionary, 168, 311; Oxford Dictionary of Modern Greek, 189).

      The word tekton in the Old Testament, as at Isaiah 44:12, is translated as “smith,” “blacksmith” or “ironsmith,” whereas “carpenter” is a tekton xulon, a “wood craftsman” or “wood-carver,” as at Is 44:13. At Isaiah 40:19, tekton is also used to describe a worker of precious metals, while at Is 40:20 the word is rendered “workman” or “craftsman.” The Hebrew word translated as tekton is חרש or charash, which means “craftsman, artisan, engraver, graver, artificer” (Strong’s H2796), as well as “smith,” “carpenter” and “mason.” (Gesenius’s Lexicon)

      Thus, Jesus and Joseph are not necessarily “carpenters” but could be any of these other artificers as well. Indeed, in non-canonical Christian tradition Jesus was represented as a dyer of fabrics as well as a potter or clayworker and a painter. (First Infancy Gospel, XV, 6, 13; see Is 64:8) As the Lord, Christ is held to be the “Great Architect of the Universe” (Parsons, 3), the word “architect” (αρχιτέκτων) obviously related to tekton, while the Old Testament God himself is also a “potter.” (Is 64:8)

      The Egyptian creator god Ptah is likewise the “Great Architect of the Universe,” called the “Master Craftsman” as well. (Smith, 36) As Egyptologist Dr. Siegfried Morenz states, in a section entitled, “The Creator-god as craftsman” (p. 161):

      “Ptah…was depicted as an artisan or more precisely as a smith and metal-worker….”

      Morenz also discusses the god Kneph/Khnum as the Potter, who fashions living creatures, and calls him “a craftsman.” He furthers addresses Geb as a “procreator” god (162).

      Ptah is also the “Great Artificer,” who “shapes the sun- and moon-eggs on his potter’s wheel.” (Budge, GE, I, 501; Hastings, 145) Ptah thus could have been styled tekton, if described in Greek.

      This master craftsman Ptah was thought to have been an egg issuing from Seb or Geb is the “Cackler,” as the hieroglyph for the god’s name is a goose. (Mackenzie, 81) As his “son” Ptah fashioned the sun-egg, it was perceived that Seb the Cackler also laid the “golden egg” of the sun each day. (PSBA, VII, 153) Hence, Ptah and Seb – both called “father of the gods” – are considered creators of the sun, traditional role of the “divine artificer,” “builder” or “carpenter.” (Hart, 129)

      Indeed, the correlations between Seb/Geb and Ptah are enough to cause Egyptologist Dr. Henri Frankfort to remark:

      “[In Egypt] the earth was a male god – Ptah or Geb…. The figure of Geb would seem to possess the same potentialities as that of Ptah…. [Geb] is sometimes called ‘the father of the gods,’ and it is possible that at some time and place he was worshipped as the Creator….” (Frankfort, 181)

      All factors considered, it is logical to suggest a correlation between Seb and Joseph as concerns their role or occupation as artificer or tekton as well.

      (For more on the “carpenter” motif as found in pre-Christian mythology, see my book Suns of God).

      As demonstrated here and in my other works, the correlations between the Egyptian god Horus and Jewish godman Jesus are profound and important. These parallels include these figures’ “fathers,” Seb and Joseph, whose names are similar and whose earthly roles and tektonic occupations likewise reveal significant correspondences that indicate the Egyptian myths may have been a principal source for various aspects of the gospel story of Christ.

  15. Since you have a problem with a Christian messiah having a craftsman/builder profession because there have been other religions having a craftsman/builder theme, would you please list acceptable professions for a true messiah that do not duplicate previous mythological themes?

    1. Thanks, but I think you missed the point. My article is not about a “problem” I have with the carpenter motif. It is to demonstrate that this motif is indeed part of mythology, not biography. Hence, it cannot be used to show a “historical” Jesus who was a carpenter.

      There is no suitable profession for a “true messiah,” because there is no “true messiah.” Long prior to Jesus’s purported existence, the mythical sun and wine god Dionysus was also called “Savior,” as have been many other mythical figures.

  16. I was with you until the point where you said that because other religious figures/Gods were called craftsmen it’s obvious that Jesus is a myth. Huh?

    Wouldn’t it be obvious for a Creator God to be called a craftsman because he creates? Isn’t is also likely that there were tektons in Palestine in the first century (and why couldn’t Jesus have been one as opposed to a farmer)? I get the feeling that if the bible had said he was a farmer, you would have said “well of course the change in seasons and the resurrection myth”….

    As Spock would say, ‘Totally illogical”

    1. Thanks, but you couldn’t have been on point up to then, because that’s the whole point of this article. It is not “illogical” to show a mythical motif as a precedent for an element of another myth. On the contrary.

      But, yes, the mythical gods are called “craftsmen” and “carpenters,” etc., because of their ability to create.

      1. Could ‘tekton’ then, be translated as ‘creative person,’ ‘one who creates,’ or, in other words, ‘creator,’i.e. God. In that sense, Jesus would be representative of every human being, as there is not one of us that doesn’t ‘create’ in some way, shape or form.

  17. Please seek a personal relationship with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Son of God. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. – John 3:16

    1. Baahahaha, “Son of Man”, why on earth would anybody seek a personal relationship with Jesus in 2014? Change Jesus’s name to any other male name and it really seems gay doesn’t? I thought Christians were homophobic?

      Anyway, no thanks, I was a saved and baptized Christian for many years and then, I grew up. Besides, the burning of unbelievers during the Inquisition was based on the words of Jesus:

      John 15:6 “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”

      Seems like a very evil thing to do to people.

  18. The problem with the above scripture, John 3:16, is that just two verses later we see blatant discrimination against non-believers:

    John 3:18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God

    God/Jesus is supposed to be the omniscient, omnipotent creator of the universe yet is incapable of leaving behind credible evidence of himself which would:

    1. Save xians from persecution

    2. Convince billions more skeptics, thus, saving more souls. Which is what all of this is suppose to be about, right?

    3. In Revelation, at the end of the day with all the tribulation, apocalypse & Armageddon 2/3rds of the human population will be killed in what the religious tolerance website called, “the largest mass extermination of humans in history.”

    So, either God/Jesus doesn’t give a shit about you or he doesn’t exist. All theistic arguments have failed. There’s still not a shred of valid evidence for Christian supernatural religious claims. If there were any credible evidence, FAITH, would not be the main requirement. It seems more likely that religion is a human creation with an obsession of riding the world of non-believers.

    Here’s more discrimination exposed in in the bible:

    http://freethoughtnation.com/forums/viewtopic.php?p=2418#p2418

  19. A tekton is an artisan…a master craftsman..or more accurately, a master of the craft. And what was the ‘craft’ in antiquity? it was Alchemy..a master magus who studied to control the self and the elements..an art that requires supreme effort.

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