08 Jan 2013 
#30 Jesus, the uneducated teacher? Part 1: evidence for Jesus' illiteracy

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A fair number of scholars (even non-Christian ones) now accept Jesus was uneducated but still have him as a teacher. It is rather ironic they think that, in view of their low opinion of amateurs (even well educated ones) and of their works on early Christianity.

between 95 and 97 percent of the Jewish state was illiterate at the time of Jesus, it must be presumed that Jesus also was illiterate, that he knew, like the vast majority of his contemporaries in an oral culture, the foundational narratives, basic stories, and general expectations of his tradition but not the exact texts, precise citations, or intricate arguments of its scribal elites."
John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (1994)

Bart Ehrman in his book “Did Jesus Exist?” (DJE?) (2012) thinks Jesus was, at most, “semiliterate” (p. 37), unable to write, with some possibility he could read (p. 43) (the later rather denied on p. 48) but was nevertheless "a religious genius" (p. 37).

That does not prevent either Crossan or Ehrman to consider Jesus as a great teacher.

“Mark” wrote, that after Jesus starts teaching in his hometown, the locals wondered “where did this man get these things?” (Mk 6:2)

“John” considered Jesus “without having studied” (Jn 7:15)

And later, Justin Martyr wrote about Jesus' associates: "... men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking ..." (1Apology XXXIX)

The New Testament does not have Jesus writing anything of consequence:

The only "writing" of Jesus occurs in Jn 8: 6, 8. This passage is most likely a late import in the gospel because it does not appear in all the oldest found copies. Anyway, the so-called writing was probably meant to be just doodling: in the story, nobody cares about the "writing"! Furthermore, Jesus is said to write on the ground of the Temple courts. But these courts were paved!

The only reading by Jesus happens in:
Lk 4:16b-18 "And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
[someone has to be very familiar with this (big) scroll in order to find what he is after!]
"... He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, ..."
What Jesus allegedly read shows marked differences with the closest passage in 'Isaiah', which is:
Isa 61:1-2a
"... He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners [Greek bible: blind], ..."
Actually, it is as if Jesus read from the Greek Septuagint, and at the same time translated in Aramaic, edited, modified & combined parts of Isa 61:1b with a bit from Isa 58:6
"set the oppressed free"!
In other words,
Jesus could not have read that.

Note: the setting, a trip to Nazareth (Lk4:14-30) at the beginning of Jesus' "ministry" (and the only one also), is most questionable: it is not reported in gMark and gMatthew, that is not so early. And we have also:
Lk 4:23 "Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me:
`Physician, heal yourself!
Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'""
Jesus is said to be known for his miracles in Capernaum before they occur there (Lk 4:31-41,7:1-10)! And there is NO mention that Jesus performed a single miracle anywhere prior to calling on Nazareth!
It looks here "Luke" relocated forward his/her own expanded & modified version of the similar visit in gMark (6:1-6), and for a purpose: explaining (through his rejection) why Jesus did not base his "ministry" in the most logical place, his own hometown.

In other words, these so-called testimonies are worthless and, in view of Jesus social status (poor (2 Cor 8:9) and rural), the chances of Jesus are very high for being illiterate, close to 100% for being uneducated.

But how would Jesus get his great knowledge according to the gospels?

Likely by way of this non-witnessed (except for gJohn) mythologically tainted alleged event: “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, ..."” (Mk 1:10-11) which is of course highly implausible.

Next, I want to examine the main Testimonium Flavianum, which is the major justification for many scholars to keep seeing Jesus as a charismatic teacher.

Cordially, Bernard

Tags: {Crossan} {Ehrman} {historical Jesus} {uneducated teacher}
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