Jesus trades up from carpenter to surveyor

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The Independent Online
Over the centuries biblical scholars have labelled Jesus Christ many things, but never before has anyone suggested he was a chartered surveyor.

Far from being a humble carpenter, the founder of Christianity was a cultured, middle-class businessman, according to a Jesuit historian. Debunking the traditional image which has been lodged in the public's imagination for almost 2,000 years, he paints a picture of a bon viveur who spoke three languages, enjoyed the theatre and had his own firm of builders and surveyors.

The disciples were also middle-class, he claims. James and John were not poor fishermen but owners of a fishing co-operative with large boats capable of carrying up to a dozen fishermen and a ton of fish.

Fr Giovanni Magnani, a lecturer in Christology at the Vatican's Gregorian University, in Rome, bases his claims on new findings on the links between Judaism and Hellenism, and on updated interpretations by acknowledged experts of Hebrew texts on the society and culture of Galilee.

In his new book, Jesus and Master, published by Cittadella in Assisi, Fr Magnani suggests that the scarcity of trees in Galilee meant that joinery would not have been a viable career choice. He backs up his thesis by pointing to an erroneous translation of a word from the New Testament. The Greek word `tekton', used in Matthew's gospel to describe St Joseph, did not mean carpenter, but rather was one level below an `architekton', or civil engineer, thus making Jesus a member of Galilee's prosperous class of burghers.

Fr Magnani, a philosopher and historian who founded the Gregorian University's Institute of Religious Science, goes on to say that besides his mother- tongue, Aramaic, Jesus could also write and translate Hebrew, the language of the Holy Scriptures, and could probably speak fluent Greek.

The discovery of a large semi-circular theatre in Sefforis, a Greek town with a population of 30,000 built near Nazareth between 2BC and AD20, has allowed experts to revaluate the impact of Greek culture on the local civilisation. It is possible that besides taking part in the construction of the town himself, Jesus may have visited the Greek theatre to see a show. "There is a whole vocabulary used by Jesus which was taken from the world of business, of banking, of the average and significantly powerful, which has to be re-examined in greater depth."

Dr James Carleton Paget, a New Testament scholar at Peterhouse College, in Cambridge, was circumspect about whether it was possible to pin so much on the translation of `tekton'. However, he emphasised that he had not read Fr Magnani's book and would keep an open mind. He said he had always suspected that Jesus was a "louche socialist, someone who spent most of his time in Hampstead".

The reference in Matthew's gospel to Jesus as "a glutton and a winebibber" and "a friend of tax collectors and sinners" suggested as much, he said. And the account of the marriage feast at Cana, where they ran out of wine, hints that "Jesus was better connected than we thought".

A spokeswoman for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors was tickled by the idea of Jesus as their forefather. Describing the profession, with no pun intended, she said: "It's quite a broad church, if you know what I mean."