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