Something About Jesus

I learned something interesting yesterday and I thought I would share.

In rabbinical Judaism, there are varying degrees of illegitimacy of a child. The lowest possible kind was a mamzer – the child of adultery, incest or other vile sexual sin.

But there is another type called a shetuki. This word literally means “silent one” and indicates that the child does not know his/her father’s name. In other words, this is a child of sexual promiscuousness or prostitution. While someone could marry the unwed mother and therefore adopt a shetuki and become his father legally, the child was still excluded from marriage within the priestly and rabbinical circles. As such, a shetuki could never become a rabbi since rabbis were required to be married.

So, what does this have to do with Jesus?

Jesus would have been a shetuki since everyone knew that Joseph was not his biological father. Jesus was conceived during Mary and Joseph’s engagement but was obviously not Joseph’s.

This means Jesus could not have been a rabbi (beside the fact that rabbis had to be married).

When commentators make Jesus out to be a Jewish rabbi, they are missing this important note about his origin. The rabbinical schools were extremely demanding about who they accepted as students – regardless how promising a potential student might have been.

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4 thoughts on “Something About Jesus

  1. Careful here. You’re conflating later history (where the rabbi system was more developed and systematized) with it’s early history in 1st century Israel (when it was still figuring itself out). The later system did not become as rigid (requiring marriage) until after the destruction of the Herodian temple in 70 AD. Also, there is evidence that people assumed Jesus was Joseph’s son, and so he would not have been considered “shetuki” (see Luke 3:23; Luke 4:22; and John 1:45)

    • I am not sure I would consider it conflation. The rabbinical system was not invented out of whole clothe after the fall of the Temple. The Talmud simply codifies what was already held as torah shebealpeh or oral law. There is no sign in the Talmud of the evolution of these ideas. Since mamzer is present in the torah shebichtav and there are prohibitions attached to it, why shouldn’t we think that at least the prototype of the idea was already in existence?

      Given the size of Nazareth at the time of Christ (barely what we would consider a village), I find it hard to believe that the people did not know that Joseph was not biologically Jesus’ father. You don’t keep secrets like that in small communities.

  2. The rabbinical system did not develop uniformly everywhere. It arose out of a need for teaching in the Jewish diaspora, and thus may have roots as far back as the Babylonian and subsequent Egyptian exiles. Historical research has demonstrated that a strict set of regulations for rabbis was not uniformly enforced until after the council of Jamnia.

    Also, yes people talk, but people would not assume Joseph wasn’t the biological father. Instead they would assume he was and that Mary concocted some story to cover up their pre-marital indiscretion (and Joseph was merely complicit in it). That’s why people assumed Joseph was Jesus’ father (and said as much).

    The fact is, Jesus is called a rabbi in Scripture (or the Aramaic rabboni). This is why I urge caution against discrediting this view outright. But that doesn’t mean he was married, again because the law code was not uniformly enforced.

    • I can see your point. My thoughts are more concerned with the way that liberal commentators like John Dominic Crossan who want to relegate Jesus to a sort of itinerant rabbi teaching just a modified Judaic moralism rather than being the Messiah bringing the New Covenant.

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