Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

December 29, 2008

Knowing the Boy Jesus

Though the Gospels do not provide complete biographical information about Jesus' life, they do offer several clues. Have your students match the Gospel passages below with the statements about Jesus' life.

1. Mark 6:3 __ A. Jesus lived in Nazareth.

2. Mark 5:41
B. Jesus had a large extended family.

3. Matthew 2:23 __ C. Jesus was a carpenter.

4. Mark 3:31-32
D. Jesus could read.

5. Luke 4:16b-17 _ E. Jesus spoke Aramaic.

Next, check their answers: 1-C; 2-E; 3-A; 4-B; 5-D. Then provide m ore information on these statements based on the following information:>

Jesus lived in Nazareth. Being a small out of the way town, Nazareth lacked the sophistication associated with bigger cities and it seems that there was some local snubbing of the city. In John's Gospel, Philip tells a friend, Nathaniel, about Jesus and Nathaniel responds: "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" (Jn 1:46). this poor reputation is supported when the local people try to violently eject Jesus when he claims his divine orgins (Lk 4:16-30)

Jesus had a large extended family.The synoptic Gospels mention the names of four of Jesus' "brothers" as well as the mention of "sisters" without offering their names. The traditional Catholic understanding is that the terms brothers and sisters were interchangeable with cousins and these references actually refer to cousins of Jesus.

Jesus was a carpenter.Jesus was trained in his father's profession. This was a common practice all over the world until the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth century. In Nazareth, a carpenter was likely to be in the lower middle class range economically. Carpenters were not poorer than the classes of slaves or rural day laborers.

Jesus could read.Jesus probably had some formal education. It was common for Jewish boys to attend the synagogue for schooling from early childhood to about age 12 or 13. Besides serving as a place of worship and a place to settle legal problems, boys learned their Jewish faith there. This required mastering and being able to read Hebrew, the official language of the Jewish people.

Jesus spoke Aramaic.The phrase in Mark 5:41, "Little girl, get up!" reflects a common form of the Aramaic language. In Jesus' time Aramaic could almost be termed the "language of the streets," a type of local dialect. Aramaic was a language of the poor people of Galilee. The form of Aramaic spoken in Galilee was probably different than spoken in Judea. This would have identified Jesus as a Galilean as he began to extend his ministry to other areas, much as a southern accent of New England accent can clue you in to a person's origins today. Through his schooling, Jesus also know Hebrew. However, the most commonly spoken language throughout the empire at that time was Greek. Jesus likely learned several Greek phrases though doing business with customers of Joseph's carpentry shop.

More InformationInterestingly, there are no physical descriptions of Jesus in the Gospels. The earliest artwork of Jesus dates to the second century. It was found in a catacomb in Rome. It depicts Jesus as a typical Roman man: clean shaven, short hair, and taller than average. This depiction is probably inaccurate. Jesus was a middle-eastern man. typically, people from that region had dark hair and dark skin. They average height for an adult male was probably 5'6". Jesus also likely had very long hair and a beard. Jews grew their hair long for two reasons: Strict following of religious laws prohibited shaving. And, may Jews refrained from cutting their hair as a way to protest against the occupying Romans who kept their hair short.

As a reminder, the US Catholic Bishop's new Curriculum Framework is Christo-centric. Each of the courses in the framework also has a Scripture strand. Check out the first resource for the Curriculum Framework, Catholic Essentials: An Overview of the Faith,which is an in-depth and appealing resource for Catholic teens on the person of Jesus and his Church.

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