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Jesus Between Birth and 30

Affirmations and Confessions of a Progressive Christian Layman - by Ed Taylor

Between Birth and 30

Unfortunately, the Gospels do not provide us with much information about Jesus’ early life.

We all know the story from Luke that asserts that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He claims that Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea. Even though she was nine months pregnant, they traveled 68 miles on a donkey? Talk about spousal abuse!

An Israeli archaeologist, Aviram Oshri, contends that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem in Judea, but in in Bethlehem in Galilee, a village 7 kilometers from Nazareth.

Matthew contends that Jesus was born in a house in Bethlehem in Judea. According to Luke, Jesus was presented in the Temple in Jerusalem 40 days after his birth (a woman was impure until 40 days after childbirth). So Joseph, Mary and Jesus traveled to Jerusalem and back, a total of 54 miles, a little over a month after he was born. This would have been when Jesus was circumcised.

The Wise Men (or Magi) did not arrive on the night of Jesus’ birth. According to Matthew, they came to their house in Bethlehem, probably after his presentation in the Temple. They needed travel time for the long distance in a camel caravan. It would have taken at least 40 days, if not more.

Then Matthew writes that King Herod attempted to kill all the male babies in Bethlehem to eradicate any future threat from the King of the Jews. Informed of Herod’s evil plot in a dream, Joseph took his family to Egypt. We don’t know where in Egypt or how long they stayed there, but it was supposedly until after Herod’s death (various sources claim two, four, seven, and eight years; however, Herod the Great died before Jesus was born in 4 BC).

During his years in Egypt, Jesus, like any small child, would have learned to speak the language of his tribe – Aramaic, a combination of Hebrew and Babylonian. As he grew, assuming that they stayed in Egypt until he was seven or eight years old, he would have entered formal education, perhaps in a local synagogue, around the age of five. The children would have memorized the Torah, which was written in Hebrew.

Once again Joseph had a dream that told him to return to Israel. However, when he learned that Archelaus, Herod’s son, was ruling Judea, he was afraid to go to Bethlehem. In another dream, he was told to head for Galilee and make his home in Nazareth.

Nazareth was such a tiny village that went relatively unnoticed, which has caused many scholars to claim that it didn’t exist at the time of Jesus. Archaeological excavations show that it was occupied in the 7th century B.C.E. and re-inhabited in the 2nd century B.C.E. Therefore, the present town of Nazareth may be the hometown of Jesus.

Jesus would have entered “secondary school” at age ten. There he continued his study of the Torah and perhaps learned Greek, since it was the language of business and politics. During this time, the students would have chosen to “follow” a specific teacher, similar to being an apprentice. Jesus reportedly chose to follow his cousin, John, called the Baptizer.

I had thought that Jesus was literate, but that may not have been the case. He may have been able to read, but unable to write. That would have been fairly common.

Luke reports that the family traveled, which meant walking or riding on a donkey, the 120 miles from Nazareth to Jerusalem (avoiding traveling through Samaria) every year to celebrate Passover. Actually, according to Exodus, every devout Jewish male was supposed to “appear before the Lord” in the Jerusalem Temple three times a year, but particularly during Passover.

According to Luke, when Jesus was 12 years old, the family traveled as usual to Jerusalem for Passover. Once the festival ended, his family, and probably others from Nazareth, headed home, but Jesus stayed in Jerusalem. After a day’s journey, his parents realized that he was not with the group of travelers. When they returned to Jerusalem, they found him in the temple, listening to the teachers and asking them questions. When Mary admonished him for causing them great anxiety, seemingly unconcerned, he reportedly said, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

The only other reference between age 12 and 30 is when Luke writes that Jesus “was obedient to them” (his parents) and “increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”

The next period of Jesus’ life is referred to as the silent years, the lost years, or the missing years, because the Gospels gloss over his life between age 12 and 30.

We have to look to other sources to speculate about what he was doing during those years. Some people assume that he was working as a carpenter with his father, but that is purely conjecture as much as any of the following potential scenarios.

When we read Luke 4:16-22 we get a couple of impressions. The passage reads: “When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place” and read. Later it says that the attendees said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” The phrase “where he had been brought up” suggests that he had been brought up in Nazareth, but had not lived there recently. “He stood up to read” implies that he could read. And “Is not this Joseph’s son?” suggests that the people were not sure who he was. If he had been away for several years, his appearance might have changed to the point that they didn’t immediately recognize him. Then in Matthew 14:55-56, we read that he came to Nazareth, his hometown, to teach in the synagogue. They asked, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” Was Jesus so unknown to the people in his hometown synagogue that they didn’t know his name? They knew the rest of his family. And they were so astounded by his wisdom that they wondered where he had studied. I think both passages from Luke and Matthew infer that Jesus had been away from Nazareth for some time.

So where was he? What was he doing?

A lot of people, maybe even most people, simply assume that Jesus stayed in his hometown and worked with his craftsman father. Addison Dare Crabtree in his 1884 book The Journeys of Jesus, claimed that sons were required to learn their fathers’ trade. Typically, when a male turned thirteen, his education stopped and he began working in his father’s trade. If that is true, how did Jesus become so smart. He must have studied somewhere other than Nazareth.

Dennis Price, in his 2010 book The Missing Years of Jesus: The Extraordinary Evidence that Jesus Visited the British Isles, noted that British legends claim that Jesus visited Britain as a young man. Price also wrote that in 43 CE, the Dubunni, a British tribe, minted coins bearing the name of a mysterious person named Eisu, who apparently rose to prominence around 30 CE, which is, of course, approximately when Jesus was crucified. While there is no actual evidence that Jesus visited Cornwall, Stonehenge or Glastonbury, there are some fascinating legends to consider.

Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy merchant and tin trader who was Jesus’ relative, possibly his uncle. According to Mark, he was “a respected member of the council” who asked Pilate for Jesus’ body. John calls him “a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one” who asked Pilate to allow him to take charge Jesus’ body after the crucifixion.

Joseph traveled considerably and on at least one trip to England, Jesus accompanied him and may have made other trips with his uncle. While Joseph conducted business in the Mendip lead mines, Jesus explored the western part of Britain, studied, prayed and meditated.

One of the strongest legends is that Jesus traveled to the Isle of Avalon and to the town of Glastonbury. Glastonbury was a prominent center for Druidism, along with Salisbury, Bristol, Bath and Dorchester. Druidism taught that man had three duties: “Worship God, be just to all men, die for your country.” They also taught that “by none other way than the ransoming of man’s life by the life of man is reconciliation with the Divine Justice of the Immortal Gods possible. And they believed that the God-head, Duw, was a Trinity: Beli, the Creator is the past, Taran, controls the present and Yesu, was the future Savior. Their anticipated Savior even has a name similar to Jesus, Yeshua in Hebrew and Jesu, the vocative and poetic form of Jesus.

Legend also claims that Jesus returned to the Isle of Avalon later with his uncle and a woman in her early thirties – presumably his mother, Mary. Over the next few weeks, Jesus and Joseph constructed a wattle hut, similar to those of the island’s inhabitants. After Jesus and Mary moved into their new home, Joseph sailed away to conduct business elsewhere. In a variation of this legend, Mary is buried in England.

That Jesus visited England was later popularized by a medieval ballad and in more recent times by the hymn “Jerusalem” which is very well-known in England. The following is an excerpt:

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

Leaving Jesus’ potential youthful exploits for a moment, Joseph of Arimathea supposedly returned to Glastonbury after Jesus’ crucifixion and buried the cup used during the Last Supper and that supposedly collected Jesus’ blood during the crucifixion, in Glastonbury. Also, Joseph reportedly stuck his walking staff in the ground and it miraculously rooted and became known as the “Glastonbury Thorn.”

The townspeople of Glastonbury preserved Jesus’ dwelling and considered it a “sacred spot.” When Joseph returned after Jesus’ death, the dwelling – “the Home of God” – was still standing. Joseph settled there and spread Christianity long before missionaries arrived.

St. Augustine wrote to the Pope that he had discovered a church in Glastonbury that was built by followers of Jesus. But St. Gildas, a 6th Century British priest, claimed it was built by Jesus himself.

We don’t know how many times Jesus took extended voyages with his uncle or to what foreign destinations.

Back in 1894, a Russian, Nicholas Notovitch, published an account of his trip to the secluded Himalayan monastery, where he claimed to have been shown a 3rd Century CE manuscript claiming that Jesus – or Issa, as the monks called him – trained with yogis during his visit.

In 1922, Swami Abhedananda went to the Himalayas to study Buddhistic philosophy and Lamaism. He intended to discredit Notovitch’s claims, but he found a Tibetan translation of an original manuscript that was written in Pali that contained 224 verses which were very similar to Notovitch’s account.

Levi H. Dowling’s 1908 book Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ claimed that the young Jesus traveled to India, Tibet, Assyria, Greece and Egypt.

In a 2013 Smithsonian magazine article, Franz Lidz wrote about his trip to Shingo, a tiny village in northern Japan, which bills itself as “Christ’s Hometown” (“Kirisuto no Sato”). Local legend insists that Jesus landed at the port of Amanohashidate, Japan at age 21. The legend also claims that he studied with a Buddhist master near Mount Fuji, before returning to Judea by way of Morocco.

A more believable scenario speculates that Jesus became a member of the monastic community at Qumrān, on the edge of the Dead Sea, which became famous after the 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In his 1950’s book The Lost Years of Jesus Revealed, Charles Potter suggested that both Jesus and John the Baptist were Essenes. He argued that Jesus either wrote or was influenced by an apocalyptic book called “The Secrets of Enoch.”

In Bruce Chilton’s book Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography, he doubts that Jesus stayed in his hometown, because the gospels don’t mention him trying to marry and starting a family, which is what the typical Jewish male would have done. Instead, he believes Jesus remained in Jerusalem after his visit to the Temple at age 12 and eventually became a follower of John, the Baptizer, who trained him in his philosophy. “Jesus had a rebellious, venturesome spirit,” Chilton argues. “He did not become a passionate religious genius by moldering in the conventional piety of a village that barely accepted him.”

But all of these disparate theories have one thing in common: they’re merely conjecture. Until someone discovers more solid proof of where Jesus went and what he did in those years, it seems likely that Jesus’ missing years will continue to remain an interesting, intriguing mystery.

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