Introduction…or skip right to “Tekton”
Recently I visited close friends living in Jordan. It was my first trip to the Middle East, and although my experience was quick and largely as a tourist, I had a few magic moments that only happen when you shed the schedule and open to the unknowns. One of those instances was a spin through a bookstore just off Rainbow Road in Amman.
I am promiscuous when it comes to books. Sometimes I buy them just to have them. Being in the same room with someone else’s thoughts is much like sitting in an airport or a park watching people. As is often said, you’re never alone with a book. At any time, you could strike up a conversation, be introduced to something new, your mind could be blown wide open.
The bookstore was very modern, and luckily most of the titles were in English. One book caught my attention immediately: Zealot by Reza Aslan (2013). The paperback copy leaned against a pile of others face out on a shelf. It was the one. If you spend a lot of time in bookstores you know what I mean.
It felt right to read a book about the historical life of Jesus while in biblical lands. Even better, the book Zealot is a historical (and controversial) unpacking of the political world which swirled around Jesus, both before and after his brief appearance in Palestine. I began reading it that night. The author introduced Jesus as a tekton, the Greek word for craftsperson, which reminded me of a paper I wrote in seminary aptly titled “Tekton”. I decided to revisit that paper when I returned from my trip.
Written a decade before Aslan’s book, the short report was for a graduate-level “Historical Jesus” seminar. After rereading the paper, I was happy with the material. It was much like coming across an old photograph from my BFA years and thinking, ‘Yeah, that was pretty good.” I accepted the rare moment of satisfaction, then moved on to write down my thoughts about what it meant for me to have visited all those holy sites in Jerusalem and Jordan.
I have been revisiting “Tekton” for a week now and I finally decided to share it on my website. The copy I am publishing is in a state very close to the original from 2003. My writing has improved, so I made some changes to syntax. I tried to smooth over the potholes in meaning or structure. Really, there was not much to do. I see “Tekton” as a micro-palimpsest of Aslan’s epic work, and I encourage anyone interested in my material to read his much greater amplification on many of the same ideas.
Just one more thing, whether it’s important to you or not. Nearly a decade ago in the introduction to my MA thesis I wrote,
“It is not important for me that Moses authored the Pentateuch, parted the Reed Sea, or experienced a theophany on Sinai….I ask, did the miracles need to happen for the fundamental truths and the theological concerns to be of value? In short, what do these stories mean?”
I’ve come to understand that I approach religion not as a theologian, but as a historian. I derive my greatest satisfaction by understanding history, by assembling the curious puzzles that facts present while knowing full well at any time from the dust and strata new truths can and will emerge. Bring it all on.
During a time when objectivity and scientific method are being undermined by fallacious opinion and self-serving lies, the greatest god any of us can hope for is one that honors the freedom to pursue truth and the ability to discern its meaning. Keep greed in the temples. Let freedom reign in the streets.