May 012018

As befits today being International Workers’ Day today is the feast of Joseph the Worker in the Roman Catholic tradition. Before I embark on my customary cynical prattle, let me warn you that in a few hours I am leaving on a trip to Thailand, Nepal, Turkey, and Italy for a month, so my posts will be a bit scattered in May. If you have not done so already, I strongly encourage you to “like” and “follow” this facebook page:  I put up the relevant posts from past years there, so you will always have an anniversary to celebrate.

Joseph is first mentioned in the gospels of Luke and Matthew as the (legal) father of Jesus. He is described in Matthew as a ” tektōn ” (τέκτων) which has been traditionally translated into English as “carpenter” but is a rather general word (from the same root (τέχνη – skill/craft) that gives us “technical” and “technology”) that could cover makers of objects in various materials. He could have been a wood carver, blacksmith, jewelry maker etc. In the Septuagint the Greek noun tektōn either stands for the generic Hebrew noun kharash (חרש), “craftsman,” (as Isaiah 41:7) or tekton xylon (τέκτων ξύλον) as a word-for-word rendering of kharash-‘etsim (חָרַשׁ עֵצִים) “craftsman of woods.” (as Isaiah 44:13). The term kharash occurs 33 times in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible. As an alternative to kharash, some authors have speculated that the Greek term corresponds to the Aramaic term naggara (Hebrew נגר naggar “craftsman”) and some scholars have suggested that given that the use of the term in the Talmud “carpenter” can signify a very learned man, the New Testament description of Joseph as a carpenter could indicate that he was considered wise and literate in the Torah.

Excuse me if I consider all of this speculation to be wishful thinking. The simple fact is that the earliest Christian texts we have – the Pauline epistles and Mark’s gospel – make no mention of Jesus’ father, either by name or in general. Matthew and Luke are the first to mention him, and they both have agendas. They were both interested in genealogies that would prove Jesus was a direct descendant of king David, and, therefore, worthy to be called Messiah (according to Hebrew prophecy). This also meant that they had to cobble together the fable of birth in Bethlehem, rather than in Galilee where he was almost certainly actually born.

Put bluntly, we have no clue who Jesus’ father was (nor his mother for that matter), if you want to follow strict historical method. Everything we “know” about Joseph comes from secondary and apocryphal sources. When it comes to key issues such as the resurrection, I am prepared to cut the 1st century authors some slack, but not when it comes to matters of marginal relevance such as Jesus’ parentage. Joseph the Worker is a fable conjured up by people who want answers to concrete questions where none exist. Remember, I am an ordained minister who is saying this. There is great power (spiritual and otherwise) in narratives even if they are not true. Today is an important day, both in Catholic and secular culture, to celebrate people who work with their hands and fathers in general.

If you are up for some reading on the subject of Joseph in Christian tradition, you could try the apocryphal History of Joseph the Carpenter, written in the 5th century and framed as a biography of Joseph dictated by Jesus. It describes how Joseph, aged 90, a widower with four sons and two daughters, is given charge of the 12-year-old Mary, who then lives in his household raising his youngest son James the Less, until she is ready to be married at age 14½. Joseph’s death at the age of 111, attended by angels and asserting the perpetual virginity of Mary, takes up approximately half the story. Keep a pinch of salt handy.

The earliest records of a formal devotional following for Saint Joseph date to the year 800 and references to him as Nutritor Domini (educator/guardian of the Lord) began to appear in the 9th century, and continued growing through the 14th century. Saint Thomas Aquinas discussed the necessity of the presence of Saint Joseph in the plan of the Incarnation, because if Mary had not been married, the Jews would have stoned her (and in his youth, Jesus needed the care and protection of a human father).

In the 15th century, major steps were taken by Saint Bernardine of Siena, Pierre d’Ailly and Jean Gerson, to secure a place for Joseph in doctrine. Gerson wrote Consideration sur Saint Joseph and preached sermons on Saint Joseph at the Council of Constance. In 1889 Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical Quamquam pluries in which he urged Catholics to pray to Saint Joseph, as the patron of the Church in view of the challenges facing the Church at the time. Leo was concerned with the ravages of industrial capitalism generated by the Industrial Revolution and its negative effects on workers worldwide. In the encyclical he stressed the nobility of manual labor, not only as of value in its own right, but as a means to support families – the bedrock of culture.

Joseph has a more commonly celebrated feast day on March 19th which I have already posted on here:  You will find an abundance of recipe ideas there. I am going to be lazy today and point you there for something to cook today. I am in the final stages of emptying my refrigerator because I am leaving for a month and am turning the electricity off. I have to make my last meal before setting off for the airport from 4 eggs, a half-eaten wheel of Camembert, 2 red chiles, and a Mars bar. I have plenty of non-perishables such as dried legumes, rice, and pasta to add in, of course, but I am going to try to be sparing. Also to be quick, I will reprise this recipe from that post (my apologies – I really ought to be packing my suitcase).

Maccu di San ‘Gnuseppi


10 ozs/300 g shelled dry fava beans
8 ozs/200 g shelled dried peas
4 ozs /100 g dried chickpeas
6 ozs/150 g dried beans
4 ozs/100 g lentils
2 bunches of borage (or spinach or chard)
¾ oz/20 g fennel seeds
1 frond (lacy top) fennel
1 medium-sized onion
2 sun-dried tomatoes
extra virgin olive Oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
croutons made by dicing day-old bread and sautéing the pieces in olive oil


Set all the legumes except the lentils, which cook quickly, to soak in lightly salted water the night before.

The next day drain them, and set all the legumes to boil in a big pot of lightly salted water, adding the onion, tomatoes, and greens, chopped, after about two hours. Continue simmering for another couple of hours, by which time it will be ready.

Check seasoning, and serve over the croutons, with a cruet of extra virgin olive oil for people to drizzle over their soup.


 Posted by at 2:16 am

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