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Rethinking the Ages of the Apostles Deacon Dan Henroid May 11, 2012
Background • Artwork from the Renaissance and Middle Ages often display the Apostles as middle aged men gathering around a comparatively youthful thirty-year old Jesus. • Current Western society has a tendency to devalue youth and accentuate “elders. ”
See the example from the cover of the course textbook
Another depiction of the call of the first Apostles
The Last Supper presentations of the Apostles as much older men with beards after three years with Jesus
With the possible exception of John, all the Apostles are typically presented as older bearded men
Relatively few group presentations of the Apostles exhibit much youthful make-up
Around 1612 Peter Paul Rubens made a series of portraits of the twelve apostles, including Paul but without Jude. Rubens made the half-portraits life-size. Each apostle has an attribute, a symbol by which he can be identified. They were depicted as strong men, with impressive old faces. All other artwork presented here is cited appropriately or is in the public domain.
Determining ages in the Gospel • Determining a reliable age for Jesus’ start of His ministry is problematic at best. • There a few signposts in (Luke 2: 1 -7; 3: 1) • Tradition places Jesus’ age at 30 at the start of His public ministry based on a passage in Numbers 4: 3
Nobody knows for certain how old the Apostles were • The Bible does not give an exact age • Traditionally an older age of the disciples does significantly influence the reading of the Gospels. • This depiction has dominated in the narrative form. • Most recent research into the actual life of first century Palestine should cause us to consider a younger age for the call of the disciples.
Proposal: another reading of the Gospel would make sense with an age of the Apostles between thirteen and twenty years of age. • This presentation will give some perspective on typical ages and milestones of the time. • It will re-examine the age identities of the disciples. • It will examine the attitudes of first century Jews toward children and young men’s legal and hierarchical status in relation to their seniors.
A tradition of older disciples may have developed for political reasons • A youthful church might not command the respect of the community. • The age of the first church leaders in relation to their followers is interrelated to Jesus’ teaching on the subject of youth and authority • If Jesus teaches respect for elders then the older disciple theory is stronger
Estimated Life Expectancy in the Ancient World* • The rate of death for children, especially infants in ancient times was extremely high. • Maternal mortality in childbirth was as common as one in eight. • Conservative estimates of infant mortality were 28% to 36% in the first year. • This phenomenon crossed all class, ethnic, and gender boundaries. • Death rates decreased past infancy until age 30 when they would steady begin to rise. • 89% of a typical population would be below the age of 45. • Above age 45, death rates rapidly rise.
Ancient Jewish education traditions • A boy of five would begin to study Scripture. • At ten, he studied the Mishnah. • At thirteen, he was subject to Torah obligations. • At fifteen, he began his study of the Talmud OR was apprenticed for a trade. • At eighteen, he was ready for marriage. • At twenty, he began to pursue a vocation
Life in the Ancient World • In the ancient world, the lengthy, drawn out, and well-defined period of youth as in modern times simply did not exist. • At thirty, for rabbis formal teaching began • Generally only two generations would be alive at the same time. • Men in their thirties could easily be grandfathers. • Men living past age 45 would be in the minority.
Jesus used traditional rabbinic language when calling His disciples. • In the first century rabbinic tradition, Jewish boys at the age of fourteen who wanted to become rabbis would approach a rabbi they wanted to follow. • If they failed to find a rabbi who would take them on, they would have returned to their father’s profession. • If the role that Jesus is taking is that of a Jewish rabbi, and His disciples are His students, the disciples would need to be of a younger generation to Jesus.
Rabbinic Tradition continued • This would not confirm the disciples as teenagers, but it does require them to be “youths” in relation to Jesus. • A man over thirty leaving his trade to follow a rabbi would be counter-cultural; though not impossible.
Typical Rabbinic “Schools” • Schools functioned according to the “masterdisciple” system in which a group of disciples followed the master, lived and ate with him, and learned form him at every step of the way • “Schools of thought” began to emerge and certain teachers would have been sought out for their great learning and connections. • Students—Greek, Roman or Jewish—tended to follow a teacher in their teenage years.
The School of Jesus • Jesus is portrayed as having called them from their families and vocations to follow Him • He became their “father” as was common in rabbinic circles • That Jesus did not have the education as a rabbi is of little concern • Jesus’ proclamation is presented as having been accompanied by constant teaching.
The Pros for a younger age disciple • The Temple tax: Jewish law stated that every male over the age of 20 is to pay the half-shekel census offering • In Matthew 1: 24 -27, Jesus instructs Peter to “fish up” this tax. • Peter finds a shekel in the mouth of the fish he catches; enough to pay the tax for two men—Jesus and himself • You might conclude the others were underage.
The School of Jesus continued • They would have had some elementary form of education in their synagogues and had a quest of further study. • The age of disciples who were following a 30 year old master would have been similar to that generally found throughout Judaism • Jesus authority to teach is presented as having been challenged by His opponents.
The fact that they were unmarried • A Jewish man receives a wife after the age of 18 • Other than Peter, no disciples’ wives are mentioned. • Several mothers of disciples are listed as traveling with their sons and taking care of them rather than any wives.
The zeal and folly of youth • The behavior of the disciples fits well with the zealous nature and foolishness of youth • Examples: arguing over who is greatest; fear of a storm at sea; hearing Jesus say He would die and come back to life; quick to admit their failures; limitless energy; storming over the country with the good news of the Messiah. • Easy to image a group of young men in awe of their “idol” and afraid to offend him.
The Cons of a Younger Age • Matthew as a tax collector: as a Roman appointee, would they have entrusted a teenager with this job? • Could Matthew have earned enough for a house to entertain Jesus if younger? • Jesus gave His mother to John—would this have been done with His youngest follower?
Avoiding problems with anachronisms • Caution not to project our notion of “youth” • Life for first century youth moved more quickly into “adulthood. ” • In antiquity there were “children” then “men. ” • Adolescence as we understand it is a newer concept. • Currently education prolongs maturation but this was not typical in ancient times.
Try a new imagining • Newer evidence of life in ancient times shows life and its challenges as beginning earlier. • Younger “mature” disciples would be like their contemporaries in every facet of life. • Most importantly, consider the impact of the Holy Spirit guiding the Church’s leaders
Project Selected Bibliography • • • Horn, Cornelia B. and Martens, John W. “Let the Little Children Come To Me: Childhood and Children in Early Christianity. Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 2009. This was an excellent and informative text and Dr. Horn was personally very helpful in sharing many ideas key to developing this project. “Being a First Century Disciple” http: //wap. bible. org/article/being-first-century-disciple Bonikowsky, K. “Jesus’ Disciples: A Teenage Posse? ” Internet resource: http: //kbonikowsky. wordpress. com/2008/08/20/jesus-disciples-a-teenage-posse/ Bonikowsky, K. “The Age of the Disciples Ditto” http: //kbonikowsky. wordpress. com/2011/01/18/the-age-of-the-disciples-ditto/ Evans, Craig. “Archaeology and the Historical Jesus: Recent Developments” http: //sbl-site. org/publications/article. aspx? article. Id=335 “The Jesus Youth: the revolutionary significance of young people in the gospels” http: //jaminism. wordpress. com/2010/06/14 Korb, Scott. Life in Year One: What the World Was Like in First-Century Palestine. New York, NY: Riverhead Books, a Division of Penguin Group USA, 2010. Mc. Grath, James F. “How Old Were Jesus’ Disciples? ” http: //www. patheos. com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/03/how-old-were-jesus-disciples. html Pope, Kyle. “Tax Collectors and Sinners” http: //ancientroadpublications. com/Studies/Biblical. Studies/Tax. Collectors. html Shulam, Joseph. “A Messianic Yeshiva” www. netivyah. org. “What was the average of the twelve disciples when they joined Jesus” http: //wiki. answers. com/Q/What_was_the_average_of_the_twelve_disciples_when_they_joined_Je sus “Estimated Life Expectancy in the Ancient World” http: //www. richardcarrier. info/lifetbl. html Adapted from "Frier's Life Table for the Roman Empire, " p. 144 of T. G. Parkin, Demography and Roman Society (1992)