He Tells Story About Farming, Was Jesus A Farmer?

In the first century, many people made a living by farming. With some estimates placing it as high as 90% of people were employed as farmers.

Jesus lived in a fertile region of the Roman Empire dominated by agriculture.

Would he have been a farmer? 

From our written accounts about the life of Jesus, we can conclude he knew much about farming and may even have firsthand experience working the land but was not a farmer by profession.

With many references to farming practices, it does raise the question if Jesus was not a farmer. How did he know so much about farming?

 If Jesus was not a farmer, why did he tell stores about planting and harvesting?

Why the many parables about weeds, grain and mustard seeds?

These are all good questions.

Questions which can help us better understand the life of Jesus by contemplating.

Let’s start with context.

Farming in Jesus’ Time and Culture

There are many mixed farms.

Where the farmer both till the ground and raises livestock.

But here, we will separate growing crops from raising animals.

Leaving the question of Jesus being a shepherd to another article but focusing on crop farmers here.

Jesus lived in a very fertile part of the world where agriculture was bountiful.

Josephus speaks of the fertility of the land.

“(Galilee was) “exceedingly fertile, full of plantations of trees of all sorts, no part of it lying idle; its many villages full of people owing to the richness of the soil.”

Josephus Of the War, Book 3, Chapter 3:2-4

With many crops of wheat, barley, legumes, figs, grapes and olives being grown around Jesus’ home.

But these many crops often involved the entire community during harvest and planting.

When the demand for labour was high, and the available workers were few.

It is possible that Jesus would have helped harvest barley in April or May or wheat shortly after. Especially as a boy or young man.

Less likely as his carpentry career developed as he could make more money as a carpenter than a farm hand.

It is not out of the possibility that, in between projects, he may have lent a hand. Despite being paid better as a carpenter, regular work was necessary for many in society. Himself included. So, if he could not find work in his trade, gathering figs would help put food on the table. Literally.

But a small plot of land in which a garden or small crop was grown near his home would have been common. Giving him some firsthand experience tilling the ground.

Not a significant landowner. Owning a significant piece of land to raise his crops and employ others. But something to supplement his diet with fresh produce.

Did Jesus Do Farm Work?

What about experience?

Examples of Jesus doing farm work?

But we do have one example of Jesus, or more specifically, his disciples harvesting grain.

Gleaning grain in hand

The gospels largely focus on the last few months and possible years of Jesus’ life, leaving out many years.

The story tells about how Jesus and his disciples walk through a ripe grain field. It was the Sabbath, but they rub heads of grain in their hands. Gleaning the grain and eating it.

The full story is in Matt. 12:1-14, Mk.2:23-26, and Lk.6:1-11.

The story is much more focused on an argument over working on the Sabbath.

But is probably the closest we get to Jesus doing farm work. 

Still, is proximity to farms and farmers lent itself to many parables, stores and examples being drawn from the fields around him.

Which Jesus regularly employed.

Jesus Teaching about Farming

Not in-field techniques. How to best plant your corn, but he does use examples from everyday farm life to explain things about God and the kingdom. Two of his more popular topics.

One such example of farming is a farmer tossing his seeds over a variety of soils with different results in harvest (Matt. 13: 3-8. Mk.4:2-8, Lk.8:1-15.

Planting Grain Seeds By Hand

Another has an enemy of a farmer throwing weed seeds into his freshly planted fields (Matt.13:24 -30).

A much different angle in one of Jesus’ parables, a landowner rents out his farm to some very nasty tenants’ farmers who don’t pay the rent and abuse all those who come collecting (Matt.21:33-46, Mk.12:1-12, Lk.20:9-19).

The best in regard to the mystery of farming is in Mark 4:26-29. Jesus talks about how the crop will grow regardless of what the farmer does. Even though the farmer doesn’t really know how. He may or may not manage the fields or even understand how the plants grow on their own.

Extra-Biblical Stories Of Jesus and Farming

When looking outside of the Bible, there is at least one story related to farming.

Not Jesus himself but of 2 grandsons of his brother Jude.

Who are farming around Rome. The emperor Domitian arrests them and questions their family line and intentions.

Zoker and James show them their callused and worn hands, claiming they are just poor farmers.

The whole idea of Jesus’ relatives moving to Rome to farm seems fishy, but it is interesting that so close to the time of Jesus that a story was circulating about his relatives farming.

Maybe it did happen, but it is hard to tell. 

Conclusion

We have little evidence that Jesus was a farmer.

Living in an agriculture-based society he was keenly aware and probably often interacted with farmers as he wandered the countryside. But himself it is unlikely that he would have identified as a farmer.

Even if, on the off chance, he helped with spring seeding or harvest.

His farm stories are much more secondary. Relating to those who listen, not from his personal farming experience.

Ryan Nickel

Two loves of my life beyond my wife and 4 children are history and the person of Jesus. From childhood, I was captivated by history and still love reading and learning about the past. One life in particular that intrigues me in history is the person of Jesus. It's fascinating to think about how the course of human history was changed by a carpenter turned preacher. Both in our times and also in his. I attempt to process all I am learning about him through conversations, writing and shooting videos about the life and teachings of Jesus. With each word drawing me closer into his life. Ryan Nickel has been part of range of churches, including Baptist, Evangelical Free and Church of Christ. In 1999 I graduated from Peace River Bible Institute with a Bachelor of Religious Studies.

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