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According to the Biblical account, Jesus was the son of a carpenter, Joseph of Nazareth (Matthew 13,55).

Apparently carpenters were not among the wealthy. Be that as it may, how rich could a carpenter become in the Roman province of Judaea in 1st century AD? What exactly would the social position of a Jewish carpenter's family be?

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Not a real answer but: A skilled carpenter is a specialized job, and they would have an income and standard of living that was decent for the times. But explaining the social position of a carpenter in a useful manner is pretty much only possible by saying "he was a carpenter". That was both a job and social position throughout most of history. –  Lennart Regebro Sep 30 '13 at 22:11
    
As addition (this was removed from the question body): he was not rich enough to afford a lamb during Presentation and offered a pair of pigeons. But I don't know when one were not rich enough to offer a lamb. –  Voitcus Oct 1 '13 at 5:43
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@LennartRegebro - "Or that passage was added to make him seem poor" Have you researched this? Do you have any valid reason for questioning the text as it stands? Are there problems with that portion of the text? Mere speculation on your part is not sufficient reason to discard such a verse. –  comeAndGo Oct 7 '13 at 6:32
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We've discussed this rather a lot in Meta as well. There's no reason whatsoever to believe that the biblical passage listed has anything to do with Carpenters in general. One can come up with all sorts of explanations (perhaps business was slow that year? Perhaps Joseph was still a poor apprentice when Jesus was born? Perhaps there was little left for buying sacrifices after paying Mary's dowry?) So it really tells us nothing at all. If you guys really want it in the question, I won't be the one to remove it again, but it truly is irrelevant for a general question. –  T.E.D. Oct 7 '13 at 12:31
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@LennartRegebro - a text was has been accepted for two thousand years, containing a verse with no textual problems and nothing in it that is counter intuitive needs no outside source. It is a source. –  comeAndGo Oct 7 '13 at 17:06
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2 Answers

First, Jesus did not live in Judea, but in the more rural and distant province of Galilee. The major population center was Sepphoris, Herod Antipas' seat of power. Historians generally agree that Jesus would have plied his trade in that city:

Sepphoris... was moneyed. It was the center of trade for the area. And if Jesus were growing up in Nazareth, which is just a walk for somebody healthy... I think it's something like three miles. If he were a carpenter, or some kind of craftsman, he might have done work in Sepphoris....What does this imply about Jesus' social class? It's hard to know. I think that since he's depicted as a pious Jew, and since pious Jews have a six-day work week, and since on the seventh day they have particular obligations that don't allow them to take long journeys, (on the Sabbath you really are supposed to rest. You're not supposed to hike into Sepphoris and maybe, catch a play in the afternoon, or something like that.) I don't think that culturally, Sepphoris would have made all that much difference. I think as most people in his period who are not landed gentry, Jesus would have worked for a living for six days a week and rested on the Sabbath....—Paula Fredriksen, Boston University

The actual word used to describe Jesus and his father is τέκτων, which can descibe anyone from a worker to (meataphorically) an author. However, if we assume, as Dr. Fredriksen does, a Pareto distribution of wealth, it's extremely unlikely that either man was blessed with extensive leisure time.

Luke's account provides us with a number of clues to Jesus' economic situation:

  • He probably was related to a priestly family.

  • Jesus' parents offered "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.", which according to Jewish law, was a concession for someone who not afford a lamb and a bird as a purification sacrifice.

  • His family was free to travel to Jerusalem every year for the Passover Festival.

  • When Jesus left his family and his job to become an itinerant preacher, he was supported financially by some of his female followers:

    Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.

    The same women came prepare his body for burial in a borrowed tomb.

Recall that Luke, as a gentile writing for gentiles, would have had every reason to inflate Jesus' status (and therefore wealth) so it's striking that he is depicted as depending heavily on women.

Summary

As perhaps the most studied man in ancient history, Jesus represents a fascinating slice of life. While he was by no means rich, his family was able to afford a certain amount of leisure and he had well-to-do friends. We can be fairly certain that he did not suffer under extreme poverty, but neither was he self-sufficient.

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This is a great answer to a different question. I see nothing in here about the economic status of carpenters in general, so I really can't upvote it (tempted though I am). –  T.E.D. Oct 7 '13 at 13:18
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To answer only part of the question:

The wealth of first century carpenters is impossible to compare to highly paid workers in late capitalism. Wealth has a fundamentally different meaning in our society to that of Antiquity; and, as such, a valid comparison is impossible.

It is however possible to explain wealth and poverty from the first century in ways that moderns can comprehend. Hopefully someone with specific economic history experience of antiquity can help.

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It would be enough to say if he could afford a return trip to Egypt, if he could buy a donkey for that, if after returning he could restart his business, what he ate and drank in comparison for example to fishermen, shepherds, olive planters, merchants etc. I don't ask what his salary was and whether he had an insurance policy in Prudential. –  Voitcus Oct 1 '13 at 7:45
    
@MarkC.Wallace As Bible says, during the census Jesus was born. Then he and his parents escaped to Egypt, and then, after Herod's death, they returned home. Of course we can discuss which census it was but we're talking about a life of an ordinary carpenter. –  Voitcus Oct 3 '13 at 13:11
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