Baker Academic

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Jesus and Dental Care

David Capes asks a question that I've never considered before...
Did Jesus Have All His Teeth?

1 comment:

  1. I find these kind of curious questions a bit pathological – although they help to “demythologize” popular imaginary of Jesus: I guess that from a Christian theological standpoint, it reminds us that Jesus is not only “true God” but also *true man*!
    Anyway, the article doesn't provide any interesting answer to the question – just some highly speculative guessing, based on a debatable anthropological approach (e.g. comparison with indigenous people from Papua New Guinea!)
    I now may add something to this useless exercise, using our best sources for Jesus: the Gospels.
    Consider this well-known sentence: “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. It’s an idiomatic expression with many occurrences in Gospels: Mt 8:12; Mt 22:13; Mt 24:51; Mt 25:30; Lk 13:28.
    In Acts 7:25 we find a similar expression (“they gnashed at him with their teeth”). Now, note how the text doesn't say “they gnashed at him with their *couple of* teeth” :-)
    It would be quite funny if people at that time didn't have teeth and still create an idiomatic expression where teeth played such a relevant role.. If they had no teeth, the idiomatic expression may have probably been “they gnashed at him with their gums”!
    Now the point is: was this expression used at the time of Jesus, or is it maybe a later redaction addition post-70 CE by Matthew and Luke?
    Mmmmh.. Wait a moment! Matthew and Luke? No Mark? So a possible older source is at hand: Q!
    In fact, according to J. Kloppenborg (“Q, the Earliest Gospel” Westminster John Knox Press. 2008) in Q 13:28 we find: “there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” .
    Therefore we now know that such expression was around before Matthew and Luke, since it already belonged to a previous, underlying tradition (Q).
    In order to complete this analysis, I add that this expression can also be found 5 or 6 times in the LXX.. So we can trace for it a sort of “continuous spatio-temporal trajectory” in biblical textual tradition, and I guess we can likely conclude that such expression was probably well known (and used) at the times of Jesus.
    I admit I don’t know what’s the underlying Hebrew (Aramaic?) expression, and I think it’s better to ask M. Casey cause I have no time to write a monograph on this subject ;-)
    To corroborate my view, we can then consider Mt 11:19 – where Jesus is depicted as.. “a glutton and a drunkard”. Also in this case, we have parallel in Luke 7:34 – so this goes back to Q source. Therefore the tradition is solid and, even more, this is likely to be an historical fact!
    So, follow me: unless 2000 years ago gluttons were just eating soups with a straw, apparently Jesus could actually had good teeth!

    We can’t say the same, unfortunately, of John the Baptists - for Q 7:34 is inescapable: “John came, neither eating nor drinking” (Kloppenborg, op. cit.)which makes me suspect the Baptizer couldn't chew at all, while we all know he was fond of water -and therefore reasonably a teetotaler :-)
    Other sources (Mk 1:6, Mt 3:4) say that John’s food “was locusts and wild honey”.. This may allow for few teeth in his mouth, at least enough to defeat a locust - although all that honey didn't help for sure his tooth decay!

    CONCLUSIONS: Unfortunately I can’t consider my analysis as conclusive, but I think that in terms of historical probabilities I have at least set an argument. It will be up to next generation of scholars to develop my seminal work!! .. and to correct my horrible English, of course :-)