A curriculum for mixed-age elementary grades by Dan Harper
Copyright (c) 2015 Dan Harper
Scripts for the brief skits that can come at the beginning of each session.
* Please note that you do not have to memorize your lines for these scripts (who has time for that?). Just hold the script in your lap and read from it — the children won’t mind, they will still enjoy the skit.
First script: Introducing Jesus
Scribe (or other senior elder): Hey, have you heard about this new rabbi named Jesus? He comes from the town of Nazareth.
Shopkeeper 1: Are you talking about the Jesus who works for Joseph and Sons Building Company?
Scribe: That’s the guy!
Shopkeeper 2: He’s not a rabbi, he’s a builder.
Scribe: Don’t you remember that when he was getting ready for his bar mitzvah, his parents took him to the great Temple at Jerusalem? He amazed everyone there with his understanding of religion.
Shopkeeper 1: But that was ten years ago. Now he’s a carpenter.
Scribe: No, he left his father’s business and is traveling the countryside, teaching about religion.
Shopkeeper 2: He left his father’s business? That’s crazy!
Shopkeeper 1: Why is it crazy? He was always honest and upright, a real mensch. We need more honest religious teachers.
[Optional added dialogue:]
Tax Collector: I hear he’s nice to Tax Collectors. I might go visit him.
Haughty Roman Lady: Who cares about about some ignorant rabbi? He’s not a Roman citizen like me, so he probably can’t even read!
Scribe: But wait, there’s more — they say he can heal people of illness just by touching them.
Shopkeeper 2: That’s impossible!
Shopkeeper 1: Well, you never know, it might be true.
Scribe: I won’t believe he can heal people until I see it with my own eyes. We’ll probably hear more about this Jesus guy in the next few weeks. But now it’s time to tell the apprentices which shopkeeper they get to spend time with this week.
Jesus as carpenter: Mark 6.3 says that Jesus is a carpenter. Actually, the Greek word is τέκτον — transliterated as tekton. This is a somewhat ambivalent term, by our standards — e.g., tektonon can be translated craftsmen or builders; tektoneo would be to do the work of joiners (referring to Liddell and Scott etc.) — which I’ve seen interpreted as everything from a joiner (in contemporary terms, a joiner is someone who makes things like furniture, cabinets, architectural woodwork, etc.), to a housewright (in contemporary terms, someone who builds houses, a contractor, who may work with wood, masonry, etc.), to a generic builder. So I’ve hedged my bets, and referred to Jesus and his father as builders.
Jesus as a boy at the Temple of Jerusalem: the story can be found in Luke 2.41-47.
Jesus as teacher, Jesus as faith healer: Scholars disagree about the primary role of the historical Jesus. Was he primarily a teacher (rabbi), a faith healer, a prophet of the end times, or what? Rather than take sides on an issue that I am not competent to make judgments on, I let the shopkeepers argue this one out.
However, it should be noted that while Jesus is often referred to as a “rabbi” by religious liberals, this should not be understood as a rabbi in one of today’s Jewish synagogues. Rabbis as we know them today are a product of Judaism after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Think instead of the famous figure Hillel (c. 110 B.C.E.- c. 10 C.E.), whom we often term a rabbi. Hillel would have been alive while Jesus was a child. Hillel was a surprising and thought-provoking teacher, not unlike Jesus; see, for example, Hillel’s statement of the ethical norm called the “golden rule”:
“Once there was a gentile who came before Shammai, and said to him: ‘Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Shammai pushed him aside with the measuring stick he was holding. The same fellow came before Hillel, and Hillel converted him, saying: ‘That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.'” — Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a.
Second script: Oppressive Roman rule
Village Elder: Oh, how I hate that Tax Collector! What a pain in the neck!
Scribe: Shh! If he hears you complaining, he might tell the Romans that you are a troublemaker. You don’t want the Romans to think of you as a troublemaker, do you?
Village Elder: What do you mean?
Scribe: Don’t you remember when Judah and his band of patriots broke into the Roman fortress on the hill? It was twenty years ago, but surely you must remember.
Village Elder: Yes, I remember.
Scribe: So you remember what happened afterwards. The Roman army burned the entire town of Sepphoris, burned it to the ground in revenge! The Roman soldiers took away many of our people into captivity — not just the rebels, but anyone who happened to be in their way.
Village Elder: We never did find out what happened to some of them.
Scribe: The Roman Soldier who guards our Tax Collector seems pretty nice, and I’m not worried about him. But what if a whole army of Roman soldiers came storming into our village?
Village Elder: We’d be in trouble!
Scribe: So you better not complain where the Tax Collector can hear you!
Village Elder: What about that Roman lady who comes into our village? What if she hears me complain?
Scribe: Oh, I don’t think we have to worry about her. It is true that she looks down on us, and thinks we are not important just because we are not Roman citizens like her. But as far as I can tell, she is not anyone important.
Village Elder: I just wish there was someone who could save us from the Romans. A great warrior and king, like King David of olden times!
Scribe: You can wish all you want, but there’s no one like that around anymore.
Village Elder [leaning forward confidentially]: Well, some people say that rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, is like King David, and he will free us from the Romans!
Scribe [looking horrified]: Shh! Are you trying to get us into trouble?! Don’t say things like that aloud! Enough of this talk! It’s time for the apprentices to choose which shopkeeper they will go with today.
The bit about the Romans burning the village of Sepphoris is lifted from: Jesus the Carpenter’s Son by Sophia Fahs (Boston: Beacon Press, 1947).
Third script: What happened when Jesus went to Jerusalem
Jesus gets executed. Varying views among the villagers about this — some say, “Good for Jesus for standing up to the oppressive Romans!”, others say, “Uh oh, we’ve been down this road before, and the Romans just got more oppressive.”
Fourth script: The Tax Collector decides to follow Jesus
Scribe: Hey, this is the last week we will have all these nice apprentices with us.
Village Elder: It’s the last week we have these apprentices, and we still don’t know what to think about this Jesus of Nazareth.
Scribe: I know what I do NOT think. Some people are saying that he is the son of God, but I do not believe that. And some people are saying that after the Romans executed him, he rose from the dead, but I do not believe that either.
Tax Collector: I think Jesus was the greatest religious teacher I have ever heard. I was so impressed by him that I am going to give up being a tax collector, and go join his followers, so we can make the world a better place.
Scribe: What?! You’re going to give up being a Tax Collector? Wow!
Roman Lady: Jesus made me see that all people are equally important, and I no longer think that we Romans are better than anyone else. But I cannot join his followers, because you have to be Jewish to be one of his followers.
Village Elder: And here I thought that all Romans were mean and nasty! As for me, I like the most important thing Jesus taught us — that we should treat other people the way we want to be treated ourselves.
Scribe: But Rabbi Hillel — who was a scribe, by the way — Rabbi Hillel said exactly the same thing. Nothing that Jesus said was new or different.
Village Elder: That’s true. And I’m not going to go join his followers. And I’ll bet everyone will have forgotten about him five years from now. But I still think he was a very special person.
Scribe: I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree about what we think about Jesus. Now it is time to talk about what we are going to do on this last day for the apprentices….
The opinions expressed by characters are all at least a little bit anachronistic, and they really are designed to show what Unitarian Universalists today might think and believe about Jesus. At the same time, I did try to base the opinions in at least a little bit of historical fact.
The Scribe’s opinion: Having the Scribe state that he does not believe that Jesus was the son of God, nor that he rose from the dead, seems like a reasonable representation of what many Jews of the time might have thought. Furthermore, current scholarly research indicates that there was a greater diversity of theological viewpoints even among the early followers of Jesus than has usually been assumed. Note that while the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark (which was the earliest of the gospels to be written) ends the story at Mark 16.8, when the women discover the empty tomb — no risen Christ, just an empty tomb — this should not imply that the author of Mark did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. It’s just that the author chose to end the story at that point, which makes for a powerful dramatic device, while all the foreshadowing earlier in the story implies that Jesus will indeed return to his followers. (Having acknowledged that, many of us Unitarian Universalists who do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus prefer this original ending better than the ending in the other gospels.)
The Tax Collectors’ opinion: The Christian scriptures do report that Jesus consorted with tax collectors, and it would not be surprising if at least some of them became followers of Jesus — not in the inner circle (at least, not according to the Christian scriptures), but in the wider circle of followers.
The Roman Lady’s opinion: Our fictional Roman Lady is correct, and the original Jesus movement was basically only open to Jews, or to people who converted to Judaism. Paul (a Roman citizen himself) changed that thirty years after Jesus died, when he preached that the movement was open to both Jew and Gentile. However, the Jesus movement that was under Peter’s leadership seems to have remained Jewish.
The Village Elder’s opinion: The Village Elder states the Golden Rule approximately as it appears in Matthew 7.12: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets”; or in Luke 6.31: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” [NRSV] However, compare Luke 10.25-28, in which Jesus approves of a version of the Golden Rule that includes the Shema, the Jewish declaration of Faith: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” [NRSV] (and this in turn is based on Deuteronomy 6.4). Of course, Matthew and Luke were written perhaps half a century after Jesus died, so we should not assume that these books accurately reproduce what Jesus actually said. For the sake of comparison, here’s Hillel’s version of the Golden Rule, as recorded in the Talmud, Shabbat 31a: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”
Thanks to Alan Miller for pointing out that Rabbi Hillel was a scribe, and having the Scribe character point with pride to such a great rabbi.