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Economic Jesus

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: GPG Cc: WSW; Synoptic On: Economic Jesus From: Bruce Last year at SBL there was a session purportedly testing the water for an Early Christianity and the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 16, 2008
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      To: GPG
      Cc: WSW; Synoptic
      On: Economic Jesus
      From: Bruce

      Last year at SBL there was a session purportedly testing the water for an
      "Early Christianity and the Ancient Economy" topic at future SBL meetings.
      An offensively gigantic and Persianically splendid hall was reserved; about
      20 turned up, your correspondent among them. The session was simply a
      lecture; there was no "consultation," no interaction with those present;
      insulting. Such comment as did ensue after the lecture was in considerable
      part critical. None of which mattered; it was obvious the thing was IN. And
      on the program for the coming SBL, what do we see? Scheduled sessions for,
      you guessed it, Early Christianity and the Ancient Economy. Not one, not
      two, not three. Five. My impression is that somebody up there knows somebody
      else up there.

      Content of the sessions is largely Roman economy and Galilean archaeology.
      Nothing wrong with those topics in themselves. Those who have time to go can
      tell the rest of us if criticisms of the inaugural lecture in both areas
      have been taken into account. Myself, I seem to have time conflicts at all
      points.

      Which is not to say that there is no interest in approaching Jesus
      economically. Au contraire. Consider the gross features of the story. Jesus
      handpicks five disciples (not twelve; that is a later myth, superposed over
      the previous narrative in Mark), and from what sector? Commercial fishermen
      and tax collectors: the suppliers and regulators of the trade routes. Into
      what areas did early Christianity propagate? Apart from a few places within
      a certain walking radius of northern Galilee, along the coastal and riverine
      cities; that is, the commercial termini and entrepots. We should perhaps
      speak of Maritime Christianity. What was the content of Jesus's message?
      Among other things, he introduced a new commandment into the Mosaic Ten
      (which he had previously reduced by omitting all the ones having to do with
      Temple piety), namely, a commandment against fraud: not paying your workers.
      How to deal ethically with the free labor market; a post-Mosaic question
      approached in a creatively Mosaic spirit; here is Jesus's trademark as a
      lawgiver (as I would have expounded ere now, but that SBL offering was not
      picked up by the organizers last year).

      Nor is this position a freak of Mark; it also turns up in the core of the
      Didache (the Two Ways document), and in several other places. What,
      according to Mark, was Jesus's program for the Temple? To hold splendid
      sacrifices? No, to remove commercial pollution (animal sellers, currency
      exchangers) so as to make it a fit site for the return of God to Israel.
      What was the burden of Jesus's call to individuals? To sell everything they
      had. What was one problem in the early Christian communities? They had sold
      everything they had, and time was unexpectedly passing, and they were
      hungry. What was Jesus's quarrel with the Pharisees? That under the cloak of
      Moses they had countenanced the diversion of assets from the support of
      parents, that under color of general piety they were defrauding (that word
      again) widows and orphans.

      Luke/Acts actually expands on these themes, but Mark is perhaps enough for
      the moment.

      There is other stuff in Mark besides these economic indicators. From which
      naturally arises a question: Are these other items original doctrine, or a
      church overlay on earlier tradition? Primary or secondary? That is largely a
      philological question, a question of text structure, and I have been working
      on it. Report perhaps presently.

      Meanwhile, it is fun to take a chartreuse marker and go through [a Xerox of]
      Mark, and highlight everything that is NON economic in nature. Suppose one
      has done that; how coherent is the rest of it? What is the most outstanding
      comment, either quoted from Jesus or supplied by Mark, that would indicate
      an original doctrine NOT based on the above economic perceptions?

      Suggestions welcome as always.

      There is a similar question with Confucius, and a similar use for a
      chartreuse marker: Considering his original advice (and we might agree to
      start with LY 4, just as with Jesus there is advantage in starting with
      Mark), how much of it is compatible with the warrior ethos out of which he
      came, and in which he himself remained all his life? How much of it involves
      changed interests or perceptions; a different social stance or political
      program? Suggestions are welcome here as well. The two traditions, Jesus and
      Confucius, have their interesting parallels, not least of which is the fact
      that both underwent what look almost like U-turn reversals of original
      direction in the course of their respective first centuries of development.

      Change is the price of survival.

      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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