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Myths of Resentment

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: WSW Cc: GPG, Synoptic On: Myths of Resentment From: Bruce I was recently discussing with an NT colleague the question of early Christian resentment at the
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 2, 2008
      To: WSW
      Cc: GPG, Synoptic
      On: Myths of Resentment
      From: Bruce

      I was recently discussing with an NT colleague the question of early
      Christian resentment at the betrayal of Jesus by his follower Judas. There
      are dimensions still to be developed in that conversation (I hold, with
      Karel Hanhart but for different reasons, that Judas was not originally one
      of the Twelve), but as far as it has gone, I had noted that, surprisingly,
      myths of anger at Judas do not seem to be very early in Christian tradition.

      Consider for instance the Synoptic Gospels in their order of composition:

      Mark. Betrayal recorded, but nothing about the fate of Judas
      Matthew: Judas later remorseful; returns the money and hangs himself
      Luke > Acts: Judas buys land with the money, but his guts gush out and he

      So as late as Matthew, the picture is one of remorse and regret; ultimately
      sympathetic rather than hostile. We only get a vengeful account of Judas in
      the later of the two Second Tier Gospels: Luke (placed for internal reasons
      in his "Second Volume," Acts).

      I do not mean to erect a general rule about myths of resentment being slow
      to arise, but I do think it is useful to point out cases where our natural
      expectations as to their early arising seem to be disappointed. The above
      was one. There now follow a couple of Chinese examples.


      There were, according to SJ 6, seven of these, of which SJ 6 somehow does
      not give the text of the first (but it seems to be reliably available
      through other channels; see the discussion in Kern Stele). Chin had just
      unified the Empire by conquering all the other states, and it might be
      thought that in these propaganda inscriptions, cut in stone on key
      mountains, any resentment against the resistance of those states to the
      coming of Chin rule would be expressed. Nothing of the kind. The conquest
      was in 0221. Here are the dates and resentments of the Chin inscriptions:

      0219. Benevolence of the First Emperor
      0219. Benevolence of the First Emperor
      0219. Benevolence of the First Emperor
      0218. Benevolence of the First Emperor
      0218. Benevolence of the First Emperor
      0215. Benevolence of the First Emperor
      0210. Hatred of the Six States for Allying Against Him

      It is sometimes said that the texts of the inscriptions were provided by the
      Chin minister Li Sz. Nothing of the kind. They were provided by the
      Emperor's Confucian advisors. In 213, however, the question of feudalism
      came up. The Confucian party recommended enfiefing the Emperor's sons with
      the various territories of the conquered states, thus once again breaking up
      the newly unified state. Li Sz gave his opinion in the negative, and also
      recommended burning the books of these antiquarian Confucians, so that they
      will not trouble future theoretical discussion of state policy. This was
      implemented, and Li Sz shortly was given the highest office in the state. It
      was accordingly Li Sz who accompanied the Emperor on his last tour of the
      strategically shaky East, and in all probability composed the text of the
      last inscription.

      So there are situational reasons for the seeming delay, but this merely puts
      the phenomenon back a step. Why did the Emperor early favor the
      conciliatory-policy Confucians, and only later the retaliatory-policy
      Legalists? It might seem that he would have favored them from the first, but
      on the record, he did not.


      Take now the burning of the books itself. This was of course a disaster for
      the Confucians, whose antiquity base they were (works on medicine, as well
      as on fang "pharmacology" probably including spells; Whalen take note, were
      specifically exempted even if they claimed to embody ancient tradition). It
      might be thought that the Confucians would paint Li Sz in lurid and hateful
      colors, and this indeed they did. But when? The really lurid version is the
      one now universally quoted and thus in practice believed: the First Emperor
      actually buried the scholars alive. Halfway to that is the claim that he
      executed the possessors of those documents (and presumably caused their
      corpses to be buried). Where do we first hear of these claims?

      The literary crystallization of scholarly opposition to Chin is probably the
      Gwo Chin Lun of Jya Yi (reign of Wvn-di), analyzing where Chin went wrong.
      It mentions the burning of the books in passing. No more.

      A more orthodox view would be that of Han Ying, whose teaching materials on
      the Shr (wrongly treated by Hightower et al as a particularly inadequate
      commentary on the Shr) are preserved, both from the late years of Jing-di
      and from the period just after his successor Wu-di had established
      Confucianism as required knowledge for civil service aspirants. Han Ying
      refers to the burning of the books. Period.

      Szma Tan writes the biography of Li Sz, sometime after that, and quotes Li
      Sz's memorial on the suppression of Confucian writings. The proposed
      legislation provides for the burning of the books, and for the sentencing of
      their possessors to forced labor. No executions, and hence no burials, alive
      or dead.

      Szma Chyen, coming on after his father's death in early 0209, at some point
      adds to SJ 6 (the First Emperor chapter, not the Li Sz chapter) a version of
      Li Sz's memorial which is longer by an interpolation in which the death
      penalty is provided for possession of Confucian books. The interpolation
      directly contradicts the rest of the memorial, with its hard labor penalty.
      One is reminded of the inconcinnity of Osmin: "Erst geköpft, dann gehangen .
      . . ." It's screamingly funny, it had Mozart's audiences rolling in the
      aisles, but Sinologists seem not to see the [philological] joke, and they
      are still wallowing by the thousands in empathetic anger at the present

      But recognizing an interpolation can have its virtues for the historian. To
      such a person, if a future age provide one, it will then seem that the
      atrocity aspect of the Li Sz prohibition measure came along more than a
      century after the measure itself, and after almost a century of published
      elite analysis along, or within, more historically accurate lines. And that,
      in general, our natural expectations must sometimes be corrected by what
      seem to have been the facts of the case.

      There will always be a reason for the shift from the reasonably factual to
      the irrationally hateful. The moral of this piece is that that reason may
      sometimes arise late rather than early. Early or late, it will always make
      sense to seek for the reason (I gave one for the Chin Inscriptions; now we
      can look for the personal reason behind that political reason).


      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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