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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: GPG Cc: Previous On: ARONSON 7 (W) From: Bruce It might seem from the previous notes that, despite a certain vagueness in its originally published form,
    Message 1 of 4 , Nov 27, 2009
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      To: GPG
      Cc: Previous
      On: ARONSON 7 (W)
      From: Bruce

      It might seem from the previous notes that, despite a certain vagueness in its
      originally published form, there may be something useful at the core of the
      Aronson DDJ/Gospel parallels. On that possibility, I offer herewith what is
      meant to be the last in this series of notes.

      ARONSON 7 (W)

      On the assumption that, at one or more of the Aronson points, something from
      outside is indeed coming into the thinking of Very Early Christianity, I have
      for convenience given the name W to whatever was its local and proximal source.
      As in all cultural contact situations, it is to be expected that we will see
      the source tradition - as it might be known AT the source - garbled, excerpted,
      adapted, and generally transmuted in the process of being incorporated into
      other thinking. That is more or less what we do see in the cases so far
      examined: some striking similarities of phrase, along with some significant
      difference of background conception.

      1. The DDJ component of W is the only one examined in the previous notes. I
      here expand a little on it, for those not previously closely aware of it.

      DDJ is an interesting text, and on reflection, one likely to be productive of
      material useful to the Early Christians. It was at its core a Chinese
      meditation group, using a breath control technique originally imported (with
      the usual adaptations) from India. Its emphases included the usual mystical
      downvaluing of sensory input, and of pleasures and possessions in general. It
      did not envision salvation in anything like the Christian sense of the term,
      but it did look to contact with, and for some practitioners, also escape into,
      a larger world (the exact nature of whose largeness can here be left vague, but
      the word "cosmos" might not be too misleading). At the same time, the DDJ text,
      soon after it began to appear AS a text, also developed a strong interest in
      statecraft; that is, in the management of "kingdoms." Here is another point of
      possible affinity with the Early Christians, who also looked to a more
      ideal "kingdom" to which they alone held the key.

      The idea of weakness as a positive virtue (and even as a tactical strength),
      and the idea of humility, including returning good for evil, are strong and
      early in the DDJ, and sufficiently prominent that they arouse a contemptuous
      response from the Confucians and the other more conventional statecraft
      thinkers of early China. That is to say, these doctrines are not esoteric (and
      thus unavailable to nonmembers); rather, they have been highly public since
      they were first put forth (in the 04c and early 03c), and were publicly debated
      at that time. We thus have here not an esoteric teaching, but a public program.
      So successful was that program outside its home state (Lu) that the text, while
      it was still being composed, was taken to Chu and, once suitably extracted and
      adapted to local Chu tastes and conditions, was used as part of the
      instructional materials of the tutor to the Heir Apparent of Chu. The DDJ, in
      this and other ways, quickly established itself as one of the most popular and
      successful texts of classical China.

      We may thus not be too surprised to find a number of recognizably DDJ ideas
      turning up in what we have so far defined as the W portfolio.

      But there were very probably others, and I continue by identifying some of the
      more probable.

      2. Probably also present in that portfolio, though not dealt with by Aronson,
      are Mician ideas. The Micians, whose public pronouncements begin at an even
      earlier period than those of the DDJ (beginning of the 04c, with proto-Mician
      positions attested in the 05c), are the followers of the wholly unknown but
      definitely sub-elite Mwo Di. They represent the commercial sector of classical
      Chinese society: the well-to-do householders whose ideology was formed partly
      on the wish for a stable society (including opposition to war), and partly on
      the protocol requirements of trading across cultural boundaries. From the
      latter need, they developed a completely lateral ethic, emphasizing universal
      love (love that is not restricted to one's family - a point on which they
      bitterly differed from the elite Confucians). The love ethic attested in
      several early Christian communities would have seemed normal, or anyway
      paradigmatic, for the Micians. So would their ethic of civic subordination, a
      topic to which Paul devoted several impassioned paragraphs (with parallels in
      sayings attributed to Jesus as early as the later layers of Mark), and to which
      the Micians devoted a whole series of closely argued essays. The DDJ, like the
      primitive Buddhism in which its roots seem ultimately to lie, is concerned
      primarlily with the individual, and secondarily with the state, but not much
      with the community. The community side of things is extensively addressed by
      the Micians.

      Further, given their commercial connections, the Micians, far more than the
      Dauists, are likely to have been the carriers of their own and any other
      Chinese ideas to points westward. They were the traders, or were in contact
      with the traders, and it is by trade that ideas of this kind normally move
      across distances. We may note that Hillel, who is anecdotally associated with
      some of these ideas, is sometimes called "Hillel the Babylonian" in deference
      to his wider than usual cultural acquaintance, and for that matter, that the
      story in Tobit in which one of the W ideas early appears, involves a journey to
      a great city. The sense of trade contact, in persons or texts with which W
      ideas are associated at the other end, is palpable. Paul himself, a great
      traveler, and one who (unlike Jesus) did not shun the major towns, was an
      artisan, just as Peter was a commercial fisherman. Such people are likely to
      have been, from their pre-Christian days, associated with the movement of goods
      over distances. I think I already mentioned Levi the Disciple, whose original
      calling put him athwart one trade route, and gave him the responsibility of
      taxing what went by him. Here is yet another personal point of contact with the
      route which is far the most likely one for the transmission of W-type ideas.

      3. I have earlier pointed out that the most perplexing of the Lukan parables,
      wrongly called the Unjust Steward (it is rather, the Canny Steward), becomes
      transparent and wholly relevant to Luke's narrative intent at that point, if it
      is read as a garbled version of a postclassical Chinese story from the early
      02c. These things too were widespread in Chinese culture and acquaintance; like
      the DDJ, we have archaeological evidence of the popularity of that story genre.
      There is thus nothing against the idea that they would have been among the
      cultural equipment, the maxim store and anecdotal baggage, of traders working

      4. One of the stories near the Canny Steward in Luke, the strange tale of
      Lazarus, has also been thought to derive from an exotic source, in this case
      Egypt. I mention this as a reminder that the trade routes, by land and sea, do
      not run exclusively west. There are also those that run north.

      5. And even among those that run west, not all originate in China. There is
      also India, home of Buddhism and (later) of Jainism, and justly famous as "the
      Mother of Story." Nothing mentioned above amounts to a religion in the strictly
      apposite sense of the word, but religion is among the things that India has
      been exporting for centuries, along with spices and other commodities. The
      whole of the overland caravan route from China was through Indianized cities
      and oases, and there were also important routes through Egypt and Arabia. Paul,
      to mention no one else, spent considerable time (in ways that seem to be still
      mysterious) in "Arabia," where again he would have been anything but isolated
      from all that was passing along the arteries in the world's body.

      I hope in the above to have suggested that the formation of early Christian
      thinking took place not in a vacuum, but in the midst of a tumult of exotic
      notions, gathered from afar and concentrated at the trade junctions, whether at
      the modest Capernaum level or at the great centers such as Babylon or Edessa or
      Antioch or Alexandria. It is known, or on good evidence suspected, that the
      early Christians proselytized in most of these places. My final suggestion is
      that the exposure may have been a two-way affair.


      I thus think that the seminary student whom I began by describing was missing
      something, not to be more interested than in fact she was at the possibility of
      non-Christian elements in the formation of Christian doctrine. I venture to
      think that her personal lack of interest, and her institution's lack of
      curricular awareness, in these matters is a serious impediment to eventual
      understanding. Christianity conquered by being universal in tone and message.
      Did it possess that universality from the outset? Or was it in part an acquired
      trait, not only through adaptation to local circumstances like the death of
      Jesus, but through affinity with traditions arising in not dissimilar
      circumstances, and available locally in convenient lore form?

      It is a mistake, albeit a mistake universally made in academe, to think that
      a "discipline" contains within it all it needs to solve the problems to which
      it addresses itself. As well attempt to explain a mosquito without reference to
      the animals, including sometimes myself, from which it draws life and blood.


      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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