Evolution in Christianity 1
- To: SJS
On: Evolution in Christianity
One of the most obvious things that the evidence tells us is that
Christianity evolved (few facts about Christianity present greater
problems for current believers, but I leave individuals to work that
out if they need to).
I have my attention called to this general situation by three books,
not all of them recent, that have seemed (from my point of view) to
speak to different aspects of it.
Carl Clemen, Primitive Christianity and its Non-Jewish Sources (1908,
tr 1912) takes a long look at possible sources, and in the end (the
book is 404 pages long) rules out all of them except Stoic influence
on Paul. That is, he sees no taint of Buddhism or anything else
heathen in what is predicated of Jesus in the early docuuments. The
posture is openly defensive, and the point at which (in the author's
judgement) the defenses fail is in the Pauline strand of development.
With the positive finding, I think a historically minded person is
likely to concur. I note its very general similarity to my earlier
suggestion that outside influences are well marked in the Second Tier
gospels (which are posterior to Paul and thus to the genuine portions
of his letters). It is in this first expansion period that we see the
ship of doctrine and anecdote taking on freight from other ports of
But is there nothing of merit in the tailings of Clemen's mine? His
Conclusion (p366) says, "First of all, an indirect or direct influence
of [non-Jewish religious and philosophical systems) on the preaching
of Jesus and the ideas of the Synoptists is discernible merely in
certain expressions, metaphors, and comparisons (Mt 5:48, 7:13f, 7:16,
Mk 2:17 and parallels, Lk 4:23); the subject-matter as a whole is very
Those in a hurry (and who dares be at leisure, in these last days
before the beginning or Rural New Year?) may put aside the Mt/Lk or
Second Tier items; their lateness is, at least from this point of
view, given in advance. I take up the only Mk item, that is, the only
item on this list that has a chance of being early.
Mk 2:17 concludes the group Mk 2:15-17, subtitled by Taylor "On eating
with Tax-gatherers and Sinners." Some make a larger group of 2:13-17,
beginning with the Call of Levi. Taylor notes that Bultmann considers
2:17 to have been originally an isolated logion.
In Mk, 2:15 reads "And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, Those who
are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came
not to call the righteous, but sinners." Between these two sentences
Mt makes an insertion: "Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy
and not sacrifice." The effect of this OT-oriented insertion might be
to reJudaize a saying that Matthew also felt was somewhat alien. To
Matthew's reJudaizing I may be able to return in a later note.
What is Clemen's position? On p52 he cites a parallel to the
"physician" saying in Diogenes (Dio Chrys Or 8:5). "Sonny thinks that
the aphorism passed from the Cynics to the Christians, and Julicher
comes to the following conclusion: It may be that Cynic itinerant
preachers helped to naturalize this idea in Palestine as well,
although it was such an obvious one that different men may quite well
have stumbled on it independently . . ."
I would say, No. The thing has, as it sits there in the literary
context, the fit and feel of a previous saying, used to support
something situational, not a remark newly minted as a teaching in its
own right. Literarily, it looks like a previous entity. Rhetoric of
convincement: People are much more easily persuaded by the familiar
than by the strange, and the intended effect of the saying on the
hearers in the story, and of the story itself on the readers of the
story, is surely to legitimize by familiar wisdom the drastically
novel ministry of Jesus to outcasts and untouchables, the dregs and
waste matter of Jewish society.
If then the previous association of the saying is with the Cynics,
that is just extra detail. We can file that detail for future
reference as future investigation may suggest.
LAYERS IN MARK
That Jesus called Levi is one of those things that look historical in
Mk. The banquet scene following the call, with a comment by offstage
Pharisees, which must somehow be reported to Jesus (outside the story)
for his comment, is unconvincing in the way many Markan stories are
unconvincing (and many Confucian ones; adepts in those mysteries will
at once think of the reported remark in Analects 7:31, or the
"Gentleman's" evaluations in the Dzwo Jwan). The reported remark gives
an opportunity for comment by the Central Personality, an opportunity
which the mere anecdotal setting does not supply.
Such devices are late in the Analects tradition: first come
uncontexted sayings, then anecdotally contexted sayings, then at quite
a distance the device of indirect report, which allows comment not
only on the situation, but on the wider meaning of the situation,
extracting a general principle from it. LY 7:31 is an interpolation in
LY 7; we date it to c0342, or about a century after the date of the
original LY 7.
What about Mk 2:17, is it part of the original Mark or a later
addition? In the draft reconstruction which I shared with those
interested at SBL 2008, Mk 15-17, though separated from the Call (Mk
13-14), is put on the same original level as the Call (Layer 1). On
further reflection, it might better be put on the same level as other
passages (immediately following in Mk 2) which involve Pharisee
challenges to Jesus about the behavior of his disciples, or Pharisee
challenges to the disciples about the conduct of Jesus (2:18-20,
2:23-27). All these involve eating, which as we know became a big deal
at one point, the point being the divergent practices of Gentile and
Jewish convert groups.
For the question of eating with tax-collectors (the paradigmatic
unclean person), the call of a tax collector in Mk 2:14 would have
provided an obvious point of attachment.
I am thus disposed (in this busy pre-New Year period) to reconsider
the position of all these eating passages. Though a separate argument
can probably be made for the issue of Johannine reversion in 2:18-20,
it would also make a certain sense if they were all on a level. There
are arguments other and stronger than those for mere tidiness. But as
a working suggestion, I invite comments and objections from those who
see a difficulty with aligning Mk 2:15-17, Mk 18-20, and Mk 23-27 all
on Level 3 (where Mk 2:23-27 already is).
Either way, I don't think there is any necessity, in the above, to
posit a knowledge of maxims of Cynic origin by the historical Jesus.
What we are dealing with here is a construction by the historical
Mark. Whether it was his first idea or a later afterthought is, as I
see it, the issue for discussion and reflection. How closely it might
have corresponded to historical reality is an aspect that might be
taken up on a later occasion, after these and other preliminaries have
been worked out.