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Re: [Synoptic-L] Virtue and Poverty

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic Cc: GPG In Response To: Chuck Jones On: Virtue and Poverty From: Bruce CHUCK: As an artisan, Jesus was in the social class below peasant and above
    Message 1 of 35 , Apr 5, 2010
      To: Synoptic
      Cc: GPG
      In Response To: Chuck Jones
      On: Virtue and Poverty
      From: Bruce

      CHUCK: As an artisan, Jesus was in the social class below peasant and
      above untouchables and beggars.

      BRUCE: Mark tells us only that Jesus's father was a carpenter,and that
      the family was a large one. From that, I get a sense of solid economic
      background. That Jesus himself sponged on his followers seems likely,
      but from choice, not necessity. All his followers were people from
      what I would guess to be the same comfortable stratum; not indeed
      landowners (is that what "peasant" means here?), but entrepreneurially
      well fixed: commercial fishermen and civil servants.

      CHUCK: The fact that he was quite poor--he would have regularly lived
      through days in which he did not have enough to eat--is omitted from
      the interpretation of his teachings to an extent that astonishes me.

      BRUCE: Since those "facts" are not in Mark, and thus were presumably
      not of exegetical interest to Mark, I can only second the modern
      exegetes who accept Mark's own scale of the importance of things.

      CHUCK: For example, Jesus had nothing to renounce, so he cannot be a
      model of financial self-sacrifice on behalf of others (this action may
      have merit, but Jesus cannot be its model).

      BRUCE: Jesus could presumably have gone into the carpentry trade, and
      done all right for himself. As (probably) the oldest son, that would
      have been the natural thing, and there was a lot of building going on
      at this time, so the commissions might have been attractive. If I have
      to visualize, I can easily see Jesus turning down some work, had he
      chosen that option, and perhaps he did choose it for a time; we pick
      him up only when he has committed himself to following John the
      Baptist, when he was already about thirty. Lots of unaccounted for
      time preceding that.

      When he calls Simon and the others, he is presumably asking them to
      renounce THEIR current livelihood, and come to live as he does. His
      summons is all Mark records, not choosing to dwell on his personal
      example, but I don't get the sense that economically speaking, he was
      calling them to do anything he hadn't himself already done. Is there
      evidence - Markan evidence - to the contrary?

      CHUCK: Likewise, the Jesus vs. Empire that's been emerging in the last
      5 years, begs an important question too. If Jesus' program was about
      "distributive justice," then it was about improving his own financial
      and economic situation. Is that really what his teachings would
      indicate?

      BRUCE: Concerns of the last 5 years don't concern me; I am involved in
      a historical investigation. That Jesus has been turned into a banner
      for many modern social causes, from many modern pulpits, is a fact
      about the modern world, but it does not constitute a presumption, one
      way or the other, about Jesus. Giving wealth to the poor, in Mark as I
      read it, has two possibilities: Alms (where you keep your wealth but
      give a little to the poor to demonstrate the virtue of charity,
      leaving yourself economically intact) or Renunciation (where you
      become dependent on others for your daily livelihood). Much in Mark,
      in fact everything in Mark that I can recall at the moment, suggests
      that Jesus urged the latter. And to those followers who took this
      seemingly drastic step, did he promise destitution and beggary?

      Not at all. He promised them restitution within his movement, where
      all possessions would be shared, and where a new family (consisting
      only of converts and pure persons) would replace the old. Nothing, in
      short, would be lost, on the contrary, the renunciator would be way
      ahead - there is a hauntingly similar passage in the Confucian
      Analects, but never mind if you don't know it already. And in
      addition, of course, for those who accept the Jesus call, there is the
      final bonus of life everlasting.

      If you credit the economic soundness of the proposed terrestrial
      community (later evidence is that in fact it led to poverty, whence
      the Ebionites), and if you accept the supraterrestrial premise, then
      that can only be called a good business deal, even in hard cold
      business terms.

      As for "financial self-sacrifice on behalf of others," that to me is
      mixing the two above categories. What Jesus recommends to the rich
      young man is not to benefit the poor, but to rid himself of
      possessions that are in the way of his benefiting himself in the most
      important way imaginable: eternal life.

      Much in Mark (retained or developed in later Gospels, but that is
      somewhat off the point) shows economic awareness, and uses canny
      business thinking as a model for what religious thinking should be.
      The new commandment against fraud is very much a businessman's way of
      thinking, is it not? Those defrauded would be glad to have that
      preached, but it was to the defrauders, as I gather, that Jesus was
      primarily preaching it. I find that the Markan Jesus is comfortable in
      that kind of world, and in that kind of discourse; he just offers
      something different and better - but different in ways that the rich
      are prepared to weigh and appreciate.

      Buddhist mendicancy tends to be much more extreme, though peculation
      does develop later, in the period of Buddhist monasticism, and is
      greatly chastised in large tracts of the relevant Vinaya literature.
      Though the parallel is not exact in detail, I think it deserves at
      least minimal acquaintance by those who would really understand where
      the Markan Jesus, or any other Jesus, is coming from, and going to.

      Respectfully resuggested,

      Bruce

      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
    • Chuck Jones
      Jack, There was no personal income tax back then.  The owner of the land was taxed on the harvest, not the workers on the land.  The more you tax the owner,
      Message 35 of 35 , Apr 10, 2010
        Jack,


        There was no personal income tax back then.  The owner of the land was taxed on the harvest, not the workers on the land.  The more you tax the owner, the less is left for wages.  This was far from the only dynamic in play in the poverty of peasants, but that's the way it worked.


        Chuck


        --- On Fri, 4/9/10, Jack Kilmon <jkilmon@...> wrote:

        I have to admit that by modern example killing the geese that lay the golden

        eggs seems just as stupid now as it was then.



        Jack








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