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Re: [Synoptic-L] Virtue and Poverty

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  • Chuck Jones
    Bruce, No offense, but you are modeling anachronistic interpretation.  I grew up assuming that Jesus was comfortable economically because I knew a few
    Message 1 of 35 , Apr 5, 2010

      No offense, but you are modeling anachronistic interpretation.  I grew up assuming that Jesus was comfortable economically because I knew a few carpenters, and they seemed to do okay.

      A tekton was in the artisan class.  Artisans were less financially stable than landed peasants (sharecroppers), because landed peasants at least knew which 40 acres they would be working each year.  Repairing tools and sheds slowed down during economic hard times (just as it does today).  So artisans went through periods with zero income.

      All of this is well documented in studies of the class structure of the Mediterranean rim.

      Has it occurred to you that as soon as Mark told his audience Jesus was a tekton, they all knew he was quite poor?  ("Isn't this the janitor? The son of a janitor?")  So this "fact" is in fact in Mark. Mark doesn't need to elaborate for it to be an important facet of his presentation of Jesus.

      I'll stop for now.

      Chuck Jones
      Interim Executive Director
      Westar Institute - The Jesus Seminar

      --- On Mon, 4/5/10, E Bruce Brooks <brooks@...> wrote:

      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


      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,


      E Bruce Brooks

      Warring States Project

      University of Massachusetts at Amherst

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • 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

        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.


        --- 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.


        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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