Re: [Synoptic-L] Virtue and Poverty
- To: Synoptic
In Response To: Tony Buglass
On: Virtue and Poverty (Crossan)
Tony had supplied a gloss for Chuck Jones's reference to Crossan. It
went like this:
TONY: The case that Chuck is arguing is discussed in Crossan "Birth of
Christianity", in which he explores Gehard Lenski's analysis of the
classes. The artisan class falls below peasants, and above unclean and
degraded (p.155); it is "recruited from the ranks of dispossessed
BRUCE: The basis is unsound. One need not spend much time with
anthropologists or sociologists to discover that they are not
data-driven but model-driven, and that the more or less automatically
preferred model is an oppression model. Lenski is one of Crossan's
sources, along with Lenski and Lenski and a lot of others; this
lumping together is what he calls "cross-cultural anthropology." The
problem with lumping together the anthropology of more than one
culture is that it readily boils down to the root presumptions of
anthropology in general. That presumption is congenial to Crossan's
purpose in that book (which is to align modern Christianity on the
side of the modern oppressed classes; see his last chapter, and indeed
his last sentence), but I doubt its validity for the communities on
which it was originally based, never mind the applicability of its
common denominator to the social problems of our time.
In particular, the idea that artisans "are recruited from the ranks of
dispossessed peasantry" is dubious for any society I have heard about,
including the one I study in some depth. Pottery, for example, has
been around since the Neolithic. The idea that Neolithic potters had
been previously dispossessed of their land does not commend itself to
Neither then nor later. For consider: Pottery requires equipment,
including an oven to cook the pots in; it is not intrinsically
plausible, perhaps especially in the post-Neolothic, as a resort of
the newly destitute. It also requires expertise, and expertise takes
time. A suddenly hungry man does not have the time. Potters in
societies about which I am informed were provided either through
heredity (potter families; those and dyer families and woodcutter
families generated surnames in ancient China, just as they did in
other cultures) or through the quasi-heredity that we call
apprenticeship. Apprenticeship, in mediaeval Europe at any rate, was
not an incident of adult rural dispossession, it was a result of a
father providing a future livelihood for his son, often including
payment of tuition in advance. That is, entry into the guild of
potters or any other) in the mediaeval European context was closely
guarded. [This topic will recur in a moment].
TONY: Later (p.349f) he discusses the synoptic uses of 'tekton' noting
that while Mark describes Jesus as a tekton, Matthew (13:55) and Luke
(4:22) pointedly avoid doing so, describing him as a 'carpenter's
son'. Crossan suggests that describing him as a carpenter felt somehow
BRUCE: Synoptic Schmoptic, the only two uses of TEKTWN in the NT are
in the Mk/Mt versions of this Nazareth passage. Thus:
Mk 6:3. Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of . . .
Mt 13:55. Is this not the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary . . .
I think it will be obvious here that what is resisted in Mt is not the
term TEKTWN as such, which is retained, but the implication that Jesus
himself was engaged in that work; it is put back a generation. As for
what work it was, Moulton and Milligan seem to show that the default
meaning of TEKTWN was "carpenter" (woodworker), though there is at
least one instance of "sculptor," that is, an artisan in the luxury
A destitute Italian farmer trudges to the Vatican and offers to carve
a marble statue for the Pope. Right? Wrong.
We may as well take the Lukan omission too. Luke, for obvious reasons,
has violently displaced and rewritten this Nazareth scene, but the
corresponding line in it is:
Lk 4:22, And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words
which proceeded out of his mouth, and said, Is not this Joseph's son?
And indeed the TEKTWN motif has vanished from the scene.
Which means what? Shame or offense in the presence of a dispossessed
landholder? Or his son? I would be inclined rather to notice another
Synoptic tendency, the tendency to eliminate from the Markan Jesus all
places where Jesus shows emotion. And why? Because, I suspect,
emotions are allzumenschliches, and we are in the presence of a
generally Divinizing Trajectory. Thus also Matthew finds it
unproblematic to report Jesus as the son of a carpenter, but seems to
prefer not to imply that Jesus himself engaged in that work. That is,
the Second Tier Jesus is not to be too closely described in terms of
things that you or I might also do. Jesus, in the Second Tier, is in
the process of becoming a being apart. I think it necessary to see no
more than this in the different treatment of TEKTWN in Mk > Mt > Lk.
And I cite in conclusion the end of the TEKTWN entry in Balz and
Schneider (but see also their illuminating reference to Celsus vs
Origen on just this pair of passages): "One can assume that Jesus and
his father Joseph were building workmen / carpenters. In both
occurrences, the term O TEKTWN functions to present Jesus as the
well-known fellow citizen in his home village, not to denigrate his
lineage." And for the teaching of a trade to a son in Jewish
tradition, Balz and Schneider cite Billerbeck 2/10f, also b Sanh 106a,
b. Not seen, but perhaps relevant. Or at any rate more so that Lenski
and Lenski and Lenski.
That brings us to Crossan's text base generally. He downrates the
Synoptics (except where convenient) as early sources, and prefers a
number of others, including Secret Mark (now perhaps somewhat of an
embarrassment) and what he calls the Cross Gospel, which turns out to
be his idea of an earlier source lying behind the Gospel of Peter -
the Q equivalent for those who are based on gPt and not on gMt/Lk.
So, and now we come down to it: how good is gPt? Our fragment of it is
not extensive: the Crucifixion and the tantalizing beginning of the
post-Crucifixion Appearance. Something like the latter was at some
unknown point appended to the Gospel of John as Jn 21. Dodging the
interchronology problems that arise from that relationship, let us
simply take one line of the the Crucifixion scene as quoted by
gPt. "But he held his peace, as if he felt no pain."
Not to make a long deal of it, that is theologically late (Bishop
Serapion of Antioch indeed found it docetic; for this issue see also
Peter Head, On the Christology of the Gospel of Peter, Vigiliae
Christianae 46  209-224; Peter concludes "There are many
indications of second, rather than first, century concerns . . . the
cumulative evidence for a second century date is strong, and adds to
the impression that GP is a redaction of canonical material, perhaps
also influenced by oral traditions"), and the text in which it is
embodied cannot accordingly be theologically early.
That there was an earlier state of GP (as Peter calls it) I do not
doubt, hence the importance of Jn 21 as a window on that earlier
state. I have not seen this angle developed in the literature, other
than by Crossan in his "Cross Gospel" construction; any references
TONY: In pp225ff, he explores the question of ceramic and pottery
production as it changed from one of the tasks of the landowning
farmer to become a full-time industry - the argument is that a
landless peasant has to fall back on a productive trade in order to
make a living. In the same way, however successful Joseph had become,
or how big a family he was able to support, it was by dint of a family
recovery - from losing the family lands at some point.
BRUCE: Not in evidence, and not inferentially proved. Note, by the
way, that there are likely to be gradations in the history of pottery
between "task of the landowning farmer" and "full-time industry." And
in any case, the idea that Jesus himself (and not, say, his father or
his father's father) was the victim of land dispossession does not
follow, even if we accept the Crossan pottery scenario. An origin
myth, or even an origin fact, is not separately true of every
generation of the family in question. "At some point," indeed. But it
is surely relevant to the Crossan case to say *which* point.
All told, I find Crossan's case to be scripturally dubious and
anthropologically shaky. It needed a better TEKTWN.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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.
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