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Re: [Synoptic-L] Virtue and Poverty

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic Cc: GPG In Response To: Tony Buglass On: Virtue and Poverty (Crossan) From: Bruce Tony had supplied a gloss for Chuck Jones s reference to
    Message 1 of 35 , Apr 5, 2010
      To: Synoptic
      Cc: GPG
      In Response To: Tony Buglass
      On: Virtue and Poverty (Crossan)
      From: Bruce

      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
      'inappropriate' (p.350).

      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
      Crossan, p491:

      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 [1992] 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
    • 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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