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RE: [Synoptic-L] Widows in the gospels

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic In Response To: David Inglis On: Rich and Poor in Luke From: Bruce I had shown that Luke s mentions of rich do not betray interest in the rich,
    Message 1 of 9 , Jun 5, 2012
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      To: Synoptic
      In Response To: David Inglis
      On: Rich and Poor in Luke
      From: Bruce

      I had shown that Luke's mentions of "rich" do not betray interest in the
      rich, but rather animus toward the rich, consistent with Luke's well known
      and often remarked sympathy with the poor. David agrees: "I was just stating
      that Lk emphasizes the negative side of being rich, rather than the positive
      side of being poor. So, as I said, Lk highlights the rich-poor differences
      by being more 'anti-rich' than the other gospels, and not by being more

      Good, then everyone agrees with Goulder and others, that Luke, however
      obliquely he may express it, is pro-poor, and pervasively so throughout his
      Gospel. It is nice to have gotten that blip out of the way.

      And why obliquely? Because as every politician soon discovers, it is normal
      for human beings to agree more easily on negatives than on positives.
      Freedoms are typically stated as freedoms *from.* Hell is described in
      lavish detail in many early Christian texts (including a certain layer of
      the Gospel of Mark), but Heaven hardly at all, save in the most vague terms
      (as in the almost lost ending of the Didache). Milton had the same problem.
      Thus we find Luke expressing his pro-poor agenda (which he certainly has,
      and which is deeply worked into his original theology) chiefly by
      opposition: the sins and future woes and deprivations, the unendurable and
      irremediable sufferings, of the rich. The Moses tradition also teaches
      chiefly by admonition and not by recommendation. As between his admonitions
      (eg against murder) and his recommendations (eg Sabbath), it is the former
      that are the more fundamental, as Jesus among others clearly saw in
      post-Mosaic times. This insight is the basis for a considerable amount of
      the prophetic attempt to reform Judaism from within, that of Jesus being the
      last such attempt.

      That Luke uses widows in the few positive expressions of his economic
      theology is nothing strange: widows are a standard symbol of those needing
      concern and support in the OT (to mention no more exotic tradition), and
      Greek law, one of the major environing factors in the Mediterranean 1c, pays
      much attention to the legal situation and economic precariousness of widows.

      Given the greater effectiveness of negative as against positive maxims, it
      should come as no surprise that Mark presents Jesus's teachings not so much
      in the form of positive preachments (Jesus is described as preaching, and
      audiences are sometimes said to be impressed, but no transcript is given;
      there is a fortunate if merely confirmatory exception at Mk 10:19), but as
      opposition stories, chiefly between Jesus and the Jerusalem Establishment.

      This tells us something about Mark, and perhaps also something about Jesus,
      but what that is I have already sufficiently stated on other occasions.


      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst

      There were of course also rich widows, who had outlived their prosperous
      husbands and had wealth at their disposal. Mark teems with hints about the
      role these female patrons played in the Jesus movement, which was not merely
      as believers, but also as supporters, backers, and means providers. We hear
      of Peter's mother-in-law, but not his father-in-law, in whose onetime house
      the whole extended family was living. Zebedee is named, but it is his wife
      who goes to Jerusalem with other supporting women (Mk 15:40-41). Separately,
      it is conspicuous that the later layers of Mark give increasing narrative
      prominence to women. I venture to suggest that we are here in the presence
      of evidence for the socio-economics of the earliest, and indeed the
      original, Jesus movement.

      Did Luke have fewer rich widows in his little storefront church in some
      low-rent corner of Antioch, hence his more freely expressed hatred for the
      rich? Here, perhaps, is a fresh research topic for some topically
      uncommitted pre-PhD.
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