RE: [Synoptic-L] Widows in the gospels
- To: Synoptic
In Response To: David Inglis
On: Rich and Poor in Luke
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