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Re: [Synoptic-L] The Mustard Shrub (was The Canny Steward)

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  • Loren Rosson
    ... Certainly Jesus and all gospel writers present the mustard shrub as something positive, in the same way they present leaven positively, though everyone
    Message 1 of 11 , Jun 28, 2006
      Chuck wrote:

      >There are also a couple of parables in which the
      >kingdom is compared to unpleasant circumstances:
      >Mustard plants were fast growing weeds that
      >tended to overrun
      >neglected fields (like kudzu here in the Southern US)

      Bruce responded:

      >Mustard is presented positively in the parable in
      >question (in all variants), and however vigorous
      >it may be (and I hadn't heard the "weed"
      >categorization), mustard was still a cash
      >crop in those days. And perhaps
      >now too, for all I know to the contrary. I thus
      >don't think that an interpretation along
      >"undesirable circumstances" lines will hold.

      Certainly Jesus and all gospel writers present the
      mustard shrub as something positive, in the same way
      they present leaven positively, though everyone knew
      leaven was actually a metaphor for moral corruption
      (Exod. 12:15-19; Gal 5:9, I Cor 5:6). I believe it was
      Doug Oakman who first suggested that Jesus thought of
      the kingdom like a weed on account of how outsiders
      perceived the movement, and I've always thought that a
      good way of putting it.

      One way the inappropriateness of the mustard-metaphor
      becomes plain is to watch how the gospel writers tried
      sanitizing it (on which see, especially, Brandon
      Scott's book on the parables, _Hear The the Parable_).
      In Mark's version the mustard seed becomes "the
      greatest of shrubs"; in Matthew it grows into "the
      greatest of shrubs" and then "a tree"; in Luke it
      grows right into "a tree"; and in Thomas it ends in "a
      great plant". Matthew and Luke's versions are wrong (a
      mustard shrub isn't a tree) and reflect later attempts
      to reclaim the appropriate metaphor for the kingdom,
      the cedar of Lebanon (Ezek 17:22-24, 31:5-6; Dan
      4:10-12; Ps 104:10-17). Note that the Farrer theory
      makes good sense of the movement here: the myth
      originally undermined by Jesus (in Mark) becomes
      gradually reclaimed (halfway by Matthew, completely by
      Luke). On the two-source theory, we're stuck with
      "tree" in the earliest source (Luke/Q) (which is what
      Scott thinks), and that's problematic.

      The mustard shrub, as I see it, makes the point that
      the kingdom will meet grandiose expectations in
      surprising ways -- the "reversal of fortunes" manner
      characteristic of apocalyptic movements. This is Bill
      Herzog's commentary (which would seem largely
      compatible with what Chuck is getting at). Aside from
      Herzog's attempt to marginalize apocalyptic dimensions
      to the parable, I think it's near spot-on:

      "Once sown, it spreads like a weed, causing havoc on
      the ordered garden of the land. It also throws purity
      boundaries into confusion precisely because it spreads
      indiscriminately, thereby violating the prohibition
      against planting two kinds of seed in the same field
      (Lev 19:19; Deut 22:9). The mustard shrub becomes an
      agent of confusion and source of uncleanliness. The
      goal of sowing is not to turn it into something it
      isn't (a tree) but to maximize what it is (a
      ubiquitous shrub), a force to be reckoned with. Like
      the land itself, the purpose of the shrub is to
      provide for others, the birds of the air." (_Jesus,
      Justice, and the Reign of God_, p 206)

      Loren Rosson III
      Nashua NH
      http://lorenrosson.blogspot.com/

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    • Ron Price
      ... Loren, Matthew s the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree looks to me (and I m sure to lots of other observers) like Matthew s somewhat clumsy attempt
      Message 2 of 11 , Jun 28, 2006
        Loren Rosson wrote:

        > In Mark's version the mustard seed becomes "the
        > greatest of shrubs"; in Matthew it grows into "the
        > greatest of shrubs" and then "a tree"; in Luke it
        > grows right into "a tree" .......

        Loren,

        Matthew's "the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree" looks to me (and I'm
        sure to lots of other observers) like Matthew's somewhat clumsy attempt to
        assimilate his two sources: a sayings source which had "tree" and Mark which
        had "the greatest of all shrubs".

        > Matthew and Luke's versions are wrong (a
        > mustard shrub isn't a tree) ...

        Nor is it possible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
        Shouldn't we make allowances for Jesus' liking for hyperbole?

        > ... and reflect later attempts
        > to reclaim the appropriate metaphor for the kingdom,
        > the cedar of Lebanon (Ezek 17:22-24, 31:5-6; Dan
        > 4:10-12; Ps 104:10-17)

        But the kingdom of God was central to Jesus' teaching. Why should we not
        suppose that Jesus himself, as well as using hyperbole, may have been
        alluding to such metaphors for the kingdom?

        Ron Price

        Derbyshire, UK

        Web site: http://homepage.virgin.net/ron.price/index.htm
      • Chuck Jones
        Bruce, I have read the Landry-May article Stephen Carlson refered to yesterday and am quite persuaded by it. The honor/shame interpretation of the parable is
        Message 3 of 11 , Jun 28, 2006
          Bruce,

          I have read the Landry-May article Stephen Carlson refered to yesterday and am quite persuaded by it. The honor/shame interpretation of the parable is far and away the most sensible and elegant I've ever read. So, here are a couple of thoughts related to other aspects of my post and your response.

          First, I possibly should have mentioned that the two Thomas passages I cited are two of a very small number (3 or 4?) of exclusively Th passages considered by the JS to be authentic. (Another is the aphorism, "Be passersby.") I agree with your overall comments about the relative value of Th for understanding Jesus.

          Second, in the paragraphs from you I've left snipped below, you and I end up at the same place--or rather you do a very good job of articulating what I was trying to get at in my post, even if some of my specific examples may have fallen short. And you make an additional point with which I heartily concur---that Jesus' lifestyle was far from "Sunday School" behavior. He was a scandalous and shocking guy.

          thanks,

          Chuck

          Rev. Chuck Jones
          Atlanta, Georgia


          BRUCE: As for the commercial setting of many of the parables, I should think
          that the point of a parable is to compare something that is hard to
          understand (say, the Kingdom) with something that the hearer already
          understands (as it might be, the growing of mustard plants or the herding of
          wayward sheep or catching of elusive fish or the management of a large
          farm). The tone of many of these parables, as it seems to me, is, "You know
          how to interpret the weather omens in the sky, and how to deal with your
          employees, but you don't extend that understanding to reading the portents
          of the Kingdom, or the management of your spiritual resources, which is all
          that you will have when the Kingdom comes."

          The message of these comparisons is not to go out and behave like the
          comparand (as, to buy a boat or a farm or a tax franchise), but to transfer
          your understanding of it to the new thing being discussed.

          Beyond that, it seems to be the witness of the whole Synoptic record that,
          unlike the ascetics of which John the Baptist is the best documented
          example, Jesus moved by choice in the impure zone of fishing and selling
          fish, of making and investing money, of partnerships in the ownership of a
          boat and of task assignment in the stewardship of an estate. He did not
          adopt the policy of denouncing fishing (or tax collecting) as impure or
          sullied or wrong. Instead, he wanted the fishermen and the tax collectors to
          use their knowledge of their craft in understanding the purpose to which he
          wished to direct their attention; as a means of understanding something
          better than fishing or tax collecting - better than family, if it should
          come to that, and it did come to that.

          Does Jesus denounce wealth? Not as I read the record in general. He does
          recommend transferring the account to a safer bank.

          The parables, as I read them, are not exempla, they are rather a means of
          convincement by similitude, starting where people are, and with what they
          understanding, and trying to take them a step further.




          ---------------------------------
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          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        • Loren Rosson
          ... Fair enough. My Farrer-bias predisposes me to see Matthew as the first one to try aligning the shrub with the tree, with Luke then later dropping the shrub
          Message 4 of 11 , Jun 28, 2006
            Ron wrote:

            > Matthew's "the greatest of shrubs and becomes a
            > tree" looks to me (and I'm
            > sure to lots of other observers) like Matthew's
            > somewhat clumsy attempt to
            > assimilate his two sources: a sayings source which
            > had "tree" and Mark which
            > had "the greatest of all shrubs".

            Fair enough. My Farrer-bias predisposes me to see
            Matthew as the first one to try aligning the shrub
            with the tree, with Luke then later dropping the shrub
            altogether in favor of something more acceptable.

            > > Matthew and Luke's versions are wrong (a
            > > mustard shrub isn't a tree) ...
            >
            > Nor is it possible for a camel to go through the eye
            > of a needle. Shouldn't we make allowances for Jesus'
            > liking for hyperbole?

            See below.

            [Loren]
            > > ... and reflect later attempts
            > > to reclaim the appropriate metaphor for the
            > > kingdom, the cedar of Lebanon (Ezek 17:22-24,
            > > 31:5-6; Dan 4:10-12; Ps 104:10-17)

            [Ron]
            > But the kingdom of God was central to Jesus'
            > teaching. Why should we not
            > suppose that Jesus himself, as well as using
            > hyperbole, may have been
            > alluding to such metaphors for the kingdom?

            He was alluding to it -- and clearly so, what with the
            birds and all -- but he was doing so with a burlesque.
            A shrub undermines assumptions... just like the
            eye-of-a-needle metaphor you mention.

            Loren Rosson III
            Nashua NH
            http://lorenrosson.blogspot.com/

            __________________________________________________
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          • Loren Rosson
            ... Fair enough. My Farrer-bias predisposes me to see Matthew as the first one to try aligning the shrub with the tree, with Luke then later dropping the shrub
            Message 5 of 11 , Jun 28, 2006
              Ron wrote:

              > Matthew's "the greatest of shrubs and becomes a
              > tree" looks to me (and I'm
              > sure to lots of other observers) like Matthew's
              > somewhat clumsy attempt to
              > assimilate his two sources: a sayings source which
              > had "tree" and Mark which
              > had "the greatest of all shrubs".

              Fair enough. My Farrer-bias predisposes me to see
              Matthew as the first one to try aligning the shrub
              with the tree, with Luke then later dropping the shrub
              altogether in favor of something more acceptable.

              > > Matthew and Luke's versions are wrong (a
              > > mustard shrub isn't a tree) ...
              >
              > Nor is it possible for a camel to go through the eye
              > of a needle. Shouldn't we make allowances for Jesus'
              > liking for hyperbole?

              See below.

              [Loren]
              > > ... and reflect later attempts
              > > to reclaim the appropriate metaphor for the
              > > kingdom, the cedar of Lebanon (Ezek 17:22-24,
              > > 31:5-6; Dan 4:10-12; Ps 104:10-17)

              [Ron]
              > But the kingdom of God was central to Jesus'
              > teaching. Why should we not
              > suppose that Jesus himself, as well as using
              > hyperbole, may have been
              > alluding to such metaphors for the kingdom?

              He was alluding to it -- and clearly so, what with the
              birds and all -- but he was doing so with a burlesque.
              A shrub undermines assumptions... just like the
              eye-of-a-needle metaphor you mention.

              Loren Rosson III
              Nashua NH
              http://lorenrosson.blogspot.com/

              __________________________________________________
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            • David @ Comcast
              BRUCE: For what it may be worth, my own study of the evidence disinclines me to mix Thomas in with the canonical Gospels. I accept the indications that Thomas
              Message 6 of 11 , Jul 2, 2006
                BRUCE: For what it may be worth, my own study of the evidence disinclines me
                to mix Thomas in with the canonical Gospels. I accept the indications that
                Thomas is later than all of them, and has drawn vaguely but detectably on at
                least the first three of them, but is not in the same tradition, the same
                Trajectory if one will, as any of them. I think Thomas represents Esoteric
                Christianity. I thus don't think it tells us anything about Jesus that we
                need to factor into any discussion of the Historical Jesus. It does tell us
                about receptivity to Jesus in a probably non-Palestinian context, which to
                me is an important subject, but still a separate one.

                DAVID I: I don't personally know enough about the details of Thomas to
                assign a 'trajectory' to it with respect to any of the canonical Gospels.
                However, as I think is generally acknowledged, its mere existence does lend
                weight to any synoptic theory that posits a sayings source. Like Lk's 'many'
                sources, Thomas works against a strict adherence to Occam when trying to
                solve the Synoptic problem. Similarly, IMHO, Q theories should take Thomas
                into account, in that re-constructions of Q that look more like Thomas
                should be preferred to those that look less like Thomas.

                Basically, what I think I'm suggesting is that *all* the evidence has to be
                taken into account. For example, suppose we posit an authorial process for
                the canonical Gospels that doesn't allow for accretion of texts over time,
                and then we realize that there is another text (e.g. perhaps the ending of
                Romans) that can only be accounted for by an accretion process. If we have
                to allow for this other process that created Romans, but deny it's
                applicability to the Synoptics, then we have to come up with a good reason
                why this process doesn't apply. Unless we can do that, then I suggest that
                we should allow that whatever forces (or processes) acted on one canonical
                NT text should be considered to have acted on the others as well.

                Turning this around, any Synoptic solution that considers the Synoptics in
                isolation is simply not taking all the relevant factors into consideration.
                Therefore, I believe we have to at least consider John, Thomas, Marcion, the
                Western text, Paul, the logia, Mark's notes from Peter, etc. when working
                out a Synoptic solution. Of course, we can always discount them after due
                consideration, but we do have to go through that process.

                David Inglis

                Lafayette, CA, USA

                Davidinglis2@...



                [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
              • Ron Price
                While I agree with Bruce that GTh tells us nothing (directly) about the historical Jesus, I also agree with ... There is a potential irony here, for if
                Message 7 of 11 , Jul 3, 2006
                  While I agree with Bruce that GTh tells us nothing (directly) about the
                  historical Jesus, I also agree with

                  David Inglis that:

                  > Q theories should take Thomas into account,

                  There is a potential irony here, for if comparison with GTh helps us to
                  solve the Synoptic Problem, then it might *indirectly* tell us quite a lot
                  about the HJ!

                  > re-constructions of Q that look more like Thomas
                  > should be preferred to those that look less like Thomas.

                  Indeed. So it could be quite significant that as in GTh and in my
                  reconstruction of the sayings source there are no narrative passages (unlike
                  "Q"), and they both consist solely of sayings attributed to Jesus (unlike
                  "Q" which also includes sayings attributed to John the Baptist).

                  Ron Price

                  Derbyshire, UK

                  Web site: http://homepage.virgin.net/ron.price/index.htm
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