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4625Re: [XTalk] Divine men

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  • Ted Weeden
    Jun 5, 2000
      Rikki Watts wrote in respect to my (Ted Weeden) theory on the "divine man"
      in response to request for literature:

      > A number of works have addressed this issue:
      > but if I recall correctly ..
      > a. Sharon Dowd's Prayer, Power and the Problem of Suffering SBLDS 105
      > (Atlanta: Scholars, 1988) has a good introductory section covering these
      > issues including a section (somewhat critical I'm afraid on Ted's earlier
      > version of his theory and an overview of the rise and demise of the divine
      > man theory.
      > b. Barry Blackburn's Theios Aner and the Markan Miracle Traditions. A
      > Critique of the Theios Aner Concept as an Interpretative Background of the
      > Miracle Traditions Used by Mark WUNT 2, 40 (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul
      > Siebeck), 1991) has a good section pp.13-96 in which he argues that
      > there are similarities between Jesus and various Hellenistic figures there
      > is really no such thing as a theios aner "type" of (the data is far too
      > diverse) nor was it used as a technical term during the time of the
      > composition (nor is son of God a demonstrable equivalent). This however
      > not to exclude the possibility that, because of these figures, some of
      > Mark's readers might have found it easier to see Jesus as divine.
      > concludes however that the idea that Mark's interest in miracles is due to
      > theios aner Christology (as per Ted's earlier thesis) is rather
      > both these works have further bibliography (e.g. Tiede, Gallagher, and
      > Holladay).
      My response:

      Thank you, Rikk, for bringing the literature to the attention of all (and
      to you, too, David as your post just came through). You are right, Rikk.
      The "divine man" construct has been discredited by some. In my posts I am
      still using the nomenclature I used originally in my _Mark-Traditions in
      Conflict_ (1971) to characterize a Greco-Roman ideological orientation
      toward persons who were viewed as distinctively different from other humans.
      I am not sure of a better way to describe the orientation. But I do not
      consider it a construct, in the sense that it is something constructed by
      scholarship. Thus, I felt the need to get this post out to you and other
      Xtalkers, even though I am trying to complete responses to other posts, for
      it is critical that the members of the list understand the first-century
      support for my position.

      After the hardback publication of _Mark_ , I backed off from the use of the
      religio-cultural term "theios aner" because of the challenge to the
      "divine-man" construct mounted by Holladay and others. In my preface to the
      paperback edition, I chose a euphemism, "triumphalist" orientation to
      replace "theios aner." But I have never been happy with that change. So I
      have returned to "theois aner" or "divine man" because it terminologically
      comes as close to what I mean as I can come up with at this moment. In any
      respect, I do not see the term "divine man" as a construct but an
      ideological nomenclature, as unsatisfactory as it may be, for the
      Greco-Roman hero ideological orientation which dominated Hellenistic
      culture. This hero ideological orientation has not been fully appreciated
      in many quarters of NT scholarship. But such an orientation in many ways
      defined Greco-Roman culture of the time and needs to be appreciated for
      having done so. It needs to be appreciated, in particularly, for having
      profoundly affected the orientation of certain early followers in the Jesus
      movement and, specifically, the writers of the canonical gospels and some of
      their sources.

      Gregory Riley, _One Jesus, Many Christs_, has made a fine case for the
      pervasiveness of this hero ideology in Greco-Roman culture and its influence
      on the Jesus movement. I present Riley's case here now. I do so by quoting
      directly and in snippets, scissored and pasted, to give a flowing account of
      the cultural phenomenon that I see confronting the author of Mark. I quote
      directly, citing page references in parentheses, rather than paraphrasing
      because it just takes less time and it also puts the matter in Riley's own
      words. I think that I have been faithful to Riley's presentation, even
      though I have arranged the snippets differently from the way they appear in
      his book. So, now, here is Riley on the Greco-Roman cultural-ideological
      orientation to the hero.

      "We have all but lost the most important and spiritually effective category
      of ancient religious experience. We no longer recognize the essential
      aspect of the story of Jesus that caught the imaginations of those who first
      heard about him....(16)."

      "...Christianity in time won more adherents in the Roman Empire than all the
      traditional state gods and competing cults. It did so for a reason
      overlooked by all but a few scholars and lost to the modern world-the story
      of Jesus, even with its Jewish and Eastern content, fulfilled the most
      important cultural ideals in antiquity, those of the hero, from Achilles on
      down." "[In the Greco-Roman world the] life of the hero in its many
      incarnations was told and retold at gatherings, in plays, in literature, and
      in schools. It served as both entertainment and edification for more than a
      thousand years before and after Christ. Reverence for heroes and later for
      saints, who functioned as protectors and avengers in towns and countryside,
      was the most common form of religious observance in the ancient world" (18).
      "Every home had its *lares*, the heroes of the household, the founding
      ancestors. Every town had its protecting hero, every district and tribe,
      every crossroads, points of land, grove and mountain pass"(59).

      "Their brave exploits and tragic fates gave the term "hero" its most
      important meaning: one who was an example for behavior, admired for courage
      and distinguished deeds"(18). "The stories of the Greek heroes were of ...a
      type, in which destiny or the envy of one god or another often brought the
      downfall of an otherwise blameless victim" (29). "Common to all stories of
      heroes is the test of character....They [heroes] perform remarkable deeds
      and suffer horrible fates" (51). "It is among the heroes that one finds
      virgin births, heavenly portents, so many healings, miracles, battling of
      unjust authorities, divine enemies, innocent suffering or suffering only in
      appearance, resurrection and ascension"(119).

      "[The] choice to die for principle and with honor became one of the most
      famous heroic events to be imitated in the entire tradition. . ... the role
      of the suffering but righteous individual, of the hero, was to be lived by
      everyone regardless of social class" (29). "Many historical individuals,
      when faced with a choice between what would clearly lead to their own deaths
      and some safe but ignominious alternative, made a similar choice: death with
      honor over life and disgrace. Certainly one of the most important of these
      figures was Socrates, one of the most influential philosophical and heroic
      figures in history" (47).

      "In the late fourth and third centuries B. C. [sic] there arose a type of
      literature known as 'aretalogy,' an account (LOGOS) or the wonderful earthly
      deeds (ARETAI) of a god or hero" (80). "Their stories set the models of
      conduct for all levels of society. Emperors and slaves, philosophers and
      common folk molded their lives according to these stories that from birth
      had shaped their mental and spiritual universe"(18). "People of all walks
      of life knew these tales. Most visible to us is how consistently authors
      evaluated and described the lives of characters in literature according to
      them.... The pattern of the life of the hero was almost the only story
      available and the only story with wide acceptance for serious literature in
      the Greco-Roman tradition. Nearly every biography and historical account
      sought to compare the qualities of its subjects against the standards of the
      heroic code" (19).

      "Education in the Greco-Roman world was based in the classics of Greek
      heroic literature and their offspring in Latin. If one was educated at all,
      no matter what the level of competence, one was educated on Homer and the
      heroes" "[For example Xenophon in his _Symposium_ 3.6 states]: 'My father
      was anxious to see me develop into a good man, and as means to this end he
      compelled me to memorize all of Homer.' Lucian in the second century A. D.
      [sic] tells us that schoolmasters gave a student 'books that openly or by
      allegory teach him who was a great hero, who was a lover of justice and
      purity' (Lucian, _ Amores_, 45). Schools enforced the worldview, the
      morals and ethical ideals admired and imitated by ancients essentially by
      requiring every student to learn from the same narrow selection of revered
      heroic texts" (67).

      'Thus the cult of heroes was the single most common and important religious
      aspect of the world of early Christians" (59) "...the story of the children
      of the gods [heroes, who were considered sons of the gods] were paradigms
      for the early Church in its understanding of Jesus" (19)." "For all the
      differences of culture and tradition between Palestine and the Greco-Roman
      world, this was the pattern of the life of Jesus' (18).

      "There is no question that those who wrote the Gospels of the New Testament
      received the same education as other learned men of their culture. If one
      could read or write at all in Greek or Latin, one had learned to do so by
      reading and memorizing and copying the heroic literature. Thus both the
      writers of the Gospels and their readers knew what proper literature was
      supposed to be, what its ideals were, what its main characters were supposed
      to teach, and how its story line was to run-they expected a work like the
      story of Jesus to be the story of a hero"(69). [In this respect, scholars]
      "have long suspected that there existed [areatological accounts] of the
      miracles of Jesus, written [by early Christians] before the composition of
      the canonical Gospels and used by the authors of Mark and John" (80).
      (Riley has in mind here the pre-Markan miracle catenae, I mentioned in my
      post to Ron Price, and the Signs Source which served as a source for John.).

      What Riley characterizes as the Greco-Roman culture's ideological
      hero-orientation, is what I have in mind when I speak of the "divine-man"
      orientation. It is the Greco-Roman hero who serves as the model for Markan
      opponent's christological orientation, and against which Mark battles in a
      kind of Isaianic suffering-servant hero-orientation when he identifies Jesus
      by a suffering servant christology. I think it is an inescapable reality
      that what Riley has identified is the Greco-Roman *Zeitgeist* which
      infiltrated every corner of the Roman empire including Palestine, with
      perhaps the exception of Judea and Jerusalem. Certainly, as Richard
      Horsley has convincingly shown(_Archaeology, History and Society in
      Galilee_, 43-60), the principle cities of Galilee, Sepphoris and Tiberias,
      were infused with this Greco-Roman culture. As Horsley puts it,
      "...Sepphoris and Tiberias grew into some of the most populous and
      cosmopolitan cities of antiquity, and Galilee became as urbanized as
      anywhere in the Roman empire" (44). The theater at Sepphoris, four miles
      from Jesus' home of Nazareth, Horsley declares, "by itself announced 'Rome!
      '" The theater was undoubtedly a place where the Greco-Roman heroic dramas
      where performed.

      The Hellenistic urbanization of Galilee does not mean that Greco-Roman
      culture also seeped into Nazareth or any of the small villages that ringed
      the Galilean cities. Life in the villages was at least semi-autonomous.
      Ancient village customs and traditions were conserved and maintained, and
      unrelenting hostile simmered and sometimes exploded against the cities, its
      aristocracy and retainers, which exploited and oppressed village peasantry.
      But Greco-Roman culture was clearly in "the air" in Galilee. What is
      important to recognize for both Jesus' own ministry and, particularly, for
      the Jesus movements which followed and made their base in Galilee, is that
      our understanding of the culture and religious climate of Galilee most move
      beyond the old paradigms with which NT scholars have been working. Galilee
      was a much more heterogenous culture than we have thought. And as, Horsley
      declares (8f.), the old essentialist way of seeing things in rather rigid
      categories, such as "Jewish," "Hellenistic," "Jewish vs. pagan (or
      'Christian'), etc., must give way to more fluid conceptualization that takes
      into account the diversity of religious and cultural expression in
      Palestine, especially Galilee, in the late second temple period.

      Riley is quite on target when he says: "There is no question that those who
      wrote the Gospels of the New Testament received the same education as other
      learned men of their culture. If one could read or write at all in Greek or
      Latin, one had learned to do so by reading and memorizing and copying the
      heroic literature. Thus both the writers of the Gospels and their readers
      knew what proper literature was supposed to be, what its ideals were, what
      its main characters were supposed to teach, and how its story line was to
      run-they expected a work like the story of Jesus to be the story of a hero."

      The central importance of Hellenistic education in helping us to understand
      that the way a student thought and learned to write provides an important
      hermeneutical key to interpreting Mark has received little recognition. I
      addressed the importance of this hermeneutical issue thirty years ago in my
      _Mark_. I sought to show there, following H. I Marrou, who wrote the
      highly respected and widely quoted _A History of Education in Antiquity_,
      that Mark could only have been trained to write by being steeped in the
      study of the Greco-Roman heroes in the classroom. His classroom experience
      would have caused him to be preoccupied with paying attention to characters
      in the literature and how an author develops character to influence the view
      of the reader. I theorized that Mark mimicked the literary practice of
      ancient authors with respect to shaping characters in order to convince his
      reader of the correctness of his own christological and discipleship
      position. I have since recognized that it was not for a readership but a
      hearership that Mark, primarily, intended his gospel..

      I think Mark not only knew the Greco-Roman literature with its focus on the
      hero but also mimicked hero literature in the development of his drama. I
      have been attracted to Vernon Robbins thesis, as I indicated, Mark presents
      the story of Jesus through a genre that bears striking similarities to the
      "teacher-disciple-gatherer" genre of Xenophenon's Memorabilia. Just today I
      received yet another Hellenistic "hero" literature angle for the
      interpretation of Mark. Dennis MacDonald has just published a book, _The
      Homer Epics and the Gospel of Mark_, Yale Univ. Press. Having just
      received it, I, obviously, have not been able to read it as yet, though I
      was aware that it was to be published. Dennis had already alerted me to his
      book and his basic thesis. Because Dennis' approach is important to the
      present discussion, I share that thesis now by quoting excerpts from the

      "The author of the earliest gospel was not writing history, nor was he
      merely recording tradition, MacDonald argues. Close reading and careful
      analysis show that Mark borrowed extensively from the _Odyssey_ and the
      _Iliad_ and that he wanted his readers [sic] to recognize the Homeric
      antecedents in Mark's story of Jesus. Mark was composing a prose
      anti-epic, MacDonald says, presenting Jesus as a suffering hero modeled
      after but superior to traditional Greek heroes. Much like Odysseus, Mark's
      Jesus sails the seas with uncomprehending companions, encounters
      preternatural opponents, and suffers many things before confronting rivals
      who have made his house a den of thieves. In his death and burial, Jesus
      emulates Hector, although unlike Hector Jesus leaves his tomb empty....
      And, entire episodes, including the stilling of the sea, walking on water,
      feeding the multitudes, the Triumphal Entry, and Gethsamene." In leafing
      through his book, I note that Dennis has shown Homeric parallels to Markan
      pericopes to support his thesis.

      Now whether MacDonald has made his case, I shall have to see. But the
      important thing for my present point is that here is one more indication of
      a scholar who sees Mark steeped in the Greco-Roman culture and writing out
      of that context because he, as an author, has been educated to write in that
      context. The divine-man orientation, or whatever nomenclature one wishes
      to use to describe this Greco-Roman preoccupation with the ideology of the
      hero, cannot be dismissed so easily as an invalid understanding of the
      profile of Jesus in the first half of the gospel of Mark, and its Isainic
      suffering-servant reverse in the second half. Moreover, being open to
      seeing the influence of Greco-Roman hero tradition allows us to recognize
      Hellenistic literary allusions we have missed before. When Vernon Robbins
      drew attention to the parallels between Xenophon's portrayal of Socrates and
      his followers in _Memorabilia_ and Mark's portrayal of Jesus and his
      disciples in the gospel, it suddenly dawned on me what literary allusion
      Mark was making in framing Jesus' prayer in Gethsamene, with specific
      reference to "the cup." The cup in the prayer has nothing directly to do
      with the cup at the last supper, which is a cup containing "my blood of the
      covenant" (14:24). The cup in the garden prayer is an entirely different
      cup. "The cup" in Jesus prayer is the cup of death. It is the same cup
      from which Jesus asks James and John whether they able to drink (10:38).
      It is the cup of death! And the cup is an allusion to and was suggested to
      Mark, as a metaphor to place on Jesus' lips, by the well-known cup of death
      which Socrates was forced to drink.

      In drawing attention to the Greco-Roman allusions which Mark may have
      utilized, I am not suggesting that Mark is a Gentile because he writes out
      of this Greco-Roman context. I still look upon him as a Galilean Jewish
      Christian. I think he represents a Jewish understanding of a
      suffering-servant Jesus, perhaps characteristic of the more conservative
      orientation of Galilean Jewish village perspective as opposed to a more
      urban Hellenistic orientation toward the Greco-Roman hero.

      In this respect, as I have indicated in previous posts, particularly
      "Guidelines for Locating the Markan Community," I place Mark in a village in
      the region of Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi in that time was a very
      mixed culture. John Wilson, who has been a part of the archeaological dig
      and the reconstruction of life in Banias (first century, Caesarea Philippi)
      notes in a post to me that the Jewish population in Caesarea Philippi around
      the time of Mark was itself quite diverse in its religious perspective.
      There were Babylonian Jews, Itureans who had been converted to Judaism,
      likely an enclave of Judeans who fled Jerusalem for whatever reason, or just
      migrated there. Wilson contends that there was also a "a strong
      Hellenistic-Apocalyptic kind of Judaism in the Banias/Dan area dating from
      at least the 2nd or 3rd Cent. BCE." He goes on to state: "My colleague,
      Vassilios Tzaferis, and other Israeli-based scholars, tend to think that the
      old northern cult associated with Dan entirely died during Persian times and
      that a new cultus developed not based upon it later. I lean toward the
      belief that the sacred associations did continue, somewhat transformed of
      course, but that by the first century these sites had followed a trajectory
      from Ba'al to various Hellenistic syncretistic deities and the old Israelite
      tradition was maintained only in very veiled forms among those Hellenistic
      Apocalyptic Jewish groups...mentioned...." One interesting find in the
      archaeological dig was. The archaeologists found an inscription which, as
      Wilson puts it "has a soldier with a Jewish name, leaving a votive
      offering at the Pan sanctuary [the patron god of Panias/Banias] dedicating
      it to the "god of his fathers."

      So Caesarea Philippi fits well as a place where Mark would have experienced
      the intersection and the blending of his Galilean Jewis/Israelite
      background, multi-facted Judaism and the predominant culture of his day, the
      Greco-Roman culture of the empire. I am trying to complete my case for
      Caesarea Philippi vs. Judea (Mahlon Smith's preference) and get it to
      Mahlon, hopefully, soon.

      Before ending this post, I would like to return to the issue of Gecro-Roman
      education in how it sheds light upon some aspects of the NT and the Gospel
      of Mark, in particular. A recent book by Teresa Martin (_Literate
      Education in the Hellenistic and Roman Worlds_) has some important things
      for us to ponder. Among other aspects, Martin points out that Hellenistic
      education was a very controlling process with the teacher in total control
      of how a student learned. "The child is...a site where processes take place
      and knowledge is transferred from teacher to pupil, and the pupil's identity
      as a child or adolescent is minimized" (246). One of the primary goals of
      Hellenistic education was to produce in the student habit-forming analytical
      skills imposed by the teacher, "until the teacher can be assured that the
      pupil has thoroughly absorbed his principles of analysis" (253). The intent
      was to produce intellectual conformity to the teacher, and thus this
      imposing of the teacher's habits on the students "produced intellectually
      conservative students who would go on reproducing those habits of mind for
      the rest of their lives" (254). To achieve this, for the student to be
      educable, he/she must have along with the facility for memory, speech and
      reason, the facility for imitation.

      Imitation was absolutely essential at every stage of a student's learning.
      From the beginning of his/her education a student is taught that he/she
      must imitate his/her teacher. Martin notes that imitation, oddly, is not an
      active faculty but a reactive faculty, until late in the education process.
      Moreover, she states: "Unlike the subjects of many modern studies, ancient
      pupils do not imitate what they do not grasp and learn by doing it:
      absorption comes first, imitation afterwards and grasping some indefinite
      time later" (p. 252). From the beginning the teacher "controls what is or
      is not imitated by the pupil.... Gradually, by repetition, a habit of mind
      or body is established in the pupil until he/she is able to behave or think
      independently in the manner of his/her teacher...."

      What this suggest to me is that in the Hellenistic world literary
      propositions that might be elicited, let alone accepted, were controlled by
      the teacher in a way totally foreign to our post- modern world. The
      student was just not free to entertain any proposition, no matter how
      interesting to his mind, if it did not conform to the propositions
      acceptable to his teacher. This "proposition control" adds new meaning to
      the frequent admonition of the early Christian teachers (Paul and other
      authors) to their students (their congregations) to imitate them in their
      beliefs and faith (Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; I Thess. 1:6; II Thess. 3:7;
      Heb. 6:12; Jn 3:11) or in some cases God or Christ.

      For me, it has profound implications for the interpretation of the Gospel of
      Mark. Throughout the gospel, as I see it, Jesus seeks to get his students
      (the disciples) to imitate him. Jesus uses repetition over and over again
      in Mark (as would a Hellenistic teacher) to get his students to learn their
      lessons (Markan view of christology and discipleship). Note the three
      almost identical passion predictions (8:31; 9:31; 10:33f.) and the corollary
      proclamations on discipleship that follow each of the predictions (8:34-38;
      9:33-37; 10:35-45). Notice how Jesus also tutors his students in 8:14-21 on
      the proper understanding of the two feedings. The reader/hearer would then
      likely see that the disciples failed because they did not imitate Jesus,
      much less grasp his teaching. Note also that Peter, as I have noted in a
      past post, denies Jesus three times, the corresponding, reactive and
      repetitive response to the passion predictions and Jesus' teaching of
      discipleship--therein underscoring, ironically through repetition, Peter's
      refusal to imitate Jesus. Thus, these insights from Martin, I contend,
      further support Mark's effort to debunk the disciples in their narrative
      role as surrogates for anti-Markan christology and discipleship.

      Moreover, further support for this being the way the first readers/hearers
      would have read/heard Mark's derogatory casting of the disciples may be
      found in the reference of the first-century rhetoritician Quintilian (see
      his INSTITUTIO ORATORIA I.I.I-2) to a common belief in his day that many
      people are naturally unteachable because they lack the ability to understand
      and thus "waste the time and effort expended on them by the slowness of
      their intellects." Quintilian argues, however, that such a phenomenon is
      rare (See Morgan, 244ff.). Whether Quintilian is right or wrong about the
      number of unteachable, it does strike me that Mark's portrayal of the
      disciples as dense and incapable of understanding Jesus (versus the
      outsiders like the Syrophoenician women) might well have struck the
      reader/hearer as drawing attention to their uneducability, which places
      them, according to Quintilian in the category of sub-human (Martin, 247f.).
      So Mark's coup de grace against the disciples and, particularly, Peter!

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