Actually, this takes us down a road that has been trodden before, but with little real success. For some reason, there are those who feel the need to fit the historical Jesus into a context other than the one he seems to fit in to the best--Palestinian Judaism.
However...there is one aspect of this which may bear some additional thought: Since most of Jesus' work seems to have been carried out in Galilee, and Galilee was the closest geographical part of Palestine to various Hellenistic/Roman trade routes, it might be legitimate to wonder if there were popular forms of Hellenistic philosophy which had worked themselves into the overall vocabulary of Galilean society? That is, were there phrases, aphorisms, common sayings, etc., which had their origins in various Hellenistic philosophical groups, but which, by virtue of their axiomatic nature, had become detached from their original philosophical contexts and were now something more akin to "universals?"
To take a modern example, there are any number of quotations from Shakespeare which have worked their way into more common English speech, and which can easily be quoted by any number of people who have never themselves seen or read a Shakespeare play. "This above all, to thine own self be true..." is one such. Perhaps, to extend the analogy, something like this had taken place in Galilee (which, you may recall, had spent some time being independent from the rest of Jewish Israel prior to the Hasmonean conquest in the late second or early first century, BCE), and Jesus, having grown up there, would almost certainly have known all the sayings and aphorisms that were common enough to be known by anyone. But this does not make him a "philosopher" any more than my knowing the rules and strategies of baseball makes me a professional baseball player.
To wonder about the presence of such philosophical "universals" would probably be as far as I would wish to go on this path. Others, of course, may have different opinions on the subject.
Robert C. Davis
Associate Professor of Religion
Division of Humanities
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