RE: [XTalk] Was Jesus an Anomaly?
- Robert Davis, Ted Weeden, et al.
Thanks to both of you for this very intriguing discussion on the notion of rabbi. John the Baptist, too, is, as you know, called a "Rabbi", although in only one text in the gospels, in the GJohn iii 26. In the context the title is a term of respect for John as it seems that the group of his disciples as well as other Jews who are discussing with his disciples were genuinely looking for an answer from this respected leader on the baptisms conducted by Jesus. As in the case of Jesus, we know of no formal training for John and his coming in the wilderness does not indicate that he was part of the establishment in Jerusalem. My suspicion, on the one hand, is that Jewish family and local synagogue education was so seriously conducted following the injunctions of Deut. vi 7-9, et al., that education, even amongst manual artisans, is almost assumed rather than attested in our texts. Donald Binder's discussion of the synagogue functionaries diminishes the distance between synagogue and Temple and therefore between the rulers of the synagogues and the priestly rulers, either those local or distant. He does not, however, explain who in his discussion of the functionaries would actually be equivalent to a Rabbi, though perhaps a number of the leaders would in fact receive this title. Is there any evidence about this in other studies? I am inclined to think -- I would be willing to hear comments to the contrary -- that these synagogues were not really "democratic" institutions, nor that just anyone would be called a Rabbi. The indication in this passage in GJohn that Jews who were not John the Baptist's followers were still calling him "Rabbi" means that there was a more general recognition than simply amongst John's own followers that title was appropriate to him.
But, on the other hand, and perhaps even more important, and much to the chagrin of those of us who make a living teaching Torah (using it as a spade to dig with, contrary to Rabbinic law), the notion of a prophet was that God revealed knowledge directly, that is, with or without the formal education of the prophet. This notion does not in any way mean that prophecy is rightly understood as charismatic, as ecstatic, for example, or as the overwhelming of the passions. It does mean there are no fool-proof ways of becoming one who has knowledge of God, that is, a prophet (Ph.D.'s or otherwise). The group is coming to John to gain "knowledge of the Law" concerning purity laws, and by calling him "Rabbi" there is at least some indication that they are recognizing that he is more than simply an oddity out in the wilderness conducting questionable purity practices.
In either of the above accounts, there is little to indicate that trades or class or wealth had anything to do with who is called a "Rabbi". Having a knowledge of the law does matter, however that is obtained and however it is formally recognized (laying on of hands??) in first-century Judaism. Terry Kleven, Department of Religion and Philosophy, Central College
Robert Davis wrote on Thursday, December 12, 2002:
> Ted et al:students has to do with the use of the term "rabbi" by others, either to
> One line of thought I have been entertaining over the years with my
describe Jesus or as a title used directly to him. Rabbis were known to be
"educated" in the sense that they were knowledgeable in the Law and the
Prophets, and therefore had status as respected experts to whom people went
for advice, guidance, and teaching.<
Robert (or do you prefer "Bob"?), the issue here, of course, is that we do
not know how knowledgeable Jesus was in the Law and the Prophets.
None of his parables or "authentic" aphorisms suggest, in my judgment,
any *direct, firsthand* knowledge of either the Law or the Prophets.
Jesus could have been only the recipient of knowledge passed on by
others or what was common knowledge among peasant people. I do
not consider the so-called antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount to be
authentic to Jesus and will present my reasons for taking this positon in a
forth-coming post. I do think that the saying, "love your enemies," is
authentic to Jesus and was presented as a foil to "love your neighbor as
yourself." But the latter saying seems to have been commonly known in
Paletine of the time much the same as the Golden Rule was widely known in
Greco-Roman culture (see Hans Dieter Betz, _The Sermon on the Mount_).
> The essential point here is that the use of the term itself conveyedstatus on the individual who was the object of its use, and from this
standpoint it would be difficult to see Jesus as being an "anomaly" of any
sort. But another, related question has to do with the social status of
rabbis generally, outside of the status conferred by the title itself. In
other words, could rabbis be originally from lower-class families, or did
they generally come from upper-class families? Did most rabbis have some
independent wealth, or could they be from very poor circumstances? And what
of their "formal" education: did one have to be a graduate from one of the
academies in Jerusalem, or could one become a rabbi through one's own
process of study? These questions are ones for which the answers are not at
> We may have some clues, however. We know, for instance, that rabbis wereto learn a trade and to accept no funds for their teaching and/or
interpretations. The fact that these trades would intersect in many cases
with those of the laboring classes might lead to the impression that one
could be from one of the lower-class families and still be a rabbi. It may
well be that Jesus was from a working-class family of no special status, but
that his studies in the Law (however attained) conferred on him a new status
even as he continued to be otherwise known as the "son of a carpenter."
Additionally, rabbis in his time seemed to have been itinerants, which also
fits Jesus' practice as well. So again, there is nothing thus far to
suggest that Jesus should be considered an anomaly of any sort.<
I generally agree with your statement here. What I do not find evidence for
is that Jesus engaged in "studies of the Law." I need to point out here
I am not making a claim for the position that Jesus was an anomaly vis-a-vis
other religious reformers, etc. And I do not find you suggesting here that
I am making that claim. But for the record, I am only raising the question
and have not come to a conclusion one way or another. Your response to my
question, along with others, has been helpful to me in deciding how I would
answer the question.
> An intriguing question I have long wondered about is whether Jesus had anyexposure to one or another of the academies in Jerusalem, such as Paul would
have later on. There is obviously no clear indication that Jesus was ever
such a formal student--but there is the report in Luke of Jesus in the
Temple, discoursing with some of the current experts in the Law. Could this
be an indirect reference to just such an academy education? Bear in mind
that I do not offer this as "proof" of any kind (please see the other major
thread of the past few weeks on the subject of proof!!!) but only as one of
I am doubtful that Jesus had any exposure with any "academies" in
Jerusalem. And I consider Luke's story of young Jesus in the Temple to
be legendary and without historical basis.
> On the other side of the coin, we are all also very aware of the ancienttradition of great leaders coming from humble origins--or at least being
said to have come from such origins!
> If this tradition has any bearing on the gospel reports of Jesus' ownorigins, then it would be impossible for us to know what sort of status
Jesus' family actually had--and it is quite probable that we would never be
able to come to any definitive conclusions.<
That is a significant problem.
> Ultimately, I am not certain that Jesus' inherent social status, whateverit was, works very well as foundation to the original question. Rather, I
would think that a closer investigation of what Jesus said and did is
perhaps a more fruitful direction in which to take this. But I speak only
for myself here.<
Thank you for your response.
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