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Jesus the Mendicant?

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  • Bob Schacht
    During the past 20 years, Jesus has been cast in a variety of major roles, often in book-length development: Jesus the Teacher, Jesus the Magician, Jesus the
    Message 1 of 3 , Nov 19, 2006
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      During the past 20 years, Jesus has been cast in a variety of major roles,
      often in book-length development: Jesus the Teacher, Jesus the Magician,
      Jesus the Healer, Jesus the Prophet, etc. Notice how all of these are Power
      roles. One might add Jesus the Cynic, which may or may not be a power role,
      depending on your perspective!

      Now comes another idea, that intrigues me.

      Bruce Grindal, a Professor of Anthropology at Florida State University,
      wrote an article in the November 2006 issue of Anthropology News (Vol 47
      #8) entitled "Beggars, the Ancestors and Jesus" (p.15). After reciting an
      experience with a beggar in Accra (West Africa), he tells of an experience
      in a (Black?) church in Florida on the Second Coming, speculating on what
      form Jesus would return in. His conclusion: He would come back as a
      mendicant, "a person who lives by the charity of others." No formal
      exegesis was revealed, but the idea nonetheless intrigues.

      "Beggar" is used in a similar sense in the Gospels twice (prosaiteo, Mark
      10:46; John 9:8), both relating to a specific person who was blind. Another
      word (ptochos) was used once in Galatians 4:9 as an adjective ('beggarly').
      But in this case it may be better to rely on context rather than
      restricting ourselves to specific words.

      For example, when Jesus sends his disciples out in Mark 6:7-11 (cf. Luke
      9:2-4; Matt 10:5-15)
      >7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave
      >them authority over the unclean spirits.
      > 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no
      > bread, no bag, no money in their belts;
      > 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.
      > 10 He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you
      > leave the place.
      > 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you
      > leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them."

      These instructions essentially mean that the disciples are sent out as
      mendicants. If one looks at Jesus' typical modus operandi in the gospels,
      he had no income and seemed frequently to be eating in other people's homes
      or at least other people's food.

      Perhaps the question of whether or not he was a mendicant depends on
      whether or not he was providing a 'service' in exchange for his support.
      The 'service' set is described as casting out demons and healing people
      (Mark 6:13), proclaiming the good news, cure the sick, raise the dead,
      cleanse the lepers, cast out demons (Matthew 10:7-8); and proclaiming the
      kingdom of God and healing (Luke 9:2). That this might be an appropriate
      framing for the work of Jesus is suggested by one of Matthew's additions,
      "for laborers deserve their food" (10:10).

      The Didache was specifically concerned with differentiating deadbeats from
      authentic messengers (sorry, I don't remember the term the Didache uses for
      the non-deadbeats who sojourned with them.)

      Of course, who's a deadbeat and who's authentic can be a matter of
      perspective. Anyone remember "Whatsmyname?" who appeared in eastern
      Pennsylvania a few years ago? I suppose he was a mendicant; he didn't claim
      to heal anyone, in fact, he didn't claim to do anything, but people treated
      him as if he were one of the disciples on a missionary journey.

      Bob Schacht
      University of Hawaii

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    • David Hindley
      Message 2 of 3 , Nov 25, 2006
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        <<If the residence in Nazareth is historical ... the only advantage for living there would be its close proximity to
        Sepphoris. Many building projects in Sepphoris at the time of Jesus' youth would have kept a building contractor lucratively busy.>>

        What do you think about the evidence for a vineyard that the whole village was involved with?

        According to the authorities I consult (e.g., M. Rostovzev, _JSTOR: The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire_) larger scale wine production was characteristic of some of the private estates controlled by members of the ruling classes. The personal possessions of these elite class individuals mostly existed solely to generate income ( = disposable cash) for the "owner" ( = those granted right of possession of tracts of royal land configured as estates). The field towers (the exact purpose of which are not actually known for sure, despite the statement in the article below) are closely associated with these private estate vineyards.

        That could mean Nazareth (or "that site" in case it is not the actual Nazareth) was a village of peasant (= tenant) farmers working the winery of an aristocrat, possibly a member of the Herodian family. Usually, common folks did not have the resources available to invest in large scale viniculture because they would exhaust their resources long before they could realize income from the venture (vineyards did not generate income for several years after they are established). People gotta eat. Scott also refers to this dilemma as a common disincentive towards taking risks, even potentially highly profitable ones, faced by subsistence farmers in SE Asia.

        That doesn't rule out the possibility that some of these peasant farmers could *also* have side businesses as stone masons, carpenters, potters, weavers, etc. In spite of the fact that farmers are kept busy doing *something* all year long (cutting firewood, maintaining outbuildings and dwellings, maintaining any irrigation channels, etc) there are significant periods, especially in winter, when "free" time is more available. Also, male and female children and women of the household could contribute their skills.

        I am still convinced that we really do not understand the economics of the Galilee or Judaea like we should.


        Dave Hindley
        Cleveland, Ohio USA

        The Foundation for Biblical Archaeology

        <<Late in 1996, an ancient wine press was discovered among rock terraces on a hilltop over-looking modern-day Nazareth. An archaeological survey of the area was conducted and excavation of the site began in April 1997 under the direction of Ross Voss and Stephen Pfann. Initial finds included the wine press, agricultural terraces, stone irrigation channels, bases of five watchtowers, and pottery sherds dating the site to the first century of the common era-about the time of Jesus.

        Evidence suggests that the first-century residents of this village made their living growing grapes, olives, and grain on terraces cut into the limestone hills. At harvest time, all of the estimated 300 villagers would have gathered to stomp grapes to extract the juice or to huddle in watchtowers at night guarding their produce against thieves.>>
      • Joseph T. Edmiston, FAICP
        Just a year ago I visited the Nazareth site mentioned here: The Foundation for Biblical Archaeology http://www.tfba.org/projects.php?projectid=9
        Message 3 of 3 , Nov 28, 2006
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          Just a year ago I visited the Nazareth site mentioned here:

          The Foundation for Biblical Archaeology
          http://www.tfba.org/projects.php?projectid=9 <http://www.tfba.org/projects.php?projectid=9>

          It is much more a tourist trap (with performers in period costume and a curio shop at the end) than a legitimate archaeological site. My children and I got our money's worth learning about the olive press and first century CE domestic life, but there is no rigorous science going on there.

          Joseph T. Edmiston, FAICP, Hon. ASLA
          Ἡ χάρις τοῦ κυρίου μετὰ πάντων.

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