Chreiai Formation & Q
- I have recently read an older article by Burton Mack in which he suggests
that Cynic-like aphorisms associated with Jesus were elaborated upon or
expanded by the Q community (or other Jesus communities I suppose) for the
purpose of social formation. (Burton Mack, "Q and a Cynic-like Jesus" in
_Whose Historical Jesus?_ , Michael Desjardins & William Arnal, Eds.
Waterloo, ON: 1997).
I have two questions about this thesis. First, I have been made aware of the
way in which chreiai are expanded into "stories," and I understand that what
we have in Q3 (for example) fits the pattern of elaboration common to other
chreiai. However, I wonder where these original sayings came from. Gerald
Downing and Robert Price point out the connections with cynical sayings of
the time, but why would these sayings have to have been associated with the
teachings of Jesus? In other words, did someone just compile a compendium of
cynical sayings out of thin air as it were, and then apply the name "Jesus"
to them? And what purpose would that serve the author?
On the other hand, perhaps many of these sayings were in fact things Jesus
said. If we take that as a reasonable probability how does that affect the
process of chreiai formation Mack talks about? I can imagine Jesus saying
something like "Let the dead bury their own dead" in a particular context. I
can then imagine these contextual situations--and the aphorisms that go
along with them--being remembered in a kind of oral tradition for several
years. Then perhaps someone decides to strip the aphorisms away from their
context, to form a list like Q1. When the aphorisms are expanded upon
"later" the expanders could have used features from the original context, or
embellished it with a new narrative frame to fit the new social or religious
realities of the authors' time. Does this happen? Is this a reasonable
I guess I am just wondering how this concept of chreiai elaboration works.
It seems to me that the elaboration cannot take place in a vacuum, but must
instead be reliant to some degree on the original narrative context in which
these statements were made -- unless of course the statements were never
made by Jesus at all.
Prairie Bible College
Three Hills, Alberta, Canada