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Re: [XTalk] Chreiai Formation & Q

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  • Mahlon H. Smith
    ... ... the ... of ... Jesus ... ... must ... which ... I sympathize with your quandry Corey, since it is difficult to get Mack to commit
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 17, 2001
      Corey Liknes wrote:

      > 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 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
      > teachings of Jesus? In other words, did someone just compile a compendium
      > cynical sayings out of thin air as it were, and then apply the name
      > to them? And what purpose would that serve the author?
      > 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
      > instead be reliant to some degree on the original narrative context in
      > these statements were made -- unless of course the statements were never
      > made by Jesus at all.

      I sympathize with your quandry Corey, since it is difficult to get Mack to
      commit himself on specifying what particular items in the sayings tradition
      are traceable to HJ. One of the reasons he left the JS was his lack of
      confidence in the project of distinguishing the voice of HJ from that of his
      tradants. Since he was more interested in the social formation of knowledge,
      he preferred to speak of communities rather than identifiable individuals
      generating/collecting sayings.

      Without intending to champion Burt's reconstruction of Q or the social
      history of the early Jesus movement, however, I think a couple of
      clarifications will be help.

      1. The Cynic hypothesis. Note that Mack postulates the sayings tradition as
      originating with a "Cynic-like Jesus." He doesn't identify HJ as a Cynic.
      But he calls attention to certain parallels to Hellenistic Cynic traditions
      in the type of rhetoric (social critique), forms (aphorism & chreia), &
      lifestyle (independence, itinerancy) found in the JS sayings tradition
      (particularly the Q stratum but also Thomas). The fact that these
      Cynic-like elements in Q are diluted, modified & transformed in -- or many
      of those in GThom even excluded from -- the fully developed canonical gospel
      tradition, leads Burt to conclude that these elements must be from the
      original stages of the Jesus movement. Thus, Burt concludes that the founder
      of that movement (HJ) must also have been Cynic-like (not "cynical" in the
      popular sense of that word).

      2. Social Formation. In *The Lost Gospel* Mack writes:

      "If we ask about the character of the speaker of this kind of material,
      it has its nearest analogy in contemporary profiles of the Cynic-sage. This
      is as close to the historical Jesus as Q allows us to get, but it is close
      enough for us to reconstruct a beginning of the movement that is both
      plausible and understandable. One should not underestimate the attraction of
      a Cynic-like sagery capable of enticing individuals into forming a
      discursive association."

      Thus for Mack the analogy works at several levels. On the one hand HJ, like
      Diogenes, was remembered to have uttered several startling quips that
      challenged social conventions. These were largely unpremeditated,
      off-the-cuff responses to situations he encountered. The force of HJ's
      wit/radical wisdom in such situations. however, attracted followers who
      recalled these sayings & repeated them [analogous to Diogenes or Socrates].

      HJ's original sayings were simple quips or aphorisms -- i.e., sharp pithy
      comments as distinct from common proverbs or maxims. In repeating them &
      transmitting them to others the people attracted to HJ *had to*
      contextualize them by creating a brief description of a situation that
      prompted them (since HJ did not himself describe the situtation that
      prompted his response). This contextualizing creates the chreia. Once
      formulated, it provides "the official" account of what prompted the sage to
      say what he did.

      Mack, however, remains reluctant to identify the setting of any chreia as an
      accurate recollection of the *original* occasion that actually provoked the
      *bon mot* simply because we have ample evidence in the gospels & in other
      chreia collections of the same aphorism with very different chreia settings
      or without any chreia frame at all. So Burt would deny your contention that
      the "elaboration" of the chreia "must...be reliant to some degree on the
      original narrative context."

      The narrative context is precisely what is not original. Narrative contexts
      are always invented after the fact. How long after & by whom (an eye-witness
      or a later orator or scribe) is often impossible to tell. Even the
      ascription of a particular aphorism to a particular sage is often
      questionable since communities tend to credit their founder hero as the
      source of all the wisdom that that community embraces. With the notable
      exception of rabbinic tradition, *oral* communities generally resist
      complicating loyalties thru multiplying the names/voices of authoritative
      teachers. And they tend to preserve only those sayings that they find useful
      (hence the name *chreia*).

      Once things get reduced to writing, a greater variety becomes possible.
      Chreia can be strung together & edited into definitive biographies like the
      canonical gospels. But with the rise of scribalism one comes to a stage of
      social formation that is even further removed from the actual original
      social context of the radical itinerant "Cynic-like" sage -- in this case

      Such are the observations/reasoning behind Mack's historical skepticism.



      P.S. Criticism of the Cynic hypothesis (a la Horsley) or attempts to
      identify HJ as a millennial prophet (a la Allison) only serve to increase
      historical skepticism that the "Cynic-like" elements of the gospel sayings
      tradition can be traced to HJ or force modern interpreters to
      recontextualize these sayings by providing them with an apocalyptic
      narrative frame that these sayings do not have in Q or even our canonical
      gospel texts.

      Mahlon H. Smith
      Department of Religion
      Rutgers University
      New Brunswick NJ 08901


      Synoptic Gospels Primer

      Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus
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