The Gospels and oikonomia

For those unfamiliar with the Eastern Orthodox Christian usage of the term oikonomia, often Englished as “economy”, here’s a definition:

This Greek word oikonomia means, classically, the management of a household (oikos/house, nomos/law or rule). In theology the term refers first of all to God’s providence as the divinity extends itself beyond the inner life of the Trinity: all that pertains to the created worlds and to the divine actions taken on their behalf and for their salvation. The supreme example of the divine economy is therefore the Incarnation, i.e., the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. From the risen Christ comes the gift of the Holy Spirit, and in the latter the presence in the fallen world of the Kingdom of God, i.e., the Church. As the Church exists in a fallen world, its fundamental concern must be the salvation of the sould whom it embraces. Thus the second and directly related meaning of economy: actions taken by the Church in the person of its officers (bishops, and by extension priests) for the redemption of individual believers in the sphere of Canon Law. While representing the Church’s governing of souls and communication of grace, the canons are neer in themselves absolute. They may be enforced literally, kat’ akribeian, or with discretion, kat’ oikonomian, depending on the discernment of the needs of the particular soul. “Economy” of canonical application can therefore mean either a loosening of the canonical prescriptions (akin to Roman Catholicism’s “dispensation”), or the imposition of a discipline stricter than that which the canons provide.

Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church. Michael Prokurat, Alexander Golitzin, and Michael D. Peterson. Scarecrow Press, 1996. s.v. “Economy.”

It’s with reference to the second meaning that I use the term in this post, though I will use the transliterated form, “oikonomia,” in preference to the ambiguous “economy.”

There is an intersection between oikonomia and the formation of the Synoptic Gospels, when viewing such formation through the Two Gospel Theory. This theory places Matthew as the first Gospel to be written (which reflects the unanimous, indeed catholic, opinion of the Church Fathers), followed by Luke, which is followed by Mark. What we then see is a first Gospel directed to a readership that is overwhelmingly of Judean descent, familiar with the forms of religious discussion and argumentation current in Judea (a tradition of that continued after the destruction of the Temple into Rabbinic Judaism), faithfully keeping the Law of Moses in its particulars, and who know and worship Jesus from within a tradition that shows very little concern with Gentile ways. The Jesus of Matthew is one who meets the religious authorities on their own terms, winning arguments in a manner that is spelled out in detail. In Luke and Mark, on the contrary, we find that Matthew’s Gospel is not so subtly altered, and the discussions and argumentation so familiar to Judeans, and certainly closer to the actual form of Jesus’ teachings and discussions with his countrymen, are edited and changed for a different readership: Gentiles. The extended argumentation found in Matthew is edited down into collections of gnomic, memorable sayings, with the sayings of one discourse in Matthew (surely original) sometimes scattered into various other discourses (surely unoriginal) in Luke and Mark. The coherent argument in Matthew in any particular passage is rendered incoherent in a Judean, and more original context, by this treatment in Luke and Mark. Yet, this treatment of Jesus’ various sayings is actually presenting them in a manner that is more coherent for a Gentile reader unfamiliar with Judean forms of dispute. And this, I suggest, is our earliest example of oikonomia in the Church.

As oikonomia, the sayings of Jesus were adapted to new environments, in order to render them more comprehensible and more acceptable to those who might be put off by the very foreign manner of discourse of the very Judean Matthew. We who are so used to reading the literatures of various nations, in translation or not, do not find this to be a matter of great import. Readers of Greek within the Roman Empire’s civilizational borders would have been quite put off by foreign discourse to a greater degree than they would be put off by writings in more familiar modes of discourse. Thus, the decision by various apostles—traditionally Paul was associated with the production of Luke-Acts, and Peter with Mark—to render Matthew’s Gospel in a form more suitable for Greek and Roman audiences. And why? In order to save their souls. And in this their tactics were successful.

And while, over time, Matthew became and remained the favorite Gospel of ancient Church writers, by far the most-quoted of the Gospels, the successful oikonomia employed in the production of Luke and Mark should not be forgotten.

Similarly, we can see oikonomia at work among Paul’s letters. In these, we see churches that have been recently founded, and to which Paul is writing early in their Christian lives, have a more basic, less complex, theology being presented to them by the Apostle. And in longer-established churches, we see more complex theology being presented to the congregations. (See here.) And in the case of the Pastoral letters, to Paul’s longtime co-workers, we see Paul express concerns of an advanced and “behind the scenes” nature. All of these letters are addressed to hearers at levels that they’re ready to hear, and not more. This is truly oikonomia.

And this practice of oikonomia remains alive in the Church today. The focus is still a love for souls, and guiding those souls gently into greater communion with God. They are approached in a way that they can understand, so that they can approach God from where they are. Certainly they will grow and be transformed, and come to a greater understanding of theology, asceticism, and a life of prayer, all of which is expressive of an ever-growing closeness to God. Just as in the early days of the Church, so today.

True refinement

When he had offered up the “Amen” and finished his prayer, the men in charge of the fire lit the fire. And as a mighty flame blazed up, we saw a miracle (we, that is, to whom it was given to see), and we have been preserved in order that we might tell the rest what happened. For the fire, taking the shape of an arch, like the sail of a ship filled by the wind, completely surrounded the body of the martyr; and it was there in the middle, not like flesh burning but like bread baking or like gold and silver being refined in a furnace. For we also perceived a fragrant odor, as if it were the scent of incense or some other precious spice.

The Martyrdom of Polycarp, 15

True refinement consists not of the best breeding and upbringing, the best schooling and finishing, but in living a life fully in God. The safety and comfort of the former life is not a component of the latter. But what is more important? A crown that you might only wear for seventy years or so, one that can be taken away and melted down, and its wearer forgotten? Or to be wearing an eternal crown, forever living with it upon your head, and your never being forgotten by Him who crowned you? Polycarp—Christian, bishop, saint, martyr—knew the answer and lived his life accordingly. Let us all do the same.


The fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, 29 May 1453:

Muhammed II decided to make the general attack on 29 May. While the Sultan was marshalling his troops for the fight on the evening before, the Christians, Greeks and Latins together, joined in their last service in the Hagia Sophia. When they had finished their devotions, the defenders returned to their posts and the Emperor went round inspecting the fortifications until late in the night. The assault began in the early hours of dawn and the city was attacked simultaneously from three sides. For a long time the courageous defenders resisted every onslaught and beat back their opponents. The Sultan then threw in his main reserve, the janissaries who were the picked troops of the Ottoman army, and after a bitter struggle they succeeded in scaling the walls. At the decisive moment Giustiniani, who was fighting side by side with the Emperor, was fatally wounded and had to be carried away. This loss spread confusion in the ranks of the defenders and hastened the Turkish break-through. The city was soon in their hands. Constantine XI fought on to the end and was killed fighting, as he had desired. For three days and three nights the Sultan’s troops were allowed to plunder the city as they had been promised just before the final assault to raise their flagging morale. Property of priceless value, works of art, precious manuscripts, holy icons and ecclesiastical treasure were all destroyed. Mohammed II made his solemn entry into the conquered city and Constantinople became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The Byzantine Empire had ceased to exist.

George Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State, 570-571.

On that day, an innumerable multitude gathered in the Hagia Sophia cathedral, at the time, the building with the largest interior space in the world, and the most beautifully adorned of all the Christian churces. They prayed for a miraculous deliverance, but in the midst of the last Divine Liturgy to be celebrated there, vicious Turkish soldiers forced open the doors and began the rape and slaughter of those within. A pious traditions states that the priest holding the Divine Mysteries, the Body and Blood of our Lord, saw the Turks rushing in, turned away from them, and bearing the gifts he simply walked miraculously into the wall of the cathedral itself, only to exit when the Divine Liturgy is once again resumed in the Hagia Sophia. It’s been 556 years since any Christian liturgy has been permitted in the Hagia Sophia. Though the cathedral is now a museum, even now the tour guides outrageously insist that those entering do not pray or cross themselves! There is even now a movement to free the Hagia Sophia, and restore it to Christian Orthodox use.

I think perhaps there is something else to be learned here. There was a time when Orthodox Christians had Constantinople as their imperial and ecclesiastical center, full of treasures reminding them of their long history and great faith, a period of more than a thousand years. This is a new phase, a time of testing of the people as an Orthodox Christian civilization in exile, shorn of its physically binding attachment to a particular center, however wonderful that place may have been, and however much more idealized it has become in its loss. But there is a greater strengthening that takes place in such an exile, a greater potential for spiritual grace developed not as a replacement for the physical loss, but developed rather with the two, spiritual and physical, in proper symbiotic balance. That balance was often lost during the years of the Christian Roman Empire, commonly called the Byzantine Empire. In that sense, awful as it was, the conquest of Constantinople might also be seen as a disguised blessing. Despite Turkish oppression for nearly 400 years, Orthodox Christianity survived, and even thrived. Yet in recent years we see an imbalanced attachment to worldly success to be so attractive to some that they apostasize from the Faith in all but name. In some ways, this age of easy comfort and even easier “spirituality” is a greater time of trial than was the Turkish Yoke. “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” Hasn’t “the love of many grown cold”? None of us is unaffected by the world around us, yet with effort we can maintain a proper balance in furthering the Faith in ourselves and among others and in our worldly committments. These are the years of the Orthodox Christian exile to Babylon and our diaspora among the nations. Whether we will ever have a return to our Zion, Constantinople, is unknown, but unlikely at the moment. Let that resonate in your readings of the exiles of the Israelites, far from home, far from their Temple, with their lands under the control of others, and their own ways foreign among foreigners.

On the Shopping List

I’m very excited by this book by Anders Gerdmar: Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism: German Biblical Interpretation and the Jews, from Herder and Semler to Kittel and Bultmann (Brill, 2009). As Brill books are so expensive, I’d recommend using AddAll to find discounted copies.

Here’s the blurb:

As Adolf Hitler strategised his way to power, he knew that it was necessary to gain the support of theology and the Church. This study begins two hundred years earlier, however, looking at roots of theological anti-Semitism and how Jews and Judaism were constructed, positively and negatively, in the biblical interpretation of German Protestant theology. Following the two main streams of German theology, the salvation-historical and the Enlightenment-oriented traditions, it examines leading exegetes from the 1750s to the 1950s and explores how theology legitimises or delegitimises oppression of Jews, in part through still-prevailing paradigms. This is the first comprehensive analysis of its kind, and the result of the analysis of the interplay between biblical exegesis and attitudes to Jews and Judaism is a fascinating and often frightening portrait of theology as a servant of power.

Not just “theology as a servant of power” but as a servant of insanity and inhumanity. I’ve been waiting for a book like this to come along for a number of years now (mostly so I wouldn’t have to write it myself!). There is a persistent antisemitism present throughout the authors and works lying at the foundations of modern critical Biblical Studies. Even when an author is known to have been a rabid antisemite, this is typically shrugged off as of little account, as though such a mentality let loose at Jewish materials (that is, the Old and New Testaments) could be trusted to maintain an academic, critical objectivity. Such objectivity is, of course, a myth, and such a downplaying one might call poppycock, except poppycock is too charming a word. Rather, something like “filthy, evil, collaborationism” comes to mind as a better alternative. Just about ten years ago, the problem was brought into the spotlight by Maurice Casey, “Some Anti-Semitic Assumptions in the ‘Theological Dictionary of the New Testament” (Novum Testamentum 41.3 [Jul 1999], 280-291). Casey describes the full-blown antisemitism, and Nazi and even SS support of editor Gerhard Kittel and various authors of articles in the Theologische Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament, in English translation, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. This work is still considered “[o]ne of the most widely-used and well-respected theological dictionaries ever created” and “one of the few agreed upon standard reference works in the area of New Testament studies” (see here, in the blurb for an electronic version). Though various articles about Kittel and his ilk had appeared on the subject elsewhere, they were hard to track down, generally in festschrift editions and more obscure journals. The appearance of Casey’s article in such an accessible and well-respected journal as Novum Testamentum brought the problem to light for many who otherwise would not have known of it. The Gerdmar volume mentioned above looks like it will be following in detail the trend of antisemitism throughout the work of two centuries which established what are now considered the unquestionable foundations of Biblical Studies. I suspect, and indeed hope, that readers of Gerdmar’s book will start questioning those foundations, for the motivations that lie behind them.

Griesbachian samolians saved!

Here is your chance to pick up, at a substantial savings, two books that lay out the Two Gospel Hypothesis, formerly known as the Griesbach Hypothesis. This is the solution to the Synoptic Problem that posits Matthew as the first gospel, which Luke then uses, and Mark as a later conflation/epitome of those two. Dove Booksellers is offering these books at a 63% discount each!

The first is Beyond the Q Impasse: Luke’s Use of Matthew, edited by Allan J. McNicol, with David L. Dungan and David B. Peabody. The price is only 12.99.

The second book is One Gospel from Two: Mark’s Use of Matthew and Luke, edited by David B. Peabody, with Lamar Cope and Allan J. McNicol. The price is only 18.50.

There are only a limited number of copies available. So, if you’re interested in a solution to the Synoptic Problem that is both a.) logical, and b.) traditional, and the Two Source Hypothesis (with Q and all the other imaginary documents involved) isn’t cutting it for you, then you should have these books. Buying both volumes at these prices means you can get both of them for less than the regular price of either volume. Nice!

Happy shopping!

Notes on Meier: Matthew 12.11

These are some more expanded reading notes of mine on John P. Meier’s A Marginal Jew: Law and Love, his fourth volume in the historical Jesus mode.

Meier misunderstands the import of Matthew 12.11, because he viess the healing narratives from the Markan perspective of emphasis upon the healing as merely an example of wonderworking. Rather, in Matthew 12.11 lies the key, and an understandably historical and accurately halakhic concern missed by Gentile interest in Jesus as thaumaturge. This is the simple matter of not impinging upon a man’s livelihood due to keeping the Sabbath. Note the translation used by Meier for Matthew 12.11: “Which man among you, if he has a sheep that falls into a pit on the sabbath, will not take hold of him and draw him up?” The NRSV renders this much better (my emphasis): “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out?” The important and key element of the question is obscured in this translation. It should not be “a sheep”, but “one sheep.” Does the importance register better with this change, a reading that is explicit in the Greek, as it is not anarthrous here, but numbered (ἕξει προόβατον ἕν)? The question therefore relates to the loss of the man’s livelihood, his one and only sheep. This is the precise exepmption made by the Sages—no such rescue was permissible on merely compassionate or economic reasons, but such action on the Sabbath was permissible when life was endangered, for the man with only one sheep, the wool and the milk from which clothed and sustained him, would certainly die without it. See b Yoma 85 a-b, the discussion on saving a life on the Sabbath. In this case, in Matthew 12.11, a similar practice is presumed of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. In the case of Matthew 12, the extension is subtle but clear: just as the ordinary action of a man to preserve his livelihood was permitted, so the extraordinary healing of a man so that he could earn his livelihood was permitted. Meier misses this entirely, by focusing on the red herring of an animal fallen into a pit, which is only incidental here, and unlike the situation described in b Shabbat 117b, which is predicated on Leviticus 22.28, in which both a mother animal and its offspring are fallen into a pit, discussed within the context of slaughtering only one of those rescued. Meier does mention the strict ruling of the Damascus Document (CD-A XI 13-14: “And if [an animal] falls into a well or into a pit, he must not raise it on the Sabbath.”), which in its exclusivity is striking. This ruling being found in a short list of rulings regarding Sabbath restrictions may actually indicate differences with other contemporary pre-70 AD restrictions.

Despite these drawbacks, Meier shows good intentions:

In reality, the historical Jesus is the halakic Jesus, an important bulwark against those who would make him either the embodiment of the Epistle to the Galatians or a cipher for whatever program they are pushing at the moment” (p. 262).

So, A for intention, D for reliance on Marcan priority, which is completely throwing his conclusions out of whack, and away from a correct understanding of Matthew and its obvious priority. Matthew reflects precisely the halakhically sophisticated discourses that Meier wants to find, ones that are contextually and historically likely and illuminate the pre-70 situation in Judea and its environs, and the beginnings of the Church as a part of Israel, not as a Gentile religious philosophical confraternity. Meier at least is taking steps in the right direction, but he is hobbled by reliance on Marcan Priority, the Two Source Theory, and late-dating of the Gospels, as well as by other hobgoblins of New Testament Studies. Matthean Priority, the Two Gospel Theory, and a dating of the Synoptic Gospels prior to 70 AD lead to historically more accurate, understandable, and recognizably contextual conclusions. An author utilizing such an approach will discover or invent a much different historical Jesus than the one under construction by Meier in A Marginal Jew. We must be clear, however, that in Meier we see not a discovery of the historical Jesus, but the invention of one that is entirely a child of its time and place: the late twentieth century context of consensus Biblical Studies.

Oakland Greek Festival 2009

For the next three days, I’ll be working selling icons inside the windmill at the Oakland Greek Festival, held every year by my parish at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension on Lincoln Avenue. The festival website is here. There’s a coupon for a dollar off the admission price here that you can print, snip, and present at one of the gates.

If you’re in the area, come on by. We’re expecting sunny weather in the 80s (high 20s for you metric heretics), and we’ve got a beautiful view, particularly at night, of the Bay Area spread out below. Stop by the windmill and ask for Kevin, if you like. If I’m not there, it means I’m nearby eating some delicious Greek food, or just hanging out with my beloved Greek friends. There are hourly tours inside the cathedral, giving a short introduction to Orthodoxy and a description of the church, icons, and vestments, if anyone’s curious. And different talks, Greek dance groups (mostly children = totally adorable), cooking demonstrations, and concerts are scheduled throughout each of the three days, as seen on the schedule.

Come by if you can. I’d love to meet some of my blog’s readers in person! And even if I’m a letdown, the festival itself will be a really fun thing. Especially the food. Everybody loves Greek food! Gyros (that’s yee-roess, not jye-roze), loukaniko, saganaki, tiropita, and loukoumades are going to play major roles in my diet over the next few days (after sunset on Friday, at least). It’s always delicious, and a big draw to people in the area. This is one of the largest Greek festivals in the country actually, and it’s always a blast.

During some of my little downtime there, I’ll try to get some reading and writing done, on A Marginal Jew: Law and Love and some other things. We’ll see how that goes, though.

More on Meier, A Marginal Jew

Over the course of the last several years, since the appearance of the first volume of John P. Meier’s A Marginal Jew in 1991 (yikes! that long ago!), I’ve gone in a particular direction in study that has led to a peculiar mix of both greater appreciation and greater disappointment with the volumes as they’ve appeared.

Firstly, however, I will say that I have nothing but admiration for Meier’s obviously deep and broad erudition. His documentation and discussion in the notes is particularly thorough, and probably as close to exhaustive as anyone can these days approach, with the field so vastly overburdened with secondary (and tertiary, and quaternary, etc) literature.

So, now to my broader thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of the A Marginal Jew project.

On the one hand, Meier’s handling of the Rabbinic Canon (Mishnah, Tosefta, Midrash, Talmuds) is exemplary. He avoids the credulous approach to these sources that would find historical reminiscences recorded in even the latest sources simply based upon attribution. We know from Neusner’s work that such is decidedly not the case, that attribution is by no means consistent, that the various stories told about the sages’ interactions are consistently based in other than historical concerns, and that the most that one might be able to determine (with a host of provisos) is the approximate generation in which a saying or argument or decision first appeared. This is reflected in Neusner’s blurb on the dust jacket to the fourth volume, A Marginal Jew: Law and Love:

This definitive work on Jesus and the law displays mastery of the legal heritage of Judaism in clarifying critical issues. Meier’s monumental research illuminates long-debated issues and resolves a century of debate.

I heartily agree. Meier’s overarching presentation of Jesus’ approach to the Law is exemplary, and should turn a page on the debate toward a more reasonable approach to the Rabbinic documents in Christian hermeneutics and historiography. One would at least hope so.

On the other hand, I find that Meier’s treatment of several issues and approaches more “internal” to New Testament studies is not as commendable, regrettably. This will take some explaining, and I hope to make a case that there are some serious issues that need to be revisited here.

I’ve mentioned before that I am an advocate of the Two Gospel Hypothesis (also/formerly known as the Griesbach Hypothesis), which has fine advocates in the International Institute for Gospel Studies, and is represented in the work of two compelling publications: Beyond the Q Impasse: Luke’s Use of Matthew, edited by Allan McNichol, David Peabody, David Dungan, and William Farmer; and One Gospel from Two: Mark’s Use of Matthew and Luke, edited by David Peabody, Lamar Cope, and Allan McNichol. The solution to the Synoptic Problem as presented in these works furthers that of Griesbach, while overturning some of his ancillary opinions, thus “Two Gospel Hypothesis” is the preferred terminology. A website for the Two Gospel Hypothesis presents several articles. The Two Gospel Hypothesis posits Matthew as the first Gospel, followed by Luke (which used Matthew), followed by Mark (which used both Matthew and Luke).

Meier, on the other hand, is a believer in the Two Source Hypothesis, which is the majority opinion in Gospel Studies these days. This posits the Gospel according to Mark (or some precursor thereof) to be the first Gospel, followed by Matthew and Luke, entirely independently of one another using Mark, a common and supposedly written source labelled Q, and their own independent and supposedly unwritten sources. Various complications and inadequacies of this core hypothesis are dealt with by an ever increasing number of sources or versions of the various documents involved, so that this majority opinion is no longer so simply described as it once was. It is likewise arguably the case that the increasing complexity renders the Two Source Hypothesis increasingly unlikely.

Tied to Meier’s preference for the Two Source Hypothesis are his criteria for determining the historicity of a particular datum within the documents in question. These are as follows, described in Meier’s own words from the Introduction to A Marginal Jew: Law and Love (pp 13-115):
1.) «The criterion of embarrassment pinpoints Gospel material that would hardly ahve been invented by the early Church, since such material created embarrassment or theological difficulties for the church even during the NT period—a prime example being the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist at the beginning of the public ministry» (p. 13).
2.) «The criterion of discontinuity focuses on words or deeds of Jesus that cannot be derived either from the Judaism(s) of Jesus’ time or from the early church (e.g., Jesus’ rejection of voluntary fasting)» (p. 15).
3.) «The criterion of multiple attestation focuses on sayings or deeds of Jesus witnessed (i) in more than one independent literary source (e.g., Mark, Q, Paul, or John) and/or (ii) in more than one literary form or genre (e.g., sayings of Jesus about the cost of discipleship plus narratives about his peremptory call of various disciples)» (p.15).
4.) «The criterion of coherence is brought into play only after a certain amount of historical material has been isolated by other criteria. The criterion of coherence holds that sayings and deeds of Jesus that fit well with the preliminary “database” established by the other criteria have a good chance of being historical» (p. 15).

Aside from the above criteria though, there are various other sub-criteria, which Meier has culled from the forests’ worth of books which he’s read and internalized. One is a preference noted for short, pithy, gnomic sayings of Jesus to more likely be historical. This, however, can also be viewed legitimately as a later development, one more amenable to Gentile sensibilities used to the pithy aphorisms of Menander, or the Delphic Oracle, or any of the great number of producers of Gentile philosophic-religious sound bites. This preference for a sound bite Jesus, a gnomic Jesus, is part and parcel of a preference for Mark as the original Gospel. Mark is shorter, quippier, and yet is blatantly directed at a Gentile audience. Matthew, on the other hand, is lengthier, Jesus’ sayings exhibit characteristics of argumentation that are likewise found in later Rabbinic sources, and is blatantly directed toward a Jewish audience. Matthew, outside of the preference for the Two Source Hypothesis and its requisite Marcan priority, presents precisely the Gospel that we would have expected to be first: presenting a very Jewish Jesus, with a focus on Old Testament prophecy and its fulfillment in Jesus, and exhibiting very little interaction with Gentiles. Meier posits at a few points in the early chapters of Law and Love that Matthew represents a later “re-Judaization” of the Gospel materials, which I would find laughable, were it not so pitiable.

In addition, Meier’s various criteria are also rendered less than objective yet again by the reliance on the Two Source Hypothesis. This is only to be expected, when one posits Mark as, rather than an almost entirely dependent epitome based upon Matthew and Luke, the übersource for all the Gospels. This is not something to be blamed upon Meier, but upon Synoptic scholarship over the last century and more. It has come to equate Marcan terseness with historicity. This “shorter is older” axiom is thus the rule not only Gospel origins, but in the preference for gnomic sayings of Jesus as mentioned above, and even in the textual criticism of the New Testament text itself. This is despite the well-known preference for ancient authors to do two related things when quoting another author: 1.) to quote a block of material verbatim, with or without attribution, and 2.) to epitomize the rest. A classic Biblical example is the case of II Maccabees, which slimmish single volume is an epitome of the four volume original by Jason of Cyrene. A classic extra-Biblical example is found in Jpsephus’ Against Apion, in numerous excerpts but especially in his use of an already epitomized Babyloniaca of Berossus and Egyptiaca of Manetho, which epitomes he further epitomized.

What I have been noticing, therefore, in working through Law and Love is a consistent feedback loop of circular logic: criteria are utilized to support the Two Source Hypothesis, and the Two Source Hypothesis is used to support the criteria. This appears to be altogether unconscious on the part of Meier. He is not an advocate per se of the Two Source Hypothesis, just one of its believers, as it is the majority opinion in Biblical Studies these days, just as is Wellhausen’s Documentary Hypothesis (of the well-known J, E, D, and P). Majority opinion doesn’t, however, necessarily reflect reality. In this particular case, I find that Meier’s reliance on the Two Source Hypothesis with its concomitant Marcan Priority leads the project further and further astray from its intended goals. To describe the historical Jesus, models of composition that are in themselves historically accurate and contextual should be utilized, despite what may be the preferred hypothesis du jour in the academy. Matthean Priority coupled with the Two Gospel Hypothesis inserted into Meier’s framework would yield a vastly different Jesus from the one that is appearing in the pages of A Marginal Jew, which is one that would (as so many other “historical” Jesuses) be much more familiar to nineteenth century German Protestants than to first century Judeans.

More on this subject later.

John Meier, A Marginal Jew, Volume 4: Law and Love

From the Introduction to Volume Four (pp 708):

Here the peril of Christianizing the historical Jesus mutates into the peril of being relevant to Christians, with no hermeneutical reflection required. Many modern Christians eagerly desire either a Thomas Jefferson/Enlightenment Jesus inculcating eternal truths or a psychobabble-counselor Jesus suggesting warm, fuzzy maybes. Still others seek moral direction from Jesus the social critic, the political activist, or the academic iconoclast. Such Jesuses are perennial crowd-pleasers. In contrast, as I can well attest from lectures I have given, Christian eyes glaze over as soon as a scholar insists on envisioning Jesus as a Jew immersed in the halakhic debates of his fellow 1st-century Jews. In my opinion, the best way to treat this glazed-eye syndrome and to block any Christianizing of the historical Jesus in matters moral is not to sugarcoat the message. Rather, giving no quarter, one must insist on understanding this 1st-century Jew as addressing his fellow Palestinian Jews strictly within the confines of Jewish legal debates, without the slightest concern about whether any of these legal topics is of interest to Christians. In other words, to comprehend the historical Jesus precisely as a historical figure, we must place him firmly within the context of the Jewish Law as discussed and practiced in 1st-century Palestine. As the reader of this volume will notice, a basic insight will slowly but insistently emerge from this critical sifting of the legal material contained in the Gospels: the historical Jesus is the halakic Jesus, that is, the Jesus concerned with and arguing about the Mosaic Law and the questions of practice arising from it.

My copy of this book arrived only an hour and a half ago, and already I’m thoroughly enrapt. In the above paragraph, Meier describes two things: first, the construction of some historical Jesus which validates our preconceptions, resulting in a “Comfort Jesus”, if you will. Secondly, he particularly states (in this and in a previous paragraph) the need to separate the ethical and moral concerns of the historical Jesus from the reflection upon and expression of those moral and ethical concerns in Christian Tradition. Lest one find that this is offensive, one needs to notice the sly proviso given above: “with no hermeneutical reflection required.” That is, Meier’s historical Jesus is likewise amenable to hermeneutical reflection. And in this case, it is deep reflection that is required. I am not too surprised to read in Meier’s Introduction that he is following precisely the same trajectory that I found in my own investigation of the Gospels on the Pharisees (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) under the influence of the excellent volume edited by Jacob Neusner and Bruce Chilton, In Quest of the Historical Pharisees (Baylor University Press, 2007). It is, I think, the only trajectory that the evidence honestly allows. And though I’m only beginning the volume, it’s already clear that the adheres to the standard Two Source Theory on the composition of the Synoptic Gospels, rather than the Griesbach Theory, which places Matthew first. As I discussed in my series linked to above, Matthean priority is made clear through the ways that the form of halakhic argumentation is preserved intact only in Matthew, while Luke and Mark diverge, clearly altering the text in various ways for later non-Jewish audiences. It will be interesting to see how he deals with that.

I want also to make special note of Meier’s comments upon the title of Volume Four, Law and Love:

As an aside, I should offer a clarification here: what I have just said about my approach to the love commands of Jesus should obviate a possible misconception—namely, that Volume Four’s title, Law and Love, presupposes some sort of opposition or antithesis between the Mosaic Torah and the command to love. Rather, the title of Volume Four simply employs a venerable rhetorical device known as merismus (or, in English, merism). Using merismus, a writer designates the totality of some reality or experience by naming two of its complementary parts, for example, its beginning and its end. A prime example is offered by Ps 121:8: “[The Lord] will protect your going out and your coming in both now and forever.” One’s “going out” and “coming in” symbolize and encompass one’s entire life and activity, summed up in these two actions functioning as bookends. So it is with Law and Love. The title is simply a convenient way of designating the whole of Volume Four by naming the first and last chapters, the alpha and omega of our investigation. As Chapter 36 will show, far from being opposed to the Law, love is for Jesus the Law’s supreme value and command” [pp 9-10].

Striking, no? “[L]ove is for Jesus the Law’s supreme value and command.” So it was and is. And such should be the beginning of Christian hermeneutical reflection, firstly to understand the Law as an expression of God’s love for his creatures, and secondly to understand further developments with that original basis in mind.

This will be some good reading, well worth the wait.

On Attaining Humility

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

The “poor in spirit” are not the foolish, the idiots, the mentally retarded as the scorners and mockers of the words of the God-man want to interpret the beatitude, but those who have the virtue of humility. But what kind of humility? According to St Gregory of Nyssa the poor in spirit of the first beatitude are the voluntarily humble. This is the virtue opposite to the evil of haughtiness. And because of this, according to the holy father, “there is no evil like the evil of pride; this is why the first virtue which uproots the first evil is voluntary humility, which has as its example the One, according to the Apostle, ‘that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich'” [2Cor 8.9]. “See the measure of voluntary humility,” preaches St Gregory. “Life tastes death; the judge is brought to judgment; the Lord of life of beings is judged by creations; the king of every supernatural power opposes not the hands of executioners. You must strive toward this example of humility.” And if the Sinless One conducted Himself humbly among men, what must we, who are weighted down by sins, think and do? And if we examine everything well and search everything in us, does it lead us to the depth of humility?
Bishop Augoustinos Kantiotes. The Precious Pearl, p. 134, n. 37.

Call to mind who He is, and what He became for our sakes. Reflect first on the sublime light of His Divinity revealed to the essences above (in so far as they can receive it) and glorified in the heavens by all spiritual beings: angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, principalities, authorities, cherubim and seraphim, and the spiritual powers whose names we do not know, as the Apostle hints [cf. Ephesians 1.21]. Then think to what depth of human humiliation He descended in His ineffable goodness, becoming in all respects like us who were dwelling in darkness and the shadow of death [cf. Isaiah 9.2; Matthew 4.16], captives through the transgression of Adam and dominated by the enemy through the activity of the passions. When we were in this harsh captivity, ruled by invisible and bitter death, the Master of all visible and invisible creation was not ashamed to humble Himself and to take upon Himself our human nature, subject as it was to the passions of shame and desire and condemned by divine judgment; and He became like us in all things except that He was without sin [cf. Hebrews 5.15], that is, without ignoble passions. All the penalties imposed by divine judgment upon man for the sin of the first transgression—death, toil, hunger, thirst and the like—He took upon Himself, becoming what we are, so that we might become what He is. The Logos became man, so that man might become Logos. Being rich, He became poor for our sakes, so that through His poverty we might become rich [cf. 2 Corinthians 8.9]. In His great love for man He became like us, so that through every virtue we might become like HIm.
St Mark the Ascetic. The Philokalia (Faber & Faber edition). Book 1, page 155.

A brother went to the mountain of Pherme to visit a great Elder, and said to him: “Abba, what am I to do, for my soul is perishing?” “Why so, my child?” asked the Elder. “When I was in the world,” replied the brother, “I fasted gladly, kept vigil a great deal, and felt much compunction and fervent zeal; but now I do not see anything good in my soul.” The Elder responded to him: “Believe me, child, that whatever you did when you were in the world was not acceptable to God, because in so doing those things you were urged on by vainglory and the praise of men. This is why Satan did not make war on you. He had no interest in breaking your eagerness, because you derived no benefit from it whatever.

“But now, when he sees that you have been called by Christ and are His soldier, and have come forth to oppose him, he has armed himself against you. Thus, the one Psalm that you say with compunction here is more pleasing to God than the thousands that you used to say in the world. Here, God more gladly accepts your small amount of fasting than the weeks of fasting that you undertook in the world.”

“Now I do not fast at all,” answered the brother; “rather, I have lost all the good things that I had in the world.” “What you now have is sufficient for you,” said the Elder; “only be patient and it will be well with you.”

But the brother persisted and said: “Abba, my soul is perishing.” The Elder replied to him: “Believe me, brother, I did not want to say this to you, so as not to destroy your solicitude; but since I see that Satan has brought you to a state of indifference, I tell you: It is prideful for you to suppose that when you were in the world you did good and lived well; for this is how the Pharisee thought (when he was boasting in the Temple), and he lost all the good that he had accomplished. Now if, on the other hand, you think that you are not doing anything good, this is sufficient for you to be saved; for this is humility. It was in this way (through humility and self-deprecation) that the Publican, who had done nothing good, was justified [St Luke 18.14]. A sinful and negligent man who feels contrition of heart and humility is more pleasing before God than one who does many good deeds, but is of the opinion that he has completely succeeded in accomplishing something good.” Receiving great benefit from this reply of the Abba, the brother made a prostration to the Elder and said to him: “Today, Abba, my soul has been saved because of you.”
The Evergetinos. Book I, Hypothesis 44, section C.2.

Abba Poemen said about Abba Isidore, that when his thoughts said to him, “You are now a great ascetic,” he would reply to them: “Am I perhaps like Abba Antony? Or perhaps I have become perfect like Abba Pambo? Or, finally, perhaps I have attained the stature of the other Fathers who pleased God?” By responding this way he gave himself rest, and the thoughts withdrew and fled. When, once more, the enemies of our soul, the demons, caused him to be discouraged by telling him that after all this he would be cast into Hell, he would reply to them, “Even if I am cast into Hell, I will assuredly find you beneath me.”
The Evergetinos. Book I, Hypothesis 45, section A.23.

A brother asked Abba Sisoes: “Abba, I perceive that the remembrance of God remains with me.” “It is not important that your mind is with God,” replied the Elder. “What is important is that you see yourself as being below all other creatures. This is why physical labor leads to humility.”
The Evergetinos. Book I, Hypothesis 45, section A.48.

Abba Sisoes used to say that the way that leads to humility is abstinence, unceasing prayer to God, and the struggle to be lower than every man.
The Evergetinos. Book I, Hypothesis 45, section A.51.

An Elder said: “Do not be humble only in speech, but also be humble of mind; for without humility, it is impossible to be exalted in Godly works.”
The Evergetinos. Book I, Hypothesis 45, section A.57.

An Elder was once asked, “When does the soul acquire humility?” He answered: “When it thinks about its own vices.”
The Evergetinos. Book I, Hypothesis 45, section A.60.

Once some people went to the Thebaid to an Elder, taking with them a demonized man for him to cure. The Elder refused, since he did not consider himself worthy; but after they implored him many times, he said to the demon: “Come out of God’s creature.” The demon answered: “I am coming out; but I ask you to tell me one thing: Who are the goats and who are the sheep?” [St Matthew 25.31-46] “I am the goats,” replied the Elder, “and as for the sheep, God knows who they are.” As soon as the demon heard this answer, he cried out with a loud voice: “I am coming out because of your humility”; and at that very moment, he came out of the demonized man.
The Evergetinos. Book I, Hypothesis 45, section A.67.

An Elder said that if one humbles himself and says to someone, “Forgive me,” he burns up the demons.
The Evergetinos. Book I, Hypothesis 45, section A.70.

An Elder was asked: “What is humility?” He replied: “Humility is a great and Divine work; the path that leads to humility consists in bodily labors and in considering yourself a sinner beneath everyone else.” The brother who had posed the question asked again: “What does it mean to be beneath everyone else?” The Elder replied: “It means not to be concerned about the sins of others, but only about your own, and to pray to God unceasingly.”
The Evergetinos. Book I, Hypothesis 45, section A.72.

An Elder said: “If you hear of the wondrous lives of the Holy Fathers and feel warmth in your heart, and if you wish to emulate them, you should undertake this by invoking the Name of the Lord, that He might strengthen you in the task that you have chosen. And if, with God’s help, you successfully fulfill this goal of yours, be thankful to Him Who helped you; but if you cannot fulfill it, recognize your weakness until your dying day, regarding yourself as inept, poor, and impatient. You should always rebuke your soul for beginning something and not completing it. In this way you can be saved.”
The Evergetinos. Book I, Hypothesis 45, section A.81.

From Saint Ephraim: The beginning of the bearing of fruit is the flower, and the beginning of humility is submission in the Lord; for he who acquires submissiveness is compliant, readily obedient, gentle, and accords honor to both small and great; and I believe that such a one will receive eternal life as a reward from the Lord.
The Evergetinos. Book I, Hypothesis 45, section B.1.

From Abba Isaiah: Brother, accustom your tongue to saying, “Forgive me,” and humility will come to you; love humility, and it will shield you from your sins.
The Evergetinos. Book I, Hypothesis 45, section C.2.

From Abba Mark: Just as it is foreign to one who is repenting to be prideful, so also is it impossible for one who willfully sins to be humble of mind. Humility is not the accusation of one’s conscience, but the most profound and sure knowledge of God’s Grace and His compassion for mankind. If we have cultivated humility, we have no need of chastisement. All of the evils and woes that happen to us are the result of our pride. For if the messenger of Satan was given to the Apostle Paul to test him, lest he become conceited [cf. II Corinthians 12.7-9], assuredly much more will Satan himself be assigned to trample on us, the proud, until we are humbled.

Our forefathers were masters of houses, possessed wealth, had wives, and provided for children; still, in spite of all this, they communed with God, on account of their unbounded humility. However, we have withdrawn from the world, spurned wealth, and forsaken our relatives, thinking that we are close to God; yet, in spite of all this, the demons jeer at us because of our pride. He who is proud does not know himself; for if he knew himself, and his foolishness and his weakness, he would not be prideful. He who does not know himself—how can he know God? If he cannot understand the folly in which he is nurtured, how will he be able to understand the wisdom of God, from which he is so far removed and to which he is a complete stranger?

For he who knows God sees the majesty of God inside his soul, as in a mirror, and is humbled, as the Blessed Job says: “I have heard of Thee before by the ear; but now mine eye hath seen Thee. Wherefore I have counted myself vile and have melted; I regard myself as dust and ashes” [Job 42.5-6]. Those who emulate Job see God; those who see Him know Him. If, therefore, we wish to see God, let us pity ourselves and be humble of mind, so that we may not only see Him face to face, but also delight in Him, having Him dwelling and residing in us. For in this way, our folly will be made wise through His wisdom and our weakness will be strengthened through His power, which will fortify us in our Lord Jesus Christ, Who deemed us worthy of this bounty.
The Evergetinos. Book I, Hypothesis 45, section D.

From St Maximos: Humility is constant prayer combined with tears and toil, for it always calls upon God for help and does not allow a man to be recklessly confident in his own abilities and wisdom or to behave arrogantly towards another; these are dangerous diseases of the passion of pride.
The Evergetinos. Book I, Hypothesis 45, section F.

I know a man who loves God with great intensity, and yet grieves because he does not love Him as much as he could wish. His soul is ceaselessly filled with burning desire that God should be glorified in him and that he himself should be as nothing. This man does not think of what he is, even when others praise him. In his great desire for humility he does not think of his priestly rank, but performs his ministry as the rules enjoin. In his extreme love for God, he strips himself of any thought of his own dignity; and with a spirit of humility he buries in the depths of divine love any pride to which his high position might give rise. Thus, out of desire to humble himself, he always sees himself in his own mind as a useless servant, extraneous to the rank he holds. We too should do the same, fleeing all honour and glory in the overflowing richness of our love for the Lord who loves us so greatly.
St Diadochos of Photiki, “On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination,” section 13. The Philokalia (Faber & Faber ed.), Book 1, page 256.

Humility is hard to acquire, and the deeper it is, the greater the struggle needed to gain it. There are two different ways in which it comes to those who share in divine knowledge. In the case of one who has advanced halfway along the path of spiritual experience, his self-will is humbled either by bodily weakness, or by people gratuitously hostile to those pursuing righteousness, or by evil thoughts. But when the intellect fully and consciously senses the illumination of God’s grace, the soul possesses a humility which is, as it were, natural. Wholly filled with divine blessedness, it can no longer be puffed up with its own glory; for even if it carries out God’s commandments ceaselessly, it still considers itself more humble than all other souls because it shares His forebearance. The first type of humility is usually marked by remorse and despondency, the second by joy and an enlightened reverence. Hence, as I have said, the first is found in those half-way along the spiritual path, while the second is given to those nearing perfection. That is why the first is often undermined by material prosperity, while the second, even if offered all the kingdoms of this world, is not elated and is proof against the arrows of sin. Being wholly spiritual, it is completely indifferent to all material glory. We cannot acquire the second without having passed through the first; for unless God’s grace begins by softening our will by means of the first, testing it through assaults of the passions, we cannot receive the riches of the second.
St Diadochos of Photiki, “On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination,” section 95. The Philokalia (Faber & Faber ed.), Book 1, pp 292-293.

Humility is a nameless grace in the soul, its name known only to those who have learned it by experience. It is unspeakable wealth, a name and gift from God, for it is said: Learn not from an angel, nor from man, for from a book, but from Me, that is, from My indwelling, from My illumination and action in you; for I am meek and humble in heart and in thought and in spirit, and your souls shall find rest from conflicts and relief from thoughts.
St John Climacus. The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Holy Transfiguration Monastery edition), Step 25 (“On the destroyer of the passions, most sublime humility, which is rooted in spiritual perception”), section 3; page 150.

Painstaking repentance, mourning cleansed of all impurity, and holy humility in beginners, are as different and distinct from each other as yeast and flour from bread. By open repentance the soul is broken and refined; it is brought to a certain unity, I will even say a commingling with God, by means of the water of genuine mourning. Then, kindled by the fire of the Lord, blessed humility becomes bread and is made firm without the leaven of pride. Therefore, when this holy three-fold cord, or, rather heavenly rainbow, unites into one power and activity, it acquires its own effects and properties. And whatever you name as an indication of one of them, is a token also of another. And so, by a brief demonstration, I shall try to prove what I have just said.

The first and paramount property of this excellent and admirable trinity is the acceptance of indignity with the greatest pleasure, when the soul receives it with outstretched hands and welcomes it as something that relieves and cauterizes diseases of the soul and great sins. The second property is the loss of all bad temper, and humility at its subsiding. The third and highest degree is a true distrust of one’s good qualities and a constant desire to learn.

Christ is the end of the Law and the Prophets for righteousness to everyone that believeth. And the end of the impure passions is vainglory and pride for everyone who is inattentive. But their destroyer, this spiritual stag [=humility], keeps him who lives with it immune from all deadly poison. For where can the poison of hypocrisy appear in humility? Where is the poison of calumny? And where will a snake nestle and hide? Will it not rather be drawn out of the earth of the heart, and be killed and destroyed?

In union with humility, it is impossible that there should be any appearance of hatred, or any kind of dispute, or even a sniff of disobedience, unless perhaps the Faith is called in question.

He who has been united with humility as his bride is above all gentle, kind, easily moved to compunction, sympathetic, calm, bright, compliant, inoffensive, vigilant, not indolent and (why say more?) free from passion; for the Lord remembered us in our humility, and redeemed us from our enemies, and our passions and impurities.
St John Climacus. The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Holy Transfiguration Monastery edition), Step 25 (“On the destroyer of the passions, most sublime humility, which is rooted in spiritual perception”), section 6-10; pp 151-152.

He who is hastening to that tranquil harbour of humility will never cease to do all that he can, and will drive himself on by words and thoughts and afterthoughts and various means, by investigations and researches, and by his whole life, by prayers and supplication, meditating and reflecting, and using all imaginable means until, with God’s help and by abiding in humiliations and the most despised conditions and by toils, he delivers the ship of his soul from the ever-recurring storms of the sea of vainglory. For he who is delivered from this sin, is easily forgiven all the rest of his sins, like the publican in the Gospel.
St John Climacus. The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Holy Transfiguration Monastery edition), Step 25 (“On the destroyer of the passions, most sublime humility, which is rooted in spiritual perception”), section 34; pp 155-156.

Χριστος ανεστη!