Secular and Thematic

Posted: September 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

Secular and Thematic

Mark 2: 22. Luke 5: 37-38, Mark 3: 27, Luke 6:29, Luke 11: 17b-18

This week we take a quick look at some sayings most likely to have been from the mouth of Jesus and in doing so we will look for the challenge made to ancient wisdom by Jesus the sage. We hold in our minds the notion that this radical wisdom is to be found in Ambiguity, Hyperbole, and Common Sense. We do this in order to seek the voice print that Robert W. Funk refers to as the residue of the individual sayings most likely to be attributed to Jesus. This is because we have so little actual historical material and are reliant on his voice that emanates from the compendium of parables, aphorisms, and dialogues that we do have. We know that a voiceprint is a graphic or photographic representation of a person’s voice, uniquely characteristic of that individual speaker therefor the fragmentary discourse of Jesus we have constitutes what remains of his voiceprint. If a literary description is used for this modern method of turning sound into graphics or photograph, the discourse fragments most likely coming from Jesus would be described as his idiom— his distinctive way of speaking. The principal question about the data, however, is does the residue of his discourse provide a foundation large enough to enable a reconstruction of his idiom, or as Funk thinks, a reconstruction of his vision?

We also note that for good reason Funk doesn’t mention the traditional form we call the proverb, among the residue of Jesus’ discourse. The reason is that a proverb is the product of community wisdom or lore and as such, proverbs attributed to Jesus would not have originated with Jesus. Another reason is that given the ancient practice of attributing sayings from whatever source to sages and wise men in antiquity, it is not unusual that proverbs would be falsely attributed to Jesus as well. There is however at least one unquestionable proverb among the sayings attributed to Jesus by the Jesus Seminar, which is Mark 2: 17. We also note that proverbs and aphorisms are very similar, making it difficult to sort them out, one from the other? Dominic Crossan argues that a similarity and continuum exist between such brief sayings as the adage, aphorism, apothegm, epigram, fragment, gnome, proverb, maxim, sentence, and the saying; and that these short forms constitute a literary genre that he designates as the “prose miniature.” After a survey of the literature on these forms, he concludes that all these described prose units are related and constitute the broad field of gnomic discourse; such units he calls simply the “saying.” They are brief prose units or sayings as opposed to narrative, story, or parable. Crossan then distinguishes between the proverb and the aphorism (or epigram) on the basis of the authority to which each makes an appeal. Proverbs constitute collective wisdom and appeal to ancestral authority, while aphorisms are based on personal insight and appeal to individual authority. The characteristics of aphorisms are the following: an aphorism is a short pithy statement, produced by an independent mind; it is assertive and appeals to no outside authority; it employs overstatement, exaggeration, hyperbole, paradox, and understatement. As a general rule, aphorisms are not readily understood. And as we said last week to present the remains of the discourse of Jesus as isolated sayings without social or literary context would need to recognize the pre-literary phase, or oral period, in the trajectory of the Jesus tradition. It also helps the historical analysis of the sayings themselves apart from the hermeneutical applications of the evangelists. The current literary settings in the gospels derive from the authorial creativity of the evangelists and encourage readers to ponder the saying as it was understood by the evangelists. One problematical issue that emerges from this analysis of the saying apart from its literary context is that the Jesus Seminar authorized as originating with Jesus multiple versions of what appear to be highly similar sayings without explaining how they are related. Some of the sayings are virtually identical, but others, while clearly similar, have a different tenor or say remarkably different things (for example, compare Matt 5: 3 = Luke 6: 20b; and Matt 5: 6 = Luke 6: 21).

So, we enter today’s discussion with what we might call the raw data for a profile of Jesus, his Probable Sayings. Our particular sayings come from the section where all the sayings printed in red and pink in the Five Gospels. In the collective judgment of the members of the seminar these sayings form the residue of sayings that most probably originated with Jesus. In short then what we do today is to look at some sayings on the understanding that these sayings along with the parables are the raw data for developing a profile of Jesus.

And the goal of what we do today is to begin to develop a profile of Jesus relying on what he said rather than on what others said about him. This means that we think that all the sayings constitute approximately half of the resource material to use as a historical basis for such a profile. The parables constitute the other half of the available resources. The parables, we note constitute another problem given the history of parables interpretation. On the one hand, the sayings are one part of a dialogue between Jesus and his Judean audience in real time. In other words, they directly express his ideas to his contemporaries about issues he found important. The parables, on the other hand, only obliquely express his ideas. He is not speaking in his own persona directly to auditors in his own time and space about real time issues. The parables are fictional stories with invented characters, dialogues, soliloquies, and situations; each constitutes a realistic episode reflecting life in first-century Palestine. The difference is the parables are not autobiographical; Jesus is not a character in the stories but their inventor, and the narrative voice that relates them to whomever would listen. In the parables Jesus does not speak directly, but rather his invented characters speak out of their own circumstances, which Jesus invented in his design of the character and the narrative. The stories are at best oblique sources for Jesus.

Classifying the Sayings

Charles Hedrick classifies a saying for us in his book and we will look at a few of these, the last of which is one that appears in more than one classification. We remember here from previous weeks that the sayings can also be classified into several literary types such as proverb, aphorism etc. and the sayings we will look at today appeal either to traditional wisdom or common sense

The first two are classified as wine and wine making sayings: and they are our Mark 2: 22. Luke 5: 37-38 readings.

No one pours new wine into old skins otherwise the wine will burst the skins and be lost along with the skins. But new wine (is) for fresh skins.

In Jesus Seminar ranking the Mark reading has a pink ranking and it has three parallels, each more elaborate than Mark’s version: Matt 9: 17 which is considered gray; Luke 5: 37– 38 and Gos. Thom. 47c which are both pink rated. The saying has all the earmarks of common wisdom in its appeal to what “no one does.” Given the importance of agriculture in Palestine, the content of this saying would have been common knowledge to every farmer, and would be part of that lore (L.o.r.e) that responsible parents would teach their children. Viticulture was a cottage industry in Palestine, and virtually every farmer was a vintner and wine maker. New wine could not be put into old skins because it had not finished fermenting; the carbon dioxide produced by the fermentation process would cause old skins to burst, and then both wine and skin would be lost. Luke has a final concluding statement to the saying (Luke 5: 39a), which the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar also regarded as originating with Jesus: “No one upon drinking old [wine] desires new”. The Gospel of Thomas is a slightly different version of Luke 5: 39b, the verse after our reading.

The next three readings from Mark 3: 27, Luke 6:29 and Luke 11: 17b-18 are as classified as having a Violence theme;

Mark 3: 27

No one can enter the dwelling of the strong (man) to plunder his things, unless he first binds the strong (man), and then he may plunder his dwelling.

There are three parallels to this pink saying in Mark, all of them are considered by the Jesus Seminar to originate with Jesus. Matt 12: 29 turns Mark’s first statement into a question and the second statement becomes the answer to the question. Luke 11: 21– 22 expands and elaborates on Mark’s brief statement about what it would take to plunder the dwelling of a powerful man. The Gospel of Thomas 35 is the closest version to that of Mark. The saying’s appeal (Mark 3: 27) to what “no one can do” is an appeal to common sense. A powerful man is able to protect his property. It would be absurd to attempt a plundering of his dwelling without first neutralizing the powerful man. That is why no one can do it, for only a more powerful man is able to do it, as Luke’s version of the saying has it.

Luke 6: 29

To the one striking you on the cheek offer also the other, and from the one taking your outer garment do not withhold even the undergarment.

This saying derives from Q; its Matthean version (Matt 6: 39b– 40) is more graphic, specific, and confusing: “Whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also; to the one wanting to haul you to court to take your undergarment, let him also [have] the outer garment.” In Matthew, it is a slap on the right cheek, so it is the left that must be turned in order to comply with the saying. The context of the taking of the garments is specified— a judicial context. It is odd, however, that the plaintiff wants the undergarment. One would think that the suit would begin with the outer garment. In Luke, the blow appears to be an assault, whereas in Matthew it is an insulting slap (using the back of the right hand). In both versions of the saying the injured party is counseled to give up the remaining item of clothing and is hence left nude, or virtually nude.

Luke 11: 17b-18

Every kingdom divided against itself is devastated; a house against a house falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his rule endure? [Because you are saying I drive out demons by Beelzeboul.]

This saying appears in all three synoptic gospels, but only Luke’s version was thought by the Jesus Seminar to originate with Jesus. The explanation at the end (“because you are saying that I drive out demons by Beelzeboul”) is to explain the last statement in the saying Luke 11: 17– 18 which is (“how will Satan’s rule endure”) Charles Hedrick suggests is Luke’s attempt to connect Luke 11: 18 and 11: 19 in a coherent way. The versions in Matthew and Mark have clarified Luke’s more primitive version of the saying.

So, in conclusion for today, what do we come to? Well I think we have affirmed that what we know is not a lot and that what we do know is an invitation to search for more understanding. We know that the sayings are a key learning opportunity that complement the parables as material for understanding. We have confirmed I think that our contemporary approach to the scriptures, our philosophical approach to truth, and our understanding of God is on the right track. I also think it confirms that our Mission statement of ‘Honouring the Mind, Living The questions and exploring the adventure of Humanity’ is sound and encouraging of a future with intellectual integrity.

And for your amusement I offer some contemporary sayings for your examination.

The one with experience informs the present,

One who lives in the past limits the future,

To champion the past is to shadow the present,

Knowledge is due those who would save the past from itself,

The future comes from harmony between past and present.


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