Saturday, December 03, 2005

Search for the Historical Jesus 8

This is the title of Chapter 5, in Crossan's book, Jesus, A Revolutionary Biography. (All words in italics are Crossan's unless I attribute them to a different source.)

In this chapter, his subject is the "mission" of Jesus' disciples going from village to village in Galilee. Before I read this book, I assumed that these men and women were preaching "the word of God" to their fellow peasants. However, Crossan sees things differently as he examines what we can determine from a historical perspective, not a theological one.

Crossan sees Jesus as a radical egalitarian, who perceives the Kingdom of God can and does exist in the present --- if we only live differently and have a different vision. In the world of that time values pivoted on -- honor and shame -- and on -- patronage and clientage. Jesus' practice of the "open table," or open commensality, challenged the first pair; his practice of healing challenged the latter pair.

As I understand Crossan, he doesn't see large numbers of disciples descending on a village, but probably pairs of disciples. These disciples were probably not the twelve termed the "Apostles," but those who have been healed by Jesus from what ever troubled them: spiritual or physical. They in turn become healers and set upon their mission of healing others. Women, Crossan believes. at times, formed one part of the pair. This --- going out to heal and bringing the good news --- was intended as a lesson in itself. On these missions they carried no staff, no sandals and no knapsack, i.e. they depended on those they spent time with: eating what was provided for them, accepting the shelter available. This was a kind of egalitarian reciprocity. Those sent were not the masters; those they spent time with healing and preaching were not the servants. "The mission we are talking about is not, like Paul's a dramatic thrust along major trade routes to urban centeers hundreds of miles apart, Yet it concerns the longest journey in the Greco-Roman world, maybe in any world --- the step across the threshold of a peasant stranger's home."

There were at this time in the ancient world another group of "radical missionaries who, in the first century, preached to the ordinary people a message both by what they said and how they lived, both by what they taught and how they dressed. Enter the Cynics."

"Cynicism was a Greek philosophical movement founded by Diogenes of Sinope."
They also traveled very lightly and exhibited and expressed a disdain and negation of the ordinary cultural values of this period. They cared nothing for riches or fame ---which when acquired and grasped--- cost one's freedom.

Today a cynic is considered a person who believes in nothing and doubts everything. This is not what a cynic meant in the first century of the common era. Here he/she was one who shunned attachments to things that caused a loss of independence and freedom.

"The Cynics' criticism was not directed, however, just at the materialism of Hellenistic cultures in the wake of either the Alexandrian or Augustan empires. It was directed more fundamentally at civilization itself, advocating a self-sufficiency modeled on that of nature rather than culture."

Jesus' purpose was social transformation of Jewish peasant society. Besides open commensality and healing --- the appearance, life style of these disciples staying at one small village and then moving on to another was, in itself, a lesson "...they could not dress to declare itinerant self-sufficiency but rather communal dependency. Itinerancy and dependency: heal, stay, move on." (emphasis is mine)

There are differences and simililarities between the Cynics and Jesus' disciples:
"Both are populists, appealing to the ordinary people; both are life style preachers, advocating their position not only by word but by deed, not only in theory but in practice; both use dress and equipment to symbolize dramatically their message. But he (Jesus) is rural; they are urban; he is organizing a communal movement, they are following an individual philosophy...."