Posted: Jul 24, 2013 4:58 pm
by Stein
Ultimately, Wells ended up re-framing his perspective toward a possible HJ, somewhen, somehow, because of the sayings, particular the parallel ones in Matt./Luke, sometimes referenced as the so-called "Q" sayings.

If someone like Wells ultimately found those sayings to be more persuasive as history than anything in the rest of the data, they certainly deserve close attention.

For sheer appearance frequency in the originals at relatively more independent and earlier strata levels, like Mark, Paul, or "Q" (instead of dependent levels like later spinoffs of Mark, etc.), two sayings in particular reappear the most, "There are last which shall be first" & "Lose your life to others to save it". On the off-chance, then, that those two may go back the earliest, we may be looking at two sayings here that Jesus himself may have stressed the most, more than some of the others, which may not even be from him at all.

Now clearly, of all the sayings, the golden rule became the most repeated in later generations. But that saying is not pertinent here. Unlike the two already cited, the golden rule is not original to Jesus at all, first appearing in an ancient Egyptian tale, "Eloquent Peasant", where the Golden Rule is introduced as "Act for the man who acts, to cause him to act". Centuries later, a disciple talking with Confucius in the Analects assures Confucius that "I won't do to others what I would not wish done to me", to which Confucius responds "Tzu-Lu, you're not at that level yet!"

The other two cited sayings here, on the other hand, appear, in fact, as core principles, entirely Jesus's own, & a justified claim to fame -- justified, that is, in that no one else in history has laid claim to them. They first appear as Jesus's and they remain so for the balance of the historic record. Similarly, the most recent research appears to confirm "Love your enemies" as unique to Jesus. The first two, in appearing to be unique, have not even been as exhaustively researched as "Love your enemies". The latter has been subjected to the most intense scrutiny of all -- and it is also a saying associated with some of the earliest textual strata we have. Yes, plenty before Jesus have said things like "Don't hate those that hate you", or "Respond to injury without injury", and so on. But pro-active encouragement to go out and actually love one's enemies is a step too far for every other thinker known in history.

Consequently, going by the textual and strata patterns, the central message of the sayings is not the golden rule but either "There are last which shall be first" or "Lose your life to others to save it" -- or "Love your enemies". These are all unique to Jesus, but not the golden rule. These three are of the most central historic importance then, and in fact, their rapidest success was among the slaves -- hardly a coincidence. The philosophy is both wise & original here if we stick to these and similarly multiply attested "planks".

This philosophy would have spread like wildfire no matter what, purely because of its radical aspects. No, most don't follow it, of course, but that doesn't stop it from making a splash purely because of its eccentricity. It achieves notoriety that way instead of through actual practice. Still, it's something to ponder the even greater impact it might have had if the noxious mumbo-jumbo that the church added on hadn't effectively muffled it. But it did. For a while, it was even forbidden for anyone but church officials to even look at the Beatitudes, for instance, much less distribute them. Only the virgin birth and the post-Resurrection appearances were distributed widely -- the latest and least creditable accretions of all to the textual strata. No surprise, of course. (And even these were generally distributed in paraphrase, not in the original wordings.) The church hierarchy clearly detested, feared and loathed all the social commentary but found the mumbo-jumbo innocuous. So churchmen have done their muffling work most efficiently: To this day, even on freethought sites in the twenty-first century, it's the bogus magic man that gets talked about, not the radical social thinker. So congratulations, churchmen, and a hearty Fuck you.

What also stamps certain "planks" like "Love your enemies" as so unusual is that sayings like this don't aid the sort of cult-think typical of brainwashers like the churchmen whose chief interest is in promoting a circle-the-wagons siege mentality instead. For altruism as startling as "Love your enemies", it remains unlikely, though not impossible, that a mere transcribing disciple -- however dedicated to the spirit of a social radical like Jesus -- would bother to offer caveats admonishing a general love of one's opponents when his primary concern would be to promote an acceptance of Christians and Christianity above all. Usually, planks established "by committee" inculcate an us/them dynamic, not Love your enemies.

It remains barely possible that someone else sincerely extrapolated the fundamentals of Jesus' message through proselytizing with admonishments so profoundly selfless and specific as these, perhaps admonishments not strictly reflecting the letter of Jesus' own formulations at all, merely their spirit. Nevertheless, that still seems less likely than one lone visionary eccentric speaking for himself without yet having some "institution" in mind at all. Caveats of such specific selflessness just come more plausibly from an independent pioneer, not from later followers who might sometimes be "plus royaliste que le roi", for whom caring for one's enemies would be the last thing they'd have in mind. In the end then, who else but Jesus himself could most plausibly have voiced such a warning against knee-jerk vindictiveness? That consideration alone would seem to confirm the general authenticity of the so-called "Q" passages.

So far, no other name than Jesus is associated with these sayings. And since there's a symbiotic textual history attached to the smallest nexus of these sayings -- and by coincidence, the most radical nexus -- tying them together at a very early textual stage -- historians go with the more likely option rather than the less likely: The more likely is that a small core of sayings among the couple of hundred out there more likely than not comes from one individual flouting his peers, rather than several hucksters snake-oil-ing them en masse in the name of a "leader".

Given that Wells ultimately felt that this tiny nexus of sayings comes off as more plausibly historic than the balance of the data, here's a question for a-historicists: WHO WAS THAT ONE INDIVIDUAL WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE EARLIEST RADICAL NEXUS OF SAYINGS IF IT WAS NOT JESUS? And if you still think that pro-active stuff like Love your enemies can be generated purely by committee.................. :roll: