I have four items for my write-up today on Ben Witherington III’s Jesus the Sage:
1. A question that Witherington addresses is whether or not Jesus was influenced by the Cynics. There are issues that are relevant to this, such as the influence of Greek culture on first century Palestine; the existence of Cynics in Gadara, an area that is close to Galilee, along with their dates; similarities and differences between Jesus and the Cynics; and the question of the direction of influence—-if Jesus influenced the Cynics, or vice versa. Witherington tackles these questions, some of which are debated. There are differences of opinion about the extent of Hellenism in first century Palestine. While there were Cynics in Gadara, Witherington states that they date after Jesus, and yet they overlap in time with sources about Jesus (i.e., Q). There are similarities in the sayings of Jesus and those of the Cynics, but nothing about Jesus’ lifestyle was distinctly Cynic, for he was not crass, he did not abhor all institutions, and he did not promote a back-to-nature worldview. And Witherington acknowledges the possibility that Jesus could have influenced the Cynics. Although Witherington is open to the chance that Cynics influenced Jesus, on some level, my impression is that, overall, he sees no necessary connection between the two. Witherington says that the Cynics and Jesus could have had similar sayings because both independently made similar common-sense observations about life.
2. On page 101, Witherington argues against a scholar who claims that there was an Aramaic original for the Wisdom of Solomon on account of its occasional clumsy Greek and Semiticisms. Witherington says that this could be due to the author’s knowledge of Scripture, and that people don’t say that there were Aramaic originals to Paul’s letters, even though Paul uses “Greek malapropisms and Semiticisms”!
3. Mark 2:27 says that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Sabbatarians have appealed to this verse to argue that the Sabbath is a creation-ordinance and is for all people, not just the Jews. On page 168, Witherington appears to go that route, at first, for he notes that the Sabbath was made after man. But then he says that the Sabbath was made for the “(Jewish) man”.
Something that I found interesting was Witherington’s reference to Jubilees 2:18ff., which says that the Sabbath was kept in heaven, but God created Israel so that there would be a people keeping the Sabbath on earth. For Witherington, Mark 2:27 is the opposite of Jubilees, which is essentially saying that the Jewish people were made for the Sabbath!
4. On page 194, Witherington talks about why the priest and the levite did not help the wounded man in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Essentially, if the man died while they were helping him, they would become defiled, and thus they would be unable to handle the tithe and to feed themselves and their families. Witherington also refers to Mishnah Berakhot 7:7 (which I cannot find), which states that “he that suffers uncleanness because of the dead is unqualified until he pledges himself to suffer uncleanness no more for the dead.” Witherington asks if the priest or Levite, if they helped the man and he died, would jeopardize any opportunity for themselves to attend to their own family members who’d die. Witherington inquires if the priest and the Levite considered the man to be dead, perhaps to make them look guilty. But, overall, Witherington argues that Jesus was elevating the moral above the ritual.