What I’m reading today:
Non-retaliation in Early Jewish and New Testament Texts: Ethical Themes in Social Contexts by Gordon M. Zerbe.
Why? Because I want to know more about the idea of Jesus as an ethical teacher. Liberal views of Jesus tend to focus on the idea that what Jesus was all about was teaching a wonderful moral code of universal love and peace. I am not convinced. True, there are a couple of statements recorded in the Q material that suggest an ethical approach – love your enemies, turn the other cheek – but there are several reasons why I doubt that they represent an important part of what Jesus had to say.

First, there is the lack of centrality of these statements  – Matthew and Luke both feel free to chop them around and place them in their narrative in different ways. Secondly, they represent only a small proportion of the likely authentic sayings. Thirdly, the context appears to have been lost – again, Matthew and Luke find it necessary to provide their own. Finally, the teachings seem at times at odds with other sayings, and with the overall tone of the Kingdom of God message. I suspect that the meaning of these phrases is actually very much more limited and largely related to the eschatalogical emphasis of what Jesus was doing.

So I am reading Zerbe on the background to the ethic of non-retaliation in its early Jewish context. It looks interesting so far. Interestingly, he mentions documents from Qumran which imply that non-retaliation was seen not as a virtue in itself, but as a surrender to the sovereignty of God and part of the process by which the enemies became more culpable: “Why walk around with a little shotgun when the atomic blast is imminent?”

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2 Responses to “Non-Retaliation”

  1. thefuerstshallbelast Says:

    I get the appeal to Q and the created context of Matt and Luke, but I’m not sure that the non-violent ethic of Jesus is marginal. The crucifixion of Jesus is the supreme example of the non-violent ethic – thought it is lived, not merely spoken/taught. At least, that’s the way the early Christian communities seem to understand that event (well, one of the ways they understood that event).

    Interesting post. Will have to come back for future visits.

  2. godbothering Says:

    That’s an interesting point – but the crucifixion is not teaching, is it? I mean, not as in a clear statement of what this is supposed to represent. (You could argue that it’s a case of “Do as I do, not as I say”)

    Are there any statements by Jesus that link directly to his death as a model for non-violence? Are there any clear connections drawn between the crucifixion and non-violence in New Testament texts? I cannot think of any, but I am not by any means an expert.

    Thanks for commenting – I am still getting the hang of this thing.

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