Monday, January 14, 2008

The Cynic Hypothesis Once More!

Chris is fairly nuanced in his criticism and he acknowledges some of the weaker elements of the Cynic hypothesis, nonetheless, he still finds that it has a certain utility in relation to the Q tradition. He finds the value of Cynic parallels with Q to be: (1) It avoids treating the Q woes in a law-gospel antithesis indicative of Protestantism; (2) It allowed the practice of the Q community in a systematic way that was eventually developed by the Christian Origins seminar; and (3) It avoids supersessionism and refutes the view that all pagan parallels are irrelevant to early Christianity. In response:
(1) Let us all say together the Meieranean Creed: "I cannot help thinking that biblical scholarship would be greatly advanced if every morning all exegetes would repeat as a mantra: 'Q is a hypothetical document whose exact extension, wording, originating community, strata, and stages of redaction cannot be known.' This daily devotion might save us flights of fancy that are destined, in my view, to end in skepticism." (John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol 2, p. 178). In case I appear too heavy-handed in my criticism about Q reconstructions consider the following remarks: Dunn (Jesus Remembered, 158) writes, “The various attempts to build hypothesis upon presupposition can scarcely inspire confidence in the outcome.” S. G. Wilson (“Review of The Formation of Q,” University of Toronto Quarterly 58 [1988]: 227-28) declares that Kloppenborg’s proposal “involves hypothesis upon hypothesis upon hypothesis, a house of cards which can easily tumble.”Call me a sceptic if you wish, but if the best value of the Cynic hypothesis is explaining the contours and dynamics of a document and a community that might not have even existed, I find it hard to get too excited about its utility and virtue. That said, I am willing to posit Q as a working hypothesis (Goodacre has not convinced me just yet, but he has made me far more cautious about Q itself) but talk of stages of redaction and a Q community are shifting to a more tenuous and uncertain realm. Much of Q studies reminds of the markings on the fringes of medieval nautical maps which say on the outer edges: And here there be dragons! In other words, no-one knows for certain what is beyond and before Q.
(2) Drawing attention to the Cynic tradition was principally the work of Hengel and Theissen who noted its analogy to elements of the Jesus tradition (not the least of which is the mission discourse in Mark 6). But they did not take in the direction of Mack, Vaage, Seeley, Crossan, Downing, Cameron, Price which is exactly why Theissen called the Jesus Seminar's Jesus the "Californian Jesus".
(3) The Q hypothesis has been related very closely to a high level of Hellenisation in Galilee as Chris himself notes. Here I commend the work of J.L. Reed who has pointed out that the Q tradition seems to know of some contact between Jesus and an urban environment, but with M.A. Chancey we have to keep in mind that Galilee was only in its infancy of hellenization in the first century.
(4) I also like the short comment of H.C. Kee: "Jesus’ wisdom does not consist of pious, timeless aphorisms on an allegedly Cynic model, as a contingent of New Testament scholars have tried to show. The true analogue between Jesus and the Stoic-Cynic tradition is rather what might be called an eschatological-ethical theme: the gods will reward and sustain the king who honors virtue, who is humane, and who is characterized by prudence (phronesis), temperance (sophrosune), justice (dikaiosune), and courage (andreia)." (H.C. Kee, The Beginnings of Christianity, 459).
I have made other comments on the Cynic Hypothesis here and in my EQ article on "The Peril of Modernizing Jesus and the crisis of not contemporizing the Christ" (2006).

1 comment:

Kyle Fever said...

What are your thoughts on Gerald Downing's comparisons between Paul and the Cynics? Just curious.
BTW--are you still interested in the Paul and Diaspora Judaism topic? Remember our conversation at SBL?....I can still send you some of my musings (hoping to be published) on the topic, if you are still interested. One more note: I don't think Thomas Tobin (dissertation supervisor) has the time for the Romans commentary you mentioned at SBL, since he is working on a Philo commentary.

Kyle Fever