Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 7)

In the same letter, however, Paul can be seen engaging in what appears to be a client-like heralding of the “churches of Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 8:1b), stressing “that during a severe ordeal of suffering, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in the wealth of their generosity” (8:2).  On the surface, this appears to be Paul subordinating himself to this particular church, speaking of them as a client would a patron.  Of significance though, is that “they gave according to their means and beyond their means” (8:3a).  So on the contrary, this is not the act of a patron. 

In that day, a patron did not diminish his own comfort and standing to serve a client.  With that world’s ultimate patron, that being Caesar, always looming in the background as Paul continually operates in a counter-imperial mindset (as does Jesus as well-demonstrated by the Gospel-authors presentation of Him), a distinction between the patronage of Caesar and Jesus is drawn, as Paul writes “For you the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although He was rich, He became poor for your sakes, so that you by His poverty could become rich” (8:9).  Jesus is an altogether different type of patron. 

This is precisely what Paul has described as the actions of the churches of Macedonia.  Indeed, this is the act of a community vested by the Spirit of the Creator God.  Beyond that, “They did so voluntarily, begging us with great earnestness for the blessing and fellowship of helping the saints” (8:3b-4).  Patron’s did not act voluntarily, but rather, they acted upon request, calculating how fulfilling the request and meeting a need would impact their honor standing.  Not only is this not what has occurred with the Macedonian churches, but they went to the other end, to the end of shame, begging Paul to allow them to participate.  It’s almost as if there are no definitions or culturally recognized categories for what Paul is describing.  Conceivably, this can be viewed as something entirely new in the world, and if one takes the position that the incarnation, crucifixion, and Resurrection changed everything, then it is difficult to disagree with that assessment. 

Paul did not wish to be viewed, on a human and cultural level, as either patron or client.  On a cosmic level things were different.  He had a patron (Jesus) and he was most certainly a client, and this impacted every area of life, while also going against the cultural grain of the Greco-Roman world.  This even went against the grain of his own culture, as the popular (generalized) opinion within the world of Israel was that when their God took it upon Himself to act as Messiah, that the Gentiles would then become the clients of Jews, with the Gentiles relying on Israel and Israel’s special relationship with the Creator God that they might derive the obvious benefits that had been reserved to national Israel.  Something like this attitude is on display when Paul is dealing with Jew/Gentile issues in the churches (Ephesians, Galatians and Romans particularly, and also in the record of the book of Acts). 

Paul was perfectly content with divesting all presumed honor so that he might be looked upon as a client to the cosmic King and the Creator God.  This becomes obvious as one moves forward in the first chapter of the letter to Timothy.  Paul speaks in the voice of a client, heralding his supreme patron, and can be heard to say “I am grateful to the one who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me faithful in putting me into ministry, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man.  But I was treated with mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief” (1:12-13).  Here, it is good to be aware that the celebration of the compassion and mercy (along with the loyalty, patience, and humility) of one’s patron was a standard feature of clientele praise. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 6)

So what does all of this patron-client talk have to do with Paul’s first letter to Timothy?  What’s the point of the examples of clients honoring their patrons, be it by heralding, inscriptions, or some other manner?  Is Paul to be viewed as Timothy’s patron?  Is one to somehow perceive Timothy as being Paul’s client?  Though something like that could certainly be gleaned from the introduction to the letter, when Paul writes “to Timothy, my genuine child in the faith.  Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord!” (1:2), it would be a stretch to assert this as being true to the situation.  Observers, however, could possibly infer such a relationship, and it is possible that Paul has this potentiality in mind.  With that in mind, Timothy will be considered in short order, but another detour is most necessary.    

Paul, much like Jesus, does not wish to be viewed as a patron.  At the same time, Paul took steps during the course of his ministry to make sure that he is not looked upon as being a client either, as this, according to his way of thinking, would diminish his effectiveness and run contrary to what needs to happen in the communities envisioned by the messianic mission and the kingdom of the covenant God.  Thus there is a stark emphasis on this aversion in what is looked to as Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. 

In the eleventh chapter Paul can be heard asking “did I commit a sin by humbling myself so that you could be exalted, because I proclaimed the Gospel to you free of charge?  I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so that I could serve you!  When I was with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone…  I kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so…  And what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may eliminate any opportunity for those who want a chance to be regarded as our equals in the things they boast about” (2 Corinthians 11:7-9a,9c,12). 

Not only is Paul expressing his independence from this church, while also diminishing the patron-client relationship into which others might naturally enter in their service of the church, one must notice that Paul also debases himself by referring to himself as a robber.  Such words, along with the other rhetorically oriented words of debasement, demonstrate that Paul is not attempting to elevate himself in any way, but that he truly desires to serve the churches for their edification. 

In chapter twelve, he reiterates and emphasizes his eschewing of patronage and clientage, writing “I will not be a burden to you, because I do not want your possessions, but you.  For children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.   Now I will most gladly spend and be spent for your lives…  I have not burdened you” (12:14b-15a,16b).  If Paul’s words are heard merely as some type of erection of spiritual laws and the relationship between children and parents, dismissing the patron-client constructs of his world and forgetting the significant amount of time and attention this congregation received from Paul, a great deal of what is being communicated to the Corinthian church will be missed.  The reader do himself a tremendous service by gaining familiarity with the cultural dynamics of Paul’s world, which, of course, were the same cultural dynamics at work in the world of Jesus.  This opens up the world of the Gospel, making the mental application in vastly different worlds that much easier, while at the same time making the application of the message of the Gospel even more challenging. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 5)

A client would also be expected to publicly attest to the honor of their patron.  If and when possible, a client would expend the effort to make a lasting, public pronouncement of said honor by having an inscription placed on a public monument of a public building, that all may see and realize the honor and generosity of their patron.  On a monument in Corinth that dates from the middle of the first century, one can read an inscription in honor of a man named Julius Spartiaticus, who was looked upon and acknowledged as an important patron to the tribe of Calpurnia.  He too would have been a contemporary of Paul. 

The inscription, offered by his clients, reads: “Gaius Julius, Son of Laco, Grandson of Eurycles, [of the tribe] Fabia, Spartiaticus, Procurator of Caesar and Augusta Agrippina, Tribume of the Soldiers, Awarded a Public Horse By the Deified Claudius, Flamen Of the Deified Julius, Pontifex, Duovir Quinquennalis twice, Agonthete of the Isthmian and Caesar-Augustan Games, High Priest of the House of Augustus In Perpetuity, First of the Achaeans.  Because of his Virtue and Eager and all-encompassing munificence toward the Divine House And toward our Colony, the tribesmen Of the Tribe Calpurnia [Dedicated this] to their Patron.”

Apart from inscriptions on monuments and buildings which, understandably, could be quite expensive and therefore limited only to being provided by the wealthier clients of even wealthier patrons (remembering that, apart from the Caesar himself, everybody was a client of somebody at some level), the honor of a patron could be expressed through the employment of a herald.  It is possible to find some excellent Scriptural example of somebody being heralded in the book of Esther.  There, Mordecai is heralded by Haman.  “He led him about on the horse throughout the city, calling before him, ‘So shall it be done to the man whom the king wishes to honor!’” (6:11b)  Though this is certainly not an instance of a client heralding a patron, it is an example of somebody being honored through the employment of a herald---albeit in this case an unwilling herald. 

The Gospel of Luke presents a record of something that would have been understood as a clear instance of heralding.  Given the early church’s position concerning who Jesus was and how He was worshiped in the years between His Resurrection and the composition of Luke’s Gospel, the angel of the Lord making an appearance to the shepherds in the field and telling them to “Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David.  He is Christ the Lord” (2:10b-11), would have been perceived as an instance of a patron (the Creator God manifest) being heralded (by one of His angels).  This is not a ground-breaking thought, especially considering the song “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”  However, the activity being referenced by the song asks to be comprehended according to a world defined by honor, the role of heralding, and the governing dynamics of the patron-client relationship. 

Speaking to this activity, and doing so from the basis of a clear knowledge of and undoubted participation in the patron-client system, along with a thoroughgoing knowledge of the role of honor in his world, Dio Chrysostom, an orator, writer, philosopher, and historian of the Roman Empire who was also contemporary with the Apostle Paul, wrote: “But when we come to men, they require crowns, images, the right of precedence, and being kept in remembrance; and many in times past have even given up their lives just in order that they might get a statue and have their name announced by the herald or receive some other honor and leave to succeeding generations a fair name and remembrance of themselves.” 

One could even take these words and compose an imaginary speech by a client, in honor of a patron, hearing something like “This man deserves crowns upon his head.  He should have images erected in his honor.  He and his family should have precedence of place at all public functions.  His name should be kept in remembrance.  With complete disregard for his own safety, he risked his life, though he expected no statues.  He placed himself at the mercy of the gods, though the idea of a herald announcing his exploits was far from his mind.  Because he had acted in complete altruism, with no regard for honor, he should be honored, as should his progeny, for generations to come.”       

Friday, October 17, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 4)

Though the patron-client system functioned at multiple levels, in which the client of one patron could also have clients of his own, it would be obvious that the most noble of families could have large numbers of clients supporting them in their endeavors.  Along the same lines, entire kingdoms or nations, once conquered and made subservient, could become clients to the Roman commander that had conquered them.  Such was the way of the world. 

Of course, if clients had clients, and if this reached all the way down to the basest level of society, it would also hold true for the other side of the ladder.  Even a noble family would be the clients of a more honorable family, with this being the case all the way up to, in the days of Jesus and subsequently of the Apostle Paul, the Caesar himself.  Ultimately, all were looked upon as clients of Caesar, who was faithful and loyal to his subjects.  Those subjects, in turn, were to be faithful and loyal to Caesar.  This ideal was embodied in the common phrase “ek pistis eis pistin,” which is often translated as “from faith to faith”.  The Apostle Paul borrowed this common and well-known phraseology and subversively put it to use in his letter to the Romans (1:17).

It is this system of patronage that truly formed the foundation of the Roman state.  Not only did it serve to create stability, but the unwavering loyalty of clients could aid certain families in retaining power for extended periods of time.  At the same time, it created something of a welfare network, which was especially useful within an empire that lacked the means (or, at least, did not direct those means) to support those most in need and incapable of providing for themselves. 

The client system that surrounded a patron would look out for its members, ensuring that no harm would come to its own.  If one member of the client group would be struck down by poverty, the other clients, and most likely the patron as well, would see to it that the one in need could get a loan.  In the worst case, they would see to it that their fellow client would receive a decent funeral.  If the patron was unable to provide assistance personally, he would orchestrate the assistance (gaining honor), perhaps asking other clients to come to the aid of another that had fallen on hard time. 

In continuing to explore the patron-client dynamic of Paul’s day, one can look to Seneca---a Roman philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and humorist that was a contemporary of the Apostle Paul.  Seneca wrote: “Let us, therefore, show how acceptable a gift is by loudly expressing our gratitude for it; and let us do so, not only in the hearing of the giver, but everywhere.  He who receives a benefit with gratitude, repays the first installment of it.”  This statement would reflect the general attitude of a client towards his patron, who would be looked upon as the source of gifts.  For what it’s worth, Seneca himself was a tutor of the Emperor Nero, later becoming an advisor.  Most assuredly, he would have considered Nero to be his patron, so though these words would be generally reflective of the patron-client relationship, they would most likely be penned with the Caesar in mind.    

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 3)

If one does not operate from within an awareness of the patron-client system of the ancient world, one will undoubtedly miss what would have been obvious to the witnesses of these things and to those to whom these stories came, whether in oral or written form.  That is not to say that it will not be possible to understand the overarching Gospel message (Jesus is Lord), but rather, that readings and the ability to apply that which is gleaned and learned from those readings will be richer by orders of great magnitude if one approaches the Scriptural text within appropriate historical and contextual boundaries. 

Moving forward then, it is incumbent upon an observer to realize that the world into which the Gospel narratives were introduced would have been more than well-versed in the dynamics of the patron-client relationship, as would those that came to identify themselves as Christians.  This cultural dynamic would certainly be put to good use, especially since, in that time, it was very much the case that all positive relationships with any god were rooted in the perception of the patron-client relationship. 

So, even though it may seem quite extraneous to a perusal of a letter of Paul, it is quite important to have a strong grasp of this underlying cultural principle of the patron-client system so that it is possible to correctly hear what Paul is communicating to Timothy.  As indicated by the title of this study, there is a strong counter-cultural bent in the first letter to Timothy, as is largely the case for Paul; and the patron-client system seems to be a useful jumping off point.  To that end, said system will continue to be explored, with that exploration providing a few more details that can serve as cultural keys in an exegesis of the letter. 

A client was a loyal supporter to a high standing Roman family, and it is the head of that higher-standing family that would ultimately be known as “patronus,” or “patron.”  The clients of the patron functioned as an extended family to the patron---something like a clan.  They would be expected to loyally support him (offer fides or pistis) in any venture upon which he chose to embark, be that military, political, or commercial.  Meanwhile, the patron would aid his clients through representing their political interests through the office that he held, or by defending them in the courts as their advocate if such became necessary. 

This bond between patron and client was one of the bedrock foundations of Roman society.  This reciprocal loyalty (again, fides or pistis) was a highly prized virtue, and it served to hold together families while serving as the unifying nexus of the social order.  The loyalty of the client would be expected to extend beyond the patron and to the patron’s family as well.  If a patron were to die, a client would be expected to offer the patron’s heir the same loyalty as had been offered to the original patron.  Likewise for the client.  Should the client die, his heir would be expected to stand in for the head of that family, continuing the clientele loyalty to their benefactor. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 2)

In the fifth chapter of Mark, Jesus heals a demoniac by casting a “Legion” of demons out of him and into a herd of pigs.  At the conclusion of this story, it is reported that “As He was getting into the boat the man who had been demon-possessed asked if he could go with Him.  But Jesus did not permit him to do so.  Instead, He said to him, ‘Go to your home and to your people and tell them what the Lord has done for you, that He had mercy on you.’” (Mark 5:18-19) 

At first glance, it appears that Jesus is in fact telling this man to engage in activity that would be standard for a client, that of telling others about the benefaction of a patron.  However, on second glance, Jesus, as was customary, is pointing away from Himself and to the Creator God of Israel as the source of healing.  At the same time, the Gospel author wants the reader to see the way in which Jesus act of mercy is received against the known background of the patron-client dynamic, as he goes on to write “So he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him, and all were amazed” (5:20).  This would have been standard practice for a client.  Though it has not been requested nor demanded of him, he has made Jesus his patron.  Though the earthly Jesus clearly did not desire this, especially when considering His constant insistence on keeping His activities or identity secret, in a cosmic sense this is entirely appropriate.

The story of “Blind Bartimaeus,” as recorded in the tenth chapter of Mark, also fits well into the patron-client dynamic.  Commencing with verse forty-six: “They came to Jericho.  As Jesus and His disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the road.  When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (10:46-47)  By this, Bartimaeus is attempting to gain Jesus’ attention and ultimately His patronage, offering Jesus praise, requesting mercy, and so attempting to take the position of client. 

Reading further then, it is said that “Many scolded him to get him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’  Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’  So they called the blind man and said to him, ‘Have courage!  Get up!  He is calling you.’  He threw off his cloak, jumped up, and came to Jesus.  Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’  The blind man replied, “Rabbi, let me see again.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Go, your faith has healed you.’  Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the road” (10:48-52). 

In this story, Bartimaeus is undeterred by the scolding.  He desires Jesus’ patronage.  He is willing to become Jesus’ client.  He throws off his cloak (likely his only cloak), thus signifying a complete reliance on this patron (further debasing himself as a nod to the honor of the potential patron).  He also uses the honorific title of “Rabbi.”  Jesus’ response is not what one would expect from a patron, in that He does not take credit for the healing, but rather, Jesus tells the man that he has been healed by his own faith (fides, pistis - loyalty).  The now healed man, desirous of showing forth his loyalty and of having a role in increasing Jesus’ public honor, takes up the position of a client, by following Jesus on the road. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 1)

Now to the eternal king, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever!  Amen. – 1 Timothy 1:17  (NET)

Before one can commence with an exegesis of the text of Paul’s first letter to Timothy (this study will take the position that the letter comes from the mind and hand of the Apostle Paul, though for the purposes of this study, it really makes no difference whether the letter is Pauline or deutero-Pauline), there is an obligation to take steps to construct the social framework in which the letter will be composed, in which it will be read by its recipient, and in which it may have been shared with an assembly of Christians.  Specifically, one must be aware of the patron-client relationship of the Roman world. 

The patron-client relationship was one which tied persons of significantly different social status together in a reciprocal exchange of goods and services.  The relationship is asymmetrical, in that the two sides are not social equals and will never make any pretense whatsoever of equality.  The patron-client contract, especially in a world heavily divided between free and slave or citizen and subject, as was the Roman world, provides the client with things that would not normally be available to them, whether that be material things or even something nebulous and subjectively defined, such as justice.  Whatever it is that is provided to the client by the patron, it is understood that the client badly needs these things, and that the client cannot obtain such things on his own.  

In return for the benefaction of the patron, the client gives the patron honor and loyalty.  In a world defined by the system of the limited good of honor, the client does not confer his own honor upon the patron.  Rather, the patron is accorded greater honor in the court of public reputation by amassing a network of clients that, ipso facto, demonstrates the largesse of the patron and serves to signify how truly honorable and worthy of honor the patron is. 

The honor of the patron is then noised abroad by the client (the client speaks in honorific language about his patron), so that all may hear of the deeds of the patron on behalf of the client, which is part and parcel of his demonstration of loyalty.  In Latin, this loyalty is known as “fides,” whereas in Greek it is known as “pistis.”  Translated to English, such is read as “faith.”  The denizens of the world into which Jesus and the announcement of His Gospel came would have largely heard “faith” as a response of loyalty within the parameters of the patron-client system.    

Interestingly, the existence and prevalence of the patron-client relationship seem to be implied in many accounts within the Gospels of Jesus’ interaction with those that came to Him seeking some good thing that they could not obtain for themselves.  Those that came to Jesus in search of the good that He could provide would be fully aware of the patron-client relationship, and would often expect the demand for or exhibit the desire to treat Jesus as their patron, offering their services or their selves to Him as their client.  Jesus, however, during His earthly ministry, rejects clientage, and resists becoming a patron in the accepted sense.  To demonstrate this, a couple of brief examples from the Gospels will suffice.