KINGDOM AND CHILDREN: APHORISM, CHREIA, STRUCTURE – by ArchBishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz
Kingdom and Children: Aphorism, Chreia, Structure
Daniel Patte, ed.
Copyright © 1983 by Society of Biblical Literature.
Published in Chico, CA.
Contributors to This Issue
Jesus’ Pronouncement About Entering the Kingdom Like a Child: A Structural Exegesis
Pronouncement Stories and Jesus’ Blessing of the Children: A Rhetorical Approach *
Vernon K. Robbins
Kingdom and Children: A Study in the Aphoristic Tradition
John Dominic Crossan
Comments on the Article of Vernon K. Robbins
Ronald F. Hock
Response to John Dominic Crossan and Vernon K. Robbins
Robert C. Tannehill
Schoolboys and Storytellers: Some Comments on Aphorisms and Chriae
Lou H. Silberman
The Rules of the Game: A Response to Daniel Patte
Bernard Brandon Scott
Contributors to This Issue
John Dominic Crossan
De Paul University
155 North Harbor Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60601
Ronald F. Hock
School of Religion
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California 90089
Box 1704 St. B
Nashville, Tennessee 37235
Vernon K. Robbins
Program in Religious Studies
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Urbana, Illinois 61801
Bernard Brandon Scott
St. Meinrad School of Theology
St. Meinrad, Indiana 47577
Lou H. Silberman
5282 Pasco del Arenal
Tucson, Arizona 85715
Robert C. Tannehill
Methodist Theological School in Ohio
Delaware, Ohio 43015
The essays presented in this issue of Semeia are the result of a joint session of the SBL Pronouncement Stories Group (Vernon K. Robbins, Chair) and of the SBL Structuralism and Exegesis Seminar (Daniel Patte, Chair) held during the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature at New York (December 1982).
The aim of this session was to open a dialogue between the members of the two groups. In their exegetical endeavors, members of both groups make use of “outside” models in their respective interpretations of biblical texts: the model of the form chreia (as presented by Theon, Plutarch and Xenophon), or structural models (derived from contemporary semiotic theories about the phenomenon of communication). Would these studies complement each other and contribute to each other?
A common corpus was proposed by John Dominic Crossan: the texts involving the “aphorism concerning Kingdom and Children” in the canonical Gospels and in the Gospel of Thomas, Mark 10:14 = Matt 19:14 = Luke 18:16, and Mark 10:15 = Luke 18:17; Matt 18:3; John 3:3, 5; Gospel of Thomas 22. Vernon K. Robbins and Daniel Patte accepted the challenge of John Dominic Crossan.
The three papers, prepared totally independently from each other, deal with very similar corpora, despite some variations due to the demands of the methods used, and the goals of the exegesis. Crossan and Robbins have form critical goals. The ultimate aim of their essays is the establishment of “the history of the synoptic tradition.” For this purpose, both call upon the chreia form, but in quite different ways. For Crossan, it is a matter of defining on formal grounds different types of speech, specifically “aphorism” and “dialogue.” These methodological reflections lead him to propose basic distinctions among “aphoristic dialogues,” “aphoristic stories,” “dialectical dialogues,” and “dialectical stories.” Applying these distinctions to the agreed upon corpus, Crossan can then reach conclusions regarding the history of the tradition about “kingdom and children” (e.g., how in Mark 10:13, 14, 16 we find a “dialectical story” which is the expansion of a pre-Markan “aphoristic story,” itself the expansion of an aphoristic saying). By contrast, Robbins, on the basis of insights derived from the exercises with the chreia in Theon’s Progymnasmata, proposes a revised understanding of the development of the literary units concerning Jesus and children in the New Testament Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas. This study of these texts in terms of their rhetorical literary composition suggests that in certain cases “poignant actions” rather than “poignant sayings” ended the earliest form of the tradition. Patte’s goal is not form critical. By analyzing the discoursive organization (which could also be called “rhetorical”) and then the narrative and semantic organization of these texts, he aims at showing the distinctiveness of each text, without concern for their historical relations and without attempting to discern the traditions behind these texts. The results of his exegesis are thus redaction critical in nature, despite the fact that he bypasses any form critical questions because of his methodology.
The essays included in this issue are somewhat revised forms of the papers discussed at the SBL meeting in New York. Four responses by members of the two groups (Ronald F. Hock, Robert C. Tannehill, Lou H. Silberman, Bernard Brandon Scott) were then prepared. They reflect major aspects of the discussion as well as its character. While it was relatively easy to confront Robbins’s and Crossan’s papers, because their goals and approaches are closely related, Patte’s paper could not be directly compared with the other two. Scott’s Response is therefore noteworthy since it endeavors to compare the three papers. In fact, much of Scott’s remarks would have their place in a “preface” to this issue. I will not repeat them here and encourage the reader to read this response first (especially, its beginning and its end) in order to have an overall view of the goals and approaches used in these essays. In so doing one will discover the complementarity of these studies of the gospel texts about Kingdom and Children. As Scott shows, what is “missing” in Patte’s paper (addressing form critical issues) is precisely what is to be found in Robbins’s and Crossan’s papers. Patte’s analysis strives to show the “distinctiveness” of Jesus’ Pronouncement about entering the kingdom like children in each gospel, and does not address the question of the “interrelatedness” of the various texts (the primary question for Robbins and Crossan). While these two questions cannot be addressed by means of the same methodologies, is it not possible to envision that the results of one approach can be used in the study following the other, and vice versa? After all, these essays are not methodological but exegetical. It is hoped, therefore, that they will contribute to the ongoing exegesis of these important texts.
Jesus’ Pronouncement About Entering the Kingdom Like a Child: A Structural Exegesis
After isolating the common theme in six texts which deal with “Jesus’ pronouncement about entering the kingdom like a child,” we proceed, through a structural exegesis, to show the specific connotations each feature of this theme has in each text. The nature of this theme demands that we consider two kinds of features. A study of the discoursive features (temporalization, spatialization, actorialization) shows, for each text, the distinctive way in which Jesus is related to the disciples (or Nicodemus) and also how the enunciator (“Matthew,” “Mark,” etc.) is related to the enunciatee (the “implied reader”). A second analysis focused upon the narrative syntax and the semantic organization shows the specific connotations which, in each text, “entering the kingdom” and “child” receive. This twofold comparative analysis of these short passages gives us a first glimpse at distinctive features of the “faith” (as system of convictions) which underlie each of the gospels from which these passages are taken.
0. The Goals of this Essay
The six texts selected by J. Dominic Crossan—Matthew 18:1–5 (or 9?); Matthew 19:13–15; Mark 10:13–16; Luke 18:15–17; John 3:1–6; Gospel of Thomas 22—form a corpus admirably suited for structural exegesis. They can be compared to the variants of a myth studied by Lévi-Strauss. Studying their structural relations should allow us to specify the features of their common theme as well as to elucidate the specific connotations which this theme takes in each of these texts.
As a starting point for our study we need to identify, at the level of the textual manifestation, the common theme of these six texts. Reflecting upon the nature of this theme, we shall then select an approach suited for our comparative study.
1. Identification of the Textual Manifestations of the Common Theme
These six texts have in common a clearly recognizable theme—which can also be called a tradition, or a mytheme. Yet the textual constants found in these six texts are very few. All of them can be expressed in a single statement:
a pronouncement by Jesus relating “entering the Kingdom” with “childhood” addressed to a character with an overall positive relation to Jesus.
(This applies to all the texts except Matt 19:13–15, which is a weak variant and does not include the verb “entering.” The true variant is in Matt 18:1–5).
1.1 In each case Jesus utters the pronouncement. It is addressed to a collective or individual character—the disciples, except in John 3 where it is Nicodemus. This character has an overall positive relation to Jesus—this is clear in the case of the disciples, and Nicodemus comes to Jesus with a positive evaluation of his ministry (John 3:2). Yet the pronouncement is contrasted to a misapprehension by the character of a situation or of a statement by Jesus (except in Matt 18:1–5). But this situation or statement is in itself a variable in our corpus, despite the parallelism between the synoptic texts.
1.2 In our formulation of the constants in the pronouncement, the phrase “relating ‘entering the Kingdom’ with ‘childhood’,” the term “childhood” should be read in a very broad sense. In Mark 10 it is not qualified. In Matt 18 the children are apparently old enough to stand. In Luke 18:15 they are “babies” (although they are called “children” in 18:16–17). In Thomas 22 they are “children being suckled.” Finally, it is the “new born” which is the concern of John 3.
2. The Approach Needed for the Study of Such a Common Theme
Our main task will be to compare the different meanings that this common theme has in the six texts. This involves comparing the various forms which this common theme takes when it is set in the specific networks of relations which characterize each of our texts.
In order to undertake this task we must first note that the common theme is itself characterized by two sets of relations: (a) the relations between Jesus and his addressees; and (b) in the pronouncement itself, the relation of “entering the Kingdom” to “childhood.” The nature of these relations defines the ways in which the theme can be set into a wider relational network, and in so doing can acquire various connotations. For indeed, relations have very specific natures and cannot be grafted upon relations of a totally different species.
2.1 The first relation is a reported enunciation: Jesus speaking to his disciples or Nicodemus. According to Greimas’s theory, this is a relation of the discoursive syntax. In other words, it is a relation in the discourse (the text) which manifests, together with other relations of the same type, the relation between the enunciator and the enunciatee of the text. It has the effect of constructing a reader, indeed a receptive ideal “reader,” as well as a credible and persuasive “author.” More specifically, this relation is part of the process of actorialization. Each of the texts poses Jesus as the actor who displays the true understanding of a situation or statement. As such Jesus is like the enunciator who has a true understanding of the story he/she tells.
Jesus’ addressees have a twofold qualification. (1) Either by their name (“disciples” who are defined earlier in the texts as characters in a positive relation with Jesus) or by their own statement (Nicodemus stating “we know that you are a teacher come from God,” John 3:2) they are posited as characters who acknowledge Jesus’ authority and thus are receptive to his teaching. As such they are like the enunciatee, the ideal “reader,” who is receiving this true teaching. (2) But Jesus’ addressees are also cast in a somewhat negative light (except in Matt 18:1–4; in the other texts the negative connotation is more or less marked). They misinterpret either a situation or a statement from Jesus, or at least they do not know something (as in Matt 18:1–5). Yet they are not rejected but rather corrected. They do lack true understanding; they need teaching or instruction, but are given what they lack. As such they are like the ideal reader constructed by the text who needs the true understanding provided by the enunciator.
2.11 This first set of relations of the common theme belongs therefore to the discoursive syntax. We can expect that it will be set in the specific discoursive structures of the six texts. These relations of the common theme as constants can be viewed as a constraint which limits the range of the possible discoursive strategies—i.e., the range of the possible investments of the discoursive structures. Yet, because it establishes only a few syntactical relations, it leaves open the possibility of many variations at the discoursive level.
Our comparison of these six texts needs therefore to involve a study of the discoursive structures of these six texts. If we were studying by themselves each of these short abstracts from much longer texts (the Gospels), we could expect only partial results. Discoursive structures are manifested most clearly throughout an entire discourse. Yet, thanks to the fact that we are comparing texts which have a common theme (and are thus variants of this theme), our study should allow us to reach significant results at the level of the discoursive syntax.
2.2 The pronouncement itself is characterized by the relation between “entering the Kingdom” and “childhood.” This is the relation between a “function” or better a transformation—”entering the Kingdom”—which belongs to the narrative syntax and a “state,” or semantic category—”childhood”—which belongs to the narrative semantics.
2.21 The first set of relations discussed above (2.1 and 2.11) can be said to be “simple,” in the sense that it interrelates terms belonging to the same structural level—discoursive syntax. As such it functions as a fairly strong constraint which drastically limits the number of possible variations. This set of relations establishes a definite pattern which must be respected in the entire discoursive syntax. By contrast, in the case of this second set of relations—between “entering the Kingdom” and “childhood”—we are dealing with a “complex” relation in the sense that it interralates terms belonging to different structural levels—narrative syntax and narrative semantics.
The complexity of this relation appears when one realizes that, in a discourse (or text), the relation between narrative syntax and narrative semantics is a relation between two systems: a narrative syntactical system and a narrative semantic system. The correspondence—or, more technically, the isotopic (by contrast to isomorphic) relationship—of these two systems is a correspondence of relations involving each time several terms.
The syntactical system establishes a series of transformations in relations of cause and effect (a first transformation allowing the performance of another), in relations of complementarity (several transformations contributing together to the performance of another), and in polemical relations (transformations opposing the performance of others). These syntactical relations indirectly correspond (that is, not in a one-to-one correspondence, yet still according to specific laws; see Patte and Patte, 1978, Ch. II and Patte, 1981) to semantic relations.
The (narrative) semantic system establishes a series of semantic terms in relations of implication (or correlation), of contradiction, or of contrariety. This is true in the case of a simple semantic system—including a single semantic field, or isotopy—as well as in the case of a complex semantic system—including several isotopies. In this latter case the terms set in relations can belong to different isotopies and be interrelated through what is called a metaphorical relationship, which is nothing other than either a relation of correlation (the most common case), or of contradiction, or again of contrariety.
Now, in the common theme, the relation between narrative syntax and narrative semantics is limited to the relation between a single term from each of the two systems. This means that each term remains essentially undefined. For indeed, a transformation—such as “entering the Kingdom”—is defined through its relations with other transformations in a given syntactical system. Similarly, a semantic term—such as “childhood”—is defined through its relations with other semantic terms in a given semantic system. This means that the relation between “entering the Kingdom” and “childhood,” which is posited by the common theme, is a very weak constraint. This relation can be conceived in a great number of ways, since each of its terms is undefined, and thus can be variously defined by being inserted in widely different systems (either syntactical or semantic systems).
2.22 Our comparative study of the six texts needs therefore to involve (a) a study of the narrative syntactical system of each text so as to determine how, in each instance, the transformation “entering the Kingdom” is defined; (b) a study of the (narrative) semantic system of each text so as to determine how, in each instance, the semantic term “childhood” is defined. Even though we are dealing with very short texts—and thus with very partial syntactic and semantic systems—we should be able to reach significant results because both of these systems are characterized by patterns of relations which are manifested in each unit of the textual manifestation. Thus we can expect to find a great diversity in meaning given to the relation between “entering the Kingdom” and “childhood,” but we should be able to elucidate in such a case at least some of the characteristics of this relation.
2.3 Finally, we have to take into consideration the correlation, in the common theme, of the two sets of relations. Discoursive syntax—such as the syntax of the relations between Jesus and his addressees—and narrative syntax and semantics are necessarily interrelated in a given discourse. Thus the correlation between the two sets of relations of the common theme is certainly another constraint contributing to the limitation of the field of possible variants.
Unfortunately, semiotic research has not yet been able to define in any detailed fashion the nature of the relations between semionarrative structures (including narrative syntax and semantics) and discoursive structures. We will therefore have to proceed with caution on the basis of our knowledge of these various structures taken separately. Yet it remains clear that, through their correlation, the two sets of relations of the common theme define each other somewhat.
3. Comparison of the Six Texts in Terms of Their Discoursive Syntax: The Relation Between Jesus and His Addressees
Our goal in this first part of our structural exegesis is to determine how the relation between Jesus and his addressees is specifically defined in each text. For this purpose we need to study the discoursive syntax of each of these texts. In the “generative trajectory” (the overall structural model for a discourse proposed by Greimas), the discoursive syntax involves three processes: actorialization, temporalization, and spatialization. It is the stage of the generative trajectory in which actors (or characters) are constructed in such a way that they might be recognizable and (at least to a certain extent), believable (“realistic”) for the intended reader. An actor is constructed, on the one hand, through its relations with other actors and, on the other hand, through the establishment of its competence as subject with a wanting (will, vouloir), a knowing (know-how or knowledge, savoir), and a being-able-to (power, ability, having the necessary tools, pouvoir). Similarly, a time-frame and space-frame are constructed in such a way that the narrative might be located in a time and space framework which might make sense for the intended reader.
This discoursivization process, with its concern to establish a link between enunciator and enunciatee, is, of course, building upon the narrative syntax and semantics (of the enunciator). Therefore, there is necessarily some overlap between the discoursive syntax and the narrative syntax. Yet, by focussing our attention on the three processes of discoursivization briefly described above, it is possible to isolate the discoursive syntactical system which characterizes a text. Following this procedure will allow us to elucidate the specific view of the relation between Jesus and his addressees in each text.
3.1 The Relation between Jesus and the Disciples in Mark 10:13–16
Since most of the discoursive syntax of Mark 10:13–16 is devoted to actorialization, let us begin by the two other aspects of the discoursivization process.
Temporalization. The only time markers in this text are those found in the past tenses of the verbs (primarily aorists). The absence of any other time marker leaves the time framework largely undefined. Of course, as the reader of what precedes in the Gospel of Mark, the enunciatee is also under the constraints of the time markers elsewhere in the Gospel which we cannot study here. Yet, if we consider the pronouncement story in and of itself, the enunciatee is left with a large freedom to set the story in a time framework of his/her choice. In other words, the presence of rather weak time markers gives to the pronouncement story a timeless quality. The reader is in the same time-frame: before the time for entering the Kingdom (an undefined future weakly marked by an aorist subjunctive with a double negative).
Spatialization. There is no space marker denoting a specific concrete location. Yet a threefold space is nevertheless constructed:
(a). There is the space near Jesus, indeed very near Jesus, in his arms (10:16a), being touched by him (10:13b, 16c). It is a euphoric space in which one is blessed by Jesus (10:16b) as the children are.
(b). The Kingdom is also a space in which one enters (10:15c). It is a space which is clearly euphoric, since it is presupposed that the addressees (the disciples) wish to enter it. The juxtaposition of these two euphoric spaces—the one in the narrative form, the other in the pronouncement—has the effect of correlating them. Being near Jesus (in the arms of Jesus) is like being in the Kingdom. Since the space “near Jesus” is very narrow (limited to direct contact with Jesus), the space “Kingdom” is itself very narrow.
(c). A third space, away from Jesus, is occupied at first by the children and those who bring them to Jesus (10:13). By comparison with the two other spaces it is dysphoric: the children should not stay in that space (10:14).
The disciples are in an ambiguous position. They form the border between the two spaces: neither near Jesus (“in his arms”) as the children (10:16), nor away from Jesus. In fact, they are rebuked for attempting to establish a clear borderline between the spaces “away from Jesus” and “near Jesus.” One of the goals of the story is to make clear that the passage from the dysphoric space “away from Jesus” to the euphoric space “near Jesus” should remain open.
Actorialization. Except for the people who bring the children to Jesus, who are merely characterized by their will to do so, the only other active subjects are the disciples and Jesus.
Through the term used to designate them, the “disciples” are posited as being in an overall positive relation with Jesus. Yet, in our text, they are primarily characterized by their opposition to the people bringing the children and thus, indirectly, to the children, and by the fact that they are the addressees of Jesus’ pronouncement which rebukes their attitude. A closer look at the text will allow us to specify the nature of the Jesus-disciples relationship.
First, let us note that Jesus’ words are presented as being the result of his “seeing” and of an emotional reaction: “(he) was indignant” (10:14). Verbs of perception and those expressing emotion often introduce the interpretation/evaluation of a situation by a character. This is certainly the case here, since we find not one but two interpretation markers. Jesus interprets a twofold situation. On the one hand, a positive value is attributed to the bringing of children to him. On the other hand, a negative value is attributed to the disciples’ negative attitude toward this first situation. This means that the disciples’ attitude is itself interpretative in nature, despite the fact that there is only a weaker interpretation marker in 10:13c (yet note that ἐπιτιμάω is derived from τιμάω).
Thus, the conflict between Jesus and the disciples is first of all the conflict of two interpretations of a concrete situation, “people bringing children to Jesus.” More precisely, it is a conflict of evaluations, that is, of an interpretation of the positive (euphoric) or negative (dysphoric) value of the concrete situation.
In addition, it is a conflict regarding the concrete attitude (doing) one should have vis-á-vis this concrete situation: allowing the children to come to Jesus or hindering them to do so. In Greimas’s terminology, this is a conflict of “deontic modalities,” that is, concerning what one has to do in such a situation. This observation is furthermore confirmed by the fact that, after the interpretative pronouncement, the text comes back to the concrete situation by showing Jesus taking in his arms the children who have thus been allowed to come to him. The performance of the proper action—the action that one has to do in a specific situation—is thus underscored.
Thus, it becomes clear that what is at stake is the establishment of the will (wanting) of the disciples as subjects, rather than the establishment of one of the other competencies (knowing and being able to) of the subject. Jesus, through his pronouncement, does not impart to his disciples a knowledge (a teaching) which they need in order to carry out an action that they already want to carry out, but rather the very will to carry it out. Using another vocabulary, that of the covenant, we could say that Jesus, by his pronouncement, imparts to the disciples a vocation, that is, a perception of their identity and purpose as elect, rather than the means to carry out their vocation (the Law).
This observation is confirmed by an examination of other discoursive features of the pronouncement. To begin with, Jesus is alone to speak. In contrast with most of the other texts we shall study, the disciples do not ask a question. They do not have any questions. They know what should be done! They are deliberately carrying out a program of action on their own. But what they want to do, their will, is wrong. They have a wrong perception of what they should do. The two imperatives ἄφετε, μὴ κωλύετε 10:14) aim at transforming their will, by showing them what they should do, what is the proper will they should have. Note that this is not imposed as a “must” (devoir) by the mere authority of the speaker (as a dictator imposes his will upon his subjects). Rather, it is through a proper interpretation of the situation that the disciples’ proper will is to be established. They should allow children to come to Jesus because the Kingdom of God belongs to those such as the children. In other words, the true reality of the situation, “people bringing children to Jesus,” can be perceived by the disciples only if they interpret it in terms of the Kingdom of God. When one does this, it appears that the situation has to be interpreted positively (as a euphoric situation and not as a dysphoric one). The Kingdom is for those such as the children. Consequently, it is proper to let them come to Jesus. Of course, such a conclusion demands viewing Jesus as directly related to the Kingdom. Thus, in summary, the disciples are not the passive receptors of a new will. They have to participate in the establishment of their new will by joining Jesus in his interpretation of the situation in terms of the Kingdom.
The discoursive features of Mark 10:15 make it clear, once again, that the goal of the pronouncement is the one suggested above. I want to refer to the negative form of the injunction “whoever does not receive the Kingdom like a child shall not enter it.” This negative form is purely a feature of discoursive syntax, since, as we shall see below, it does not play any role in the narrative syntax of Mark 10:13–16. A positive formulation in an imperative form—”receive the Kingdom like a child and you shall enter it”—would leave the addressees in a relatively passive role of receptor of a new will. By contrast, the negative formulation with the indefinite relative clause demands the involvement of the addressees who, at the very least, have to prolong this statement by thinking: “but I want to enter the Kingdom and thus I need to receive it like a child.” Thus it is the addressees who formulate what is the proper will and not the addresser.
3.14 Finally, the text describes Jesus interacting with the children. For the disciples this new situation should be interpreted in terms of the pronouncement and the pronouncement in terms of the new situation. But the fact that this interpretation by the disciples is not given makes it clear that this description is for the readers. The readers are thus those who are expected to carry out this twofold interpretation (as we shall do below) and thus find themselves in the position of the disciples. Thus, beyond their interpretation of what it means to receive the Kingdom like a child, they are also invited to establish their own will and their own course of action on the basis of their interpretations of various situations in terms of the Kingdom. These include situations belonging to any time period (see above 3.11) and in any space where they can identify a space “near Jesus,” a space of “the Kingdom,” and a space “away from Jesus” (see above 3.12).
3.2 The Relation between Jesus and the Disciples in Matt 18:1–5
Despite the parallelism with Mark 9:33–37, regarding the question “who is the greatest in the Kingdom,” we shall compare Matt 18:1–5 to Mark 10:13–16, because it is in this context that Matthew chose to set the pronouncement to the disciples about entering the Kingdom like a child.
Temporalization. In addition to the past tenses of the verbs, we find another time marker, Ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὧρα (18:1a), which has the effect of locating in a general way the pronouncement story in the past time of Jesus’ ministry. Thus, at the outset, it is made clear that the meaning of the story can be properly understood only in the context of “that time,” the time of Jesus’ ministry. This weakens the effect of the undefined future of the Kingdom (see 3.11).
Spatialization. There is no space marker denoting a specific concrete (geographical) location. As in Mark 10 a space is nevertheless constructed. Yet it has a quite different character.
(a). There is the space near Jesus. Yet it is conceived in a broader sense. It is no longer a space where one touches and is touched by Jesus. It is now a circle which includes Jesus and the disciples (who come to Jesus, 18:1) and in the midst of which a child can be put. The fact that this is indeed a euphoric space is only marked indirectly by the presence of Jesus, which is positively marked since the beginning of the Gospel, and in opposition to 18:6.
(b). The Kingdom is also a space in which one is (18:1c) and one can enter (18:3d). This euphoric space (for the same reason as in Mark 10 and, in addition, as the space of “life,” 18:8) is once again juxtaposed to the space near Jesus. They are thus correlated. Since the space “near Jesus” is now wider, a circle rather than a point (of contact), the Kingdom is itself a wider space. Despite other connotations of the phrase “of heaven,” heaven is also perceived as a location, as is clear from its opposition to the Gehenna.
The following verses (6–9) include three dysphoric spaces:
(a). The deep of the sea as the space for those who make stumble σκάνδαλον the little ones (18:6).
(b). The world as the space where σκάνδαλον occurs (18:7). This is a space outside of the circle near Jesus in which the disciples are exhorted to reject whatever is a cause of stumbling (a hand, a foot, an eye).
(c). A space of eternal fire (18:8), the Gehenna of fire (18:9), which is the dysphoric counterpart of the Kingdom.
Thus, as compared with what we found in Mark, the spaces have become much more “spacious,” and the separation of the euphoric from the dysphoric spaces is strongly marked (by contrast with the pronouncement story in Mark which aimed at breaking the separation between these spaces).
Actorialization. We shall focus our remarks on the actorialization of the disciples and Jesus.
The disciples are not only posited as being in an overall positive relation to Jesus (through the term “disciples” used to designate them), but are also characterized in the pronouncement story as being in a positive relationship with Jesus. They come to Jesus (18:1b), and their question (18:1c) is answered by Jesus (18:4) rather than being rejected as illegitimate.
By contrast with Mark 10:13–16, none of the characters is presented as interpreting a concrete situation previously described in the text (note the absence of interpretative markers) and acting accordingly. Rather, the disciples address a question to Jesus. As such they are characterized as lacking knowledge (information) concerning a specific topic—an aspect of the existence in the Kingdom. As the one who answers the question, Jesus is characterized as one who knows, who has information that others do not have. Thus the relation Jesus-disciples is a relation teacher-pupils.
More specifically, through their questions, the disciples show that they are confident that they belong in this relation. There is no hint that the establishment of the will of the disciples is at stake. The use of the logion found in Mark 10:15 would then be problematic since its negative form is aimed at involving the addressees in the establishment of their own will. Thus, it is not surprising to find that the saying has a quite different function. Instead of having a function at the level of discoursive syntax, the negative verbs function now at the level of the narrative syntax, thanks to their juxtaposition with a statement using a series of positive verbs. The addressees do not have any longer to construct the positive statement; Jesus utters it. Thus the only involvement of the disciples is to acknowledge and to express that they lack knowledge. Jesus is providing all the knowledge they need.
3.24 Even though this is anticipating our study of the relation between Kingdom and childhood, we can note that this discoursive characterization of the relations between the disciples and Jesus is closely related to the attitude of humility described in 18:4. By their question and their attitude as pupils of the teacher Jesus, the disciples demonstrate that they belong to the Kingdom. Thus the readers are invited to identify with the disciples and enter into the same relationship with Jesus, asking the disciples’ question as well as listening with them to Jesus’ answer. As such the readers are called to identify with the time of the disciples—”that time” (see above 3.21)—so as to listen to Jesus’ words and consequently, so to speak, to “withdraw” from their present time. In the same way, they need to withdraw from the world where σκάνδαλον occurs so as to be in the space “near Jesus,” listening to him because they are aware of their lack of knowledge. As such they belong to the Kingdom rather than to the world and the Gehenna (see above 3.22).
3.3 The Relation between Jesus and the Disciples in Matt 19:13–15
Temporalization. The addition of the time marker τότε to the past tense of the verbs has the same effect as ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὧρα has in Matt 18:1–5. It inscribes the pronouncement story in the time of Jesus’ ministry, whether it is interpreted “in that time” or “then.” (See above 3.21.)
Spatialization. A threefold space is constructed similar to that in Mark 10:13–16 (see above 3.12). It is enough to note the differences:
(a). The space near Jesus is not as intimate as in Mark. Jesus does not take the children in his arms. It is not even sure that he touches them. The phrase ἐπιθεὶς τὰς χεῖρας αὐτοις may be understood as a liturgical gesture which might not involve actual physical contact. At any rate, physical contact is not emphasized. Thus the space “near Jesus” is not as narrow as in Mark (and thus more like the one in Matt 18:1–5, see above 3.22a). Furthermore, “laying his hand on the children” is presented as something Jesus does as he goes away from them. Laying his hand on the children is expressed in a subordinate clause of the principal verb ἐπορεύθη. This has the effect of minimizing the positive value of the space “in direct contact with Jesus.”
(b). The space Kingdom is mentioned, but also de-emphasized as space (there is no mention of “entering the Kingdom”).
(c). The space “away from Jesus” is presented as being dysphoric as in Mark 10:13–16 (see 3.12c). But the physical separation from Jesus is not necessarily dysphoric since his departure after laying his hands on the children is itself euphoric.
Actorialization. The comparison with Mark 10:13–16 is instructive. The two clear interpretation markers (ἰδὼν and ἠγανάκτησεν), as well as the second part (heavily interpretative in form) of the pronouncement, have disappeared. The interpretative dimension of ἐπετίμησαυ which remains is de-emphasized if not completely bracketed out. Thus, even though the first part of the pronouncement remains approximately the same, it becomes a teaching expressing how to conduct oneself as a disciple in such a situation. This teaching provides the disciples with the knowledge necessary to carry out, in a special circumstance, the program in which they are already established as willing subjects. This program is nothing other than their vocation as disciples. In other words, what is at stake is not their will to be disciples nor their status as disciples (by contrast to Mark 10 according to which by behaving as they did the disciples showed they did not belong to the Kingdom), but indeed the performance of their vocation in a specific circumstance. Thus Jesus, while correcting them, does not address a fundamental reproof to them. He is not “indignant.” Consequently, the relation of Jesus to the disciples remains one of teacher to willing pupils, as in Matt 18:1–5 (see 3.24).
3.4 The Relation between Jesus and the Disciples in Luke 18:15–17
Temporalization. Exactly as in Mark 10:13–16 (see above 3.11).
Spatialization. A threefold space is constructed as in Mark 10:13–16 (see above 3.12). The only difference is that it is no longer expressed that Jesus touched the children (babies) after the interruption of the program by the disciples. Thus the space “near Jesus” is not as intimate as in Mark, and more like in Matt 18:1–5 (see 3.22). Yet, here, it is a “verbal” space delimited by Jesus’ call.
Actorialization. At the outset, the actorialization in Luke 18:15–17 appears as being different from that of either Mark or Matthew. To begin with, it is not clear that the pronouncement is addressed to the disciples. Nestle (following the best witnesses) can be translated: “But Jesus called them (the babies) to him, saying …” “Saying” is a subordinate clause of “called the babies to him.” Thus the addressees are those who are associated with the babies, that is, those who brought them and possibly other people with them, as well as the disciples who rebuked them. (The variant found in other good witnesses—which can be translated “But Jesus calling them to him, said”—de-emphasizes somewhat the association of the addressees with the babies. Thus they could be the disciples alone. Yet one would expect αὐτοῖς which remains absent. This is another reason to prefer Nestle’s text.)
Thus the disciples—despite their name which relates them to Jesus—are not the privileged addressees of Jesus. They are among other addressees of Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus “bypasses” them to call directly the babies to him.
The disciples in and of themselves are characterized as interpreting (evaluating) a situation and acting accordingly, as is expressed by the interpretation marker ἰδόντες (18:15c) and the weaker interpretation marker ἐπετίμων. Thus, the establishment of their will as subject of that program is what characterizes them. Consequently, as in Mark 10:13–16, the pronouncement aims at the correct establishment of their will by the addressees.
The interpretation marker ἰδὼν is not repeated concerning Jesus. But the adversative δὲ, which sets Jesus in opposition to the disciples, expresses that Jesus is himself interpreting the situation. Yet, the absence of strong interpretation markers has the effect of de-emphasizing the interpretative relation between the situation and Jesus’ pronouncement. The relation is less direct. This is furthermore manifested by the fact that Jesus relates to the children as if the disciples—who are part of the situation that Jesus interprets—were not present. The only reference to the disciples’ attitude is in the μὴ κωλύετε of the pronouncement. Yet, because of the absence of reference to the disciples in the description of Jesus’ action, this negative injunction acquires a much more generalized value. Thus, the relation of Jesus to the disciples and their concrete attitude is minimized.
The same is true of Jesus’ relation to the children. He is characterized as calling to himself the babies. This is his only relation to the children: Mark 10:16 is totally missing. What happens after the call is not mentioned.
This characterization of Jesus has several effects. First, it is consistent with his role of enticing his addressees to participate actively in the establishment of their own will: a call demands a response. Second, the disciples are no longer under a fundamental reproof. Their misinterpretation and mishandling of the situation does not jeopardize their status as disciples belonging to the Kingdom (as was the case in Mark). Third, the pronouncement is less directly related to the concrete situation of “people bringing babies to Jesus.” In fact, its second part, 18:17, becomes a quite general statement concerning the way in which the Kingdom should be received (like a child), which does not need to be interpreted any longer in terms of Jesus’ concrete involvement with children.
3.44 Consequently, in Luke the addressees are indeed called upon to participate in the establishment of their will to be persons who belong to the Kingdom by interpreting correctly their relation to the Kingdom. But, by contrast with Mark, where the concrete situation is central—one is in the right relationship to the Kingdom if one relates to the Kingdom the concrete situation in which one is by means of the interpretation—in Luke the concrete situation is secondary.
Being in the right relationship to the Kingdom is to a certain extent being removed from the concrete situation in which one finds oneself. It seems that we can conclude that the concrete situation and one’s relation to the Kingdom belong to two discrete realms. And thus the interpretation of the concrete situation remains important but only as an allegorical interpretation; that is, only as it gives the possibility of understanding aspects of the other realm. Yet the two realms are not completely separated. Those in the realm of the concrete situation—the children—can be brought into the realm of the Kingdom through Jesus’ call. Thus the two realms are related in two ways: (a) the concrete situation, by being interpreted allegorically, gives the possibility of understanding aspects of the relations within the realm of the Kingdom; and (b) this interpretation gives the possibility of identifying those who should be called to enter the realm of the Kingdom. These tentative conclusions on the basis of our study of the characterization are consistent with the timeless quality of the pronouncement (see 3.41 and 3.11) and the “verbal” nature of the space “near Jesus” (see 3.42). Yet they need to be verified by our analysis of the narrative syntax and semantics since they involve the perception of the Kingdom.
3.5 The Relation between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3:1–6
Temporalization. Besides the past tenses of the verbs there is only one time marker, νυκτὸι (3:2), which would need to be interpreted together with all the time markers of the Fourth Gospel. Yet it is clear that this is a secondary time marker which specifies a time span within a broader time-frame that remains largely undefined (as in Mark and Luke), so much so that the reader still belongs to it. In fact, in John 3:1–6, there is no future which closes the time of the pronouncement (in 3:12 the future is the time when people will believe, when they will be taught heavenly things, a time which apparently is still future for the reader).
Spatialization. As in the previous cases, no concrete space is mentioned, but a fourfold space is nevertheless constructed.
(a). A space “near Jesus” where verbal exchanges take place. It is thus a verbal space, but not in the sense that it is created verbally (by a call as in Luke). This is a euphoric space since Jesus is described as “performing signs” and as having God “with him.”
(b). A space “away from Jesus,” the space where Nicodemus was among the Pharisees. By its juxtaposition with the preceding, it is dysphoric at least to a certain extent.
(c). A space “with God,” the space from which Jesus comes (3:2), identified as “heaven” in 3:13.
(d). A space “Kingdom” that one can see (3:3) and “enter” (3:5), which is related to “water and the spirit.”
(e). The “mother’s womb” (3:4) is another dysphoric space. This is a part of a space of the “flesh” (3:6), opposed to the space of the spirit (the Kingdom).
Thus the concrete spaces (away from Jesus with the Pharisees, the “mother’s womb,” and the flesh) are dysphoric. The euphoric spaces are verbal, in relation with the divine, and spiritual.
3.53 Actorialization. Nicodemus is characterized as “ruler of the Jews,” but also by the fact that his proper name is given. As such he is presented as having a personal identity in a specific program. As a full-blown subject, he is presumed to have all the competencies (will, knowledge, ability) needed to carry out this program. He addresses Jesus as one who has knowledge (3:2): he makes a statement (rather than raising a question). The use of the respectful “Rabbi” to address Jesus posits their relation as that of two knowledgeable persons. Furthermore, since his statement is not contradicted by Jesus, this knowledge is posited as valid. This knowledge is the result of an interpretation of Jesus’ activity as “signs” that one cannot perform without God. This interpretation is thus the result of a “knowing how to interpret what is from God” that Nicodemus shares with the other Pharisees (οἴδαμεν). It is based upon an evaluation of the power (ability) displayed in somebody’s concrete activity (δύναται). Similarly, his evaluation of Jesus’ statements (3:4 and 9) is in terms of power (note the repetition of δύναται): what a human being is able to do in 3:4; what God is able to do in 3:9 (taking the impersonal form as an indirect reference to God).
The fact that, in 3:4 and 9, Nicodemus asks questions shows that his relationship with Jesus has changed. He recognizes that he lacks knowledge and posits Jesus as having that knowledge.
Jesus is characterized as performing signs (in Nicodemus’ statement) and as one who has knowledge and can impart it. This knowledge that he has and that Nicodemus lacks also concerns power (ability). But it now concerns being able to see the Kingdom (3:3) and to enter it (3:5); that is, an ability which pertains to the “spiritual” realm, rather than an ability which pertains to the performance of action in the “physical” (“fleshy”) realm (3:6, 10–13). The Pharisee Nicodemus is thus characterized as having knowledge (knowing how to interpret the manifestations of power) concerning the physical realm. Thus he can identify God’s power in the physical activity of Jesus. Note that this is very similar to the ability to interpret concrete situations in terms of the Kingdom which, according to Mark, is sufficient. By contrast, here, while this ability to interpret physical situations is posited as valid, it is presented as insufficient. One also needs to be able (δύναται) to interpret or identify (ἰδεῖν, 3:3) spiritual realities, and thus gain knowledge about that realm.
Jesus’ pronouncement aims therefore at establishing this competence—this “ability” or “knowing how to identify (interpret) spiritual realities”—of the subject rather than the subject’s will. This presupposes that the Pharisee Nicodemus has already the correct will: that of identifying manifestations of God (as he did in 3:2b) and of acting accordingly (as he did by coming to Jesus in 3:2a).
The negative form of the pronouncements once again invites the participation of the addressee and calls him to establish himself as willing subject, but here, of a secondary program aimed at acquiring this ability. He has to be willing to be born again. But, in fact, Nicodemus refuses to be the addressee or does not have the ability to do so. He does not know how to interpret (understand) Jesus’ pronouncement (3:10–13). Or, in other words, he does not believe (3:12).
3.54 Believing is thus defined as agreeing to be Jesus’ addressee. But, in the text, Jesus’ pronouncement is left without addressee. The readers have to fill up that role and to become believers. They can do so, since they belong to the time frame of the text (see 3.51) and the space frames can be theirs (since the space of the Pharisees is redefined in broader terms as a “fleshy,” physical space, see 3.52).
3.6 The Relation between Jesus and the Disciples in Thomas 22
Temporalization. The time of the exchange between Jesus and the disciples is set in an undefined past, since there is no other time marker than the verb tenses (see Gos. Thom. 85:20, 23, 24; I follow Guillaumont’s notations for log. 22 as lines 20–35 of pl. 85). The pronouncements are in the present (21–22) and, primarily, in the future (23, 25–35) expressed by the repeated time marker ὅταυ, “when” (25, 31), and τότε, “then” and the future (35). This future of the pronouncement story remains future for the readers (they have not yet entered the Kingdom). Thus the time of the pronouncement story encompasses that of the readers.
Spatialization. There is no concrete space described and no verb of movement in the story frame. It includes therefore only one space, the dialogic space which includes Jesus, the disciples and children.
By contrast, in the pronouncements, spatialization plays a large role. There is the space of the Kingdom (that people shall enter, as is mentioned three times, 22, 24, 35). The condition for entering the Kingdom is expressed in 26–28 in terms of a unified space (or is it a space which is the negation of space division?): “when you make the inner as the outer and the outer as the inner and the above as the below.…”
When we bring together these two observations, it appears that the space of Jesus (of his ministry) is already fulfilling the conditions for entering the Kingdom: it is unified.
Actorialization. Unlike Mark 10:13–16 and Matt 18:1–5 and 19, but like John 3 and to a certain extent Luke 18:15–17, the personages are exclusively characterized by their verbal performances.
Jesus is first characterized as interpreting (he “saw”) a situation, “children who were being suckled.” Neither Jesus nor the disciples directly intervene in this concrete situation. This situation is related to them only through their interpretation (Jesus’ interpretation accepted by the disciples) as being similar (ὁμοίοι εἰσιν proposes R. Kasser) to another situation: the situation of those who enter the Kingdom, that is, that of Jesus and the disciples as the rest of the dialogue shows. Thus, as in Luke 18:15–17, we find two discrete realms related by what can be termed an allegorical interpretation (but here, unlike in Luke, this interpretation is not the occasion of a call of the children which introduces another relation between the two realms). Thus, coming back to our observation concerning spatialization, the two discrete spaces, that of the “children being suckled” and that of “Jesus and the disciples,” are united into a single space through Jesus’ interpretation. Is this what is expressed toward the end of Jesus’ second pronouncement: the concrete situation—the concrete “image,” εἰκών—is perceived as (“made into”) the image of another situation (34)?
The disciples address a question to Jesus (23–24). This is acknowledging that they lack a knowledge that Jesus has, as in Matt 18:1–5. Yet here it is not a knowledge concerning an aspect of the existence in the Kingdom. It is rather a knowledge concerning their status in relation to the Kingdom, the issue raised by the discoursive syntax of Mark 10:13–16 and Luke 18:15–17. In these texts the addressees are enticed to adopt this status by (having the will of) becoming, in different ways, correct interpreters of a situation in terms of the Kingdom (see 3.44). By contrast, here, the disciples acknowledge that they do not know how to interpret their status in relation to the Kingdom in terms of Jesus’ first pronouncement. They see themselves as children (23), but do not know whether they will enter the Kingdom or not (or, at least, are not sure of it). They question their ability to interpret their status and Jesus’ first pronouncement. But they are also in quest for this ability that they trust Jesus can give them.
3.64 Jesus is thus characterized as one who has this ability to interpret correctly, on the one hand, the relation between a concrete situation and the Kingdom and, on the other hand, the relation of the disciples to the Kingdom. As is expressed in the second pronouncement, this is an ability of “making one” these three situations, and this two by two. The disciples shall enter the Kingdom when they shall do the same.
The relation Jesus-disciples is a relation teacher-willing pupils (comparable to that of Matt 18:1–5, since the disciples ask a question of Jesus; see 3.24). But here the teaching that is transmitted is no longer a knowledge (a piece of information about greatness in the Kingdom exemplified by the children who in their concrete situation do belong to the Kingdom), but an ability to interpret, that is, to relate allegorically, two discrete realms. The transmission of knowledge (information) in and of itself (the first pronouncement in Thomas 22) is not enough. One needs also, and indeed primarily, to know-how-to-interpret, the ability to interpret, as Jesus does. Thus the relation Jesus-disciples is here more like master-apprentices.
By comparison with John 3, we find here also two levels of interpretation: the interpretation of a concrete, “physical” situation and that of a “spiritual” situation characterized by a “spiritual” ability. In John 3, these two levels of interpretation are distinguished and even opposed. The ability to interpret the spiritual reality has nothing to do with the ability to interpret the physical reality and to perceive God at work in it. In Thomas 22, by contrast, the two levels of interpretation are brought together. Interpreting a concrete situation in the realm of the Kingdom (the disciples as children) provides knowledge concerning the realm of the Kingdom. These two levels of interpretation in Thomas 22 might, in fact, correspond to the second level of interpretation in John 3 (note that John 3:12, “telling heavenly things,” suggests a third level; the first level of John 3, that of the Pharisaic interpretation, being left out of consideration in Thomas 22). But this can only be established by a study of the entire Gospels of John and Thomas.
3.7 The preceding comment points out the tentative nature of our conclusions regarding the characteristics of the discoursive syntax of the six passages we have studied. They merely suggest what seem to be the implications of our observations about the discoursive syntax of very short passages of much longer texts (the Gospels). Without any doubt they would have to be refined and possibly corrected in light of a study of the discoursive syntax of the entire Gospels. The discoursive syntax is a system that encompasses an entire discourse. Yet this system is characterized by patterns which are repeated in various ways through the entire system. And thus our conclusions based upon the study of short passages are preliminary assessments of what characterizes the discoursive syntax of the entire Gospels. Thus, in this tentative way, I believe our analysis shows how the constant relation “Jesus-people in an overall positive relation with Jesus” has been defined in various ways by being inserted in different systems of discoursive syntax.
4. Comparison of the Six Texts in Terms of Their Narrative Syntax and Semantics: The Relation Between “Entering the Kingdom” And “Childhood”
In this second part of our structural exegesis our goal is: (a) to determine how “entering the Kingdom” and “childhood” are defined in each text by being inserted in, respectively, a specific narrative syntactical system and a specific semantic system; and (b) to show how they are interrelated. For this purpose, in each case, we need to establish the syntactical system that I term “system of pertinent transformations” (see Patte and Patte, 1978, ch. II), that is, the system established by the text when it opposes two by two (narrative) transformations manifested by the verbs of the category of “doing” (to which “entering the Kingdom” belongs). In a second stage of our analysis, we can then study the narrative semantic system which is made up of interrelated oppositions of semantic terms (among which “childhood”) manifested by the states—the subjects and their qualifications—associated with the pertinent transformations.
4.1 The Relations between “Entering the Kingdom” and “Childhood” in Mark 10:13–16
4.11 “Entering the Kingdom” as defined in the syntactical system
4.111 In this text there are only three clear oppositions of transformations that we can list as follows (the verses are broken down into subsections by attributing a subsection to each verb; for instance, “14b” means second verb in verse 14).
14b, having an indignation vis-à-vis the disciples vs 13c, having a negative evaluation of the people who bring the children.
This awkward rendering of the verbs ἠγανάκτησεν and ἐπετίμησαν attempts to account for the reflexive character of these verbs of emotion without denying their other connotations.
14d, giving permission to the children (to come to Jesus) vs 14f, hindering them. 16c, laying his hand on (touching) the children vs 13b, Jesus not touching them.
In 13b the intended transformation is interrupted by the disciples.
The last two oppositions (14d vs and 16c vs 13b) belong to the primary level of the text. On the positive side, giving permission, 14d, leads to Jesus’ touching the children, 16c. On the negative side, hindering the children, 14f, leads to Jesus’ not touching them, 13b. Both these sequences of actions presuppose that an interpretation (evaluation) of the euphoric or dysphoric value of “Jesus touching the children” and consequently of “giving them the permission to approach Jesus” took place. The contradictory evaluations are expressed by the opposition 14b vs 13c.
4.112 15c, “Not entering the Kingdom,” does not belong to the system of pertinent transformations of this text (it is a negative transformation that does not have a positive counterpart; in this form it is therefore an element of the discoursive syntax which we have discussed above). Yet it is defined through its relations to the transformations of the system of pertinent transformations.
“Not entering the Kingdom” is closely associated with “not receiving the Kingdom as a child,” 15b, which cannot be equated with hindering (which is doing something to the children, who are receivers of the object hindrance) but indeed can be correlated with “having a negative evaluation of the children,” 13c. In each case it is a reflexive action, “not attributing an object (an evaluation of the children, or the Kingdom) to oneself.” Consequently, “not entering the Kingdom” belongs to the interpretative level of the text. It is what happens to the interpreting subject in a syntactic unfolding other than the unfolding of the primary story, and as a consequence of the interpretation.
4.113 Thus, on the positive side of the syntactical system, a correct interpretation of the relation between Jesus and the children (“receiving the children”) brings about two syntactic developments: on the primary level, giving permission to the children to approach Jesus so that Jesus might bless them by taking them in his arms and laying his hand on them (note that “blessing” Κατευλόγει, is the principal verb in 10:16); and, on the interpretative level, the interpreter’s entrance into the Kingdom.
Thus, in the narrative syntactical system of Mark 10:13–16, “entering the Kingdom” is correlated with (is like) “being blessed by Jesus as one who is in his arms and upon whom he lays his hand.” Entering the Kingdom of God is not so much something that one does, but rather something which happens to someone: it is being blessed.
4.12 “Childhood” as defined in the semantic system
Following the methodology established and applied in Patte and Patte, 1978, chs. II and III, from the system of pertinent transformations one can deduce the organization of the narrative semantic system (which I also called “symbolic system” and which is nothing else than the “system of convictions,” of self-evident truths, held by the enunciator). For this it is enough to organize the system of pertinent transformations in such a way as to have a narrative progression along either the principal or the polemical axis (according to the way in which the story unfolds) with the interpretative levels branching out of the primary level at the point of interpretation. Since an opposition of pertinent transformations is associated with an opposition of semantic terms (manifested by the subjects of the transformations and their qualifications), it is enough to replace the transformations by their subjects and simultaneously to slide the negative axis upward to obtain the shape of the semantic system (for the theoretical justification of this apparently mechanical move, see Patte and Patte, 1978, ch. II, and Patte, 1981).
4.121 In the case of Mark 10, all this operation is quite simple since we are dealing with only three sets of pertinent transformations. Furthermore, since the interpretative level is based upon the interpretation of whether or not the children should approach Jesus and be touched by him (which happens to be the second and last set of pertinent transformations), the two levels can be represented as a continuous system. The progression along the two axes is identical. Thus its organization does not present any difficulty. The first opposition of transformation is 14d vs (giving permission to the children vs hindering them), followed by 16c vs 13b (Jesus laying his hand on the children vs not touching them). Then the interpretative opposition of transformations follows, 14b vs 13c (Jesus’ indignation vs the disciples’ negative evaluation). Furthermore, from the above discussion of the syntax, we know that the next opposition would have been “entering the Kingdom” vs “not entering the Kingdom.” (Even though this opposition is not expressed, this observation will be useful below.)
Following the process described above, we can thus establish the shape of the semantic system as follows. We replace the transformations by their subjects as a shorthand marker for the subjects and their qualifications. By convention the above representation must be read from bottom to top (movement toward the more important semantic categories). The verse numbers are kept to mark the relation of the semantic terms with the transformations. We thus obtain one complete semiotic square and two half squares. The top half square can then be completed: on the positive axis we find the semantic term corresponding to “entering the Kingdom,” which is nothing else than those (the true disciples) who interpret the situation of the children in terms of their relation to the Kingdom. As is the case in most stories, the main semantic category is not related to a pertinent transformation so that its semantic character might be more directly manifested.
Each of these subjects has very few qualifications (there is no descriptive statement about any of them). Therefore we can expect that their primary qualifications are their respective competencies as defined by the narrative unfolding.
4.122 Let us first consider square no. I, a half square involving the relations of contradiction 14d Disciples vs 14f Disciples, of contrariety 16c Jesus vs 14f Disciples, and of implication 14d Disciples 16c Jesus. All these subjects are merely defined by the action they perform. Furthermore, two of them (14d and 14f) are merely expressed in an imperative form. Thus their subjects are only qualified by a “will” (and not “knowledge” and “being able to,” which would be present if the actions had been described as performed). This means that in this square the respective “will” of these two subjects is related to the “will” of the subject of 16c.
Hindering (14f) involves “wanting to separate the children from Jesus” as qualification of the subject “disciples.” Giving permission (14d) involves “wanting to let approach the children to Jesus” as qualification of the subject “disciples.” Laying his hand on them (16c) after taking them in his arms involves “wanting to invite the children with oneself (Jesus) in an intimate fashion.” If we now remove the elements common to these three semantic terms, we are left with the contradictory opposition /non-separation/ vs /separation/, the contrary opposition /union/ vs /separation/, and the implication /union/ /non-separation/.
This can be summarized as follows:
Thus /separation/ is posited as having a negative value, while /union/ and, consequently, /non-separation/ are posited as positive values.
4.123 In square no. II the contrary opposition /union/ vs /separation/ becomes a subcontrary opposition and is defined further by its insertion in a new set of values.
Let us first consider the contradictory opposition of 16c (Jesus reunited with the children and blessing them) to 13b (Jesus separated from the children by the action of the disciples). Let us underscore that in 16c Jesus’ action involves “blessing” and “laying his hand” on the children. He is thus defined as having the power to give a blessing, and thus as “holy” or “sacred.” Thus Jesus as “holy” is in /union/ with the children, who are defined here as those who need to receive a blessing and thus are themselves “not holy” or “profane.” Thus the value manifested in 16c can be approximately formulated as “holy as in union with the profane (in order to bless it).”
In 13b the subject is Jesus as he should be from the disciples’ perspective: separated from the children (not touching the children). In view of the fact that the disciples are followers of Jesus (who have recognized in him a religious authority), the definition of Jesus involved here is certainly of a religious order. The contradictory opposition defines this negative religious definition of Jesus: since he is “holy” he should be separated from what is not holy, from the profane. The people (who bring the children and wish that they be touched by Jesus), and the children (who passively accept this), should not be allowed near him. Thus, the value manifested in 13b can be approximately formulated as “holy as separated from the profane which would passively accept union with it.”
From these observations it appears that the disciples who hinder the children (14f) do this because they are characterized by their “commitment to the separation of the holy from the profane,” which they view as their role as disciples. Then Jesus’ indignation (14b), as contradictory with 14f, is a “(righteous) wrath against the separation of the holy from the profane.”
For brevity’s sake we will not push the analysis further by considering the other relations of the square. It is clear that they could be established by refining the categories further: each contains an attitude (passive acceptance, commitment, wrath) and a relation between holy and profane. But this would not help us toward our goal of defining the value ascribed to the children. Let us summarize our brief discussion in the following schema:
From the study of this part of the semantic system we can draw conclusions regarding the connotations attached to Jesus, the disciples and the children in our text. Jesus is presented as a manifestation of the divine (holy) which breaks away from, and fundamentally rejects, a view of the divine separated from profane human affairs. Indeed, the divine manifestation needs to be intimately related to human affairs so as to bring its blessing. The disciples are presented as fundamentally misunderstanding their role and vocation. Indeed, they are the followers of a wrong Jesus. They are not truly disciples. By their attitude, they demonstrate that they hold a view of divine manifestation which is totally incompatible with Jesus’ ministry. Finally, the children are defined as those who are in need of blessing and thus profane, in need of the holy, and who are furthermore open to a union with the holy (initiated by somebody else, the people bringing them and wanting them to be touched by Jesus). In contrast to the active commitment of the (false) disciples, the children are characterized by a passive acceptance, a mere openness, of an intimate relation with the divine.
4.124 In square no. III (a half square that we shall complete), at first we find only one new opposition: the contradictory opposition 14b (Jesus’ indignation) vs 13c (the disciples’ rebuke). This is the relation of two evaluations. In 13c the disciples have a negative evaluation of the people bringing the children to Jesus so that he might touch them, or more abstractly, in light of the values discussed above, “a negative evaluation of other people’s desire to unite holy and profane, in terms of a view of the separation of the holy and the profane.” In 14b Jesus’ indignation is “a negative evaluation of the negative evaluation … in terms of a view of the union of the holy with the profane.”
In 13b (contrary to 14b and in relation of implication to 13c) Jesus as viewed by the disciples would not touch the children because of his “evaluation of his own status in terms of a view of the separation of the holy and the profane” (see figure 4, next page).
Consequently, the fourth term of the square has to be an /evaluation/ of one’s own status/ in terms of a view of the union of holy and profane/. This is the complex qualification that the true disciples should have.
4.125 As the second part of 10:14 makes clear, in order to choose the proper course of action (the proper will which defines their identity as true disciples), they should evaluate (something) /in terms of the Kingdom/. The phrases/ in terms of the Kingdom/ and /in terms of a view of the union of holy and profane/ are equivalent. Consequently, the Kingdom of God is defined in Mark 10:13–16 as the union of the holy and the profane. More precisely, since by the term “profane” we designate the children and the people who bring them, the Kingdom involves the union of the divine with normal human beings (by contrast with holy people).
As 10:15 makes clear, the disciples are not merely called to evaluate the concrete situation but primarily their own status vis-à-vis the Kingdom: Will they enter the Kingdom or not? Now the Kingdom is for those such as the children (10:14); that is (see above 4.123), for those who passively accept an intimate relation with the divine. Since the children are only defined by an attitude (although a passive one) toward the relation between holy and profane, the phrase ὡς παιδίον must be interpreted “as a child receives the Kingdom” (and not, the Kingdom is “like a child,” as could also be read). In other words, the Kingdom is for those who receive the Kingdom passively, without effort and without even conceiving that the union of the holy and the profane could be questioned, because they totally conceive of themselves in terms of a view of reality in which the holy and the profane can be united as it will be in the Kingdom.
4.2 The Relations between “Entering the Kingdom” and “Childhood” in Matt 18:1–5
4.21 “Entering the Kingdom” as defined in the syntactical system
4.211 In this passage Jesus and the disciples are not in a polemical relationship. Thus, the only oppositions of transformation are to be found in the pronouncement, that is, in a discourse. This is to say that the (narrative) transformations are no longer cast in the framework of a narrative development. It is as if they were extracted from it in order to be cast in the framework of an argument. For the sake of the argument, transformations which would have belonged to different narrative developments can be brought together and opposed, in a kind of telescoping of various stories.
This is what happens in the discourse beginning in Matt 18:3. It begins with a negative statement, 18:3, followed by a positive statement which can be deduced from it, 18:4–5 (note the οὖν, in 18:4a, whose effect is carried to the next verse by the Καὶ of 18:5a), followed by another negative statement, 18:6ff. In this way the discourse sets the following oppositions of transformations:
4a (humbling oneself like a child) vs 3d (not becoming like children).
Furthermore, “not entering the Kingdom,” which can be understood as not attributing the Kingdom as object to oneself as receiver, is opposed to “receiving Jesus,” that is, attributing Jesus as object to oneself as receiver. Thus we find a second opposition of transformations:
5b (receiving Jesus) vs 3e (not entering the Kingdom).
Finally, “receiving a child,” 5a, is clearly opposed by the discourse to “scandalizing a little one,” 6a. This involves a very specific understanding of “receiving a child” as giving a good “reception,” as object, to a child, as receiver (by contrast to the strictly narrative understanding of it as attributing a child as object to oneself as receiver):
5a (receiving a child) vs 6a (scandalizing a little one).
4.212 In the syntactical system, “entering the Kingdom” is thus defined as equivalent to “receiving Jesus.” Furthermore, it is equivalent to “receiving a child” (since when one receives a child, one receives Jesus), which is to be contrasted with “scandalizing a little one.” “Entering the Kingdom” is the result of “becoming like children,” which is “humbling oneself.” When one truly does so, one is then the greatest in the Kingdom.
4.22 “Childhood” as defined in the semantic system
4.221 Since, as we saw above, “receiving a child” and “receiving Jesus” are posited as equivalent, there is no progression from the opposition 5a vs to 5b vs 3e. Consequently, the system of pertinent transformations has only two stages. First the opposition 4a (humbling oneself) vs 3d (not becoming like children), and then the double opposition 5a and 5b vs and 3e.
The shape of the semantic system of this short passage is thus as follows (all the subjects are indefinite and thus we do not write them):
We only have two half squares. Furthermore, since all the subjects are indefinite, their semantic value is limited to their competence. The best defined subject is the subject in 3d: the negative competence of the subject (not becoming like children) involves “not having turned.” And thus the competence of the subject of 4a (humbling oneself) involves “having turned.”
“Not having turned” is in itself largely non-defined (it can have many different connotations). Yet through its relationship of implication with 6a (and 3e), it is defined. For indeed, those who scandalize the little ones are themselves defined by 18:7–9. Without studying these verses in detail, we can say that they are those who do not remove what scandalizes them (even if it is a hand, a foot or an eye). In other words, those who scandalize the little ones (6a) are sinners, and “not turning” is not turning away from sin, that is, not removing what is sinful in oneself.
Consequently, the subjects who “humble themselves as a child” (4a) are those who have the competence to have turned away from their sin, i.e., converted from the scandalous way of the world (7). And those who have humbled themselves and thus can receive Jesus or a child (5a and b) are those who remove from themselves what is sinful, and thus admit to lacking something (as someone maimed or lame or with only one eye, 8 and 9).
The semantic system corresponds exactly therefore to the discoursive syntactical system: being like a child, being humble is accepting, acknowledging that one lacks something important (a hand, a foot, an eye are important parts of the body that one would not like to miss), for instance, the right knowledge that Jesus imparts. (This equivalence of the two levels means that, at least at this point in the Gospel, it is presupposed that the enunciatee shares the system of deep values—the system of convictions—of the enunciator: this is a discourse from Matthew’s church to Matthew’s church.) This means that being like a child is also being able to “receive a child.” If one perceives oneself as lacking something, one can welcome those who likewise perceive themselves as lacking something important.
4.3 The Relations between the “Kingdom” and “Childhood” in Matt 19:13–15
The Syntactical System. The system of pertinent transformations is somewhat similar to that of Mark 10:13–16 with one important difference. The opposition of transformations, Jesus’ action (14a) vs the disciples’ action (13d), is an opposition of two performances with other people as receivers, and no longer directly an opposition of interpretation (note again the absence of interpretation markers, see 3.33). As we shall see, there remains an interpretative semantic dimension, but it is not a narrative syntactical feature. These oppositions can be represented as follows:
14a (giving a mandate to others) vs 13d (rebuking, giving the opposite mandate to others).
14b (giving permission to the children) vs 14c (hindering them).
15a (laying his hand on the children) vs 13b (not doing it).
The system of pertinent transformations is thus different. First, note that here “rebuking (the children)” (13d) and “hindering them” (14c) is the same transformation, since 13d is no longer presented as interpretative. Thus the oppositions 14a vs 13d and 14b vs 14c are a single step of the system of transformations. Jesus’ pronouncement (14a) is equivalent to giving permission to the children to come to him. Thus, the system of pertinent transformations is reduced to two oppositions:
Since “entering the Kingdom” is not to be found as a transformation, we do not need to discuss further the syntactical system.
4.32 “Childhood” as defined in the semantic system
4.321 From the preceding system of pertinent transformations, we can deduce the shape of the semantic system. It includes two half squares.
4.322 Let us consider square no. I, a half square, and the relation of contradiction between 14a, 14b vs 13d, 14c. The fact that Jesus, as speaking, is now one of the subjects of the term 14a, 14b, makes it clear that in addition to the will to let the children come to Jesus, the “knowledge of what to do vis-à-vis the children” is involved (declaring something involves having the knowledge of what is declared). It is a knowledge which involves relating the children to the Kingdom: it is knowing how to relate the Kingdom to a specific situation. This is an interpretative competence, which shows that in Matthew the entire episode is set on an interpretative level (by contrast with Mark, which distinguishes the interpretative level from a primary narrative level). This implies that the disciples’ rebuke is in fact the rejection of people (those who bring the children and the children) who had the proper interpretative knowledge. This rebuke is thus based upon a wrong interpretative knowledge.
Thus, in a first approximation, the contradictory opposition 14a, 14b vs 13d, 14c may be formulated as follows: “will to relate Jesus to children based on knowledge of the children’s relation to the Kingdom” vs “will not to relate Jesus to the children (or to separate them) based on wrong knowledge of the children’s relation to Jesus and an absence of knowledge of the children’s relation to the Kingdom.”
In the contradictory opposition 15a vs 13b of half square no. II, Jesus’ action of “laying his hand on the children” is correlated with “praying” (13c) and “going away” (15b). Once more, we would need to complement the study of this text with the rest of the Gospel, especially to know exactly how to interpret “praying.” Yet, in the partial semantic system we are dealing with, the “relation” dimension of his action is certainly important. Praying involves indeed “establishing a relation between something (the children) and the divine.” Thus Jesus through his action manifests “the competence (including the will and ability) to relate the children to God” in 15a, and the opposite (contradictory) in 13b. Furthermore, the immediate going away of Jesus expresses that Jesus’ relation to the children is secondary: it is simply the means by which the children are related to God. After laying his hand on and praying for the children he can immediately depart.
In view of the limitation of space, we shall not propose a more detailed and complete study of the semantic system (which would demand analyzing a longer passage so as to have at least one full square). The above remarks are enough to show that in this text the statement “the Kingdom of heaven is for those such as the children” means that the children and those who are like them are such—have the necessary qualifications—that they can be established in relationship with God. Thus they are not yet in this relationship with God—not yet participant in the Kingdom of heaven—but are proper candidates for it. They should be allowed, therefore, to approach Jesus, whose role is to establish such people in this relationship with God. The qualifications that make someone “like a child” are not expressed here but in 18:1–6. Such are the conclusions we can reach on the basis of this short text, but they have to be understood as quite tentative. A study of the rest of the Gospel would allow us to verify and to refine them.
4.4 The Relations between “Entering the Kingdom” and “Children” in Luke 18:15–17
4.41 “Entering the Kingdom” as defined in the syntactical system
There are only two oppositions of pertinent transformations. The disciples and Jesus are opposed because they interpret a situation in opposite ways (note again the interpretative markers), and as a consequence Jesus calls the children to himself and the disciples rebuke them.
16a (calling the children to oneself) vs 15d (hindering them).
The other opposition is the one concerning “giving permission” and “hindering.”
16c (giving permission to the children to come to Jesus) vs 16e (hindering them).
The latter opposition belongs to the primary narrative level (which does not unfold beyond this point). The former belongs to the interpretative level. Therefore, the system of pertinent transformations needs to be organized as follows:
“Entering the Kingdom” (17c) belongs to the interpretative level (which encompasses all the text, except for 15a and b, and 16c, d and e) together with “receiving the Kingdom like a child” (17b), Jesus’ pronouncement to undetermined addressees (16b, and 17a), and Jesus’ call of the children to himself (16a). Receiving the Kingdom like a child (17b) is thus correlated to Jesus’ calling to himself the children (16a, a pertinent transformation). The question is then to know how to interpret ὡς παιδίον. The correlation of 17b with 16a has to be taken into account. “Calling to himself” can be understood as equivalent to “receiving.” This correlation displaces the relation with the end of the first part of the pronouncement. Thus it appears that Luke interprets 17b as “receiving the Kingdom as one receives a child” (the Kingdom is like a child). This would fit the description of the children as “babies” who, as infants, are not in a position to perform acts such as “receiving the Kingdom,” but are indeed received (as in Matt. 18:5).
4.42 “Childhood” as defined in the semantic system
4.421 The shape of the semantic system can be derived from the above system of pertinent transformations.
As in the case of Matt 19:13–15, we have only two half squares. It is therefore difficult to reach very clear results. Yet in this case the discussion of the syntactical system suggests that the following opposition would be “receiving the Kingdom vs not receiving it” (17b). Therefore the contrary of 15d Disciples would be the hypothetical subject of “receiving the Kingdom.”
The half square no. I is quite similar to that found in Mark 10:13–16. It could be written in the same way except that in Luke 18:15–17 the /union/ of the children with Jesus is no longer emphasized (by Jesus’ taking the children in his arms). It is simply their relation which is manifested by his call. Thus we can represent this half square as follows:
In half square no. II, the disciples (15d) are qualified as having a cognition (ἰδόντες) of the babies. But they ignore what will be pointed out by Jesus, namely, the relation of the children with the Kingdom. In fact, the competence that they have for performing the action of rebuking the babies involves a conviction, the /knowledge that there is no relation between the children and the Kingdom/.
As we noted above (see 3.43), Jesus ignores the disciples. He acts as if they did not exist. He is thus qualified as having a /lack of knowledge that there is no relation between the children and the Kingdom/.
By contrast, at the interpretative level the disciples who hinder the children (16e) /lack the knowledge of the relation between the children and the Kingdom/ (a relation expressed in the next phrase of the text).
The fourth term of the square has therefore to be a /knowledge of the relation between the children and the Kingdom/. This is indeed a qualification that we can expect for those (including Jesus) who receive the Kingdom in the right way so that they will enter it.
We obtain the following square:
The nature of this “relation” is not defined by the semantic system of the short passage under study. But as we suggested above, it is defined at the level of the syntactic system (which is also the level of the theological affirmations). The Kingdom is like a child (a baby), and thus the Kingdom should be received as a child is received. At the discoursive level, this cognitive nature of the relation opens the possibility of a kind of allegorical interpretation of the situation of the children to gain knowledge concerning one’s relationship to the Kingdom (see 3.44).
4.5 The Relations between “Entering the Kingdom” and “Childhood” in John 3:1–6
4.51 “Entering the Kingdom” and “childhood” as defined by the syntactic system
An opposition of pertinent transformations at the primary narrative level is found in 3:2.
2f (performing signs) vs 2e (not performing signs).
The other oppositions belong to the interpretative level. A first one opposes Nicodemus’ question to Jesus’ sayings.
5a, b (3a, b, c) (Jesus’ response) vs 4a (Nicodemus’ question).
There is only one other opposition of pertinent transformations (and a weak one at that, since it is expressed in the passive form, yet in 4e the subject of the passive form, strangely enough, has a competence … being able to, δούναται).
3d, 5c (being born again) vs 4e (being born from the womb).
Thus the system of transformations can be written:
5a, b (3a, b, c)
As is clear, “entering the Kingdom” is related to “being born from above (ἄνωθεν), from water and spirit” and not “from the flesh” (5, 6). Thus in John 3:1–6, the two terms of the common theme, “entering the Kingdom” and “childhood,” are both expressed in a syntactic form. In other words, what is emphasized is no longer the state “being like a child or infant,” but the process “becoming (like) an infant” as a necessary transformation for “entering the Kingdom.” This transformation is itself the result of a cognitive transformation (as is made clear in 3:10–12 and by the opposition to the cognitive activity of Nicodemus). The passive form of the verb shows that this transformation of somebody as an infant is something which happens to somebody as birth happens to an infant. Yet it is linked with believing as an active cognitive performance of the subject (12).
4.52 The semantic system
4.521 The shape of the semantic system can be represented as follows:
There is no point in spending much time on the analysis of the semantic system. Despite the qualification “old human being” in 4e, “childhood” is not a pertinent semantic feature. The semantic system, thanks to the many repetitions, is quite apparent on the surface of the text. On the negative axis we find semantic features concerning “human ability” (not from God nor with God) in 2e, “human knowledge and ability to interpret” in 4a, and “human nature, flesh” in 4e. By contrast, on the positive axis we find semantic features concerning the “ability originating in the divine and resulting from conjunction with the divine” in 2f, “knowledge originating in the divine and from the Spirit” in 5a, b and other passages, and “the believers’ nature as from above, water and the spirit” in 3d and 5c. This is the opposition of the “spiritual realm” to the “physical realm, the fleshy realm,” which also plays an important role at the discoursive level. As in Matt 18, the semantic system and discoursive system coincide, and thus it is presupposed that the views (the system of convictions) of the enunciator and the enunciatee are the same. The discourse is from (a member of) the Johannine community to the Johannine community. “Being born from above (and again)” is thus entering this system of convictions. Consequently, entering the Kingdom is nothing more than entering the Johannine community of faith (as is further suggested by the allusion to baptism, 5).
4.6 The Syntactic and Semantic Systems of Thomas 22
There is no opposition of narrative transformations in this passage. The positive transformations (and they are many) are only defined in terms of the discoursive syntax (see above 3.6). They remain totally undefined at the level of the semio-narrative syntax. In other words, the enunciator does not impose any syntactic system as normative. The enunciatees are free to include the positive transformations in whatever narrative system (and thus life situation) they choose.
The same is true, consequently, of the semantic system. In other words, no definite system of convictions, no definite view of reality is imposed by the enunciator. The enunciatees are free to cast the positive values expressed in this text in whatever semantic system they choose. This is fitting with our conclusions regarding the discoursive system. The discourse aims at teaching how to interpret, and indeed gives all freedom to the enunciatees to do so. Thus the enunciatees are those who should determine for themselves what the relation is between “entering the Kingdom” and “childhood.”
Of course, there are semantic oppositions in the text, but they belong to a semantic system that we have not studied (because of the nature of the common theme): the discoursive semantic system which expresses values that the “implied reader” (the enunciatee) is supposed to share with the enunciator. Furthermore, elsewhere in the Gospel according to Thomas, there are oppositions of narrative transformations and thus a definite system of convictions is posited. Yet it is characteristic of this gospel that the relation between “entering the Kingdom” and “childhood” remains undefined and thus open to interpretation.
Our comparison of these six texts in terms of several categories is so rich that we are lost in a multitude of details. Our minds cannot keep track of all the nuances we have discovered, nor perceive their implications. First, let us keep in mind that these detailed comparative analyses were aimed at helping us establish the different meanings which the common theme, “Jesus’ pronouncement about the kingdom and the children,” has in these texts. Furthermore, we were dealing with two dimensions of meaning (the discoursive syntax and the semio-narrative syntax/semantic dimensions) which manifest, in each text, aspects of the “faith” (as system of convictions) that characterize the entire gospel from which each passage is taken (cf. Patte, 1982, and Patte, 1983, ch. I). Consequently, our comparative analyses give us a first glimpse at a few distinctive features of the “faith” which underlie each of the gospels.
In order to highlight these different meanings of the common theme and the features of the distinctive kind of faith manifested in each text, this concluding section presents in a summary form the general conclusions reached about each text. We will do so without attempting to justify once again our observations, and thus without referring once again to the features of the text which warrant them.
5.1 Entering the Kingdom Like a Child according to Mark 10
In Mark, the pronouncement is set in a narrative which emphasizes the interpretative role of the addressees (disciples, as well readers). What is at stake is the interpretation of a concrete situation: people bringing children to Jesus, but also, by extension, other concrete situations which are part of the experience of the readers (since the time frame of the pronouncement story includes the readers). In order to be valid this interpretation must be done in terms of the kingdom, i.e., in terms of a view of reality according to which the profane and the sacred are not separated, and thus in union. In other words, one should interpret these concrete situations with the expectation to find the sacred in the midst of the profane (the normal daily life). The disciples (and the readers) should thus receive the kingdom as a child receives it, that is, passively, without effort, and spontaneously. The discovery of the kingdom in the midst of the profane, daily life is simply normal for those who hold as self-evident that the holy is not separated from the profane. “Entering the kingdom” is thus not so much entering a space and thus doing something. It is rather being blessed as the children in the arms of Jesus are blessed by him. But, for this purpose, one needs to share in the view of reality and of human experience that the children typify. One needs to abandon the view that one has (which is also that of the disciples) according to which the holy and the profane are separated. In such a case one has a wrong view of the kingdom and of Jesus. Positively, one needs to gain a new vision of human experience (a new faith). It is such a vision that the pronouncement story aims at transmitting.
5.2 Entering the Kingdom Like a Child according Matthew 18 & 19
In Matthew, the theme under study receives quite different connotations. To begin with, Matthew presupposes that the addressees already have the valid vision of reality and human experience: they (correctly) believe in the kingdom. But this view of the kingdom is precisely what was a wrong understanding of the kingdom according to Mark 10. Indeed, the kingdom is now a space which is separated from, and opposed to, the profane space (the world) which is a sinful space, as well as to the Gehenna and the deep of the sea. So to speak, the kingdom becomes a mythical/ethical space, which is separated from the normal world of daily life which is evil. The addressees are called to an interpretation of concrete situations in terms of the kingdom (as in Mark), but what is now at stake in this interpretation is merely to be able to evaluate how one should relate concrete situations to the kingdom in order to know how to act in such situations. Thus in Matt 19 the statement “the kingdom of heaven is for those such as the children” means that the children have the necessary qualifications to be established in relation with Jesus. These proper qualifications are expressed in Matt 18: being like a child is being humble, i.e., accepting and acknowledging that one lacks something important (as important as an eye, a foot, or a hand), namely, the knowledge that Jesus imparts. Being like a child is also being able to receive a child, because if one perceives oneself as lacking something important, one can welcome those who are in the same situation. Entering the kingdom involves therefore receiving Jesus, since receiving a child (or other people who are like a child) is receiving Jesus. Finally, let us note that this knowledge, which one needs to receive in order to judge the concrete situations and to act on this basis, is the very teaching of Jesus during his ministry. It is a knowledge which has been revealed “in that time,” the (quasi mythical) time of Jesus’ ministry.
5.3 Entering the Kingdom like a Child according to Luke 18
In Luke, the theme receives once again quite different connotations. By contrast with Matthew where the children are those who have the proper qualifications in order to enter the kingdom, in Luke the kingdom is like a child (a baby). One should receive the kingdom as one receives a child. Indeed, the proper view of the kingdom involves a valid perception of the relation between the kingdom and children. As in Mark, this involves an interpretation, on the part of the addressees, of the relation between the kingdom and a concrete situation in order to establish for the addressees a proper view of the kingdom. But the relation between the concrete situation and the kingdom is quite different. In Luke, the space of the story is “verbal” and thus separated from the concrete space. In other words, the text posits two discrete realms. The relation of Jesus to the children in the concrete realm represents (is an allegory of) the relation within the realm of the kingdom. Furthermore, the perception of these “allegorical” relations allows one to identify who can be called to enter the realm of the kingdom. For indeed, one can pass from one realm (the “natural” realm) to the other (the realm of the kingdom) through a “call,” as the children were called by Jesus. Unlike Matthew, according to whom two (ethical) spaces are clearly separated and according to whom one passes from one to the other by turning away from sin, in Luke, even though the two realms are distinct (by contrast with Mark), they are closely related by the “call” (or should I say, the proclamation as call?). The realm of the kingdom is the realm of those who have been called and have received the kingdom as one receives a child.
5.4 Entering the Kingdom like a Child according to John 3
As in Mark and Luke, in John the readers are invited to become the addressees of the discourse and to become believers. Furthermore, as in Matthew, this text emphasizes the process of becoming like a child as a necessary transformation for entering the kingdom. But here (by contrast with Matthew) it is not an ethical transformation but a cognitive (spiritual) transformation which is necessary. Yet we find here, as in Matthew, two distinct realms which are not interrelated as they are in Luke by what we called an “allegorical” relation. The two realms are opposed. Being born again is a reality of the spiritual realm which does not correspond in any direct way to natural birth. Attempting to conceive one realm in terms of the other is purely nonsensical! This realm of the kingdom is nothing else than the Johannine community of faith. Entering the kingdom is thus entering this community.
5.5 Entering the Kingdom like a Child according to Thomas 22
Interestingly enough, the text of Thomas has points of contact with each of the preceding variants of the pronouncement story except one. The theme of “unity” which we found in Mark is found here again. But this unity is no longer simply the non-separation of the sacred and the profane. It is now a unity affecting all aspects of experience (rather than a specific one) and which is brought about by the proper interpretation. Note also that this theme is expressed by references to the various parts of the body also discussed in Matthew 18. As in Matthew, the relation between Jesus and the disciples is one of teacher to pupils. But here what is transmitted is no longer a piece of knowledge that one lacks, but the ability to interpret. As in Luke, we find in Thomas two realms related allegorically. Interpreting a situation of the concrete, natural realm is deriving from it knowledge concerning the realm of the kingdom. But unlike in Luke, these two realms are not related in a second way, i.e., through a call which allows people to pass from one realm to the other. In fact, for Thomas there is no real need to pass from one to the other: these two (realms) are one when they are properly interpreted. Strangely enough, it is only with John 3 that we cannot find any clear points of contact at any level. Unlike in John where the semantic system (the system of convictions) is well defined—it is the faith of the Johannine community—this passage of the Gospel of Thomas is wide open. The key concepts such as kingdom and children remain totally undefined. The discourse aims at teaching how to interpret and gives all freedom to the addressees to do so. They will have to determine for themselves what is the relation between “entering the kingdom” and “childhood.”
Such is also the situation of the reader of this essay! Yet it is for a different reason. One cannot hold together the conflicting views of the relations between entering the kingdom and childhood that we have found in these six texts. They reflect distinct kinds of faith (as system of convictions). One could conclude that it is only a matter of interpretation. Then one would move in the direction proposed by the Gospel of Thomas according to which one should “make the two [the six!] one.” Yet, even if it is “only a matter of interpretation,” one might want to keep in mind that an interpretation is always made from the perspective of a system of convictions, that is, on the basis of a vision of the kingdom. But then, which one?
Pronouncement Stories and Jesus’ Blessing of the Children: A Rhetorical Approach
Vernon K. Robbins
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Using insights derived from the exercises with the chreia in Aelius Theon’s Progymnasmata, variations in wording among apophthegmata in Plutarch’s writings and compositional techniques in Xenophon’s Memorabilia, this paper revises our understanding of the development of the literary units concerning Jesus and children in the NT Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas.
First of all, Theon’s presentation of a condensed and expanded version of a chreia about Epameinondas suggests that the compositional techniques present in the synoptic pronouncement stories are remarkably similar to the compositional techniques employed in the expanded chreia. Since the skill to expand a chreia is attained during an early stage of compositional training, only relatively simple paratactic syntax is used, producing a sequence of two to four sentences connected by kai or de.
Second, the synoptic units containing the saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God,” exhibit the presence of a sayings-chreia in the Jesus tradition which both Matthew and Mark present in the form of a mixed chreia that includes Jesus’ touching of the children at the end of the story. Luke, in contrast, presents the story as a sayings-chreia that correlates the possession of the kingdom of God by children with anyone’s receiving of the kingdom of God.
Third, the units concerning children and greatness reveal the presence of an action-chreia at the base of the three versions in the synoptic gospels. This chreia did not originally mention the kingdom of God. Rather, Jesus answered a question about greatness by placing a child either in their midst or by his side. This chreia is presented as a mixed chreia containing both actions and sayings in all three of the synoptic gospels. Only Matthew, however, adds a saying about the kingdom of God. Both Mark and Luke add sayings about receiving Jesus and the one who sent Jesus, and these sayings exhibit the tendency to transform a specific scene into a scene with general implications about life, a tendency exhibited in apophthegmata contained in Plutarch’s writings.
Fourth, the compositional procedures used to construct the Nicodemus scene in John 3:1–21 and the Entrance of Suckling Children into the Kingdom in Gos. Thom. 22 reveals similarities with the composition of Xenophon’s Memorabilia 3.9.14–15. By presenting a sequence of short chreiai in a series, the authors construct scenes that explore general concepts through a series of questions, answers and comments that produce a dialogue.
1. The Goals of This Essay
This paper contains analysis of the literary units in the NT Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas that feature poignant speech and action concerning children. Each of the synoptic Gospels contains two different stories about Jesus and children: (1) Matthew 19:13–15; Mark 10:13–16; Luke 18:15–17; (2) Matthew 18:1–5; Mark 9:33–37; Luke 9:46–48. In addition, John 3:1–8 has a discussion about being born again to see the kingdom of God, and Gos. Thom. 22 has a discussion about suckling infants entering the kingdom.
1.1 The commonly accepted approach to gospel traditions that contain poignant sayings is either to ignore the actions of Jesus in the story or to consider the actions to be secondary to the sayings. In other words, it is presupposed that the transmission of speech attributed to Jesus holds the key to the history of the gospel traditions in which Jesus is the main character. The accompanying result of this approach to gospel traditions is to suggest that most settings are contrived artificially to provide a situation for sayings to occur, and in many instances the settings have been created out of the idea in the major saying in the story.
1.2 The analysis in this paper challenges the traditional approach on the basis of evidence in the history of chreia traditions in Graeco-Roman literature. First, evidence in chreia traditions suggests that actions often are as important as sayings, and in some instances actions are prior in the tradition. In other words, in some stories a poignant action within a particular setting has been the occasion for the production of one or more sayings. The sayings have been produced to explain the action, to supplement the thought in the action, or to relate the thought in the action to some other thought or action. Second, specific sayings are often prior in the tradition to generalized sayings, i.e., maxims. This paper suggests, therefore, that the history of the traditions in the gospels needs to be re-assessed to identify sayings that have developed out of settings characterized by poignant action, and generalized sayings that have arisen to supplement or replace specific sayings in specific settings.
The conclusions in this paper are attained by means of analysis informed by ancient rhetorical treatises. While rhetoric means many things to many people, in this paper it refers to techniques of persuasion and argumentation as they are embodied in literature. Rhetorical analysis, therefore, is undertaken in the form of analysis of techniques of persuasion and argumentation in the literary units in which children are the object of Jesus’ speech and demonstrative action.4 Rhetorical analysis of the units about children seems especially appropriate, because the units contain all three components of a rhetorical situation: (1) speaker; (2) speech and/or demonstrative action; and (3) audience. The presence of these three components means that the units create the rhetorical setting of a mini-speech. Through these three components in the mini-speech situation, persuasion and argumentation operate through three modes: (1) character (ēthos); (2) thought (logos); (3) response (pathos). The speaker embodies character (ēthos), the speech and demonstrative action contain thought (logos), and the audience responds (pathos) to the character and the thought. Accordingly, in the units concerning children, Jesus embodies authoritative character (ēthos), Jesus’ speech and demonstrative action contain thought (logos), and the disciples and the reader respond (pathos) to the actions and speech in the setting.
Since the limitations of space make it impossible to present a complete rhetorical analysis of the stories concerning children, this paper presents only a revised history of the tradition and an initial consideration of the function of the stories in each of the gospels as construed on the basis of evidence both in rhetorical treatises and in literature contemporary with the gospels. The steps in the analysis are based especially on data in the Progymnasmata of Aelius Theon of Alexandria, written during the latter part of the first or early part of the second century C.E., and in the writings of Plutarch written 90–120 C.E. The data from Theon shows that people who learned to compose in Greek began their training with exercises performed on short literary units like the units in the synoptic gospels. The exercises in Theon’s Progymnasmata represent widespread educational practice going back to the beginning of the first century B.C.E., and they show that variations in data and phrasing in brief literary units was understood as a rhetorical exercise that prepared the student for the incorporation of traditional stories and sayings into full-length speeches. In other words, writing brief literary units in varying ways was a preparatory exercise for adapting a unit to the argumentative setting in which it would occur. In turn, the data from Plutarch shows how authors employed the insights gained from their training in composition, adapting and rewriting brief stories and apophthegms as they incorporated them into an extended literary document.
1.3 The analysis and interpretation in this paper unfold in four steps. First, we will exhibit Theon’s definition of a chreia, list the exercises Theon says were used in the educational setting, and illlustrate an exercise that is especially important for understanding the relation of the chreia to the stories about Jesus and the children. Analysis of the exercises performed with the chreia during the preliminary stage of rhetorical training suggests that the synoptic stories about Jesus and the children should be understood as moderately expanded chreiai. In other words, instead of rejecting the importance of the chreia for understanding stories with pointed sayings and actions, as did both M. Dibelius and A. Hultgren, this study uses the exercises with the chreia as a springboard for analysis and interpretation. Second, moving out from chreiai in Theon’s Progymnasmata to chreiai as they were composed in the setting of literature contemporary with the gospels, the analysis of the six synoptic stories about Jesus and the children suggests that two chreiai existed in early Christian tradition: (1) a chreia in which Jesus responds with a saying when the disciples attempt to hinder people from bringing children to him; and (2) a chreia in which Jesus responds with a demonstrative action when they are concerned to know who is the greatest. This analysis breaks with the tradition that “the interest of the apophthegms is entirely confined to sayings of Jesus” to argue that the history of the tradition concerning Jesus’ blessing of the children can be accurately unravelled only if the analysis is as sensitive to settings and actions as to sayings. Third, the analysis of moderately expanded chreiai in the synoptic gospels and in literature contemporary with them shows a tendency either to transform sayings with a specific reference to sayings with more general reference, or to add general maxims to specific sayings. These changes allow the story to contribute more directly to argumentation in the document in which it is being incorporated. This generalizing activity appears to produce general sayings and maxims that, within time, may become separated from the chreia. Fourth, the production of general sayings within chreia traditions is juxtaposed with the attraction of general maxims to a chreia tradition. This investigation provides the basis for analysis of the settings of dialogue and discourse in the Fourth Gospel and the Gospel of Thomas about being born again and about being a suckling infant in order to enter the kingdom.
1.4 Therefore, working through the units about Jesus and the children, we will suggest that traditions in the form of chreiai portrayed a specific image of Jesus’ character (ēthos) by means of pointed speech and action (logos) designed to evoke a positive response (pathos) toward a particular system of thought and action perpetuated by early Christians. As the traditions were transmitted through succeeding generations of believers, the character of Jesus was molded in terms of more spiritualistic, esoteric wisdom. In this setting the emphasis fell more and more on the portrayal of a “logic” for entering and seeing the kingdom. This logic was explored by means of a setting of dialogue and extended discourse that subordinated poignant action to poignant speech.
In particular, the conclusion will be drawn that the synoptic writers had been trained to perceive stories about personages in terms of discrete literary units that were fair game for expansion and modification. The conclusion is near to hand that the authors of the synoptic gospels had learned to compose Greek in a setting that had incorporated preliminary exercises of rhetorical education as they are discussed and illustrated in Theon’s Progymnasmata. Both as they wrote their gospels and as they read other people’s collections or complete narratives, they saw the material in terms of the discrete units they had been taught to see and write in the educational setting where they had learned to compose in Greek. Also, in accord with their level of rhetorical training, they expanded or condensed these literary units—incorporating, excluding and rewriting—by means of procedures they understood to be persuasive rhetorically.
2 Rhetorical Composition in the Chreia
2.1 From the point of view of a rhetorician like Theon, the six literary units about children in the synoptic gospels are chreiai that have been expanded in various ways by different authors. For Theon, a chreia is:
σύντομος ἀπόφασις ἢ πρᾶξις μετʼ εὐστοχίας ἀναφερομένη εἴς τι ὡρισμένον πρόσωπον ἤ ἀυαλογοῦν προσώπῳ
a brief statement or action with pointedness attributed to some specific person or something analogous to a person.
The essential attributes of a chreia, therefore, are the presence of a personage πρόσωπον by means of attribution of the statement or action, and the presence of a statement or action that is “well-aimed” ἀπόφασις ἢ πρᾶξις μετʼ εὐστοχίας, i.e., that directs the reader’s thought in a striking manner. Through convention, the statement or action in the chreia was written by means of one or more participial clauses in the first part followed by a finite verb that introduced the statement or action. One of the chreiai Theon gives as an example is as follows:
ʼΕπαμεινώδνας, ἄτεκνος ἀποθνήσκων, ἔλεγε τοῖς φίλοις, δύο θυγατέρας ἀπέλιπον, τήν τε περὶ Λεύκτραν νίκην, καὶ τὴν περὶ Μαντίνειαν·
Epameinondas, as he was dying childless, said to his friends: “I have left two daughters—the victory at Leuctra and the one at Mantineia.”
A chreia like this one would be used with the student during his preliminary rhetorical training in order to teach him how to compose in a clear and persuasive style. Theon says that the student would write and rewrite the chreia according to the following exercises:
(1). Write the chreia clearly either in the same words or in different words (recitation: ἀπαγγελία)
(2). Rewrite the chreia by changing the person, number and cases so that the chreia would be written in first, second, third and dual persons, and in the five cases (inflection: κλίσις)
(3). Write comments on what was said or done in the chreia (ἐπιφώνησις)
(4). Write objections to the chreia from opposite points of view (ἀντιλογία)
(5). Expand the chreia (ἐπεκτένειν)
(6). Condense the chreia (συστέλλειν)
(7). Refute the chreia (ἀνασκευάζειν)
(8). Confirm the chreia (κατασκευάζειν)
These exercises prepared the student for using the chreia rhetorically within extended prose composition where any person and number may be required in the verbs, various cases would be needed to express the circumstances surrounding the statement or action, and various lengths would be desired for the inclusion of greater or less detail. Also, these exercises influenced the oral skills of the student, since the student was asked to express the exercises orally as well as to write them.
2.2 While it is not necessary to recount what Theon says about each of the exercises with the chreia, his illustration of the expansion of a chreia is pertinent to our analysis. To illustrate the expansion exercise, Theon expands the chreia cited above into the following form:
ʼΕπαμεινώνδας, ὁ τῶν Θηβαίων στρατηγὸς, ἦν μὲν ἄρα καὶ παρὰ τὴν εἰρήνην ἀνὴρ ἀγαθὸς, συστάντος δὲ τῆ πατρίδι πολέμου πρὸς Λακεδαιμονιους, πολλὰ καὶ λαμπρὰ ἔργα τῆς μεγαλοψυχίας ἐπεδείξατο· βοιωταρχῶν μὲν περὶ Λεῦκτρα ἐνίκα τοὺς πολεμίους, στρατευόμενος δὲ ὑπὲρ τῆς πατρίδος καὶ ἀγωνιζόμενος ἀπέθανεν ἐν Μαντινεία. ἐπεὶ δὲ τρωθεὶς ἐτελεύτα τὸν βίον, ὀλοφυρομένων τῶν φίλων τά τε ἄλλα, καὶ διότι ἄτεκνος ἀποθνήσκοι, μειδιάσας, παύσασθε, ἔφη, ὦ φίλοι, κλαίοντες, ἐγὼ γὰρ ὑμῖν ἀθανάτους δύο καταλέλοιπα θυγατέρας, δύο νίκας τῆς πατρίδος κατὰ Λακεδαιμονίων, τὴν μὲν ἐν Λεύκτροις, τὴν πρεσβυτέραν, νεωτέραν δὲ τὴν ἄρτι μοι γενομένην ἐν Μαντινείᾳ.
Epameinondas, the Theban general, was of course a good man even in time of peace, but when war broke out between his country and the Lacedaemonians, he performed many brilliant deeds of courage. As a Boeotarch at Leuctra, he triumphed over the enemy, but while campaigning and fighting for his country, he died at Mantineia. While he was dying of his wounds and his friends were particularly grief-stricken that he was dying childless, he smiled and said: “Stop grieving, friends, for I have left you two immortal daughters: two victories of our country over the Lacedaemonians, the one at Leuctra, who is the older, and the younger, who has just been born to me at Mantineia.”
Immediately the reader will notice how the expansion has produced a sequence of sentences containing participial clauses and finite verbs. The unity of the story is maintained through the use of conjunctions. The saying has been expanded through direct address, command and greater detail. The author has shifted from ἔλεγε to introduce the saying in the condensed form to ἔφη in the expanded form. Also, a participle (μειδιάσας laughing) is included to introduce a circumstantial gesture and attitude in the setting of the finite verb that introduced the speaking.
2.3 The procedures for expanding the chreia bridge the gap between the chreiai and the stories with pointed sayings and actions in the gospels called “pronouncement stories” in recent research, and previously called paradigms or apophthegms. The rejection of a relationship between the gospel stories and the chreiai has arisen, partially because of a lack of periodic composition in the gospel stories. But periodic composition was not emphasized during the stage of learning to expand and condense the chreia, and Theon, as we see, did not compose his example of the expanded chreia in one periodic construction. The problem in scholarship, we therefore suggest, has arisen both from a failure to analyze the procedures for expanding and condensing the chreia in the Progymnasmata and from a failure to analyze the actual instances of chreia traditions in extended literary settings comparable to the gospels.
3. Rhetorical Composition in the Chreia About Children Belonging to the Kingdom
3.1 One of the chreiai that existed in early Christian tradition recited a scene in which the disciples were preventing little children from coming to Jesus, to which Jesus responded, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God (Heaven).” This chreia underlies the little stories in Matt 19:13–15; Mark 10:13–16 and Luke 18:15–17. The basic structure of the chreia is:
(a). People were bringing children to Jesus, that he might touch them;
(b). The disciples rebuked the people;
(c). Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
This sequence is rhetorically complete, and it contains the natural ingredients for a chreia that ends with a poignant saying. The challenge for composition of the chreia in a condensed form (as a periodic construction) would be to express the people’s bringing of the children and the disciples’ rebuking of the people as an introduction to Jesus’ response to the disciples’ action. If a person were to write a condensed form of the story in a manner similar to Theon’s composition of the Epameinondas chreia, it might look something like this:
ʼΙησοῦς, ἰδὼν τοὺς μαθητὰς ἐπιτιμῶντάς τινας τοὺς προσφέροντας παιδία αὐτῷ ἵνα αὐτῶν ἅψηται, εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, ἄφετε τὰ
παιδία ἔρχεσθαι πρός με καὶ μὴ κωλύετε αὐτά· τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.
Jesus, when he saw his disciples rebuking certain ones who were bringing children to him in order that he might touch them, said to them, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
The story in this condensed form would exhibit the ēthos of Jesus through a statement that countered the disciples’ decision not to let people bring the little children to him. Jesus’ response contains the assertion (logos) that little children belong to the kingdom of God, and this thought embodies the ēthos of Jesus that brings forth a positive response (pathos). By his willingness to give individual attention to little children, who cannot confer expensive gifts or positions of authority in return for favors, Jesus manifests good moral character and good will.
Interpretation of the earliest form of the tradition would be facilitated greatly if we knew the motivation and occasion, as perceived in the story, for bringing the children to Jesus. What social context makes this action appropriate? The only clue lies in the comment that the goal was for Jesus to touch the children, i.e., to lay his hands on them. The best possibility, on the basis of the evidence recently presented by J. Sauer, appears to be a tradition of healing children by taking them into one’s arms. Whether the presupposition is healing or some other form of blessing, the interest in Jesus’ touching of the children is essential for understanding the development of the story in the tradition.
Instead of writing the chreia in a condensed form, all of the authors of the gospels compose a moderately expanded chreia by means of a paratactic sequence. The form of the gospel units is therefore like Theon’s expanded chreia rather than like the form of a condensed chreia with a periodic construction. In other words, the chreia in the gospels takes the form of a pronouncement story with a length that stands halfway between the condensed chreia and the expanded chreia produced as an example by Theon.
In this paper, the stories in the synoptic gospels are discussed individually to delineate the rhetorical features peculiar to each unit in its fully constituted form. No preconceived notion of literary dependence is imposed, since such a procedure easily leads to a lack of perception of the rhetorical nature of the presently constituted form. When the analysis has implications for conclusions about literary dependence, the implications are introduced. Otherwise, the order in which the stories are discussed arises from the inner logic of the paper itself rather than from a decision about one author’s dependence on another.
3.2 Matthew 19:13–15
Matthew composes an expanded form of the chreia by introducing the laying on of hands at the beginning and the end. He uses only one participle, ἐπιθείς, in the midst of independent clauses connected by conjunctions to construct the story:
Τότε προσηνέχθησαν αὐτῷ παιδία, ἵνα τὰς χεῖρας ἐπιθῇ αὐτοῖς καὶ προσεύξηται· οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ ἐπετίμησαν αὐτοῖς. ὁ δὲ ʼΙησοῦς εἶπεν, ʼΆφετε τὰ παιδὶα καὶ μὴ κωλύετε αὐτὰ ἐλθεῖν πρός με, τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν. καὶ ἐπιθεὶς τὰς χεῖρας αὐτοῖς ἐπορεύθη ἐκεῖθεν.
Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. Then Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And when he had laid his hands on them, he went away.
In the form in which Matthew composes the story, Jesus responds to the disciples’ action both with a saying and with an action (laying his hands on the children). The portrayal of action as well as speech creates a form the ancient rhetoricians called a mixed chreia (μικτὴ χρεία). If a chreia makes its point through speech alone, it is called a sayings chreia (λογικὴ χρεία); if it makes its point through action alone, it is called an action chreia (πρακτικὴ χρεία); but if it makes its point through both speech and action, it is called a mixed chreia (μικτὴ χρεία). The presence of both speech and action allows the character (ēthos) of Jesus to emerge in the story not only through the thought (logos) expressed in the speech but through the thought (logos) expressed by the action. The action of laying his hands on the children manifests good character in Jesus that produces a strong favorable response (pathos). Matthew has emphasized the action of Jesus by repeating τὰς χεῖρας ἐπιθῇ αὐτοῖς (Matt 19:13) in the form of ἐπιθεὶς τὰς χεῖρας αὐτοῖς in the last line (Matt 19:15). The rhetorical significance of this emphasis lies in the attempt of the narrator of the story to control the response (pathos) of the reader. The action which frames the saying transmits an image of Jesus as a personage with morally reputable character traits.
The action frames a saying in which Jesus rebukes the disciples. The intensity of the rebuke of Jesus is emphasized by means of the verb of rebuke, ἐπετίμησαν, and the commands to let the children come and not to hinder them. The presence of the γάρ clause makes the saying rhetorically complete. The γάρ clause supplies the reason, the basis, for the command. As the Rhetorica ad Herennium explains:
The reason, by means of a brief explanation subjoined, sets forth the causal basis, establishing the truth of what we are urging. (2.18.28)
Supplying a statement of the reason is important rhetorically whenever an assertion, even if not unreasonable, is obscure. As Aristotle explains:
In all cases where the statements made, although not paradoxical, are obscure, the reasons should be added as concisely as possible. (Ars Rhetorica 2.21.8)
As an example, Aristotle recites the following:
Stesichorus said to the Locrians that they ought not to be insolent, lest their cicadas should be forced to chirp from the ground. (Ars Rhetorica 2.21.8)
In parallel to the saying of Jesus in Matt 19:14, Stesichorus provides a basis for his command not to be insolent by explaining that their insolence would produce devastation of their land so that no trees or plants would exist upon which the cicadas could sit and chirp. In Matt 19:14, Jesus explains to the disciples that, since children such as these belong to the kingdom of heaven, they should not prevent the children from coming to him.
The statement that supplies the reason for accepting the children may or may not appear to be sufficient for a modern reader. Perhaps it would have been sufficient to an ancient reader if it was presupposed that little children were not punished by God (or the gods). In any case, Matthew adds Jesus’ laying of his hands on the children, with the additional comment that people were bringing the children so that he might pray for them (Matt 19:13), with the result that the story becomes persuasive through the ēthos of Jesus manifested in action as well as in speech.
It appears that Matthew includes both the laying on of hands and the praying to contribute to the effectiveness of the story in its present setting where marriage and divorce have arisen as a debated issue. As a result of Jesus’ discussion of divorce with Pharisees in Matt 19:3–9, the disciples conclude that Jesus’ view on divorce should be taken as a directive not to marry at all (Matt 19:10). Matthew uses the little story about the disciples’ prevention of children coming to him to argue that Jesus’ teaching about divorce (and about eunuchs: Matt 19:11–12) is not to be understood as an injunction against marriage which belittles the place of little children in this age and the coming age. Jesus’ ēthos in the story emerges both in the action of laying his hands on the little children and insisting that the disciples let the children come to him. The manifestation of Jesus’ ēthos is also present in the personalized form of the saying in the story, which emphasizes the necessity to let the children come “to me.” Thus a positive response (pathos) to the inclusion of little children in the kingdom of heaven is evoked through the ēthos of Jesus in the story as it manifests itself in the thought (logos) both in Jesus’ speech and in his action.
3.3 Mark 10:13–16
Mark also composes the story in such a manner that it accentuates both the speech and the action of Jesus:
Καὶ προσέφερον αὐτῷ παιδία ἵνα αὐτῶν ἅψηται· οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ ἐπετίμησαν αὐτοῖς. ἰδὼν δὲ ὁ ʼΙησοῦς ἠγανάκτησεν καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, ʼΆφετε τά παιδία ἔρχεσθαι πρός με, μὴ κωλύετε αὐτά, τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὂς ἂν μὴ δέξηται τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ ὡς παιδίον, αὐ μὴ εἰσέλθη εἰς αὐτήν. καὶ ἐναγκαλισάμενος αὐτὰ κατευλόγει τιθεὶς τὰς χεῖρας ἐπʼ αὐτά.
For Mark, the story builds in a three-part sequence. The first part sets the stage for the speech and action of Jesus:
And they were bringing children in order that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.
The second part includes two statements in the speech of Jesus and introduces an attendant emotion (pathos) of Jesus as he speaks:
And when Jesus saw it he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall never enter it.”
The third part accentuates the action of Jesus in a threefold statement:
(a). and taking them in his arms
(b). he blessed them,
(c). putting his hands on them.
It is impossible to know, given the knowledge of the expanding and condensing of the chreia in an educational setting, if Matthew has seen and condensed Mark’s form of the story or Mark has seen and expanded Matthew’s form of the story. What we can see is Mark’s interest in accentuating both the speech and the action of Jesus in a three-part episode that climaxes in Jesus’ taking, blessing and touching of the children.
First, we should notice the expansion of the speech of Jesus in the story, since the expansion introduces a new feature—a maxim. The saying in Mark 10:14 (par. Matt 19:14; Luke 18:16) is specific, so that the saying would not be intelligible apart from the setting. Such a saying, responding to a specific situation, creates a “unitary” story. The saying and the setting stand in an integral unity. In addition to the specific saying, the Markan story contains a second general saying:
Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall never enter it.
This general saying, in contrast to the specific saying, is a maxim. A maxim (γνώμη), according to Aristotle’s definition, is:
ἀπόφανσις, οὐ μέντοι περὶ τῶν καθʼ ἕκαστον, οἶον ποῖός τις ʼΙφικράτης, ἀλλὰ καθόλου· καὶ οὐ περὶ πάντων καθόλου, οἶον ὄτι τὸ εὐθὺ τῷ καμπύλῳ ἐναντίον, ἀλλὰ περὶ ὅσων αἱ πράξεις εἰσί, καὶ αἱρετὰ ἦ φευκτά ἐστι πρὸς τὸ πράττειν.
a statement, not however concerning particulars, as, for instance, what sort of a man Iphicrates was, but general; it does not even deal with all general things, as for instance that the straight is the opposite of the crooked, but with the objects of human actions, and with what should be chosen or avoided with reference to them. (Ars Rhetorica 2.21.1)
Maxims therefore have two basic characteristics: (1) they are general rather than specific; and (2) they concern themselves with human actions. A sayings-chreia usually ends in a specific saying, with the result that both the setting and the saying are essential to the story. The saying alone, or the setting alone, would be incomplete.
It is not unusual, however, for a saying in a chreia to be generalized or to be supplemented by a general maxim when the story is used in an extended literary setting. One of the reasons for this tendency is that maxims as well as good actions make speeches ἤθικός, i.e., they establish the reliable character of the speaker. As Aristotle says:
He who employs them in a general manner declares his moral preferences; if then the maxims are good, they show the speaker also to be a man of good character. (Aristotle, Ars Rhetorica 2.21.16)
Thus, when an author incorporates a chreia into an extended literary setting depicting the speech and action of an important personage, there is a natural rhetorical basis for generalizing the statement.
The tendency for a saying in a chreia to be transformed or expanded into a maxim-like statement is well illustrated by a chreia about Alexander in the writings of Plutarch. In Plutarch’s Alexander, a tradition about the famous king is written in the form of a condensed chreia:
ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν περὶ αὐτὸν ἀποπειρωμένων εἰ βούλοιτʼ ἂν Ὀλυμπίασιν ἀγωνίσασθαι στάδιον, ἦν γὰρ ποδώκης, “Εἴ γε,” ἔφη, “βασιλεῖς ἔμελλον ἕξειν ἀνταγωνιστάς.”
… nay, when those around him inquired whether he would be willing to compete in the foot-race at the Olympic games, since he was swift of foot, “Yes,” he said, “if I were to have kings as competitors.” (Alexander 4.10)
In this setting, Plutarch composed the chreia by means of a genitive absolute and a γάρ clause, ending the unit with a saying that has particular reference to the setting. In Plutarch’s De Alexandri Magni Fortuna Aut Virtute, however, the story has the following form:
ποδωκέστατος γὰρ τῶν ἐφʼ ἡλικίας νέων γενόμενος καὶ τῶν ἑταίρων αὐτὸν ἐπʼ Ὀλύμπια παρορμώντων, ἠρώτησεν, εἰ βασιλεῖς ἀγωνίξονται τῶν δʼ οὐ φαμένων, ἄδικον εἶπεν εἶναι τὴν ἅμιλλαν, ἐν ᾖ νικήσει μὲν ἰδιώτας, νικηθήσεται δὲ βασιλεύς.
Since he was the swiftest of foot of all the young men of his age, and his comrades urged him to enter the Olympic games, he asked if kings were competing. When they replied no, he said that the contest was unfair, for in a victory he would be victorious over commoners but a defeat would be the defeat of a king. (De Alexandri Magni Fortuna 331B)
In this setting, Plutarch has composed the chreia by means of two sentences connected with the conjunction δέ, a phenomenon observable in Mark 10:13–14. By this means the chreia has been expanded into a little story in which Alexander asks a question in the first sentence and gives his response (using the verb εἶπεν) in the second sentence.
In the expanded form in De Alexandri Fortuna the response on the lips of Alexander is much more nearly a general maxim about kings and commoners:
The contest would be unfair, for in victory I would be victorious over commoners, but a defeat would be the defeat of a king.
This transformation of the saying gives the story a generalized rhetorical quality about the philosophic spirit within Alexander’s kingship. A king with philosophical insight is not so eager to attain glory that he can be lured into a type of competition in which nothing significant can be achieved but something significant can be lost. Only a slight further adjustment could make the statement a free-floating maxim:
A contest between kings and commoners is unfair, since the king’s victory would be a victory over commoners, but a defeat would be the defeat of a king.
The expansion of the chreia is therefore a significant form of rhetorical composition. Plutarch, by transforming the specific response in the condensed form of the chreia into a more generalized statement in the expanded form, has composed a story that advances his argument in the treatise that Alexander’s success was as fully attributable to his philosophic spirit as to the hand of Fortune (Moralia 326D–E). The presence of the maxim in Mark 10:15 points in a similar manner to rhetorical composition in the Gospel of Mark. The difficulty in understanding the origin of the maxim, however, lies in a step in the tradition of which no literary example is extant. It is widely recognized that the specific saying in Mark 10:14 and the maxim in Mark 10:15 contain two different dimensions that make it unlikely that one has emerged directly from the other.
(1) Mark 10:14 refers to “belonging” to the kingdom while Mark 10:15 refers to “receiving and entering” the kingdom;
(2) Mark 10:14 refers in the plural to τὰ παιδία while Mark 10:15 contains the singular ὡς παιδίον.
From this, however, the improper conclusion has been drawn that the maxim in Mark 10:15 is “an originally independent dominical saying, inserted into the situation of vv. 13–16.” It is most likely that the maxim arose directly in relation to this chreia tradition. The key for understanding the emergence of the saying lies in Jesus’ action of receiving the little children into his arms. As one can see from Luke 2:28, the verbal equivalent of ἐναγκαλισάμενος αὐτὰ (Mark 10:16) is ἐδέξατο αὐτὰ εἰ τὰς ἀγκάλας. The δέξητας in the maxim has arisen from Jesus’ action of receiving the children into his arms.
On the basis of the tendency to develop general sayings out of specific sayings within chreia traditions, it is likely that the maxim in Mark 10:15 first existed as a comment after the statement that Jesus received the children into his arms. The general maxim evolved from the specific statements in Mark 10:14 in a manner generally analogous to the relationship between the specific and the general sayings in Plutarch, Alexander 4.10 and De Alexandri Fortuna 331B. First, once the statement has been made that Jesus “received” the children into his arms, it would be natural to refer to “receiving” the kingdom rather than “belonging” to it. Second, in a general saying beginning with the singular ὃς ἄν, it would be natural to couch the statement about children in the singular ὡς παιδίον. Third, the statement about “entering into” (εἰσέλθῃ εἰς) the kingdom in the second part of Mark 10:15 is the natural terminology to use in relation to the “coming to” (ἔρχεσθαι πρός) in Mark 10:14.
Once the importance of “receiving the children” is seen for understanding the origin of the maxim in Mark 10:15, it is clear that the maxim originally referred to “receiving the kingdom as one receives a child,” as suggested by W. K. L. Clarke and F. A. Schelling. The ellipsis in the saying presupposed that παιδίον was an accusative parallel to τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ:
Verily I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as [he should] receive a child, shall certainly never enter it.
The maxim drew from the chreia tradition the obvious conclusion that Jesus’ receiving of the children presented an analogy for receiving the kingdom. Just as it should be a natural response to accept a child into one’s arms rather than to refuse it, so it should be a natural response to accept the kingdom of God with all the benefits and responsibilities that accompany it.
The origin of the maxim in Mark 10:15 has been confused both because of its position prior to the statement that Jesus received the children into his arms and because of the maxim about “becoming like a child” in Matthew 18:3. Probably the position of the maxim results from Mark’s rhetorical composition. The placement of the maxim exhibits the same rhetorical strategy present with Mark 2:10. In both instances a maxim that has arisen out of a setting characterized by specific sayings and actions has been placed within the story itself, and the maxim exhibits a lack of completely satisfactory integration into the story. Matthew 18:3, in turn, is an adaptation of Mark 10:15 to another chreia tradition.
The maxim in Mark 10:15 contributes to Mark’s interest in intertwining the speech and action of Jesus throughout his gospel. The unity of Jesus’ speech and action is announced at the beginning of the narrative in Mark 1:22–28. Mark 8:27–10:45, the general section in which the story of Jesus and the children occurs, contains extensive teaching of Jesus, yet the teaching is systematically placed within the setting of actions of Jesus. In the particular sub-section in which this story occurs, Mark 9:30–10:21, the author has applied the teaching about the arrested, killed and rising Son of Man (9:30–32) to discipleship by means of a discussion about greatness (9:33–34) that has led into teaching by means of both demonstrative action and speech concerning a child (9:35–37). After this three-part introduction of the section, Mark alternates scenes that mention children (9:42–50; 10:13–16, 23–31) with scenes that do not mention children (9:38–41; 10:1–12, 17–22). Through this procedure, the author also alternates maxims about entering the kingdom (9:47; 10:15, 24–25) with general teaching concerning discipleship and community life (9:40–41; 10:11–12, 21). The presence of the maxim in Mark 10:15, therefore, links this specific story with the argumentation about children, kingdom and discipleship that the author is developing in Mark 9:30–10:31. In the same manner in which a person accepts a child, so he should accept the kingdom of God, which means “following” in discipleship (Mark 10:21, 28). Without the maxim, Mark 10:13–16 would contain a statement about children belonging to the kingdom, but it would contribute in a less direct way to the discussion about entering the kingdom in this section. The presence of the maxim enables the story to contribute directly to the argument in the section in which it occurs.
3.4 Luke 18:15–17
In contrast to Matthew and Mark, Luke composes the story in the form of a sayings-chreia without pointed action:
Προσέφερον δὲ αὐτῷ καὶ τὰ βρὲφη ἳνα αὐτῶν ἃπτηται· ἰδόντες δὲ οἱ μαθηταὶ ἐπετίμων αὐτοῖς· ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς προσεκαλέσατο αὐτὰ λέγων, ʼΆφετε τὰ παιδία ἔρχεσθαι πρός με καὶ μὴ κωλύετε αὐτά, τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ· ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὃς ἂν μὴ δέξηται τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ ὡς παιδίον, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθῃ εἰς αὐτήν.
Now they were bringing even infants to him in order that he might touch them, but when the disciples saw it they began to rebuke them. Then Jesus called to them, saying, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall never enter it.”
Instead of exhibiting the ēthos of Jesus through both action and speech, the Lukan story contains speech that includes the maxim along with the specific saying, without adding any comment about Jesus’ action after the saying.
Since only the Markan and Lukan forms of the story contain the general maxim, the interpreter must conclude that some relationship stands between the two. There is a greater likelihood that Luke has condensed the Markan form of the story than that Mark has expanded the Lukan form, since the saying with particular reference and the maxim rest uneasily side by side apart from Jesus’ action of receiving little children into his arms. The Lukan form results from removing the action to emphasize the speech of Jesus.
When the action is removed from the end of the story, a specific saying followed by a general maxim concludes the unit. This phenomenon emphasizes the speech of Jesus in such a manner that the unit contributes well to the argumentation about the kingdom of God that has been introduced in Luke 17:20 with the question about the time when the kingdom would come. By allowing the sayings to stand at the end of the story, Luke has created a sequence of three stories that end with a maxim. These maxims, with their supporting statements, represent a sequence of argumentation that describes the means by which a person may enter the kingdom:
(1) The publican rather than the Pharisee went down to his house justified, for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:14)
(2) Since children belong to the kingdom of God, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. (Luke 18:16–17)
(3) But there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life. (Luke 18:29–30)
It would appear that Luke is interested in creating a sequence of argumentation by means of general conclusions that stand in the form of maxims at the end of these stories.
With the Lukan form of the story about Jesus and the children, the maxim loses its relationship to Jesus’ receiving of children and becomes a general conclusion to a specific story. The conclusion now means that “as children belong to the kingdom,” so “anyone who does not humble himself to become like a child before God (as the publican did: Luke 18:14) shall not enter the kingdom of God.” There is a special form of humbling oneself, however, that must be considered. Anyone who has left home and loved ones, “for the sake of the kingdom of God” shall receive great rewards now and eternal life in the future (Luke 18:29–30). In other words, the maxim receives its meaning from the sequence of argumentation in the narrative.
While the direction of the rhetorical interest in the story varies from author to author in the synoptic gospels, each story builds on the statement of Jesus that the disciples should let the children “come to him” because “to such belongs the kingdom of God (Heaven).” It is often overlooked that the presence of this saying introduces two rather than one crucial emphases: (1) me; and (2) kingdom of God. As Jesus comes to speech in the story, he presents himself as accepting the kingdom of God by accepting children. The presence of Jesus in the story is underscored by Jesus’ reference to himself in relation to the children.
The image of Jesus in the story is essential for understanding the meaning of children in the story. Jesus embodies a model for proper action as he counters the action of his disciples. Most of all, Jesus is depicted as accepting whatever belongs to the kingdom of God. Because of the depiction of Jesus’ acceptance of children, the story may be used in rhetorical settings where it is implied that people who are “like children” will enter the kingdom. It is doubtful that this rhetorical interest is present in the Markan use of the story. Rather, the goal is an explanation of following that requires an acceptance of concepts and actions that appear unacceptable. In contrast, Matthew and Luke use the story in a setting that suggests the necessity for humbling oneself and becoming like a child.
4. Rhetorical Composition in the Chreia About Greatness
4.1 Another chreia that existed in early Christian tradition presented an issue among the disciples concerning who was the greatest, to which Jesus responded by setting a child either in their midst or by his side. This chreia lies behind the little stories in Luke 9:46–48; Mark 9:34–37 and Matt 18:1–5. The basic structure of the chreia was:
(a). The disciples were discussing who was the greatest;
(b). Jesus put a child either in their midst or beside himself.
The challenge for composition of the chreia was to highlight the issue about greatness sufficiently to make the action a pointed response to the issue. If one were to construct the unit in the form of a condensed chreia, it could become:
προσελθόντων τῶν μαθητῶν τῷ Ἰησοῦ καὶ λεγόντων τίς μείζων, λαβὼν παιδίον ἔστησεν αὐτὸ ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῶν [παρʼ ἑαυτῷ].
When the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest?”, taking a little child, he set it in their midst [by his side].
This unit has resisted interpretation as a unitary tradition, because the decisive point is the action by Jesus of putting a child either in their midst or beside himself instead of making a statement that directly addresses the issue of greatness. Jesus’ selection of the child functions similarly to the action of Pythagoras in the following chreia:
Πυθαγόρας ὁ φιλόσοφος, ἐρωτηθεὶς, πόσος ἐστὶν ὁ τῶν ἀνθρώπων βίος; ἀναβὰς ἐπὶ τὸ δωμάτιον, παρέκυψεν ὀλίγον, δηλῶν διὰ τοῦτο τὴν βραχύτητα.
Pythagoras the philosopher, on being asked how long the life of man is, went up to his bedroom and looked back out for a short time, showing thereby its brevity.
This is an action chreia (πρακτικὴ χρεία in which the issue raised in the first part is answered through a demonstrative action.
A concern about greatness and the action of putting a child in their midst (or by his side) is common to all three gospel stories reciting this tradition. Thus it is quite evident, once an interpreter has worked through Theon’s Progymnasmata, that the essential unit ends with Jesus’ action. Yet all of the stories add one or more sayings to the action of Jesus. Does this not suggest that a different history of the tradition must be pursued?
Analysis of action-chreiai in literature contemporary with the gospels shows that there was a natural tendency to add some kind of statement after a demonstrative action as the story was told in an extended literary setting. An excellent example emerges in a tradition about a Laconian:
Λὰκων, ἐρομένου τινὸς αὐτὸν, ποῦ τοὺς ὅρους τῆς γῆς ἔχουσι Λακεδαιμόνιοι; ἔδειξε τὸ δόρυ.
A Laconian, when someone asked him where the Lacedaemonians had the boundaries of their country, showed his spear. (Theon 206,6–8; Walz)
Once the Laconian has shown his spear, the question has been answered. Nevertheless, it was natural for authors to add a saying of some sort that explained the action. Thus, in a version of this in which it is attributed to Agesilaus the Great, Plutarch writes the chreia as follows:
Ἐρωτηθεὶς δέ ποτε ἄχρι τίνος εἰσὶν οἱ τῆς Λακωνικῆς ὅροι, τὸ δόρυ κραδὰνας εἶπεν “ἂχρις οὗ τοῦτο φθάνοι.”
Being asked once how far the boundaries of Laconia extended, he said, with a flourish of his spear, “As far as this can reach.” (Moralia 210E,28; cf. 218F,2; 267C)
The saying is expanded further, however, in the version of Plutarch’s Lysander:
Ἀργείοις μέν γὰρ ἀμφιλογουμένοις περὶ γῆς ὅρων καὶ δικαιότερα τῶν Λακεδαιμονίων οἰομένοις λέγειν δείξας τὴν μάχαιραν, “Ὁ ταύτης,” ἔφη, “κρατῶν βέλτιστα περὶ γῆς ὅρων διαλέγεται.”
For, when the Argives were disputing about boundaries, and thought they made a juster plea than the Lacedaimonians, he showed his sword and said to them: “He who is master of this discourses best about boundaries.” (Lysander 22.1; cf. Moralia 190E,3; 229C,6)
In this version a saying that is nearly a general maxim accompanies the action with the sword. The saying explains the meaning of the action in a form that could, with slight adaptation, be separated from the chreia (“He who is master of the sword discourses best about boundaries”).
The tendency to add one or more sayings to an action chreia is observable in the gospel accounts where Jesus puts a child in front of the disciples in response to their discussion of greatness. In fact, by the time the tradition reaches the gospel writers, it ended with a saying that included at least the following words:
Whoever receives one such (or “this”) child in my name receives me. (Matt 18:5; Mark 9:37a; Luke 9:48a)
The problem is that the setting in the action-chreia is not a natural introduction for the saying. Matthew attempts a transition through two other sayings (Matt 18:3–4), and Luke unifies the story by framing the saying with the issue of greatness (Luke 9:46, 48). It appears that the saying emerged from the action-chreia by a process similar to the emergence of the maxim about “not receiving” in the other chreia (Matt 19:13–15; Mark 10:13–16; Luke 18:15–17). The clue again stands in the addition of ἐναγκαλισάμενος αὐτό (Mark 9:36). As soon as Jesus is depicted as “receiving” the child into his arms, the story is ready for the development of sayings about “receiving.” When the portrayal of the ēthos of Jesus in the selection of a child as “one who is greatest” includes the action of “receiving” him into his arms, the story is a natural springboard for the saying:
Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.
In other words, in the saying Jesus puts his ability to command respect on the line. If they will not accept this child as “great,” then they are not receiving the action and thought which he himself embodies. Again, however, it is virtually impossible to decide if Matthew’s version is a partial condensing and partial expanding of Mark or Mark’s version Matthew, although the presence of ἐναγκαλισάμενος αὐτό, the natural bridge for the saying about receiving, suggests that the Markan version preserves a crucial feature for the development of the tradition that has been lost in Matthew’s version. On the other hand, the presence of the longer saying in Luke suggests that the Lukan version is a rewriting of the Markan form of the story.
4.2 Luke 9:46–48
Again it will be instructive to approach the stories individually. Luke composes the story with admirable efficiency, creating a rhetorically apposite literary unit in the setting in which Jesus’ suffering and death as the Son of Man has been introduced for the first time in the narrative (Luke 9:18–45).
He constructed the story by means of two participles in the midst of independent clauses connected by conjunctions:
Εἰσῆλθεν δὲ διαλογισμὸς ἐν αὐτοῖς, τὸ τίς ἂν εἴη μείζων αὐτῶν· ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἰδὼς τὸν διαλογισμὸν τῆς καρδίας αὐτῶν ἐπιλαβόμενος παιδίον ἔστησεν αὐτὸ παρʼ ἑαυτῷ καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Ὃς ἐὰν δέξηται τοῦτο τὸ παιδίον ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου ἐυὲ δέχεται, καὶ ὃς ἃν ἐμὲ δέξηται δέχεται τὸν ἀποστείλαντά με· ὁ γὰρ μικρότερος ἐν πᾶσιν ὑμῖν ὑπάρχων οὖτός ἐστιν μέγας.
And an argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But when Jesus perceived the argument in their hearts, he took a child and put him by his side, and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me; for he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”
Luke’s skillful composition begins and ends the story with the issue of greatness. His use of the two participles εἰδώς (ν) and ἐπιλαβόμενος the two finite verbs ἔστησεν and εἶπεν, and the γάρ clause at the end integrate the unit syntactically. Moreover, the διαλογισμός among the disciples provides the rhetorical link between the first sentence and the second sentence. Through this careful composition, Luke adds one more step to the argument about greatness which is introduced in Luke 1:15 and developed throughout the narrative in Luke 1:32, 46, 49, 58; 7:16, 28; 9:43, (46, 48); 22:24, 26, 27; and Acts 2:11; 5:13; 8:9, 10; 10:17; 19:17, 27–28; 26:22.
Once again the story is constructed so that it ends with a maxim that contains a supporting statement:
Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me, for he who is the least among you is the one who is great. (Luke 9:48)
It is instructive, further, to notice that the next unit in Luke also ends with a saying that contains a supporting statement:
Do not forbid him, for he who is not against you is for you.
This manner of composing a unit, at least in the settings concerning Jesus and children, appears to be a Lukan characteristic.
In Luke 9:46–48, in contrast to Luke 18:15–17, the ēthos of Jesus manifests itself through both action and speech. As Jesus takes the little child and sets him alongside himself over against the disciples, his own quality of greatness is demonstrated in his willingness to side with a little child rather than the powers and abilities which bring greatness to most people. Luke emphasizes the speech of Jesus, however, in the final part of the story. As Jesus comes to speech, the thought already exhibited in Jesus’ action of receiving the child as great is explained in terms of the disciples’ willingness or unwillingness to accept the child, and along with the child, Jesus himself. Their response (pathos) to Jesus’ acceptance of the child as great establishes the condition on which they do or do not receive God (the one who sent Jesus) on their side. Therefore, the final statement about greatness, “He who is least among you all is the one who is great,” receives its persuasive power through the ēthos, logos and pathos of the story.
4.3 Matthew 18:1–5
Matthew composes a little story out of the chreia with a somewhat different rhetorical interest. Matthew also writes the story with respectable efficiency, using the two participles λέγοντες and προσκαλεσάμενος in three sentences that link the issue of greatness with entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Through his composition, Matthew creates a story that begins a specific argument about entrance into the kingdom which is developed in Matt 18:6–14. He links the discussion with the theme of “humbling oneself,” which had been introduced in Matt 11:29 and further developed in Matt 23:12, and he continues the discussion of the kingdom of Heaven that pervades the narrative virtually from beginning to end. The story is composed as follows:
Ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ προσῆλθον οἱ μαθηταὶ τῷ Ἰησοῦ λέγοντες, Τίς ἄρα μείζων ἐστὶν ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν; καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος παιδίον ἔστησεν αὐτὸ ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῶν καὶ εἶπεν, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐὰν μὴ στραφῆτε καὶ γένησθε ὡς τὰ παιδία, οὐ μὴ εἰδέλθητε εἰς τὴς βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν ὅστις οὖν ταπεινώσει ἑαυτὸν ὡς τὸ παιδίον τοῦτο, οὖτός ἐστιν ὁ μείζων ἐν τῇ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν καὶ ὂς ἐὰν δέξηται ἔν παιδίον τοιοῦτο ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου, ἐμὲ δέχεται
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.”
Matthew’s composition, through a procedure similar to Luke’s, begins and ends the story with the issue of greatness in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew’s rhetorical interest in the kingdom in the story, however, manifests itself in the composition of two sayings prior to the saying about receiving one such child in my name. The sayings are:
(1). Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven;
(2). Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew has created the first saying by adapting the maxim that had developed out of the sayings-chreia tradition (Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17). The second saying in the story was created by adapting the saying about greatness both to entrance into the kingdom of heaven and to humbling oneself, which evidently existed in a free-floating maxim in Mediterranean culture.
4.4 Mark 9:33–37
Mark approaches the story with a slightly different rhetorical interest than either Luke or Matthew. His composition of maxim-like material in the story, however, reminds one of Matthew’s approach. Mark composes the story using four participles γενόμενος, καθίσας, λαβών, ἐναγκαλισάμενος and six finite verbs. If the composition is not sophisticated, it is nevertheless appropriate and effective. The story is composed as follows:
Καὶ ἦλθον εἰς Καφαρναούμ καὶ ἐν τῇ οἰκὶᾳ γενόμενος ἐπηρώτα αὐτούς, Τί ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ διελογίζεσθε; οὶ δὲ ἐσιώπων, πρὸς ἀλλὴλους γὰρ διελέθησαν ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ τίς μείζων καὶ καθίσας ἐφώνησεν τοὺς δώδεκα καὶ λὲγει αὐτοῖς, Εἴ τις θέλει πρῶτος εἶναι ἔσται πάντων ἔσχατος καὶ πάντων διάκονος καὶ λαβὼν παισίον ἔστησεν αὐτὸ ἐν μέσῷ αὐτῶν καὶ ἐναγκαλισάμενος αὐτὸ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, “Ος ἂν ἓν τῶν τοιούτων παιδίων δέξηται ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου, ἐμὲ σέχεται καὶ ὃς ἂν ἐμὲ δέχηται, οὐκ ἐμὲ δέχεται ἀλλὰ τὸν ἀποδτείλαντά με.
And they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another who was greatest. And sitting down, he called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And taking a child, he put him in the midst of them; and on taking him in his arms he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Mark is interested, with this story, in developing the theme of the rejection, death and rising of the Son of Man that had first been introduced in Mark 8:31. After this theme has been reintroduced in Mark 9:31, Mark uses the chreia about greatness as a setting to introduce a maxim that recalls the teaching in Mark 8:34:
If someone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
In Mark 9:35, this theme is restated in the following maxim:
If someone wants to be first he must be last of all and servant of all.
This maxim is a restatement that is repeated at the end of the immediate section of which it is a part (Mark 9:30–10:31). Therefore Mark 9:35 provides a frame around the section with Mark 10:31:
But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.
All of this is moving toward the last verses in the overall section (8:27–10:45) that sum up the argument and ground it in the ēthos and logos of Jesus:
Whoever is great among you shall be servant of all, and whoever wants to be first among you, shall be slave of all, for even the Son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:43–45)
Mark’s composition of the story in Mark 9:33–37 is therefore an exercise in rhetorical composition. The story contributes to the argument in the overall section by expanding the setting in which the issue of greatness arises (Mark 9:33–34) and by introducing a maxim (Mark 9:35) that links the story with the teaching in Mark 8:34–9:1. The maxim in Mark 9:35 prepares for the maxim at the end of the immediate section (Mark 10:31), and it moves the discussion toward the conclusion of the entire section in Mark 10:43–45. Then, with the ending of the story (Mark 9:36–37) Mark creates an excellent transition to the story about the man casting out a demon “in my name.”
Each author, therefore, has composed the story by using rhetorical techniques that he understands to be natural procedures with a chreia tradition. Each author observes and preserves the essential elements of the chreia—the issue about greatness and the action with the child. Also, each author expands, condenses and rewrites the story so that it furthers the argumentation he is pursuing in his extended literary composition.
The chreia about greatness, in contrast to the chreia where the disciples were hindering the children, appears to have ended originally with an action of Jesus rather than a saying. Before the story reached the writers of the synoptic gospels, however, the chreia about hindering the children had influenced the chreia about greatness. The first step appears to have been the addition of a comment that Jesus took the child into his arms (Mark 9:36). This comment, accordingly, created the link for adding sayings about “receiving.” Interestingly enough, the sayings concern “receiving Jesus”:
Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.
This saying then created the setting for the addition of other sayings (Mark 9:37; Luke 9:48).
The importance of the statement about “receiving Jesus” becomes evident when the interpreter observes an absence of any reference to the kingdom in the early forms of the story. This means that the common tradition shared by the two chreiai is not a reference to the kingdom but a reference to “me.” In other words, the building blocks of both traditions are the ēthos of Jesus as constituted by his action and speech. It should be no surprise that Matthew rewrites the chreia to include sayings about the kingdom (Matthew 18:3–4). But the earliest form of the tradition suggests that the ēthos of Jesus as constituted by his action and speech is primary to the theme of the kingdom. Thus, once again, Jesus’ act of receiving children lies at the heart of the tradition, and upon this manifestation of Jesus’ character the author of the synoptic gospels built expanded chreiai that supported the argumentation in which they engaged in their literary documents.
5. Rhetorical Composition in the Fourth Gospel and the Gospel of Thomas
5.1 Once the two chreia traditions had been generalized by appending, inserting or transforming specific sayings into maxims, both the maxims and the settings were ready to be used in literary units that were more artistically constructed. The further development of the traditions about Jesus and the children is evident in John 3:1–21 and Gos. Thom. 22. These two literary units have the characteristics of a dialogue that has developed by generalizing both the settings and the sayings that existed in previous chreia traditions. Such a procedure was not unique to Christian tradition, however. During the fourth century B.C.E., Xenophon created settings for dialogue in a manner that parallels the compositional procedure in the Fourth Gospel and the Gospel of Thomas. In Memorabilia 3.9.14–15, two sayings-chreiai featuring inquiries are used to pursue a topic in the fashion of a dialogue:
Ἐρομένου δέ τινος αὐτόν, τί δοκοίη αὐτῷ κράτιστον ἀνδρί ἐπιτήδευμα εἶναι, ἀπεκρίνατο Εὐραξία ἐρομένου δὲ πάλιν, εἰ καὶ τὴν εὐτυχίαν ἐπιτήδευμα νομίζοι εἶναι, Πᾶν μὲν οὖν τοὐναντίον ἔγωγʼ, ἔφη, τύχην καὶ πρᾶξιν ὴγοῦμαι· τὸ μὲν γὰρ μὴ ζητοῦντα ἐπιτυχεῖν τινι τῶν δεόντων εὐτυχίαν οἶμαι εἶναι, τὸ δὲ μαθόντα τε καὶ μελετὴσαντά τι εὖ ποιεῖν εὐπραξίαν νομίζω, καὶ οἱ τοῦτο ἐπιτηδεὺοντες δοκοῦσί μοι εὖ πράττειν καὶ ἀρίστους δὲ καὶ θεοφιλεστους ἔφην εἶναι ἐν μὲν γεωργίᾳ τοὺς τὰ γεωργικὰ εὖ πράττοντας, ἐν δʼ ἰατρείᾳ τοὺς τὰ ἰατρικὰ, ἐν δὲ πολιτείᾳ τοὺς τὰ πολιτικά τὸν δὲ μηδὲν εὖ πράττοντα οὔτε χρήσιμον οὐδὲν ἔφη εἶναι οὔτε θεοφιλῆ.
When someone asked him what seemed to him the best pursuit for a man, he answered: “Doing well.” Then when questioned further, whether also he thought good luck a pursuit, he said: “On the contrary, I think luck and doing are opposite poles. For to hit on something right by luck without search I call good luck, to do something well after study and practice I call doing well; and those who pursue this seem to me to do well. And the best man and dearest to the gods,” he said, “are those who do their work well; if it is farming, as good farmers; if medicine, as good doctors; if politics, as good politicians. But he who does nothing well is neither useful in any way,” he said, “nor dear to the gods.”
The first question and answer is a sayings-chreia in and of itself featuring a participle in the first part followed by the finite verb ἀπεκρίνατο to introduce the response. Immediately, however, another question is introduced which takes the discussion of the topic a step further. This time, after a participial clause that introduces the question, the response is introduced by the finite verb ἔφη As the response extends into a series of statements, the author twice more introduces ἔφη as a means of maintaining the presence of the speaker in the statements. We may further notice the post-positive γάρ in the second statement after the inquiry, signalling that the remaining statements provide the reasons for holding the view that “luck and doing are opposites.” Finally, we should notice that the last saying is a general maxim: “He who does nothing well is neither useful in any way nor dear to the gods.”
This unit, like the previous units, takes the reader from a specific issue to a generalized statement. In this instance, two chreiai have been placed in a series to compose one unit, and the response in the final chreia has been expanded to provide a series of statements. With the generalized statement at the end of the unit, Xenophon has presented a point of view that contributes to his argument in the Memorabilia that Socrates himself engaged in doing things useful throughout his life.
5.2 The scene in Gos. Thom. 22 has been constructed in a manner similar scene in Xenophon’s Memorabilia. The major difference is that the first unit begins with a chreia in which Jesus observes suckling children rather than one which features an inquiry:
Jesus saw children that were being suckled. He said to his disciples: “These children being suckled are like those who enter the kingdom.”
After this unit, however, the scene continues with an inquiry from the disciples, followed by Jesus’ response:
They said to him: “If we are children, shall we enter the Kingdom?” Jesus said to them: “When you make the two one, and make the inside like the outside, and the outside like the inside, and the upper side like the under side, and when you make the male and the female into a single one, so that the male will not be male and the female will not be female; when you make eyes in place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you shall enter.”
5.3 In contrast, John 3:1–21 builds out of a sequence of three statements by Nicodemus. Instead of the concern with attribution of the responses in a chreia, the scene begins with careful attribution of the recipient of the teaching: “a man named Nicodemus, a man of the Pharisees, a ruler of the Jews.” In this dialogue tradition, therefore, the ēthos of the speaker is so well established that the ēthos of the recipient of the teaching receives the major attention. The first statement Nicodemus makes is an encomium (statement of praise) to Jesus:
Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one is able to do these signs which you do unless God is with him.
The second and third statements, then, are simply questions that respond in amazement to Jesus’ statements:
(a) “How is anyone able to be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4)
(b) “How can this be?” (John 3:9)
These statements are simply the remarks of a person who is providing the setting, in the context of a dialogue, for the sage to continue his teaching.
In both traditions, the sayings and the settings of the earlier chreia traditions about Jesus and children have been generalized. In Gos. Thom. 22, Luke’s suggestion that βρέφη (new-born infants) were being brought to Jesus (Luke 18:15) has been used as a beginning point. Then, the statement to the disciples in Matt 18:3 that “unless they turn and become like children, they will never enter the kingdom of heaven” serves as a beginning point for the disciples’ response:
If we are children, shall we enter the kingdom?
In the Gospel of John, on the other hand, the presence of children in the situation has been lost. Following the interest in the newborn infant, a maxim is developed in which Jesus tells Nicodemus:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
This maxim has changed the issue from “entering” the kingdom of God to “seeing” it, since the dialogue is engaged in the process of bringing light to the meaning of the kingdom of God so that he who believes may see. The next maxim attributed to Jesus, however, is couched in terms of “entering”:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit.… (John 3:5–6)
In this context, the general imagery of the settings of Jesus and the children, and the sayings about the children and others belonging to the kingdom or entering the kingdom have been used to create a dialogue setting that extends into a discourse on believing in heavenly things, coming to the light and seeing the works of God (John 3:10–21).
6. Summary and Conclusions
Rhetorical analysis based on insights from chreia traditions raises serious questions about the conventional conclusions about the gospel traditions where maxims occur in stories containing poignant actions and sayings. Our study of the two chreia traditions concerning Jesus and the children suggests that specific sayings and actions in specific settings stand at the beginning of the tradition. In some instances, as in the chreia where Jesus rebukes the disciples for not allowing children to come to him, the stories produce a general maxim that interprets the speech and action in the setting. In other instances, as in the chreia where Jesus sets a child before the disciples as an answer to their question about greatness, maxims that were either produced in relation to other chreiai or had been free-floating traditions were inserted into the story to give it a new rhetorical direction.
The analysis suggests, therefore, a revised agenda for investigation of the traditions about Jesus in the gospels. First, for every occurrence of a story an interpreter should probe the interrelation between the rhetoricity within the story itself and the rhetorical function of the story within its literary setting. Second, in the absence of uniform sayings in a story, the possibility must be entertained that a poignant action rather than a poignant saying ended the earliest form of the tradition. Third, it is necessary to distinguish between free-floating maxims and maxims that have arisen through a rhetorical process in which a general statement has been created as commentary on a chreia tradition. Fourth, interaction among different chreia traditions must be analyzed to distinguish between components integral to the earliest form of a tradition and components that have arisen through influence from another chreia tradition. Fifth, dialogue situations characterized by a sequence of maxims must be distinguished from chreia traditions to which maxims have been added.
The scenes concerning Jesus and children in the Fourth Gospel and the Gospel of Thomas constitute dialogue situations rather than chreia traditions. In this literary setting, both settings and sayings from chreia traditions are generalized to create a dialogue that presents a theme through a particular kind of logic expressed within generalized sayings. In this format, the specific settings and responses characteristic of chreia traditions have been replaced by generalized settings and sayings. The artistic and rhetorical goal of developing a theme in the manner of a dialogue introduces a generalization of scenes and sayings taken from earlier traditions.
Kingdom and Children: A Study in the Aphoristic Tradition
John Dominic Crossan
DePaul University, Chicago
The fairest order in the world is a heap of random sweepings. Heraclitus (Kahn: 85)
An aphorism is a link from a chain of thoughts; it demands that the reader re-establish this chain from his own resources; this is to demand very much. An aphorism is a presumption. Nietzsche (Mautner: 54)
To think aphoristically is the attempt to avoid the imperfection of perfection in thought. Kasper (Margolius: 81)
Broken flesh, broken mind, broken speech. Truth, a broken body: fragments, or aphorisms; as opposed to systematic form or methods. Brown (188)
The aphoristic and dialectical traditions are generically distinct types of speech. Aphorisms can stand alone like voices from Eden, but dialogues present interaction of situation and/or comment with action and/or response. The aphoristic tradition can, however, be drawn towards the dialectical tradition, so that aphorisms are hermeneutically developed as the climaxes of dialogues or stories. Even, or especially, in such latter cases, must the generic distinction between the two traditions be maintained and emphasized. This essay presents that problem both in terms of theory and method and also by exemplifying it in Jesus’ aphorism on Kingdom and Children as a paradigmatic instance of the interface between the two traditions.
1. The Goals of This Essay
When scholarship speaks of the “sayings” (λόγοι) of Jesus, it includes within that general term at least three distinct types of discourse: Parables, Aphorisms, and Dialogues. Such a usage has clearly much to recommend it. One can point to the compositional presence of all three types in Q and the Gospel of Thomas, for example, and then go on to postulate most plausibly a distinct genre “Sayings of the Sages” (λόγοι σοφῶν) behind such collections of the words of Jesus (so Robinson, in Robinson and Koester: 71–113). But I think that there are also certain dangers in this potential erasure of the distinction between parables, aphorisms, and dialogues under the more general rubric of “sayings.” First, there is the evident fact that parables have received far more attention than either aphorisms or dialogues within the Jesus tradition. Even for purely pragmatic reasons, therefore, a triple distinction might entail at least a triple and more even emphasis in study. Second, the origins and destinies, tendencies and trajectories, rules and laws of these three types of sayings seem quite different within the early Christian tradition and especially within the divergent lines of its gnostic and catholic emphases. Once again, then, it might be wiser to separate consideration of each type from the other. Third, I consider that parables, aphorisms, and dialogues are different genres of discourse and that this generic distinctiveness also demands separate and independent investigation of them.
I propose, therefore, to keep as generically distinct the parabolic, aphoristic, and dialectical traditions within the transmission of Jesus’ teachings. This does not deny that there are interfaces possible and present between them, and it does not deny the validity of Robinson’s “Sayings of the Sages” background for collections involving all three genres of Jesus’ speech. But I prefer to consider that such writings as, for example, Q or the Gospel of Thomas, represent a mode rather than a genre, a modal presentation of the Jesus tradition but a discursive rather than a narrative mode. I propose to consider parables, aphorisms, and dialogues as distinct genres and to speak rather of modes in considering the discursive/narrative spectrum for the intracanonical and extracanonical gospels.
In the present essay I am not considering the parabolic tradition at all. I am primarily concerned with the aphoristic tradition and especially with the lines of demarcation and transition, separation and connection between the aphoristic and dialectical traditions. I am especially concerned with establishing the validity and usefulness of those generic distinctions and also with exploring the relationship between the two traditions within the transmission of Jesus’ teachings.
2. Aphorism and Dialectic
This first section will discuss a problem both terminological and theoretical which has been passed on from classical into contemporary analysis.
2.1 Classical Analysis
2.11 In Graeco-Roman education “the Progymnasmata were a group of elementary exercises for teaching composition, for writing and speaking. They led by a graded series of exercises from the less difficult to the more difficult, and culminated in speech-making. For this reason, the later stages were handled by the rhetor” (Spencer: 102–3). The students’ first progression was, for example, through (1) Fable, (2) Story, (3) Chreia, and (4) Gnome. It is in the relationship between those last two units of speech or stages in education that a problem begins—for us.
We know about those literary genres and pedagogical steps from the written exercise books of grammarians such as Aelius Theon of Alexandria in the early second century A.D. (Spengel: 2.57–130), Hermogenes of Tarsus in the later second century (2.1–18), and Aphthonius of Antioch in the late fourth or early fifth century (2.19–56). These teachers agree very closely on the definition and division of the chreia, as may be seen in the texts given and translated by Taylor and Nicklin (Taylor: 75–90). First, “such sayings are called χρεῖαι (from ἡχρεία—’need’) probably because they were maxims which were taught to school children to impress their memories with views, ideas, and statements which would be serviceable for the various ‘needs’ they would experience in later walks of life” (Spencer: 90). But it is also likely that they were “useful” or “needed” in philosophical propaganda before being taken over for pedagogical instruction (Spencer: 158–60). Second, for definition, there is the third century Oxyrhynchus papyrus fragment (Anonymous: #85, pp. 157–58; Taylor: 82):
What is the Chreia? It is an Apomnemoneuma (i.e., memorandum) which is succinct, with reference to some person, told to his credit.
Why is the Chreia an Apomnemoneuma? Because it is kept in mind in order that it may be quoted.
Why is it ‘succinct’? Because, in many cases, if told at length it becomes either a narrative or something else.
Why is it ‘told of some person’? Because, in many cases, without a personal reference, a succinct Apomnemoneuma becomes either a Gnome or something else.
Why is it called a Chreia? Because of its serviceability.
Third, the standard division of the chreia depends on whether the response is (1) a saying, (2) an action, or (3) both saying and action (Taylor: 83; Spencer, 109–13).
2.12 The problem surfaces clearly in those distinctions and in the examples given for the first category, the purely verbal chreia (Spencer: 110): “Diogenes the philosopher, having been asked by someone how he might become of high regard, answered, ‘By giving least thought to how he might become esteemed’ ” (Theon), or “Plato said that the Muses dwell in the souls of the fit” (Hermogenes), or “Plato’s saying that seedlings of virtue burst forth through sweat and toil” (Aphthonius).
The term chreia covers aphorisms, dialogues, actions, or stories as long as the climactic saying is attributed to some historical personage. For example, the essential difference between chreia and gnome is that the former is so attributed but the latter is not. Put crudely but accurately: “A stitch in time saves nine” is a gnome, but “Diogenes said: ‘A stitch in time saves nine’ ” is a chreia.
This is a very important point. It is not at all that the Graeco-Roman grammarians were confused in their categories and divisions. It is that their essential distinction was between: (1) attribution to a known and named historical person, or (2) “attribution” to an anonymous source in ancient and ancestral wisdom. “The attitude of the times was the reverse of ours. We view a maxim as if it had an existence and authority of its own, apart from its author. If we approve of it, we may be interested to find who was its author, and willing to value him for its sake. But, to them, the maxim, however impressive, had to come from an accredited person to carry the greatest weight. In short, the maxim was required to be a dictum” (Taylor: 79–80). And again: “the Chreia was, to the Hellenic mind, a fundamental form. We have to recollect, however, that it was not merely a literary form, but essentially a historical statement: So-and-so, who was a known, historical figure, actually said or did this” (87).
This concern with historical (or, for us, possibly pseudohistorical) attribution shows up not only in the way the Graeco-Roman grammarians distinguished between chreia and gnome, but also in the first and last of the eight headings under which the poor student had to treat the given chreia. Take, for example, the text of Aphthonius (Spengel: 2.23–25) in the translation by Nadeau (266–67). The verbal chreia is: “Isocrates said that the root of learning is bitter, but sweet are its fruits.” The first exercise is the “Panegyric” (Ἐγκωμιαστικόν) and it begins, “It is fitting that Isocrates should be admired for his art,” etc., etc. The last exercise is the “Epilogue” (Ἐπίλογος) and it begins, “In regard to these things, there is reason for those looking back to Isocrates to marvel at him,” etc., etc. In other words, the first step was a eulogy of the historical speaker and the final step reverted to that worthy in conclusion (Spencer: 104–5).
2.13 The position of Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (ca. 35–100 A.D.), Spain’s gift to Roman rhetoric, is more complicated than that of the later grammarians. It is especially important to consider together the two sections in his Institutio Oratoria where the subject appears, that is, in 1.9.3–5 and 8.5.1–35 (Butler: 1.156–59 and 3.280–301).
The Institutio Oratoria 1.9.3–5 distinguishes quite clearly between three types of pedagogical exercises “in certain rudiments of oratory for the benefit of those who are not yet ripe for the schools of rhetoric,” and these are the writing of “aphorisms [sententiae], moral essays (chriae), and delineations of character (ethologiae).… In all of these exercises the general idea is the same, but the form differs: aphorisms are general propositions, while ethologiae are concerned with persons [quia sententia universalis est vox, ethologia personis continetur]” (Butler: 1.156–59). Colson finds it curious that Quintilian should have said “concerned with persons” of the ethologia but not of the chria, and he suggests that the text be amended accordingly (151 note 2). But I think that this is a misreading of Quintilian’s text. I do not think that his distinction between “vox universalis” and “personis continetur” refers to attribution and source but to application and use. Quintilian presumes that both sententia and ethologia stem from known and named persons but that they are distinguished in that the former applies to a wide variety of situations while the latter applies to some particular, individual, or personal situation. Having made that basic distinction between his first and third type (1.9.3), he proceeds immediately to focus on the second type, the chria, in detail (1.9.4–5). And this type is somewhat in between the “vox universalis” and “personis continetur” distinction since the chria contains examples of both those other types, but, once again, the distinction is not in source but in use, not in attribution but in application. For example, it is quite clear that all the formal openings by which Quintilian distinguishes the chria, such as “he said” or “in answer to this he replied,” presume in the concrete a named personage. Thus he can say that, “of moral essays (chriarum) there are various forms: some are akin to aphorisms (sententiae) and commence with a simple statement ‘he said’ or ‘he used to say’ ” (1.9.4). I consider that this interpretation is confirmed by the way the phrase “vox universalis” is used again in the later discussion of 8.5.4 (Butler: 3.282–83).
In the Institutio Oratoria 8.5.1–35 the terminology, but not the theory, shifts a little. Now the overarching term is sententia and it is used for “striking reflexions such as are more especially introduced at the close of our periods, a practice rare in earlier days, but carried even to excess in our own” (8.5.2). Quintilian breaks the sententia into two main species. (1) “Although all the different forms are included under the same name, the oldest type of sententia, and that in which the term is most correctly applied, is the aphorism, called γνώμη by the Greeks. Both the Greek and the Latin names are derived from the fact that such utterances resemble the decrees or resolutions of public bodies. The term, however, is of wide application [est autem haec vox universalis] (indeed, such reflexions may be deserving of praise even when they have no reference to any special context), and is used in various ways” (8.5.3). Quintilian’s “vox universalis” is here, once again, the universality of application and not the anonymity of attribution. This is also evident in the examples which follow. Sometimes Quintilian cites the author by name, for example, Domitius Afer, Ovid, Cicero, but even when he does not do so explicitly, the examples are not proverbs but quotations and, once again, a named authority is behind them (see 8.5.4–7; note footnotes in Butler: 3.282–84). Finally, it is very evident in his concluding remark: “Such reflexions are best suited to those speakers whose authority is such that their character itself will lend weight to their words. For who would tolerate a boy, or a youth, or even a man of low birth who presumed to speak with all the authority of a judge and to thrust his precepts down our throats” (8.5.8). (2) The other major type of sententia is declared to be “more modern,” and the examples cited are instances of the chria, but there is no specific title used for them. Once again, of course, we are dealing with known and named persons.
2.14 I conclude that, for Quintilian, the sententia, whether distinguished from the chria as species from species (1.9.3) or genus from species (8.5), is always presumed to have behind it a known, named, and preferably authoritative source, just as does the chria itself. In this he agrees substantially with the later grammarians although they spell out more explicitly what he seems to presume implicitly, namely, historical attribution. But while they clearly distinguish the gnome, as being an anonymous saying of universal application (a proverb), Quintilian considers it an authored saying but of universal application (an aphorism).
What we are seeing here, for grammarians and rhetoricians alike, is the “renewed interest in exemplary figures in Hellenistic philosophy since the first century B.C.” (Georgi: 534). Thus attribution (even if for us, pseudoattribution) or anonymity was a crucial distinction, overriding here such other distinctions as aphorism, dialogue, action, or story. But this also bequeaths us with a problem since it does not distinguish where we may want to do so, that is, its fundamental categories may not coincide with our own needed ones. And, worse still, we might not even notice that fact.
2.2 Contemporary Analysis
The problem has resurfaced in contemporary discussion. Since classical times the genre in question has been termed both ἀπόφθεγμα and χρεία (Latin: chria) and, although “apophthegms do not have the breadth of applicability which makes the chreiai useful for so many situations in life” (Spencer: 163), they may be taken for here and now as synonymous. The difficulty may be seen in Bultmann’s magisterial work on the Synoptic tradition. His first two major sections were entitled “The Tradition of the Sayings of Jesus” (11–205) and “The Tradition of the Narrative Material” (209–317), that is, sayings and stories. He then commented on that division as follows (11):
It also seems to me a secondary matter whether one begins with sayings or stories. I start with sayings. But I should reckon as part of the tradition of the sayings a species of traditional material which might well be reckoned as stories—viz. such units as consist of sayings of Jesus set in a brief context. I use a term to describe them which comes from Greek literature, and is least question-begging—’apophthegms’. The subsequent course of this present inquiry will justify my taking the apophthegms before the sayings of Jesus that are not placed in a particular framework. The chief reason is that many apophthegms can be reduced to bare dominical sayings by determining the secondary character of their frame, and can thus be compared, in the following part of the book, with other sayings of Jesus.
There is an unfortunate ambiguity in that phrase “secondary character of their frame.” A frame may be secondary in that it came later than the saying it holds. In that case the saying existed separately and independently of the frame. Or, a frame may be secondary in that it is less important than the saying it holds. But in that case the saying may never have existed separately or independently from the frame.
Bultmann then divided his “Sayings” section into “Apophthegms” (11–69) and “Dominical Sayings” (69–205). The former category includes (a) conflict, (b) scholastic, and (c) biographical apophthegms, and the initial ambiguity remains present throughout the analysis. On the one hand, he proposes a clear distinction between “unitary” and “non-unitary” apophthegms: “We must always raise the question whether we are dealing with a unitary composition, or whether the scene is a secondary construction for a saying originally in independent circulation. If the saying is comprehensible only in terms of its contextual situation, then it clearly has been conceived together with it” (47). On the other hand, he repeatedly asserts: “in general the sayings have produced a situation, not the reverse” (21), or “the sayings have commonly generated the situation, not vice-versa” (47), or “the situation has frequently been composed out of the dominical saying” (61). But surely the unitary apophthegms would have situation and saying quite simultaneous so that dialectic rather than sequence is the heart of the composition. And Bultmann’s ambiguity has been continued and sometimes even increased in later works.
2.22 In his 1971 dissertation and 1979 book, Hultgren divides the Synoptic conflict stories, like Bultmann, into unitary and non-unitary ones (1971:132–78, 179–274; 1979:67–99, 100–48). But many of his non-unitary ones involve what are actually aphoristic conclusions, that is, isolated sayings appended to a unitary story, for example, “Plucking Grain on the Sabbath” in Mark 2:23–28 (1971:217–24; 1979:111–15). Yet such aphoristic additions or conclusions are a quite separate question from the basic distinction between unitary and non-unitary apophthegms, as Bultmann already reminded us: “We must of course keep this question of the unity of the conception quite distinct from that of a secondary expansion by the addition of other sayings” (47 note 1). This simply compounds the confusion and underlines once more the inadequacy of the terminology.
The ambiguity inherited from Bultmann’s inaugural analysis still haunts some very recent and very sophisticated studies rightly seeking a more adequate typology of apophthegms or pronouncement stories. There are three functional typologies to be considered: (1) by Aune (64–67) on the wisdom stories in the “Dinner of the Seven Wise Men” from Plutarch’s Moralia (Babbitt: 2.348–449); (2) by Tannehill (1–13, 101–19) on the pronouncement stories of the Jesus tradition; and (3) by Robbins (1981b:29–52), who combines those twin typologies into a more developed third possibility, and tests it on Plutarch’s Lives (Perrin, 1914–26). Since Robbins has thus connected Aune and Tannehill, the three analyses may be compared synoptically as in figure 1. I would insist, of course, that each author’s categories are to be compared and not just equated with similar ones in another.
2.23 My present concern is not with the basic validity of those excellent analyses but with one single problem which is not really discussed in either Tannehill or Robbins. I emphasize this point because Robbins’s term “aphoristic story” is not the same as my own expression “aphoristic story.” For Robbins “aphoristic stories” are one of the three sub-types of “pronouncement stories,” one where the “interaction … is friendly or neutral, because confrontation with ideas rather than people governs the dynamics. The primary character’s interaction with the idea addressed in the final utterance takes precedence over his interaction with people either within the setting or outside of it” (Robbins, 1981b:32). His term does not concern itself with the specific problem of an aphoristic saying being later developed into an aphoristic dialogue or aphoristic story. But in Robbins’s analysis the problem is latent in his combination of “interaction” and “aphoristic.”
Aune, however, has specifically surfaced the problem in discussing “The Dinner of the Seven Wise Men” by noting that “Plutarch has apparently elaborated the single structural element in the wisdom saying into the two-part structure characteristic of wisdom stories” (64). Among his examples (96–97) is a series of wisdom sayings (my aphoristic sayings) from Thales in Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of Eminent Philosophers I.35 (Hicks: 1.36–37) which Plutarch converts into wisdom stories (my aphoristic dialogues). There are six sayings of which Plutarch uses five in his set of nine dialogues, as he cites Thales in “The Dinner of the Seven Wise Men,” Plutarch’s Moralia 153CD (Babbitt: 2.388–89). A single example will suffice here:
Thales, in Diogenes Laertius
Thales, in Plutarch
Of all thing that are, the most ancient is God, for he is uncreated.
What is the oldest thing? God, said Thales, for God is something that has no beginning.
In Aune’s terms: wisdom sayings have become wisdom stories. In my terms: aphoristic sayings have become aphoristic dialogues.
2.3 Basic Distinctions
2.31 I propose, therefore, two essential distinctions. The first is by far the more important. This is between (a) the aphoristic tradition and (b) the dialectical tradition. The aphoristic tradition includes not only aphoristic sayings but also those cases where such units are developed into either aphoristic dialogues or aphoristic stories. These are usually “set-up” phenomena so that there will be no interaction, dynamics, or dialectics between situation and/or address and the climactic saying. It will destroy the validity of any typology based on “interaction” to include such units among the data. The dialectical tradition includes all those cases where a dialectic exists between, on the one hand, the situation and/or the address, and, on the other, the action and/or the response. In this tradition, even if the second part has meaning by itself, it takes on its full import only in interaction or dialectic with the first part. And in many cases the second part is vacuous or meaningless when taken by itself or as an independent aphorism. I would insist on the validity of this distinction for those working with the Jesus tradition or for any analysis which includes it. How important it is elsewhere is another question but, at least, Aune has shown it operative in one essay of Plutarch.
2.32 The second essential distinction is between (a) dialogue and (b) story. I am quite aware that either can develop into the other and that dialogue often points outside itself to story just as story often contains dialogue within it. But granted all that, I think the distinction is again important, at least for the Jesus tradition, and especially for understanding the fateful trajectories chosen differently by the gnostic and catholic destinies within it. Think, for example, of the absolutely artificial way in which the letter Eugnostos the Blessed (CG III,3, and V,1) is turned into the dialogue The Sophia of Jesus Christ (CG III,4, and BG 8502,3) by inserted questions from Matthew, Philip, Thomas, Mariamne, Bartolomew, or the disciples in general (Robinson, 1977:206–28; Robinson-Koester: 84, 90; Koester, 1979:536–37). Thus even when independent sayings are “set up” in artificially appended dialogues or stories something happens. First, one had to decide whether to choose dialogue alone or story, with or without dialogue. Second, if one chose dialogue, it was asserted thereby that questions were possible and acceptable and that answers were possible and expectable. Third, if one chose story, one tied Jesus to the earth and its pathways.
My proposed terms are, then, aphoristic dialogues and aphoristic stories, or dialectical dialogues and dialectical stories.
3. Aphorism and Kingdom
This second section will test the viability of those distinctions on a single but paradigmatic example, the aphorism concerning Kingdom and Children.
There are four independent versions to be considered: (1) Mark 10:14 = Matt 19:14 = Luke 18:16, and Mark 10:15 = Luke 18:17; (2) Matt 18:3; (3) John 3:3, 5; (4) Gos. Thom. 22.
3.1 Mark 10:13–16:
And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them.
The text will be discussed in terms of both general context and immediate content.
3.11 Mark 8:27–10:45. Like Mark 4:1–8:26 before it (Petersen), 8:27–10:45 has a core structure which is repetitive and internally and externally triadic (Perrin, 1974:155; Robbins, 1981a:102–5):
(b) Apostolic Blindness:
(c) Corrective Teaching:
3.12 Mark 9:36–10:16. Within that middle section of the triad there is evidence of another large compositional unity wherein two sections concerning the child frame one concerning divorce: A (9:36–39 within 9:33–50), B (10:1–12), A’ (10:13–16). The thematic importance of this juxtaposition has been explained by Kelber: “The marriage relationship is singled out as the one exception to the eschatological experience of separation and divorce. By the same token neither wife nor husband are included among the goods to be renounced (10:29).… While the ties to the past are severed, the link to the future is strengthened” (1974:91; note that the “children” to be abandoned in Mark 10:29 are τέκνα not παιδία). The twin framing units concerning children are carefully paralleled by a chiastic balance of positive (“whoever receives … child”) and negative (“whoever does not receive … child”) sayings. This is detailed in figure 2, with both thematic and verbal links indicated. In that figure (see next page) the balanced Greek phrases indicate the deliberate nature of the parallelism: (a) the central units in C are structured identically and the elements of reproach from Jesus to the disciples concerning their attitude to outsiders serve to continue and intensify Mark’s criticism of Jesus’ disciples (see Kelber, 1974:87–92); (b) the units in 9:36–37 and 10:15–16 are positioned chiastically to frame these central units and, once again, the key words are duplicated in Greek.
At this point, however, it becomes quite evident whence the theme of “receiving” the Kingdom was derived in 10:15. It is not in any way pre-Markan but it represents Mark’s rephrasing of his pre-Markan 10:15 In order to underline the verbal and thematic parallel with 9:37 (B/B′). Hence any consideration of Mark 10:15 must imagine a pre-Markan version which contained nothing about “receiving” the Kingdom as a child (against Schilling).
3.13 Mark 10:13–16. Bultmann had already suggested “treating v. 15 as an originally independent dominical saying, inserted into the situation of vv. 13–16” (32). But he also held that “the point of v. 14 is quite different from that of v. 15: v. 14 simply states that children have a share in the Kingdom of God” (32). I accept that former point but do not agree at all with the second one.
(a) Mark 10:15. I agree that this is an independent aphoristic saying. This will be confirmed by later considerations of both Matt 18:3 and John 3:3, 5. In these three independent texts there is an aphorism with similar construction: (i) solemn opening, “Truly, I say to you,” with the usual doubling of the “Truly” in John; (ii) protasis formulated negatively: ἐὰν μή in Matthew and John, ὃς ἂν μή in Mark; and (iii) apodosis, also formulated negatively: οὐ μή in Mark and Matthew, οὐ δύναται in John; and (iv) the same verb, “enter,” in Mark 10:15; Matt 18:3; and John 3:5.
Action Jesus on Chid
9:36 “taking him in his arms” (ἐναγκαλισάμενος αὐτό)
Aphorism by Jesus about Child(ren)
9:37 “whoever receives … child” (ὃς ἂν … παιδίων δἐξηται)
Action by Outsiders
Reproach by Disciples
Counter-Reproach by Jesus to Disciples
9:36a “do not forbid” (μὴ κωλύετε)
10:14a “do not hinder” (μὴ κωλύετε)
Aphorism by Jesus on Action by Outsiders
Aphorism by Jesus about Child
10:15 “whoever does not receive … child” (ὃς ἂν μὴ δέξηται … παιδίον)
Action by Jesus on Children
10:16 “took them in his arms” (ἐναγκαλισάμενος αὐτά)
(b) Mark 10:13, 14, 16. Bultmann said that “vv. 13–16 are a complete apophthegm without v. 15” (32) and he located Mark 10:13, 14, 16 among the biographical apophthegms (see also Spencer: 351–56). Tannehill locates 10:13–16 among those “hybrid pronouncement stories which combine … correction and commendation” (103). In my terminology Mark 10:13, 14, 16 is a dialectical story. The saying of Jesus is: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” This saying could make sense by itself as its frequent citation within the Christian tradition has proved. But the emphatic and double opening with its positive (“let”) and negative (“do not”) imperative bespeaks at least an implicit dialectic with some previous position. It is not, therefore, an aphoristic story but rather a dialectical story.
It is possible, but not much more, to argue that there was a pre-Markan aphoristic story present in 10:13a+14b and that Mark, by introducing the conflict between the disciples and Jesus in 13b+14a, has himself turned this into a dialectical story. One might even point to the “Jesus saw” in Mark 10:14 (not accepted by either Matt 19:14 or Luke 18:16) and the “Jesus saw” in Gos. Thom. 22a as evidence for such a pre-Markan aphoristic story in 10:13a+14b.
I think, however, that a more radical solution is called for. It was Mark himself who created the entire dialectical story in 10:13, 14, 16 and embedded the pre-Markan but redactionally rephrased 10:15 within it. This suggestion is supported by three considerations. (1) Structures. I have already drawn attention to how Mark built 10:13–16 in verbal parallel with the two incidents in Mark 9:36–37 and 9:38–39 (see figure 2). (2) Expressions. The Markan penchant for dualism and especially for a positive followed by a negative appears in 10:14 (Neirynck: 84 and 92, see also 99,115,122). (3) Words. Pryke places all of 10:13 and 16 in “the redactional text of Mark” (165, see also 18,24,105,107,108,109, and, on γάρ see 128 despite 126,133–34).
3.2 Matt 18:1–4
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
This unit will also be discussed in terms of both context and content.
3.21 Matt 18:1–5. The parallels between Matt 18:1–5 and Mark are as follows:
This means that Matthew removed Mark 10:15 from its sequence in Mark 10:13–16 = Matt 19:13–15 = Luke 18:15–17 and inserted it into his own smoother reformulation of Mark 9:33–37. He has thus united the two child aphorisms of Mark 9:36–37; 10:15, that is, he has noted but rewritten figure 2 above.
3.22 Matt 18:3. That preceding description raises the question whether Matt 18:3 is just his version of Mark 10:15 or might be an independent version. On the one hand, Bultmann states emphatically that “Matt 18:3 … is clearly not an independent tradition, but is the Matthean form of Mk. 10:15 in another context” (32). On the other, Lindars has argued persuasively that, “even on the assumption of Markan priority, the version of the saying in Mt. 18:3 must be regarded as equally likely to represent the original as the version in Mk. 10:15” (288). He cites four reasons for his conclusion: (a) the better balance of verb and adverbial clause in both protasis and apodosis of Matt 18:3 over Mark 10:15; (b) the verb “enter” of Matt 18:3 is less redactionally and contextually derivative than the “receive” of Mark 10:15 (ex Mark 9:37); (c) Matt 18:3 uses the plural “like children” despite the fact that Mark 10:15 has a singular and that such a singular fits far better than a plural with the other singulars in Matt 18:2, 4, 5. The plural is presumably pre-Matthean; (d) Jeremias noted that “in the Septuagint we have a whole series of double expressions which paraphrase ‘again’ and are analogous in structure to the στραφῆτε καὶ γένησθε ὡς τὰ παιδία” (1971: 155), that is, “turn and become” means “become again.” This Semitism is a final and most important indication that Matt 18:3 is independent of and even more original than the version in Mark 10:15.
Matt 18:3 is thus another version of the aphoristic saying found in another context in Mark 10:15.
3.23 Matt 18:4. In the table of parallels between Matt 18:1–5 and Mark which was given above, there was no Markan parallel to Matt 18:4. It is clear that 18:1 and 18:4 serve as frames for the materials in between since they both conclude with “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” But Matt 18:4 does much more than close the complex in 18:1–4. In and by itself it almost reads like an independent aphorism. It is what I term an aphoristic commentary, that is, a unit which looks like an aphorism but which is appended to a preceding independent aphorism in order to comment on it. It deserves the title aphoristic commentary because it is formally modelled on the aphorism itself. This distinguishes it from the more obvious commentary on an aphorism. But it also makes it much more difficult to distinguish it from aphoristic compounds (two aphorisms together).
By the appendage of Matt 18:4 to 18:3 Matthew tells us how he interprets the Kingdom and Children saying: to become like a child is to become humble like a child.
3.3 John 3:1–10
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “TRULY, TRULY, I SAY TO YOU, UNLESS ONE IS BORN ANEW, HE CANNOT SEE THE KINGDOM OF GOD.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “TRULY, TRULY, I SAY TO YOU, UNLESS ONE IS BORN OF WATER AND THE SPIRIT, HE CANNOT ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘YOU MUST BE BORN ANEW.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can this be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?”
My working hypothesis concerning Johannine and Synoptic relationships involves both (1) the presence of Synoptically independent traditions concerning Jesus’ words and deeds in John, and (2) the influence of the Synoptics on the final construction of the Johannine Gospel itself (see Smith: 443).
3.31 John 3:3, 5. The independence proposed for Matt 18:3 is confirmed by a consideration of John 3:3, 5 which, despite Johannine reformulation and baptismal adaptation, is another witness to the independent version underlying Matt 18:3 (Dodd: 358–59; Brown: 1.143–44).
With regard to content, Lindars has proposed that (a) John 3:5a (“of water and the Spirit”) is his own reformulation of 3:3a (“anew”), and 3:3b (“See”) is his own reformulation of 3:5b (“enter”): hence, “anew” (ἄνωθεν) and “enter” are prejohannine; that (b) “John’s ἄνωθεν can bear the meaning ‘again’, and so represents a more idiomatic translation of the Aramaic phrase which appears in Matthew’s version as στραφῆτε” (290); that (c) John’s term “born” (γεννηθῇ) is linguistically close to Matt 18:3’s “become” (γένησθε), although, of course, they are not the same root; and that (d) in adapting his source and dropping any mention of children, “John intended the meaning ‘from above’ in verse 3, contrary to the required meaning [anew, again] of the underlying source” (292).
3.32 John 3:1–10. What John has done with the aphorism is quite fascinating. (a) John 3:2b–10 is a dialogue between Nicodemus and Jesus in three exchanges: 2b/3, 4/5–8, and 9/10. (b) It is structured so that Nicodemus gets one assertion (2b) and two questions (4, 9) while Jesus gets two assertions (3, 5–8) and one question (10). (c) The unit is framed by the ironic contrast between the “teacher” in 3:3 and 3:10.
But the most interesting feature is the way that the aphoristic saying has been tripled to form the armature of the dialogue in 3:3, 5, 7. In this case aphoristic saying has been developed into aphoristic dialogue with three exchanges. But each time the aphorism is cited it is varied a little. In 3:3 the apodosis has the Johannine term “see” rather than the traditional “enter” (see Brown: 1.501–3). In 3:5 the protasis has the new expression which is of paramount importance for 3:5–8, “of water and the Spirit.” And in 3:7 there is only an abbreviated version of the protasis as in 3:3.
After the twin citations of the aphorism in 3:5 and 7 John adds, as had Matt 18:4 after 18:3, what I term aphoristic commentary. Thus in 3:6 and 8 appear sentences which read like aphorisms, sentences which could be imagined as independent sayings in their own right but which are actually commentary on the preceding aphorisms. They are given, however, in a format which copies that of the basic aphorism which they interpret.
Finally, one could say that the aphorism concerning Kingdom and Children, having become a triple dialogue in 3:2b–10, is located as an aphoristic story within the overall narrative of John’s gospel by 3:1–2a.
This is a small but significant confirmation of the first working hypothesis proposed by Koester concerning the development of Johannine dialogues and monologues from traditional sayings of Jesus (1979: 553). And what comes next, from Gos. Thom. 22, seems an equal confirmation of his second proposed working hypothesis. This postulates the necessity of establishing not only material but especially formal trajectories for the transmission of canonically independent Jesus sayings from, for example, (1) Papyrus Egerton 2 (Bell & Skeat; see Mayeda), (2) through such Nag Hammadi texts as the Gospel of Thomas, the Dialogue of the Savior (see Pagels & Koester), and the Apocryphon of James, on into (3) the dialogues and monologues of John’s gospel (Koester, 1979:553–54; also 1980a:119–26; 1980b:250–56).
3.4 Gos. Thom. 22
Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to His disciples, “These infants being suckled are like those who enter the Kingdom.” They said to Him, “Shall we then, as children, enter the Kingdom.” Jesus said to them, “When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside, and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter [the Kingdom].”
3.41 Gos. Thom. 22b. Robinson has shown most persuasively how the original Kingdom and Children aphorism has moved along two hermeneutical trajectories. One is the “orthodox” baptismal interpretation represented by John 3:1–10 and developed in later patristic texts (1962:106–7). The other is the “unorthodox” and gnostic interpretation represented here by Gos. Thom. 22b: “When one considers that repudiation of sex was a condition to admission to some Gnostic groups, somewhat as baptism was a condition of admission into the church at large, it is not too difficult to see how a logion whose original Sitz im Leben was baptism could be taken over and remolded in the analogous Sitz im Leben of admission to the sect” (1962:108). Thus Jesus’ reply in Gos. Thom. 22b involves a fourfold “when you make,” each of which contains the obliteration of bodily differences, and each of which is known by itself or in various combinations from other gnostic sources (save the fourth). Thus, “when you make the two one” reappears in Gos. Thom. 106, and is combined as “when the two become one and the male with the female (is) neither male nor female” in the Gospel of the Egyptians (Hennecke-Schneemelcher: 1.168). These, and Robinson’s more detailed examples (1962:108,281–84), show that the setting and saying in Gos. Thom. 22a have been redactionally expanded in typically gnostic terms by the dialogue of 22b. “The result is a logion all but transformed beyond recognition, were it not that the hint provided by the basic structure is confirmed by the introduction, in which it becomes clear that the logion grew out of the saying about the children” (Robinson, 1962:109).
The only factor not adequately explained in all this is the meaning of the fourth and final “when you make” concerning eye-hand-foot. “It is tempting to propose an emendation of the text” (Kee: 312), so that it would recommend eye to replace eyes, hand hands, and foot feet. But that, as Kee admits, is but a plausible guess, and Robinson can only note Mark 9:43, 45, 47 and add a question mark. But however one explains that final “when you make (fashion),” it is clear that “a collection of various traditions” (Robinson, 1962:283 note 46) has been appended to the Kingdom and Children aphorism. This means that one cannot dismiss the possibility of independent tradition in Gos. Thom. 22a simply because of the gnostic interpretation(s) now attached to it in 22b (against Kee:314). Any decision on 22a must be made apart from its present much longer dialogic conclusion in 22b.
3.42 Gos. Thom. 22a. This will be considered in terms of both form and content. (a) Form. This is a classic example of an aphoristic story, that is, of an aphoristic saying developed into narrative. A setting or situation is given with “Jesus saw infants being suckled.” But this situation is already verbally contained within the aphorism itself: “He said to His disciples, ‘These infants being suckled are like those who enter the Kingdom’.” On the one hand, this adds little to the aphorism itself, but, on the other, it significantly chooses the narrative mode (situation) over the discourse mode (address) to develop the aphorism. Notice also that the incident begins with Jesus, with something from Jesus rather than something to Jesus. It begins when “Jesus saw.” This recalls Bultmann’s observation that, “It is characteristic of the primitive apophthegm that it makes the occasion of a dominical saying something that happens to Jesus (with the exception of the stories of the call of the disciples). It is a sign of a secondary formation if Jesus himself provides the initiative” (66). (b) Content. The aphoristic saying in Mark 10:15; Matt 18:3; John 3:3, 5 appears as a double negative (“unless … not”), but the dialectical story in Mark 10:14 and the aphoristic story in Gos. Thom. 22a is positive. The shift from saying to story has involved the shift from negative to positive as well.
3.43 Gos. Thom. 22. The whole unit of 22 involves three steps. First, the aphoristic saying is developed into an aphoristic story in 22a. Second, this is hermeneutically expanded by means of aphoristic dialogue. A single exchange is created between disciples and Jesus. Their question simply picks up the language of Jesus’ original saying in 22a. Three, the reply of Jesus almost overpowers the original saying in length, but it is an aphoristic commentary in form. If one leaves aside 22a and the opening question of 22b, the rest of 22b could be taken as an originally independent saying. It is, however, an aphoristic commentary, that is, a unit which looks like an independent aphorism but is appended as interpretative commentary to a preceding aphorism.
3.5 Gos. Thom. 46
Jesus said, “Among those born of women, from Adam until John the Baptist, there is no one superior to John the Baptist that his eyes should not be lowered (before him). Yet I have said, whichever one of you comes to be a child will be acquainted with the Kingdom and will become superior to John”
This is another version of the saying found in Q/Matt 11:11 = Luke 7:28, where the “least” in the Kingdom is “greater” than John. Baker has drawn attention to other versions of this aphorism in “the homilies that pass under the name of Macarius” and which “continue to perplex scholars as to their true author, place of origin and sources” although “recent work has brought strong arguments for Asia Minor and perhaps Syria as the place and the last quarter of the fourth century as the time of composition” (215). Pseudo-Macarius’s versions speak first of the “least one” (μικρότερος) as being greater than John, then equate such with the “apostles,” and conclude that such a “little one” (μικρός) is greater than John (Migne: 713CD). That final text is the same as the one found in Gos. Thom. 46b since the Coptic word kwi can be translated either as “a child” or “a little one.” Gos. Thom. 46b therefore translates either “whichever one of you comes to be a child” (Lamdin; see also Guillaumont et al.) or “he who shall be among you as a little one” (Wilson: 515). This change from “least one” to “little one” is significant, “for the New Testament wishes to say that all in the Kingdom are greater than John, therefore, even the least—μικρότερος Whereas the Gospel of Thomas and Macarius mean that only those who are small—μικρός—are greater than John” (Baker: 218). Quispel has explained the relationship between Thomas and Macarius by proposing “that Macarius most probably knew the Gospel of Thomas and alluded to it in his writings” (227) and he concludes by asserting that he is “not in the least astonished that Macarius used the Gospel of Thomas, because so many Syrian writers before him had done the same” (234).
I conclude, therefore, that there has been an infiltration from Gos. Thom. 22 into 46b which (a) mitigates the denigration of John and (b) substitutes “shall know (be acquainted with) the Kingdom” for “shall enter the Kingdom.” Gartner has summarized the situation as follows: “The categorical statement in Matt 11:11 has been reshaped so as to state the condition for admittance into the kingdom, ‘the one among you who becomes like a little one (a child) shall know the kingdom.’ The resemblance to Logion 22a is striking. Indeed, behind the alteration we may discern a gnosticizing tendency which has as its object to emphasize the important term ‘little,’ referring to the Gnostic. This tendency is supported by another alteration, the phrase ‘know the kingdom.’ The New Testament uses such expressions as ‘to enter the kingdom of God,’ or ‘to receive the kingdom of God,’ but never ‘to know the kingdom of God’ ” (224).
4. Aphorism and Hermeneutic
4.1 Francis Bacon (1561–1626), Baron Verulam, Viscount St. Albans, Lord Chancellor of England, has explained and also defended his own aphoristic style by affirming that “aphorisms, representing a knowledge broken, do invite men to enquire further” (3.405), and, “aphorisms … did invite men, both to ponder that which was invented, and to add and supply further” (3.498), and again, “aphorisms doth leave the wit of man more free to turn and toss, and to make use of that which is so delivered to more several purposes and applications” (7.321).
In discussing the Kingdom and Children saying we have seen this aphoristic power at work both internally with regard to content and externally with regard to form. But it is with the external hermeneutic, with the ways in which such forms as aphoristic sayings, stories, dialogues, and commentaries are creatively interwoven in Mark, Matthew, John, and Thomas, that this final section is concerned. Special attention should also be drawn to Mark 10:13, 14, 16 which represents an interface between the aphoristic and dialectical traditions, since in this instance an aphoristic saying was expanded not just into an aphoristic story but into a dialectical story.
4.2 I propose the model given in figure 3 to summarize the phenomena described in section II above.
Figure 3. Generative Model For The Aphoristic Tradition
The model suggested in figure 3 was not just created to handle the Kingdom and Children aphorism. It derived from a study of about 130 aphorisms in Mark and Q which will be published as In Fragments: The Tradition of Jesus’ Aphorisms by Harper & Row in the fall of 1983. The model therefore requires some comments, but only in the most general terms for now.
4.21 The proposal is for a dynamic and generative model rather than for a static and typological model. This suits better the tradition which very often presents the same aphorism at different locations on the model. I consider this to be a more useful sort of model than the typological one proposed for the dialectical tradition in Semeia 20: Pronouncement Stories.
4.22 The four axes of the model are: Narrative and Discourse, Isolation and Combination. The formal trajectories of the aphoristic tradition follow along those axes.
4.23 Aphoristic Compounds involve the combination of two sayings (see Gartner: 41) and this is especially important when one then infiltrates the other.
4.24 Aphoristic Clusters involve the combination of more than two sayings into verbal, formal, structural, and thematic clusters.
4.25 Aphoristic Dialogues and Stories are clear enough from the example of the Kingdom and Children saying. So also is the possibility of interaction between these and Dialectical Dialogues and Stories. This was seen paradigmatically in Mark 10:13, 14, 16 and 10:15. Aphoristic Commentaries are also clear.
4.26 Aphoristic Chronicle is cited as a possibility but is not found as such in the texts I studied.
4.27 Aphoristic Core is extremely important since the aphoristic tradition begins in oral not scribal transmission. Oral memory and oral sensibility operate with aphoristic structure rather than with aphoristic saying, that is, oral memory retains a linguistic structure rather than a syntactical sequence. One could even define oral sensibility as the victory of structure over sequence. This structure/sequence interplay must allow for a certain amount of free-play within the aphoristic core. This freeplay is designated by the terms inside the core: contraction, expansion, conversion (from negative to positive or vice versa), substitution (of words for their equivalents), and transpositions (of protasis into apodosis or vice versa, between stichs, etc.).
Comments on the Article of Vernon K. Robbins
Ronald F. Hock
University of Southern California
Vernon Robbins’s rhetorical approach to the several Pronouncement Stories of Jesus that involve children deserves careful reading and discussion. My own comments in the following pages are intended to initiate that discussion.
The scope of Robbins’s paper is admirably comprehensive. He has not only treated all eight Pronouncement Stories about children, but he has also discussed them in terms of the two principal methods of Gospel studies, namely, form and redaction criticism, with even a comment or two on the implications of his analysis for source criticism. To be sure, Robbins does not do form and redaction criticism in the usual way, using the conventional categories and adjudicating scholarly options. Still, the questions he is asking of these stories are those of form and redaction criticism. Thus he seeks, on the one hand, to classify these stories according to form and to trace their histories and, on the other hand, to interpret these stories by identifying the distinctive uses the evangelists made of them in their overall literary compositions.
If the questions Robbins is asking are those of his colleagues, his own way of posing them is not. For Robbins is taking what he calls “a rhetorical approach” to these stories, although for analytical purposes it may be helpful to distinguish two approaches. Thus, when pursuing form critical questions, his rhetorical approach involves investigating the stories in terms of specific ancient rhetorical forms and accepted means of manipulation that students learned early on from such handbooks as Theon’s Progymnasmata. Accordingly, Robbins classifies these stories as chreiai or reminiscences and emphasizes such manipulations as expansion. But when he turns to redaction critical concerns, his rhetorical approach becomes vaguer, so much so that “rhetorical” comes to mean little more than “argumentative.” In other words, the evangelists redacted these stories in ways to serve and advance their respective theological arguments.
Robbins’s redaction critical observations, especially those on Mark, are insightful and convincing, but are rhetorical in the ancient sense only to the extent that they develop points made in his form critical analysis. Consequently, my own comments are restricted to this first rhetorical approach.
Pioneers of form criticism like Martin Dibelius and more recent practitioners like Arland Hultgren have considered, but finally rejected, the value of viewing gospel stories in light of the rhetorical form called “chreia” (χρεία). Robbins, however, disagrees, and after a formal analysis of the Synoptic stories about children belonging to the kingdom (Matt 19:13–15 and pars.) and about greatness (Matt 18:1–5 and pars.) as moderately expanded chreiai, he proposes alternative tradition histories for them in which their settings and actions are seen as at first just as important as their sayings. The other stories, or better dialogues, about being reborn (John 3:1–21) and about suckling infants (Gos. Thom. 22) are classed, not as chreiai, but as formally related “reminiscences” (ἀπομνημονεύματα).
More specifically, Robbins makes detailed use of Theon’s chreia chapter from the Progymnasmata and at several points illustrates Theon’s discussion from Greco-Roman literature or supplements Theon with comments from other rhetorical treatises. Thus Robbins discusses Theon’s definition, classification, and manipulation of the chreia, noting the form’s requisite conciseness, its attribution of either a saying or action to a person, and its various ways of being manipulated, such as expansion into a paragraph-length form. He then hypothesizes that the Synoptic stories he is investigating were formulated originally as chreiai, and even recites them in their probable concise form and classifies the story about the kingdom as a sayings-chreia and that about greatness as an action chreia. In the Gospels, however, these stories have been manipulated into moderately expanded chreiai.
These expansions have resulted in transformations of the stories’ classification. The story about the kingdom is, at least in Matthew and Mark, no longer a sayings chreia but a mixed one, that is a chreia having an action as well as a saying. Likewise, the story about greatness has become in all three Gospels a mixed chreia. But what is especially noteworthy, according to Robbins, is the expansion of the sayings by the inclusion of more generalized sayings, which he identifies, using Aristotle, as maxims and which he finds paralleled in Plutarch’s expansion of a chreia attributed to Alexander. That maxims were added, perhaps by the evangelists themselves, to already existing chreiai with specific settings and sayings or actions rather than prompting the creation of appropriate settings and actions, as is usually contended, is thus another way Robbins’s tradition histories represent alternative scenarios.
This brief summary does not, of course, include all the nuances of Robbins’s new form critical analysis of these stories, but it should indicate clearly the extent to which his analysis is grounded in ancient rhetorical categories and compositional conventions. At any rate, given my own interest in the Progymnasmata, and especially in the chreia, it should be no surprise that I applaud such a rhetorical approach to the Gospel stories. To compose a chreia myself: Wayne Meeks, my graduate professor at Yale, used to say that Bultmann’s History of the Synoptic Tradition is in need of a thorough revision. Robbins’s rhetorical approach represents one way that revision could be carried out.
And yet, while I applaud Robbins’s approach, and largely assent to his analysis of these particular stories, I still think it necessary to offer several comments with a view to correcting, complementing, and strengthening his argument.
Corrections are few and perhaps pedantic. For example, in the definition of the chreia the phrase μετʼ εὐστοχίας is syntactically related to ἀναφερομένη (i.e., “attributed with aptness”) rather than being a modifier of ἀπόφασις ἢ πρᾶξις And, strictly speaking, Theon’s understanding of a mixed chreia is not that the πρόσωπον makes both a saying and an action. To be sure, this understanding is natural and is in fact how other writers on the chreia like Hermogenes, Aphthonius, and Nicolaus define a mixed chreia. But not Theon, for whom a mixed chreia, rather idiosyncratically, contains the action of a πρόσωπον made in response to a verbal remark, ususally a question, as in his example: A Laconian, on being asked where the Lacedaemonians have their boundaries, showed his spear. Note that the Laconian, i.e., the πρόσωπον, makes no saying.
Lastly, and more substantively, I am not persuaded that the story about greatness was formulated originally as an action chreia. Robbins’s justified attempt to emphasize the role of action in the Jesus tradition does not require that Jesus make his point solely with an action. In fact, the act of standing a child beside himself (or in the disciples’ midst) is by itself enigmatic. I suspect that an explanatory saying, probably the one about receiving a child is the same as receiving Jesus, accompanied this action.
Several points from Theon’s discussion of the chreia could complement Robbins’s argument in important ways. For example, that these stories were formulated as chreiai is suggested by the presence of the word ἰδών in Mark’s expansion of the chreia about the kingdom. For this word is characteristic of chreia style, particularly in the clause that describes the circumstance (περίστασις) prompting the saying of the πρόσωπον. What is more, this word allows us to classify this chreia further. In Theon’s elaborate classification system the chreia would be a specific kind of sayings chreia, called ποφαντικὸν καταλ περίστασιν (“statement arising out of a specific circumstance”). By refining Robbins’s classification of this chreia we can further underscore the importance of the setting in a chreia, as he wants to do.
Still another way of complementing Robbins’s argument is to bring in one of the other manipulative exercises, namely, “recitation” (ἀπαγγελία). Robbins, of course, mentions this exercise, but a closer examination of it would help to explain why the evangelists, while obviously reciting the same chreia, do not do so in the same words. For recitation, as Theon understands it, calls for repeating a chreia not necessarily in the same words but only as clearly as possible.
Finally, Robbins’s basic argument, that the classification and history of these stories can be clarified by viewing them in the light of the chreia and its manipulations, can be strengthened by keeping more rigorously to the Progymnasmata themselves. For example, when he discusses, say, the γάρ clause in Matthew’s version of the story about the kingdom or the maxim Mark’s version of the same story adds, Robbins turns for clarification to the Rhetorica ad Herrenium and to Aristotle’s Ars Rhetorica respectively. And yet, he could have turned just as easily, and perhaps more appropriately, to Theon himself. For Theon’s supplementary classification of the various ways an ἀπόφασις can be expressed includes one with a causal clause and termed ἀποδεικτικῶς (“with a demonstration”). Here is Theon’s example: Isocrates the rhetor used to advise his students to honor their teachers instead of their parents, because the latter are the cause only of living, while teachers are the cause of living nobly.
Likewise, the addition of the maxim in Mark’s version should be related to another of Theon’s many ways of expressing the ἀπόφασις, namely γνωμολογικῶς (“with a maxim”). Also, the maxim itself, it should be pointed out, was the subject of a chapter in the Progymnasmata, if not in Theon, then at least in Hermogenes and later writers. In other words, the evangelists, trained, as Robbins claims, to compose in Greek from the Progymnasmata, would have been just as adept in using the maxim as the chreia.
But where the relevance of the Progymnasmata really needs to be pointed out is in the discussion of the stories about being reborn and about suckling infants. Here, it seems, Robbins leaves the chreia discussions and talks about another form called “reminiscences.” At any rate, he focuses here, appropriately enough, on Xenophon’s Memorabilia (Ἀπομνημονεύματα). His examples from Xenophon are clearly apt, but what also needs to be said is that “reminiscences” are also compared and contrasted with the chreia in Theon. The forms are clearly related, especially the reminiscence and the expanded chreia. Theon is not especially helpful at this point, but his pairing of the two forms at least shows that the jump from the moderately expanded chreiai in the Synoptics to the composition of reminiscences in John and the Gospel of Thomas is not as great or as unrelated to one another as Robbins’s discussion suggests.
In short, by appealing more consistently to the chreia discussion in Theon’s Progymnasmata, Robbins could strengthen his argument considerably. For the increased points of contact between these Gospel stories and the Progymnasmata confirm his supposition that the evangelists learned to compose Greek by working through such exercises as these rhetorical handbooks contain.
To sum up: Vernon Robbins’s rhetorical approach to the Pronouncement Stories of Jesus that involve children is an insightful and important contribution. Insightful because of its fruitful application of ancient rhetorical materials to these stories, particularly to their form and history. Important because of its implications not only for other Gospel stories but also for broader questions of getting clearer on what constituted the intellectual culture of the evangelists.
Response to John Dominic Crossan and Vernon k. Robbins
Robert C. Tannehill
Methodist Theological School in Ohio
Both John Dominic Crossan and Vernon K. Robbins seek to explain the development of stories and sayings concerning children in the pre-Gospel tradition. Not only do their arguments conflict at key points, but there are other possibilities which deserve more consideration than given them by these two authors. While Crossan and Robbins are sensitive to the connections between a particular pericope and its larger context in a Gospel, their interest in the development of the tradition leads them away from considering a pericope as a unity of interrelated parts and away from seeking to understand how the parts function within the scenes as presently found in the Gospels. In part, Daniel Patte compensates for this deficiency through his discussion of “the relation between Jesus and his addressees” and “the relation between ‘entering the kingdom’ and ‘childhood’ ” in these scenes.
Both Crossan and Robbins make important observations that I hope will not be lost because of lingering doubts about their theories of development. Robbins places the study of pronouncement stories in the context of rhetorical analysis. Among other things, this calls attention to the importance of the chief figure’s “character (ethos)” (1.1). In the future it may be useful to consider further how a pronouncement story may convey a particular impression of the chief speaker or actor’s character and also how a presumption of authority, derived perhaps from outside the story, may contribute to the impact of what this person says or does. Robbins also calls attention to the exercises of expansion and condensation of chreiai in Theon’s Progymnasmata and to the existence of brief and comparatively long versions of the same chreia (2.1–2.2). This suggests that the pronouncement stories of the Gospels, though many of them are fairly long, do belong with the chreiai, many of which are very brief, as manifestations of the same genre.
I also believe that Robbins is correct to challenge the assumption that a saying is always the original core of a pronouncement story or chreia and that such stories can be simply subsumed under the tradition of the words of Jesus. He points to the occurrence of both action chreiai and mixed action-saying chreiai (3.1). In discussion of the “chreia about greatness” (Luke 9:46–48, Mark 9:33–37, Matt 18:1–5) (4.2–4.4) this observation is used to support a particular view of the development of the tradition. Here doubts begin to arise. In my view, what Robbins has done (and this is a useful contribution) is to call attention to a neglected possibility in understanding the development of this pericope. He shows that it is possible that the original core of this pericope was an action chreia. This possibility does not become a probability because there are too many alternative possibilities. Robbins asserts that “there was a natural tendency to add some kind of statement after a demonstrative action as the story was told in an extended literary setting” and presents several versions of the story of the Laconian and his weapon as an example (4.1). However, no evidence is offered to show that Theon’s version, which is an action chreia, is the earliest. It is possible that Theon transformed a chreia of a different type into an action chreia in order to have a fitting illustration. Furthermore, no version of the synoptic story exists that is simply an action chreia. Robbins argues (4.1) that “the setting in the action-chreia is not a natural introduction for the saying” (Mark 9:37a par.). However, it seems to me that Mark 9:36 is a natural introduction to 9:37 if the writer wished to insert a saying about receiving children into a setting where children have not been mentioned in order to prepare in advance for 10:13–16, in which the disciples will ignore Jesus’ teaching in 9:37. Both 9:36 and 37 may originate from this purpose of the evangelist. The second of these verses may be a modified version of a saying similar to the mission saying in Matt 10:40 and Luke 10:16, changed to give the child the crucial importance previously attributed to the missionary. I am merely proposing a possibility. Likewise, I think Robbins’s contribution to the discussion of Mark 9:33–37 par. is to add to the list of possibilities of understanding the development of this pericope. Unfortunately, the more viable possibilities the less certainty.
Difficulties also appear in the discussion of Mark 10:13–16 par., and here the conflict with Crossan’s view of the development of the same pericope immediately alerts us to the problems. Robbins argues that Mark 10:14 and 15 “contain two different dimensions that make it unlikely that one has emerged from the other” (3.1) and appeals to an article by J. Sauer to add to the evidence which he himself gives. Neither Robbins’s nor Sauer’s evidence convinces me that there is a hiatus between 10:14 and 15. A shift from a literal to a metaphorical sense of “child” does not prove the point, for precisely this combination can increase the tension in a metaphor and so heighten its metaphorical power (cp. “mother and brothers” in Mark 3:31–35). The shift from “children” in 10:14 to “child” in 10:15 is explained if we recognize that 10:15 is not speaking of the disciples as children but of the kingdom as “like a child.” As the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Lexicon indicates (under ὡς II.3.b), a ὡς phrase “may be used as an attribute” of the preceding noun. Compare πίστιν ὡς κόκκον σινάπεως (Matt 17:20, Luke 17:6) and the kingdom ὡς κόκκω σινάπεως in Mark 4:30–31. The train of thought would then be: The disciples must receive the children because the kingdom, too, is “like a child”—little, inconspicuous, unimposing (cp. the kingdom as mustard seed)—and those who do not receive children cannot enter the kingdom. Thus 10:15, although it is not introduced by γάρ or ὅτι, provides an important reason why the kingdom is closely associated with children and why the disciples must accept the children, functioning as a γάρ or ὅτι clause often does in a chreia. As J. Sauer notes (35), the γάρ clause in 10:14 is insufficient. Only 10:15 makes clear why there is a special connection between the kingdom and children. This interpretation of Mark 10:15 has the advantage of being able to explain its function and meaning in its context. It also makes one doubt that it is necessary to explain the secondary origin of 10:15 out of the remark about Jesus “embracing” the children in 10:16, as Robbins attempts to do. This theory is in any case dubious. While it is true that ἐναγκαλισάμενος can be paraphrased by ἐδέξατο εἰς τὰς ἀγκάλας (3.1), it is also true that the word δέχομαι does not occur in 10:16, and if it did, it would not explain why receiving the children should lead to the thought of “receiving the kingdom as one receives a child,” when the significance of this comparison remains obscure. There are many ways of receiving a child. I see no basis for Robbins’s suggestion that the point of comparison is that “it should be a natural response to accept” both a child and the kingdom (3.1), but the felt need to import such an idea testifies to the obscurity of the text in this interpretation.
Crossan believes that Mark 10:15 is Mark’s rephrasing of a pre-Markan aphoristic saying, which the evangelist embedded in a story of his own creation (3.12). The primary evidence for such a pre-Markan aphoristic saying is the similarity between this verse and Matt 18:3, John 3:3, 5. Crossan believes that the version in Matt 18:3 is “more original than the version in Mark 10:15” (3.22). I am not convinced by the evidence which Crossan offers for the priority of the saying in Matthew. Better balance between protasis and apodosis is hardly evidence for pre-Matthean origin, since Matthew loves balanced expression (cp. the neat balance in Matt 15:11 with Mark 7:15). The use of the plural “children” in Matt 18:3 is explained by the plural subject and verbs of the sentence. And if a Semitism exists in the phrase στραφῆτε καὶ γένησθε (which is not certain, since it may simply mean “change and become”), this could simply show that Matthew knew and liked this Semitism. The absence in Matt 19:13–15 of a parallel to Mark 10:15 suggests that Matt 18:3 (which is not found in the parallel Markan pericope) derives from Mark 10:15. It is possible to explain the Matthean editorial process as due to a desire to clarify Mark 10:15, which may have seemed ambiguous or obscure, and to apply the two Markan pericopes on children to two distinct issues. Matthew 19:13–15, without the extra Markan verse, is simply teaching about the rights of children in the church and the kingdom. Material expressing the stringent requirements for those striving to enter the kingdom is transferred to 18:1ff. and applied to the question of greatness in the kingdom. Furthermore, John 3:3, 5 cannot provide much support for Crossan’s argument, since there is a good deal of uncertainty about the relation of these verses to Mark 10:15 and Matt 18:3. The latter texts refer to a state or status, that of a child, and the former to the event of birth, so the Johannine texts may have little or no connection with the synoptic texts, despite some similarity of sentence construction. On the other hand, since Crossan admits the possibility of “influence of the Synoptics on the final construction of the Johannine Gospel” (3:31), John 3:3, 5 may represent a very free adaptation of Mark 10:15 or Matt 18:3. Neither conclusion supports Crossan’s thesis of an independent, pre-Markan aphoristic saying.
While some of the proposals by Crossan and Robbins concerning the development of the tradition seem doubtful, both make useful contributions in other ways. In the first section of his essay, Crossan notes the importance of attribution to a historical personage in ancient definitions of the chreia. Both sayings (or actions) in which a person responds to something said or observed and sayings with only an indication of the speaker (such as, “Plato said that the Muses dwell in the souls of the fit”) are called chreiai. I agree that the ancients did “not distinguish where we may want to do so” (Crossan, 2.12). The former texts have an important dimension lacking in the latter. A setting is indicated and some sort of interaction takes place between a responding person and this setting. We have a story, however brief. The sense of a person interacting with his or her world disappears when we have only a saying attributed to a person. The resources in narration for presenting a specific event are not utilized. My own study of pronouncement stories (see Semeia 20) was restricted to texts which narrate a response in a setting.
Crossan’s discussion of the chiastic relation of Mark 9:36–39 and 10:13–16 (3.12) is interesting and helpful. I would add that 9:37 prepares for 10:13–16 in the sequence of the narrative, since it provides the teaching which the disciples violate when they reject the children. The close connection of these texts does not necessarily support the Markan origin of 10:13–14, 16, however (see Crossan 3.13), since one can reverse the argument, viewing 9:36–37 as a Markan construction based on 10:13–16.
Daniel Patte deals systematically with the relation between Jesus and the disciples in these stories, while Crossan and Robbins give little attention to this. This relation is important to the “dialectic” in these stories, which is evidently a subsidiary interest of Crossan in this essay, although it is a major feature of these stories. Crossan wishes to make a fundamental distinction between the “aphoristic tradition” and the “dialectical tradition” in the Gospels. This distinction and its implications need further clarification, which may appear in Crossan’s forthcoming book. It is not obvious to me that this distinction can be firmly maintained. For instance, Mark 7:15 would seem to be an aphorism which is also dialectical, since it first negates a position assumed by some in the milieu of the speaker. However, full evaluation of this distinction must wait until Crossan has an opportunity to demonstrate more fully its usefulness in discussing material in the Gospels. For clarity’s sake it may be important to distinguish between “interaction” and “dialectics.” Crossan claims that aphoristic stories are ” ‘set-up’ phenomena” which contain “no interaction, dynamics, or dialectics” (2.31). Even a story with little more than a question and an answer contains an interaction, although it may not show the degree of tension found in Mark 10:13–16, which exemplifies “dialectics.” Furthermore, the “testing inquiry stories” (see Tannehill: 115–116) contain significant tension although the basic structure is simply question/answer. I do not know whether Crossan would relate them to the aphoristic or the dialectical tradition.
Crossan considers a “dynamic and generative model” to be more useful than a “static and typological” one (4.21). Crossan’s model (presented in figure 3) contains a number of useful designations but presupposes the distinction between aphoristic and dialectical, which has yet to prove its worth. I also wonder about the kind of usefulness which Crossan has in mind. A generative model, in my understanding, displays the relationships among an abstract set and thereby suggests possible developments or changes. It is a structure of potentialities, not a record of actual developments in any particular historical situation. In relation to the Jesus tradition, there is no a priori reason why development could not begin at any point in the structure, move in several directions, and skip some potential forms. The model is useful not in telling us how development actually took place but in calling attention to possibilities and to relationships which we might otherwise overlook.
Crossan dares to be speculative. Robbins, too, is moving beyond the customary perspectives of New Testament scholarship. We should thank them for this. They provide salutary stimulation even if there are many points for debate. Furthermore, some of their points may survive criticism and, through refinement, become important contributions to our discipline.
Schoolboys and Storytellers: Some Comments on Aphorisms and Chriae
Lou H. Silberman
University of Arizona and Vanderbilt University
The reemergence of interest in Graeco-Roman rhetoric as a tool in analysis of gospel structures has, as is so often the case, both a positive and a negative face. The positive makes it clear that attention must be paid to the powerful influence of literary forms and structures and their often decisive role in determining the way in which the story is told. The negative, as in the case of the essays by Robbins and Crossan, tends to make of that recognition the instrument for a premature solution to the complexity of storytelling.
To know how a schoolboy was instructed to compose a chria, beginning with an aphorism, does not necessarily demonstrate that a chria recognized in a gospel passage was constructed by the writer in the same conscious fashion that the schoolboy, under his teacher’s tutelage, wrote his lesson. Again, to observe the presence of chriae in the gospels may not necessarily lead to “the conclusion … that the synoptic writers had been trained to perceive stories about personages in terms of discrete literary units that were fair game for expansion and modification. The conclusion is near at hand that the authors of the Synoptic Gospels had learned to compose Greek in a setting that had incorporated preliminary exercises of rhetorical education as they are discussed and illustrated in Theon’s Progymnasmata. Both as they wrote their gospels and as they read other people’s collections or complete narratives, they saw the material in terms of the discrete units they had been taught to see and write in the educational setting where they had learned to compose Greek” (Robbins).
On the contrary, Henry A. Fischel suggested, as he dealt with the question of the penetration of Greaco-Roman rhetoric into the Near East, what seems to me a more realistic understanding of how the writers of the gospels were “taught” and “learned” about those “discrete literary units” they used to compose their stories. He wrote:
The working hypothesis of this essay is that the Aggadists (and to some extent the Halachists) did not have to consult difficult works on the ‘art of rhetoric’ but could gain their insight into Hellenism from the popularized form of rhetoric (which was the usual medium of the Greco-Roman writer-scholar administrator class, too). They may have encountered this medium in its oral crystallization, since oral communication was ubiquitous in Palestine (occupational forces, Roman administrators, wandering preachers, Greek colonists, Hellenistic Jewish pilgrims, Herod’s Court, Jewish evacuees from Greek cities in the Hasmonean period, etc. [he neglected converts]). But with their certain knowledge of Greek (cf. Greek marriage documents among recent finds) the availability of even one copy of a rhetorical work could go a long way. (Fischel, 1977:449, note 31)
Thus, rather than deal with the chriae as observed in the gospels from an educational-institutional perspective, watching to make sure the rules are heeded, it may be more illuminating to accept an informal, popular source of teaching and learning. One heard stories and one told stories in the way one heard them.
Again Fischel, describing the anecdote about the Sage: “In the rhetorical creations of the Hellenistic and Roman worlds, the figure and concept of the ideal Sage, the sophos or sapiens, plays a prominent part. He is most often a founder of a philosophical school or of a scientific discipline, or a lawgiver or creative statesman. Through his actions and words, wisdom—i.e., virtue, the use of reason, and closeness to nature—is taught in an exemplary manner. His courage, presence of mind, wit, and incisiveness are proverbial, and his personality attracts his disciples and converts them to his way of life” (Fischel, 1977:446). Further:
The chria, in general, is a terse, realistic anecdote, originally and usually on a Sage-Philosopher, that culminates in meaningful action or a truth in the form of a gnome, apophthegm or proverb. The Cynic (or cynicizing) chria distinguishes itself by its odd, extreme and often even burlesque action (or basic situation or final statement) of the central Sage-Hero that becomes the basis for a demonstration of Cynic ideals and values. The climactic finale is usually witty, approximating a ‘punch-line’. Double entendre, invective and altercation abound. It was thus an ideal vehicle for the teaching of the non-conformist ideas of the Cynics, for their task of παραχαράττειν τὸ νόμισμα, to ‘falsify’ (i.e., remint) the coin (of convention).… It taught ataraxy, self-control and contentment, the happiness that comes from the simple and even primitive life, the ‘short-cut to virtue’, the use of reason over emotion. (Fischel, 1970:373–74)
In this sort of anecdote, the chria, “… the Sage appears in an encounter or demonstration which is most often odd and witty, if not bizarre” (Fischel, 1977:451). These chriae, however, Fischel argues, underwent adaptation as they were adopted in the Judaic world. Among these adaptations were legitimization or testimonialization “by the addition of a more or less fitting confirmative biblical quotation …”; and humanization, i.e., “The Sages were made to be less mordant with the ‘victims’ of their wit, and consequently less witty …” (Fischel, 1977: 469–70).
Finally, to focus on the period in which the gospels were emerging:
The cynicizing chria with many of its major motifs, forms, and elements is found also in Tannaitic literature. Without exception, all the stories on Hillel the Elder … prove to be Greek-chriic, representing either: (a) a complete Greek chria; (b) a composite of several chriic parts; or (c) an aggregate of the smallest meaningful chriic elements (henceforth called motemes) which, in these stories, achieve narrative unity precisely in the manner of Greek chria. Furthermore, some Hillel chriae are joined to one another within a narrative framework precisely as in Hellenistic sources. (Fischel, 1977:451)
Although Fischel points out, in the face of his own statement, that the great Roman revival of the Greek chria occurred slightly before Hillel’s lifetime (the end of the last pre-Christian, the beginning of the first Christian century), “The Hillelite chriae occur for the first time in the codifications of c. 200–250 A.D.” (Fischel, 1977:463), one ought not assume necessarily their late origin, particularly in the light of their occurrence in the gospels with Jesus as the Sage.
In the light of Fischel’s discussion, it is evident that however important the subtle technical definitions and distinctions Crossan has pointed to may turn out to be in analyzing the structure and even the genesis of a particular item, the determination of the items thus to be analyzed is the first step. That this may be done, when examining what is clearly a schoolboy’s “homework,” by the application of a predetermined set of rules, is conceded. But one is not at liberty to assume that what we have before us in the gospels are such exercises. A formally less satisfactory but perhaps more revealing approach may be the attempt to allow the material to fall into as small self-contained units as possible, i.e., units that each, like a simple declarative sentence, conveys in and of itself, unrelated to any other unit, an irreducible meaning. That meaning may not be prejudged by the introduction of a modifier before its determination. Indeed, Robbins’s use of “poignant” in discussing items that refer to “children,” “child,” “little ones,” is illegitimate, imposing an anachronistic sentimentality upon the discussion.
I shall begin with the Markan texts 9:33–42 and 10:13–16, for they, when set over against the others, fall most readily into discrete, self-contained units of meaning: (1) 9:(33)34–35; (2) 9:36–37; (3) 9:38–42; (4) 10:13–16.
(1). In chriic terms, a Sage, having overheard (this is the unspoken assumption of the text) a dispute among his disciples but feigning ignorance, asks what it was about. The disciples, ashamed because the dispute placed them in an unworthy light, do not reply. The Sage startles them by reciting an aphorism that reinforces the disciples’ recognition of the unworthy nature of their discussion and, at the same time, uses the discussion to teach “simplicity and ataraxy.” He recommends “leastness.” Nothing further need be added. The unit is complete in itself.
(2). The Sage performs an “odd” act: he places a child, in social valence a “least,” among the disciples. In his interpretation of the act, he recommends the acceptance of “least-ness” as the true way of accepting, i.e., recognizing, greatness.
(3). The Sage sees his disciples attempting to exclude an “outsider,” a non-adept. The Sage admonishes them: although he is a non-adept he is not an “outsider.” To exclude such ἕνα τῶν μικρῶν i.e., one who has no status in the Sage’s circle, another “least” or less, is a heinous offense. This item is more complex in its structure than the preceding. One may conjecture that an earlier form of the chria comprised vv. 38, 39, 42 with the gnome, v. 40, a moteme, inserted as an explanation of why the “outsider” is not to be excluded and v. 41, another moteme, perhaps without ὅτι χριστοῦ ἐστε, added in the course of the development of the chria into a narrative.
When one attends to these three units in their setting in the text, one recognizes how they have “achieved narrative unity.” The first two are drawn together by the contrast: greatest/least, although in each unit that contrast has a different meaning. The second is a negative comment, as is the parable of the Good Samaritan, on social distinctions, a regular theme of the chriae. The first may echo that but it is directed, as noted above, toward the teaching of “simplicity and ataraxy.” The third unit is drawn to its present place by the resonance but not the equivalence of “child” and “little ones.” Once they are juxtaposed, they, like the dots of color in a pointillist painting, borrow meaning from each other, and a new unit, admonishing a Christian community about social pretentions, distinctions and exclusions emerges.
(4). The Sage sees his disciples bent on excluding children, i.e., those with little social valence. He admonishes them that entrance into the kingdom of heaven, i.e., the coming society, is accomplished only by becoming like children, i.e., surrendering any claim to greatness. He confirms his aphoristic admonition by an act: the touching and blessing of the children. This item, separated from the others, replicates in its details the motif in (3): the admonition against exclusion; and the motifs in (1) and (2), as juxtaposed in Ch. 9: the role of the “least” vis-à-vis the kingdom of heaven. Thus Mark 10:13–16 is, apparently, ab initio, a unit reflecting the narrative construct Mark 9:33–42 but, unlike it, is not easily reducible to the individual, self-contained units found there.
This analysis of the Markan material corresponds, in part at least, to Crossan’s figure 2. Where it differs is first with regard to the point of departure, for me, Mark 9:(33)34–35, for there the dynamic of the narrative structure is embedded. Mark 9:36–37 is drawn to its place by the presence of the previous two verses. Further, my analysis differs in that it argues that item (2) is not about a child but about social valence; the child is the sign of “least-ness”; just as the parable of the Good Samaritan is not about a Samaritan but about social status in the Judaic community. Failure to recognize this results in Robbins’s poignancy. The same is true of Mark 10:13–16. Here, too, children play the same role as the Samaritan and, more immediately, as does the “outsider” exorcizing demons: the socially marginal or the excludable. In each case Jesus turns the tables, as does the cynic Sage, and declares the worth and value of such. In Mark 10:13–16 the acceptance of social marginality is a prerequisite for entering the kingdom, which returns us to Mark 9:(33)34–35. This corresponds (although without claiming any knowledge of Mark’s “pre-Markan”) to what Crossan has written: “… it represents Mark’s rephrasing of his pre-Markan 10:15 in order to underline the verbal and thematic parallel with 9:37 (B/B′).” But Crossan’s continuation: “Hence any consideration of Mark 10:15 must imagine a pre-Markan version which contained nothing about ‘receiving’ the kingdom as a child …,” depends upon understanding the passage to be dealing with children rather than children as signifiers of something else: renunciation of any claim to superior status or, positively put, the embracing (ἐναγκαλισάμενος αὐτὰ) of “simplicity and ataraxy.” Indeed, it is just this “receiving the kingdom as a child” that is the point of the chria.
Such an insistence seemingly flies in the face of what may well be a universal consensus, but it is the result of taking seriously the role and function of the chria and chriic elements. It grows out of a recognition of the aptness in observing the telling of the story, of a Yiddish saying: “Sie sogt die tochter aber sie maynt die schnur: She admonishes her daughter when she intends her daughter-in-law.” The Sage in the chria directs his wit, however humane it may have become, against society at large or, as in the gospel, against his as yet uncomprehending, i.e., unconverted, disciples, so that they may accept his way of life: instead of seeking to be the greatest they must become the least, i.e., like children. The telling of the story in the gospel functions in the same way. It admonishes its hearers through the Sage’s admonition of his. To revert to Fischel’s description, in all of this we have a fine example of the falsifying of the coin of convention; the reminting into new coins.
In Matt 18:1–6 the chriic elements have been revised and put together into another structure. The Sage has lost the cunning that underlies Mark 9:(33)34–35. Instead, there is the dialectic of a direct question: Who is the greatest? The admonition: the first shall be last, is conflated with that of the reception of children and made the interpretation of the action described in vv. 2 and 3. The whole episode of the “outsider” is put aside and the admonition not to offend against the little ones is attached so as to equate them with the children. In a word, the author has, by pruning and excision, refashioned the received chriic elements and reworked them into a new statement in which the social Umwertung discernible in the Markan structure has been at least partially obscured. Matthew seems to be more about children than merely using children as the signifiers in an admonition to become childlike, i.e., the rejection of the conventional social structure.
In John 3:1–10 all that is left of the chriic elements is the role of Jesus as Sage together with the recovery of a typical chriic element, the sarcastic dismissal of an opponent: “You are a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this.” (Most likely to be read as a mocking question.) If, as Crossan argues, the aphorism about becoming as children is the generative source of this passage, it has been creatively misunderstood. The social critique clearly visible in Mark and yet not entirely faded in Matthew has vanished from the scene. The call to an unconventional existence, acceptance of the social valence of a child, has been transformed into a call for a conventional rebirth after the pattern of existing cults.
As for the prehension of the aphorism in the Gospel of Thomas, if that is what has occurred, it was clearly accomplished on the basis of the hermeneutic principle enunciated by Humpty Dumpty: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” Yet behind it may lie gnostic appropriation of Epicurean themes (Fischel, 1973:6–7, 10).
In the case of these latter two, I am quite willing to concede that they are “inventions” on the theme expressed in an aphorism, but certainly not in the schoolboy style of writing a chria. In the case of the former two I am not willing to make such a concession. I would insist that we must take the four units found in Mark for what they are, extant chriae or certainly motemes, embellished in the case of (3) and (4) by the teller of the tale.
To turn briefly to a second matter. Robbins wrote: “The presence of both speech and action allows the character (ethos) of Jesus to emerge through the thought (logos) expressed by the action. The action of laying his hands on the children manifests good character in Jesus that produces a strong favorable response.” This stands in sharp contrast to Taylor’s position quoted by Crossan: “The attitude of the times was the reverse of ours. We view a maxim as if it had an existence and authority of its own, apart from its author. If we approve of it, we may be interested to find who was its author, and willing to value him for its sake. But, to them, the maxim, however impressive, had to come from an accredited person to carry the greatest weight. In short, the maxim was required to be a dictum.” It is this attitude that manifests itself in the talmudic adage: “He who reports a saying in the name of its originator brings deliverance to the world” (b.Meg. 15a). But more is at stake than this. Robbins assumes that Jesus’ “good character” is disclosed by his act of laying his hands on the children, this eliciting a “favorable response.” That the hearing of the story by Robbins elicited such a response is evident. That the hearing of the story in a different context, say that of the Gospel of Thomas, would elicit the same response, given the fact that children are the result of sexual activity and such activity is to be extirpated, is open to question. That the event had anything to do with a favorable response to Jesus is, as suggested above, doubtful, for it had nothing to do with kindness to children. It was a call, in its setting as a chria, for an ‘olam hafukh, a topsy-turvy world in which the first are to be last; the least, the most.
The Rules of the Game: A Response to Daniel Patte
Bernard Brandon Scott
St. Meinrad School of Theology
My primary response will be to Daniel Patte’s essay “Jesus’ Pronouncement about Entering the Kingdom like a Child: A Structural Exegesis.” However it is also important to indicate how his essay is or is not related to those of John Dominic Crossan and Vernon Robbins. Since Crossan originally proposed the texts to be studied, his selection involved several presuppositions which may or may not prove to be compatible with Patte’s method.
Both Crossan and Robbins begin with form critical assumptions although they are interested in quite different aspects of the form critical enterprise. Crossan’s method can be described as a synchronic analysis of a diachronic trajectory. He delineates how an aphoristic insight, probably from Jesus, developed and underwent changes as its Sitz im Leben changed. Crossan’s deconstructionist interest is apparent in his concern with how the original aphoristic thrust continued to affect its later uses. Robbins’s enterprise is more narrow: how the chreia form is effective (rhetorical analysis). This involves a detailed study of the form itself, its rules and operations and then the application of these rules on the selected texts. Thus Crossan pursues the Sitz im Leben aspect of form criticism, while Robbins a more formal concern.
Patte’s method, operating at a more basic level of textual functioning, is rigorously synchronic and forbids imparting into the text diachronic considerations. For example, Patte does not study the chreia form, even though he does use the term “pronouncement” although not apparently in a form critical sense. His basic methodological option separates Patte’s essay from those of Crossan and Robbins. Their modified form critical models are derived from outside the text by means of diachronic analysis. By “outside” I do not mean that the model is not real or non-operative in these texts, but merely that Crossan and Robbins begin by identifying a larger genre to which the text is to be related. Even more, this form in some way structures the text, i.e., operates as a constraint.
The essays of both Robbins and Patte are rhetorical. They are concerned with how the text creates (or effects) meaning, not with what it means (poetics). Crossan’s ultimate concerns may well be described as poetic. But again Patte’s rhetorical analysis takes place within synchronic confines whereas Robbins’s operates in a diachronic mode.
These brief remarks comparing the general methodological stance of the three papers are not meant to make value judgments about the correctness of the methods employed, but to indicate that the methodological choices preclude easy conversation between the paper of Patte on the one hand and those of Crossan and Robbins on the other. At the end of this response I will indicate where I believe a conversation may be possible.
Response to Patte
Responding to an essay by Patte is like summarizing a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces are so many, so varied and their relations so complex that I despair of ever understanding the terms, much less controlling them. Thus I have to acknowledge my inability to get Patte’s jigsaw together. I am still trying to identify the pieces and see how some of them may fit together. My metaphor of the jigsaw is not meant to poke fun at Patte’s project, but to stand for two aspects of his work, one that I find of value and one that I find missing.
Patte’s layering of the text, his description of the levels operative within it, frequently provides an interpreter with brilliant and powerful new lenses through which to view textual operations. This close textual modeling allows an interpreter to see the interrelations within the text in two ways. First, by indicating what belongs to each system and then how the systems interrelate. Even though he admits the tentative and as yet still experimental state of semiological research, his method enriches the reader who is patient in observation.
In order to develop his analysis of each level within the text, Patte must pay close attention to the elements that make up that system. At times this leads to what strikes this reader as an insurmountable amount of new vocabulary and corresponding distinctions.
For each of the selected texts Patte first studies the discourse syntax. He separates not only discourse from narrative, but syntax from semantics. (There is indeed a Discourse Semantics which he bypasses.) The elements of discourse are actorialization, temporalization, and spatialization. These relations “locate” discourse in such a way that an ideal reader is created. That is, it seems to me, that the discourse syntax is one of two primary levels of engagement with the text (the other being narrative syntax). The discourse syntax enables the ideal or implied reader to establish his/her place vis-à-vis the text.
In general, Patte’s analysis of the discourse level is both convincing and insightful. Because of his close attention to textual detail, his analysis of discourse syntax produces a “feel” for the texture and distinctiveness of each episode. For example, the interpretative markers in Mark 10:14 (“saw … indignant”) indicate that this text concerns interpretation both of the concrete situation of bringing children and entering the kingdom of God. Further, Jesus the addresser seeks to provide the will to the addressee (the disciples) to carry out the implications of the correct interpretation. Thus it is not a matter of imparting knowledge about the interpretation, but the will to carry out the interpretation. Patte then explains that the pronouncement’s negative phrasing advances this strategy by forcing a reader to adopt the same will to carry out the action. That is, the reader will have to reformulate the saying positively to carry it out.
In an equally close analysis of the other texts he shows how small shifts in textual markers alter the basic competencies a text seeks to establish for a reader. In Matt 18:1–5 the negative distance between disciples and Jesus disappears as well as the interpretative markers, making the disciples’ question appear legitimate. No longer is the required competency the will to carry out an action, but a lack of knowledge which Jesus as teacher provides to his disciples as pupils and by implication to the reader. In this case the pronouncement is defined positively as the answer to a lack of knowledge. In Thomas 22 it is again a question of knowledge, but worked out much differently than in Matthew. Jesus becomes the bridge between the concrete situation (children being suckled) and the interpretation of the kingdom. The concrete situation is not a metaphor for the kingdom (as in Mark) but the occasion for a pronouncement about the kingdom. Patte suggests the master/disciple relation is best characterized in Thomas master/apprentices. This reader is cast in the role of an initiate.
What is both compelling and important about Patte’s analysis of the discourse syntax is that it confirms by close textual observation some major trajectories of recent scholarship. For example, the difference between the disciples in Matthew, Mark and Thomas has to do with the stance the enunciator wants the implied reader to take in response to or effecting the textual strategies. In Mark the reader is in a polemical stance and is in need of conversion in order to carry out the gospel; in Matthew the reader belongs to the circle of Jesus (does not need conversion) but true knowledge (information) about being a disciple. In Thomas the reader does not need conversion, but rather initiation into the mysteries of Jesus. While Patte’s detailing of the discourse syntax does not prove any particular diachronic understanding of a gospel (e.g., Weeden or Kelber), it does in a tentative fashion indicate the stance the disciples play in facilitating the textual strategy. Furthermore, since the program of the disciples is directly related to that of the implied reader, it would seem that they could not be rejected at the gospel’s ending (contra Weeden).
If the analysis of the discourse syntax is convincing in showing how the text carries out its textual strategy, one is nevertheless left asking several questions as regards the project as proposed by Crossan. Patte complains several times that his analysis is tentative because it needs to be verified by a more thorough research within the gospel (this is even more so with narrative syntax). Patte’s method only focuses upon these texts within the system of the gospel itself. The synchronic system is the gospel, not the tradition or mytheme of the “children/kingdom of God” (cf. 1). One ought to at least ask whether this means that structural analysis as conceived by Patte is useless in pursuing a form-critical project? Such a question becomes pressing, I believe, in that Patte accepted Crossan’s project, even admitting that it was a corpus (a tradition or mytheme), but then did not design a method to pursue that interest.
In his description of narrative syntax and narrative semantics these issues become much more problematic. There are two possible reasons. First, Patte himself notes several times how tentative and incomplete his analysis is at this point. Second, the fault may well lie with this reader. I find this type of analysis difficult to understand and at times somewhat arbitrary.
In the extended treatment of Mark 10:13–16, Patte provides an interesting and insightful analysis. He sees two separate syntactic developments. The primary narrative level revolves around permission for the children to come to Jesus, to occupy his euphoric space as Patte says. But an interpretative level intersects the narrative syntax. The concrete situation of accepting the children is related to the disciples’ and the reader’s own competence of entering the kingdom. Patte apparently sees a modification of the discourse syntactic program establishing competency. In the discourse syntax the disciples lack the will to do, to act. The narrative syntax modifies this to the extent that the doing becomes being blessed. But in his analysis of the semantic system that defines childhood he uses the system that defined kingdom to define childhood (4.123). The interrelations between holy/profane and separation/union lead to the conclusion that childhood here means passivity (“children are characterized by a passive acceptance, a mere openness” [4.123]). This is putting the cart before the horse. Childhood is in this marcan pericope a metaphor for kingdom. The semantic element of childhood that the text exposes (highlights) is the passivity and openness of children. Thus it would seem that the semantic system of childhood is not defined by its relation to the interpretative level, but that the enunciator’s fundamental system of values (ideological structures) selects a component of childhood and metaphorically relates that to entering the kingdom. That Patte has the cart before the horse is evident in his final square for Mark 10 (4.124). If the children’s separation from Jesus is viewed as the separation of the profane from the holy, then child is defined in kingdom (religious) terms and not the other way around. But this is precisely the scandal of identifying the kingdom, a thing of power and might, with a child, a thing of passivity and weakness, that gives the episode its power. It is this metaphorical relation that ultimately informs the profane/sacred and separation/unity model.
In dealing with John 3:1–6 Patte again notes the tentative character of his work because it must be collaborated by a thorough study of the entire gospel. Once more I find his study of John interesting and convincing. He concludes that in John “what is being emphasized is no longer the state ‘being like a child or infant,’ but the process ‘becoming (like) an infant’ as a necessary transformation for ‘entering the kingdom’ ” (4.51). In reviewing the discourse syntax, Patte pointed out that this shift from knowledge or will results from the relation between the concrete situation and the interpretation. In John, Nicodemus can correctly interpret the concrete situation, but cannot interpret the spiritual situation. In a study that is otherwise marked by extremely careful attention to minute detail it seems curious to omit the wordplay on anothen, which can mean either above or again. Jesus obviously views it as “above,” while Nicodemus understands it as “again.” But in failing to notice this wordplay Patte has left out an element that would further strengthen his own conclusions concerning the interrelation between spiritual and physical (concrete) in the text.
For Patte the time marker “night” (v. 2) remains undefined without working out the whole system of Johannine time markers (3.51). Nicodemus is likewise a neutral or positive personage in his initial characterization But I am not quite so sure that this is the case. First, the obvious opposite of the time marker night is day, and in that contrast negative and positive values are implied. Nicodemus is characterized as a “ruler of the Jews,” potentially a negative marker, while his approach to Jesus and positive evaluation of Jesus’ signs would seem to make him Jesus’ helper. Thus the two physical markers in the first part of the story are ambivalent, potentially either positive or negative. Jesus’ first pronouncement (v. 3) begins with a physical activity (unless one is born), is qualified with the ambiguous term (anothen), and relates it to an interpretation (“he cannot see the kingdom of God”). The “cannot see” indicates that the ability to interpret is the issue. This first pronouncement follows a formula that exactly reproduces the first two physical markers: a physical marker followed by ambiguous signs which demand interpretation of the physical marker’s meaning.
Nicodemus’s response clearly aligns him with those who interpret the physical by the physical—to be born when one is old; to enter his mother’s womb a second time. In both cases Nicodemus has understood anothen as “again,” missing the true interpretation of the concrete. In Jesus’ second pronouncement the protasis combines the physical and spiritual (“born of water and spirit”), while in the apodosis “seeing the kingdom” becomes “entering.” Interpretation now becomes equivalent to transformation. To correctly interpret is to be transformed. Secondly, “the water and the spirit” indicates that the issue is not Nicodemus’s physical interpreting of the physical but physical and spiritual correctly interrelated. The pronouncement (v. 6–8) reinforces this notion by drawing a line between spiritual and physical and then creating another wordplay on the double meaning of pneuma, wind and spirit.
This roundabout direction brings us back to the first two markers, that it was night and the ambivalent evaluation of Nicodemus. The issue for the reader is to see that the physical signs need to be interpreted from a spiritual perspective (from above). Seen from above Nicodemus is in a polemical relation to Jesus, even though he believes that Jesus’ signs show God is with Jesus. For the real issue in the text is not with but from. John does not divorce the concrete from the spiritual, but shows that the spiritual understanding of the concrete is the performative act, the act of incarnation (3:16).
Despite what I find to be the real value of Patte’s analysis, in the end I find it lacking (but not failing) because it does not answer the question he set out to answer; namely, how these six texts are a corpus that exhibit a common tradition or mytheme. This lack exists because Patte’s method is designed to show not the interrelatedness of mythemes but the distinctiveness of their manifestations in larger textual synchronic systems. He ignores the diachronic trajectory. Nevertheless, I believe his analysis is helpful in answering such a question.
These six texts exhibit the metaphorical concept or mytheme THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS A CHILD. The interesting question from a semiological perspective is how CHILD and KINGDOM can be semantically related. Patte provides the evidence to answer this question, although he does not directly answer it. A metaphor is a way of understanding and experiencing one thing in terms of another. Normally metaphorical transference is from the concrete to the abstract. In this case the concrete is CHILD. But CHILD is a complete system that structures the experience, understanding and perception of kingdom. Apart from its concrete metaphors, the abstract has no structure. It is for this reason that I resisted Patte’s understanding of the narrative semantics in Mark.
Metaphors both reveal and hide. Only certain aspects of a semantic structure are utilized in a given manifestation. When Patte argues that a semantic system defines “childhood,” he is methodologically misleading. The semantic system selects features of the system CHILD to highlight (implicitly hiding other features). This means, of course, that no text is an absolutely closed system of signs, as Patte would seem to suggest. In his analysis he does provide evidence for which structural semantic features of CHILD are operative in each textual manifestation, i.e., passivity in Mark, smallness in Matt 18, birth in John, etc. When the question is phrased this way, we can begin to establish a bridge between the studies of Crossan and Robbins and that of Patte. The systems studied by Patte operate as synchronic constraints upon the textual performance, but so also does the chreia form studied by Robbins and the mythical trajectory studied by Crossan. That is, it would seem that methodologies proposed by Crossan, Patte, and Robbins are all studying from different starting points the manifestation of THE KINGDOM IS A CHILD as a structural metaphor.
Another lack I find in Patte’s analysis is the blindness of much structural analysis to the issue of orality and literacy, an issue Crossan raises at the end of his essay. The recent work of Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy, has raised this issue again. But Patte’s method is rigorously textual, i.e., literate. This is somewhat ironic in that it originates in the work of Lévi-Strauss, who studied oral texts. Might not one ask whether the psycho-dynamics of oral texts are different from those of literate texts, and might not the corpus of texts proposed by Crossan be somewhat mixed. Crossan’s methodology seems to be aimed at addressing this issue, while Robbins’s form chreia is a literate attempt at imitating orality. Both Crossan and Robbins see “oral” systems affecting the manifestation of the text. This finally leads me to ask whether Patte’s method can deal with form critical issues, or are such issues illegitimate? To rephrase this question, is the text a closed, completely self-regulating system of signs, or is it itself a part of a larger system of signs?
I began this review by remarking that I found Patte’s method to be a jigsaw puzzle. The strength of his method is its ability to discover the pieces and to explain their systematic functioning. The weakness is that finally I fail to discover the whole puzzle put together. Patte himself is aware of this when in his conclusion he states how difficult it is to summarize structural exegesis. Does his method achieve an integrating insight, or a series of important but ultimately separate insights about the puzzle’s parts?
I also chose the puzzle metaphor because a puzzle is play and some structuralists have accented the notion of play. But Patte’s method seems devoid of play, of freedom, and rather mechanical. Between Crossan and Patte I cannot decide which came first, the game or its rules?
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Published: January 19, 2015, 11:46 | Comments Off on KINGDOM AND CHILDREN: APHORISM, CHREIA, STRUCTURE – by ArchBishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz
Category: ROSARY 4 z Bishop