"Cynic" Jesus?

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.

10 October 2009

A work bears the stamp of the age which produced it. The author unconsciously reflects values and concerns of the time in the composing of his work. The New Testament (circa 50-90 AD?) was composed in the Hellenistic Period (332-500 AD). 

Certain statements attributed to Jesus in the Gospels suggest for some scholars a possible borrowing and reformatting of earlier Cynic ideals and notions:

1) Poverty is a means to an end: the attainment of personal virtue. Sell all you have.

2) Cynics saw themselves as educators trying to convince people the Cynic way fo life led to honesty and virtue.

3) Cynics inveighed against the values endorsed by society: the accumulating of personal wealth, honors and awards, and political power, as corrupting for the individual.

4) Cynics expected scorn and revilings from what they saw as a corrupt world.

Jesus Christ and his followers as portrayed in the Gospels are certainly _not_ behaving like the "classical image" of a Cynic. 

The goals espoused by Jesus differ and the manner in which the goals are to achieved differ too.

Jesus is presented as the long-awaited for Messiah predicted by the prophets in the Old Testament.

Some of his teachings contradict ideas presented in the Old Testament reagarding the relationship between God, Man, and the Messiah.

Jesus did _not_ teach non-Torah observance in his lifetime. He said every jot and tittle of the law (Torah) was to be observed and that a man's scrupulousness in observing Torah would have to exceed that of the Scribes for salvation. 

It was Saint Paul (who claimed to have experienced personal visions of the dead and resurrected Christ) who declared that the Torah was not to be observed.

The Christian "steps" to Personal Salvation:

(1) Believe Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), the son of God.

(2) Believe that he _is_ God ("The Word" or "The Logos"). 

(3) Be baptized into his death.

(4) Drink his blood as wine and eat his body as bread.

(5) Give up family, friends, home, possessions, sell all you possess, give to the poor (you cannot serve two masters, Mammon and God).

(6) Expect revilings by your former family and friends and society at large which earlier reviled Jesus.

(7) Pray for those who revile and abuse you, do not give evil in return for evil.

(8) You will endure only privation, trials and hardships in this life as Jesus' follower.

(9) Glory in these privations for your blessings or rewards will be great after death and the resurrection.

(10) Only Christians will be saved and they will rule the world, with Jesus, with rods of iron.

(11) Non-believers (non-Christians) are to be destroyed in a lake of fire.

Downing (1992):

"Cynic and 'Cynicism' designate the ideas and attitudes and way of life of a radical movement originating around four centuries before Christ among Greek speakers strongly influenced by Socrates...You could find Cynics in most if not all the cities of the eastern Mediterranean.

An early Christian in that part of the Greco-Roman world who dressed as simply as Jesus was said to have directed, living off what others provided, inveighing against wealth, telling lively stories, following the carefree example of the birds, reprimanding hypocrisy -and expecting trouble for his (or her) pains- would most likely have and at least initially have been classed as some sort of Cynic, it would have been the obvious category." 

(p. 2. "Introduction." F. Gerald Downing. Cynics and Christian Origins. Edinburgh, Scotland. T & T Clark. 1992)

"...I...argue that the wealth of at least apparent 'parallels' between the Jesus tradition and popular Cynicism suggest that some kind of Cynic influence may well have been accepted by Jesus of Nazareth...an awareness of popular Cynicism would...allow us...to see early Christianity more distinctly...and...with...more understanding."

(p. 3. "Introduction." F. Gerald Downing. Cynics and Christian Origins. Edinburgh, Scotland. T & T Clark. 1992)

"...Cynic Jesus...his Jewish-Cynic vision..."

(p. 303. "Conclusions." Downing. 1992)

Jesus' message is to some degree "at odds" with the Old Testament's portrayal of the relationship between God and Man. Moses instructs the nation that God expects them to obey him and keep his commandments and statutes given at Mount Sinai. They are to obey _all_ of them, not just "some" of them. Their "reward" is that God will immediately shower his people with blessings: (1) Victories over their human enemies; (2) blessings of abundant harvests; (3) blessings of good-health and no disease, (4) long lives. However, if Israel fails to obey there are "consequences": (1) Israel will be punished by her enemies deafeating and abusing her; (2) famine will destroy crops; (3) diseases will afflict the nation; (4) there will be no "good-life" only misery.

Jesus informs those who wish to be his followers that they must first: (1) Give up family and friends, (2) give up homes, (3) give up personal wealth, (4) obey only him, (5) endure stoically abuse and revilings from their society, not giving evil in return for evil (6) expect no "rewards" in this life, only suffering and privatioon, rewards are promised _after_ death in the world to come.

Christianity has "changed the relationship" between God and Man.

Moses said via the Holy Spirit that God would shower those he loved with IMMEDIATE WEALTH in the form of abundant harvests, good-health, many offspring, and long, happy lives. That is to say the possession of WEALTH is a sign from God of blessings bestowed upon his faithful. A hard-life with suffering and misery awaits those whom are held in disfavor by God. 

Christianity "overturns" the Old Testament paradigm by declaring poverty and hardship are to be "gloried in" as they assure a great reward in heaven after death whereas the enjoyment of wealth in this life is a sure sign that you will endure privations and sufferings after death and the resurrection. This is a 180 degree about-face or reversal of God's promises in the Old Testament!

"Why" are Christians _repudiating_ God's promises found in the Old Testament? The answer lies in "When" and "Where" the New Testament was written. It was written (circa 50-90 AD?) in a Hellenistic world (332 BC-500 AD), in Judaea which had been a part of the Hellenistic World since 332 BC.

The Hellenistic Greek Philosophical school called the Cynics (332 BC- 500 AD) taught that personal virtue was all-important and that the possession of wealth was an impediment to attaining said virtue. The wealthy were corrupt in Cynic eyes.
Apparently Jesus and his followers "bought into" this Cynic paradigm and, seeking to be virtuous and thereby acceptable to God, they declared that wealth had to be given up and poverty embraced, notions that were _alien_ to the Old Testament which declared that wealth was a sign of God's favor whereas poverty was a sign of God's disfavor.

It has to be stressed here that Jesus was NOT a Cynic, but he did apparently _accept_ the Cynic notion that the possession of wealth was an empediment to living a virtuous life and God had demanded at Mount Sinai that his people be virtuous or "holy."

Jesus also apparently accepted the Cynic notion that privation, ridicule, and revilings from the greater society was to be endured and expected in pursuing a virtuous life, for the greater society was corrupt.

The Old Testament promised victory over Israel's human enemies, slaughtering them in war. Jesus, apparently accepted the Platonic notion, derived from Socrates, that it was wrong to give evil in return for evil as this kind of behavior was considered unvirtuous and would be held against the dead individuals when they are judged in the Greek underworld. The Greeks understood that the underworld's judges were men who had died. Interestingly, Christianity taught that Jesus, a man, died and was to be a judge of the dead, rather like the Hellenistic Greek notion. Whereas the Old Testament does not seem to be aware of Yahweh-Elohim ever dying to become later the judge for the dead.

All this is to say that the New Testament's portrayal of the relationship between man and God is "at odds" with the Old Testament's portrayal and this adversarial stance can be traced to Hellenistic Greek notions and ideas which permeated the Hellenistic World and apparently Judaea and were accepted by the early Christians who wrote the New Testament. In other words Christianity is a Hellenized form of Judaism, having accepted certain Hellenistic Greek beliefs about how to obtain virtue and be acceptable to God.

Main Page   Archaeology Menu    OT Menu    NT Menu    Geography Menu

Illustrations Menu    Bibliography Menu   Links Menu