Tuesday, March 13, 2012

464 John Dominic Crossan on the parallels between Cynics and early Christians

John Dominic Crossan on the parallels between Cynics and early Christians

(1) Corrected & updated version: Redemption, God, Atheism, Knowledge,
World Peace
(2) John Dominic Crossan on the parallels between Cynics and early

(1) Corrected & updated version: Redemption, God, Atheism, Knowledge,
World Peace

Seth Farber <Seth17279@aol.com>, Israel Shamir <info@israelshamir.net>

Redemption, God, Atheism, Knowledge, World Peace
A letter to Seth Farber and Israel Shamir

by Peter Myers, September 10, 2011


I'd like to introduce you to Israel Shamir (assuming you don't already
know him), and bring him into our discussion.

You are both of Jewish background - "Jews by birth" - who have adopted
Christianity. And you both talk of the spiritual impoverishment of our

Although my possibly-Jewish surname could suggest a Jewish ancestor -
not in recent generations - I have never had a Jewish consciousness. I
grew up Catholic in Sydney, in the 1950s when Catholics constituted a
ghetto. Australia's Catholicism was the Irish kind, fundamentalist, and
militantly anti-Communist.

I entered a seminary at the age of 17, but, while there, stopped
believing in the Devil, and stopped believing that "we" were the good
people and "they" were the bad people. Rather, the line ran through all
of us.

So, I lost my reason for being there, and left, as did 75% of my class.
I no longer consider myself Catholic, but Shamir still refers to me as
"our Catholic friend" (he freely uses the Royal plural).

So, perhaps there is still something "Catholic" about me, just as others
might see some lingering "Jewishness" in each of you.

You wrote, "I presume you are still a theist".

I believe in "Divinity" but not "God". "Divinity" is a neutral term
which allows me to say that I don't know what it is, but that I think
it's there.

There is such a thing as "religious non-theism": a religion can be
non-theistic. Buddhism is; and Jainism too.

The simple question you raised has led me to long-forgotten pages of my
website where I explored such issues. I'm now delving into them and
quoting them.

We have all come across Christians - evangelicals mainly - who talk as
if they know God like the guy next door. Yet, God's mind - assuming a
theistic God - could not be like ours.

Our minds can only think of one thing at a time. Five minutes later, we
are hard-put to recall what we were thinking five minutes earlier. Our
mind wanders around like a goat browsing, as Buddhists like to say.
Sheep, unlike goats, stay in one place longer.

I am conscious of sensations coming from my body: my stomach is full, my
toe hurts, my nose is itchy. God would have to be aware of all the
sensations in my body - and the thoughts in my mind - as well as those
of billions of other people, animals, insects etc - SIMULTANEOUSLY. And
be aware of all past events as well as all future ones. We cannot
imagine what it would be like to have - or be - such a mind.

Therefore, the next step is to postulate that "God is not a PERSON"; but
rather "impersonal" - a principle. This brings us to the concept of
divinity in Eastern civilizations.

Taoism calls it "Tao"; Hinduism calls it "Brahman" (impersonal divinity,
as distinct from Brahma, a personal divinity). Buddhism has this concept
of "Brahman" too; and Karma is a sort of "cosmic law".

But Hindus believe in PERSONAL gods (deities) as well as IMPERSONAL
divinity. How could this be possible?

Theosophists explain it using the analogy of an electric light circuit,
eg in your house:
The personalities are like the lights on the circuit, while the divinity
is like the electricity that flows through the circuit, illuminating the

As my friend Reg Little put it: the West has a Personal concept of
Divinity and an Impersal concept of Law (the King being subject to the
Rule of Law), while the East has an Impersonal concept of Divinity
(Karma, Tao, Brahman) and a Personal concept of Law (vested in the
Emperor, hopefully wise).

Yet as my priest-friend (Zvonimir) replies, how could God lack
personhood if WE have it?

It's a mystery.

Anyway, when my kids were growing up in the 1990s, I found it hard to
discuss this topic with them. On the one hand, I felt uncomfortable with
the "received package" I had inherited: I did not want to pass it on. On
the other, I had not formulated a replacement. So there was this
silence, when it comes to discussing the most important things in life.

And "modern culture" - the media, MTV etc - had no words for such
things. The words themselves have disappeared from popular discourse.
The Soviet atheists campaigned against God, but at least they had to
mention "him" to oppose him. In popular youth culture, by contrast,
there is no such necessity. God has been abolished. Killed, as Nietzsche
put it - and "we" did it.

Yet despite the illusion of liberation, all is not well.

Siegmund Levarie noticed that "Noise has emerged as the standard bearer
of the forces rejecting civilization ... The new barbarism, with its
pre-musical, precivilized worship of noise, glissando, and indistinct
pitches, offers no vision and denies natural and artistic norms."

The beautiful music of the Beatles has inaugurated an era of rebellious
barbarism - a rejection of Civilization itself. The London riots are but
one expression of it.

More from Levarie at http://mailstar.net/glass-bead-game.html

Herman Hesse predicted a cultural breakdown in the second half of the
twentieth century. As he put it in his greatest book, The Glass Bead
Game (a novel ostensibly looking back to our time from the year 2400,
but in fact looking ahead from the 1940s to our time):

"... men came to enjoy an incredible degree of intellectual freedom,
more than they could stand. For while they had overthrown the tutelage
of the Church completely, and that of the State partially, they had not
succeeded in formulating an authentic law they could respect, a
genuinely new authority and legitimacy." (p.19).

"They faced death, fear, pain and hunger almost without defences, could
no longer accept the consolation of the churches, and could obtain no
useful advice from Reason. ... They moved spasmodically on through life
and had no belief in a tomorrow." (p. 22)

"They struggled through a deluge of isolated cultural facts and
fragments of knowledge robbed of all meaning. ... they were already on
the verge of that dreadful devaluation of the Word ... At the end of an
era of apparent victory and success they found themselves suddenly
confronting a void" (p. 23).

"... Even as intellectual ambitions and achievements declined rapidly
during that period, intellectuals in particular were stricken by
horrible doubts and a sense of despair. They had just fully realized ...
that the youth and the creative period of our culture was over, that old
age and twilight had set in." (p. 23-4).

More from Hesse at http://mailstar.net/glass-bead-game.html

Hesse thought that the West, apart from returning to its roots, must now
import culture from the East. During his travels, he stayed in
Singapore; it was his base in Asia.

During my seminary days I became aware that apart from the usual
dogmatic Christian tradition we are all aware of, there was another
tradition that emphasized the LIMITS of our knowledge, the UNIMPORTANCE
of dogma, the ARBITRARINESS of conventional morality. The Dark Night of
the Soul; the Veil of Unknowing; that we "see through a glass darkly".
Look up these expressions in Google.

One might say that our entire Civilization is experiencing its own "Dark
Night of the Soul". Let's hope that we come out of it.

John Courtney Murray's book The Problem of God touches on this
underground tradition. And, surprisingly, leading dogmatist Thomas
Aquinas made an important contribution to it in his presentation of The
Three Ways of Knowing God.

The Three Ways are:
Affirmation (Gnosis - we assert "God is like this", comparing God to
things we have experience of; or quote doctrines in a formulaic way)
Negation (Agnosia - we concede, God cannot be like such things we have
experience of; or that doctrines may not be important)
Analogy (we reach from things we have experience of, to transcendence;
we pass beyond doctrines to new insights which are difficult to
formulate ... and perhaps silence rather than preaching)

"we can know that God is but we cannot know what he is".

The greatest achievement of medieval philosophers was, not systematic
theology, but the discovery that the more we know, the more we are aware
of what we don't know.

{p. 66} Cyril of Jerusalem summed up the patristic insight when he said:
"In the things of God the confession of no knowledge (agnosia) is great
knowledge (gnosis)."

{p. 73} Ignorance of God becomes a true knowledge of him only if it is
reached, as Aquinas reached it, at the end of a laborious inquiry that
is firmly and flexibly disciplined at every step by the dialectical
method of the three ways. ... Only then may man confess his ignorance
and have recourse to silence. But this ignorance is knowledge, as this
silence is itself a language ...

{endquote} More from Murray at http://mailstar.net/murray.html.

The dialectical method of the Three Ways, first articulated by Thomas
Aquinas with regard to human knowledge, was later applied by Hegel and
Marx to historical processes.

I have a webpage on "Atheistic" Judaism as a variety of Religious
Non-Theism, which I hope you'll look at. It's pertinent to our
discussion: http://mailstar.net/philos.html

and another Spinoza formulates atheistic Judaism, the religion of Jewish

In the following, I draw on my writing from those webpages:

Spinoza pioneered a pantheistic version of Judaism, which is not
theistic (therefore atheistic) yet religious. Albert Einstein, and many
other Jewish non-theists, admired him.

Moses Hess, in Rome and Jerusalem, lavishes praise on Spinoza. David
Ben-Gurion and Harry Waton, like Hess combining Communism and Zionism,
similarly portrayed Spinoza as a major thinker.

Albert Einstein, in his writings about Cosmic Religion, pays tribute to
Spinoza's re-definition of God in non-anthroporphic terms. Karl Marx
wrote that Hegel used Spinoza's God to develop his concept of Absolute

Spinoza writes of God, but his God is not the God of the Bible, a God
that walks in a garden, wrestles with Jacob, appears to Moses in a
burning bush or on a smoky mountain, or has a Chosen People. It's more
like the God of the Deists.

In his denial of those anthropomorphisms, Spinoza has been considered

Hegel's concept of "Absolute Spirit" looks like "God", but is it
theistic? Is Hegel's God the God of the Bible?

Spinoza can be seen as pioneering a more elevated concept of divinity.
For Jews of that persuasion he is the prophet who has made a new,
higher, revelation of Judaism; and they consider Marx similarly.

By comparison, consider the Taoist notion of "Tao" as an expression of
divinity that comes to us from 2500 years ago. The Tao Te Ching contains
no creationist mythology, no anthropomorphisms, no historicism.

Around the same time, Heraclitus in Greece (Ionia, the edge of the
Persian Empire) enunciated the concept of the Logos - unity through the
clash of opposites - similarly a remarkable achievement.

The identification of dialectic as a process in nature is both Daoist
and Zoroastrian, the Daoist envisaging it as Complementarity, the
Zoroastrian as Antagonistic, the basis of fundamentalist ("Dualist",
"Manichaean") thought.

Heraclitus probably got his idea of the Antagonistic dialectic from the
Zoroastrian tradition, Greece being a little blip on the edge of the
First Persian Empire, which ruled from India to furthest Egypt. As
usual, the dominant economy exported its ideology.

The Daoist notion of dialectic as a process-in-nature is
non-historicist, non-linear. It does not envisage History as
Predestined; or Progress as a fact, inevitable or even necessarily

The Zoroastrian notion of dialectic-in-nature, on the other hand,
enviages history as "Salvation History", progressing, through
tribulations, to an ultimate goal.

The Cynics were independent thinkers in the mould of Socrates (whom one
must free from Plato's political use of him to promote Sparta), and
advocates of the simple life; they had similarities with the early Taoists.

Nietzsche castigated Socrates, as the instigator of Rationalism.

In The Birth of Tragedy, he writes:

"Socrates emerges as the perfect pattern of the non-mystic, in whom the
logical side has become, through superfetation, as overdeveloped as has
the instinctual side in the mystic.

"It was Socrates who expressed most clearly this radically new prestige
of knowledge and conscious intelligence

"when even his massive intellect faltered, he was able to regain his
balance through a divine voice, which he heard only at such moments.

".. we cannot help viewing Socrates as the vortex and turning point of
Western civilization. ...

"ever since Socrates the mechanism of concepts, judgments, and
syllogisms has come to be regarded as the highest exercise of man's
powers, nature's most admirable gift. Socrates and his successors, down
to our own day, have considered all moral and sentimental
accomplishments - noble deeds, compassion, self-sacrifice, heroism, even
that spiritual calm, so difficult of attainment, which the Apollonian
Greek called sophrosyrle - to be ultimately derived from the dialectic
of knowledge, and therefore teachable.

"Our whole modern world is entangled in the net of Alexandrian culture."

{end of quotes} More from Nietzsche at http://mailstar.net/nietzsche2.html

So, Socrates is being blamed for the illusion that "Knowledge is
Teachable" - the "Socratic Illusion".

Q ZHOU writes, in Canadian Social Science,

"Socrates believes that knowledge is teachable, and if virtue is
knowledge, then virtue is also teachable."

SparkNotes comments on The Birth of Tragedy:
"The theoretical man ... suffers under the profound Socratic illusion
that thinking can reach to the depths of being and modify it."

Against this illusion, Heinz R. Pagels writes, "No amount of reading
books or attending lectures on bike riding will train you to ride a bicycle"

But is it the "Socratic illusion" or the "Platonic illusion"?

Socrates insisted that he knew nothing; Plato gave the impression that
he knew everything.

Socrates wrote nothing; Plato wrote volumes of books.

Socrates' teaching amounted to showing others the limits of their
knowledge; Plato ran an academy which is the inspiration of the formal
courses in Academia today.

Socrates was, in reality, the first Cynic; whereas Plato is the
inspiration of the know-it-all Theorists of today's Meritocracy. From
the Economic Rationalists, to the Platonic Forms of our day, such as
"Human Rights".

The early Christian movement blended Cynic with Jewish influences. The
difference is that whereas the Cynics were individualists, the Jewish
movement was a collective one. If you don't know about it, read this
webpage on it:

CHRIST AND THE CYNICS: Jesus and other Radical Preachers in
First-Century Tradition
by F. Gerald Downing

{p. v.} The traditions about Jesus, then, are Palestinian Jewish, with
supporting and interpretative literary material drawn from Jewish
writings. The audience is 'hellenised', and perhaps mostly
'hellenistic'. ...

{p. vi} If we want to understand these documents {the New Testament} we
need to glean what we can of popular hellenistic culture at the time ...
at least one important (but not at all monochrome) strand was provided
by radical 'Cynic' philosophers. ...

Yet if the first Christian missionaries obeyed instructions of the kind
recorded in Mt. 9.35-10.16, Mk 6.6-11, Lk. 9.1-5, 10.1-12, they would
have looked like a kind of Cynic, displaying a very obvious poverty. Not
all Cynics wore exactly the same dress (§40, §151); not all of them even
carried the staff that for some was symbolic. But a raggedly cloaked and
outspoken figure with no luggage and no money would not just have looked
Cynic, he would obviousiy have wanted to. ...

{p. 37} What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by
the wind? No? What did you go to see? A man in soft clothes? You find
people got up like that [in fine clothes, living in luxury] in royal
courts - Lk. 7.25-26, Mt. 11.7-8; on popular response to the messenger,
see Introduction and §2; on attitudes to kings, §151, 173, etc.

Once upon a time Alexander came and stood in front of Diogenes and
announced, I am Alexander, the Great King. And I, said Diogenes, am
Diogenes the Dog [Cynic] - LEP Vl 60; cf. 43, 44, 65; ps.Diogenes 23.

{p. 38} Diogenes says, Going naked is better than all the scarlet robes
in the world; and asleep on bare earth you're in the softest bed you
could find - Epictetus I xxiv 7.

Take a look at me then, says the Cynic. I've no home, no city, no
property, no slave ... no governor's tiny mansion, nothing but earth and
sky and one worn cloak ... - Epictetus III xxii 47.

{p. 43} Jesus said to the would-be disciple, Foxes have their earths to
go to and birds have their nests to fly down to, but the son of man has
nowhere to rest his head - Lk. 9.58, Mt. 8.20.

According to Theophrastos Diogenes had watched a mouse running around,
not bothering about finding anywhere for its nest, not worrying about
the dark, showing no particular desire for things one might suppose
particularly enjoyable. It was through watching this mouse that he
discovered the way to cope with circumstances - LEP Vl 22.


These are just a small % of the quotes Downing provides showing
parallels between the Gospels and Cynic literature. I hope you've been
enticed to read more: http://mailstar.net/downing.html

I'm reminded of the story from India, of the four blind men feeling an
elephant. One felt the trunk, one the tail, one a leg, one another part,
and each got a different perception of what an elephant is.

We're sighted, but blind like those men in that our knowledge is
limited. Therefore, we seek the perceptions of other people from
different circumstances, in order to discover the limitiations of our
own - in order to discover which things that we thought absolute, are in
fact relative.

This theme of the Limits of our Knowledge relates to the modern
philosophical position called Fallibilism, espoused by George Soros. I'm
a Fallibilist, like him.

Soros, the best-known presenter of Fallibilism today, puts it this way:

"the ultimate truth is beyond the reach of humankind ... nobody has a
monopoly on the truth ... We must promote a belief in our own
fallibility to the status that we normally confer on a belief in
ultimate truth. But if ultimate truth is not attainable, how can we
accept our fallibility as ultimate truth?"

Seth, you deny the Original Sin of Adam and Eve, as do I. But, without
the Fall, surely there is no need for Redemption, and Christianity loses
its purpose.

You write,

"Our fallen state is self-imposed, a result of man's narcissistic
worship of self, of man.

"I could not worship the God of the OT. The first Reform Jews in late
18th century already committed the heresy of positing progressive
revelation. This was a way of accounting for the primitive God of the
"Torah." I don't know anything about Reform Judaism today--it seems its
God is nation-state of Israel. But the classical Reform Jews of which
Rabbi Elmer Berger (the anti-Zionist) was the last prominent
representative believed the prophets were working up to a higher concept
of God. It's not Torah but the prophets who are the bloom of Judaism. It
took the Enlightenment for "Reform" Jews to subvert rabbinic Judaism.
Isaiah's messianic passage are among the best ever, and completely
universalistic. Jesus was the apotheosis of universalism. Of course some
of the Orthodox Jews claim to have universal idea of salvation. I
interviewed Neturei Karta's Rabbi Weiss. Noble aspiration."

This contains some interesting ideas. Leading Zionists like Ben Gurion
and Ben-Ami Shillony have been fond of quoting Isaiah's vision of
beating swords into ploughshares as inaugurating an era of Peace, but it
also amounted to World Government.

David Ben Gurion writes, in his book Ben-Gurion Looks At The Bible, of

{p. 112} yearning all over the world to insure the perpetuation of the
declaration of Isaiah, son of Amoz, that "nation shall not lift up sword
against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."

Yet, Ben-Gurion says on p. 41, of this same Isaiah, son of Amoz, "The
special greatness of King Uziahu lies in the fact that he knew how to
integrate settlement, development and irrigation projects with military
and war activities. It is no wonder that he merited having his full
biography ... written by Isaiah, son of Amoz, the prophet".

{p. 265} There was no other non-Jewish ruler who merited praise from the
greatest prophets of Israel as did Cyrus from the prophet Isaiah, whom
Bible critics call by the name of Isaiah the Second: "I say to Cyrus:
'You shall be My shepherd and carry out My purpose, so that Jerusalem
may be rebuilt and the foundations of the temple may be laid.' Thus says
the Lord to Cyrus His anointed, Cyrus whose right hand I have
strengthened to subdue nations before him and loosen the loins of kings;
before whom gates shall be opened and no doors be shut. I shall go
before you and level the uneven hills; I will break down doors of brass
and hack through bars of iron. I will give you treasures from dark
vaults, and hidden treasures of secret places" (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1-3).

{endquote} More from Ben-Gurion at http://mailstar.net/bengur-bible.html

Ben-Ari Shillony wrote, in his book The Jews and the Japanese: the
Successful Outsiders:

{p. 31} Judaism was the first religion to make world peace a central
element in its eschatology.

{p. 32} Yet quite often peace implies domination, and in many languages
the word "pacify" also means "conquer". King Solomon could afford to be
a king of peace because he ruled "over all the kings from the Euphrates
to the land of the Philistines, and to the border of Egypt."

{this quote, from 1 Kings 4:21, may not be historically accurate, yet it
is the basis of promises that Jews will rule those lands again - at
Genesis 15: 18; Exodus 23: 30-31; Deut 11: 24; Josh 1:4 - and is a major
motivator of modern Zionism}

... The peaceful world that the Jewish prophets envisioned was to be
ruled over by a scion of the House of David, later called the Messiah.

The Jews ... were always inspired by the belief that in the future world
of peace and justice they would serve as spiritual leaders {i.e.
rulers}. This vision of a world mission gave them the strength to suffer
severe persecution and propelled them to the forefront of various
messianic and "idealistic" movements in modern times like those of human
rights, socialism, and communism.

{endquote} More from Shillony at http://mailstar.net/japan.html

Karl Kautsky said that the Romans discovered "how strong and dangerous"
Judaism was: http://mailstar.net/kautsky.html.

Today the West, after centuries of thinking that Judaism was another
heretical Christian sect, is making the same discovery. Yet I maintain
that Judaism, like many medicinal substances, is beneficial in small
doses: the Jews have their own insights, and one can learn from
examining their perspectives, even if not wanting to be subject to them.

Should Karl Marx be viewed as a social scientist, or as the prophet of a
religion? Did the Totaliarianism of the Soviet Union derive from Plato's
Republic, or from Judaism? http://mailstar.net/popper-vs-toynbee.html.

It's way past my bedtime, and I've missed getting my bulletin out (the
one on 9/11). So I'll sign off now.

Perhaps you have some thoughts on these matters.

I never intended this letter to become a bulletin. But it deals with a
lot of important issues. So out it's going.


(2) John Dominic Crossan on the parallels between Cynics and early

John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography,
HarperSanFrancisco, 1994.

{p. 114} Cynicism was a Greek philosophical movement founded by Diogenes
of Sinope, who was born on the mid-southern coast of the Black Sea and
lived between 400 and 320 B.C.E. ...

{p. 115} ... the Cynics' dress and equipment code ... was intended as a
dramatization of their refusal to accept society's material values, as a
clear visualization of their countercultural position.

The classic Cynic story is that of the encounter between Diogenes and
Alexander the Great at Corinth in 336 B.C.E. The latter is just setting
out to conquer the world through military power; the former had already
done so through disciplined indifference. This oft-told tale was already
known to Cicero in his Tusculan Disputations 5.92 from 45 B.C.E.:

{quote} But Diogenes, certainly, was more outspoken, in his quality of
Cynic, when Alexander asked him to name anything he wanted: "Just now,"
he said, "stand a bit away trom the

{p. 116} sun!" Alexander apparently had interfered with his basking in
the heat. {endquote}

We are back, by the way, to the quotation from Burton Mack that headed
Chapter 3. The story of Diogenes and Alexander involves a calculated
questioning of power, rule, dominion, and kingship. Who is the true
ruler: the one who wants everything, or the one who wants nothing; the
one who wants all of Asia, or the one who wants only a little sunlight?
If kingship is freedom, which of the two is really free, is really king?
And just as Cynicism had a first flowering after the conquests of
Alexander, so it had another after those of Augustus. Both times were
ripe for a fundamental questioning of power, and the Cynics did so not
only in abstract theory among the aristocratic elites, but in practical
street theater among the ordinary people. They were populist preachers
in marketplace and pilgrimage center, and their life and dress spoke as
forcibly as their speech and sermons.

The Cynics' criticism was not directed, however, just at the materialism
of Hellenistic culture in the wake of either the Alexandrian or Augustan
empires. It was directed more fundamentally at civilization itself,
advocating a self-sufficiency modeled on that of nature rather than
culture. The Roman moralist Seneca the Younger, who lived between 4
B.C.E. and 65 C.E., drew the contrast, in his Epistulae Morales
90.14-16, not just between Alexander and Diogenes but between Daedalus
and Diogenes, between the one who invented the arts of civilization and
the one who refused them:

{quote} How, I ask, can you consistently admire both Diogenes and
Daedalus? Which of these two seems to you a wise man - the one who
devised the saw, or the one who, on seeing a boy drink water from the
hollow of his hand, forthwith took his cup from his wallet and broke it,
upbraiding himself with these words: "Fool that I am, to have been
carrying superfluous baggage all this time!" and then curled himself up
in his tub and lay down to sleep. ... If mankind were willing to listen
to this sage, they would know that the cook is as supertluous as the
soldier. ... Follow nature, and you will need no skilled craftsmen.

{p. 117} Cynicism is not, in other words, just a moral attack on
Greco-Roman civilization; it is a paradoxical attack on civilization
itself. We are back, in fact, with that distinction seen earlier between
the wider phenomenon of eschatology or world-negation and the narrower
one of apocalypticism as but one of its many forms. Cynicism is the
Greco-Roman form of that universal philosophy of eschatology or
world-negation, one of the great and fundamental options of the human
spirit. For wherever there is culture and civilization there can also be
counterculture and anticivilization.

{Peter M.: It's not really an opposition to civilization, but a
correction, just as Taoism in China is a correction to Confucianism; the
two can go well together as polarities. In India, Shiva plays a
comparable role in a trinity, alongside Brahma and Vishnu:

Knapsack and Staff

The Cynic missionaries and the Jesus missionaries agree about wearing no
sandals and spending no time on ordinary greetings and gossip on the
way. But I focus now on wallet and staff, because here they are in flat

There is extant from around the Augustan age, before and after the time
of Jesus, a series of pseudo-letters or fictional communications from
revered or representative Cynics. The title of this wider section, for
instance, derives from the phrase "the skin of my feet as my shoes" in
Pseudo-Anacharsis 65, a text already known to Cicero in 45 B.C.E. These
imaginary letters are now easily accessible in The Cynic Epistles, a
collection by Abraham Malherbe. In the following excerpts from
Pseudo-Diogenes, letters fictionally attributed to Cynicism's founder
from the first century B.C.E. or even earlier, notice the constant
emphasis on cloak, staff, and bag or wallet. Cloak refers to the single
heavy or doubled outer garment worn day and night, summer and winter -
the only garment used. But for now, I emphasize only bag or wallet, and

{quote} [To Hicetas] Do not be upset, Father, that I am called a dog and
put on a double, coarse cloak, carry a wallet over my shoulders, and
have a staff in my hand ... living as I do, not in conformity with
popular opinion but according to nature, free under Zeus.

... [To Crates] Remember that I started you [Crates] on yourlifelong
poverty. ... Consider the ragged cloak to be a lion's skin, the staff a
club, and the wallet land and sea, from which you are fed. For thus
would the spirit of Heracles, mightier than every turn of fortune, stir
in you.

The term wallet is probably a most unfortunate translation since for us
it connotes money. The Greek word is always pera in those letters, as it
is in Luke 10:4 and Mark 6:8, and a good translation, for us, would be
"knapsack" rather than "wallet" or "bag." What it symbolized for the
Cynics was their complete self-sufficiency. They carried their homes
with them. All they needed could be carried in a simple knapsack slung
over their shoulders. Similarly with the staff. It represented their
itinerant status, the fact that they had no fixed abode in any place,
that they were always spiritually on the way elsewhere. The two items
taken together underlined their itinerant self-sufficiency.

The Jesus missionaries, in contrast, are told precisely to carry no
knapsack and hold no staff in their hands. Why this striking difference?
Since a reciprocity of healing and eating is at the heart of the Jesus
movement, the idea of no-staff and no-knapsack is symbolically correct
for the Jesus missionaries. They are not urban like the Cynics,
preaching at street corner and market place. They are rural, on a house
mission to rebuild peasant society from the grass roots upward. Since
commensality is

{p. 119} not just a technique for support but a demonstration of
message, they could not and should not dress to declare itinerant
self-sufficiency but rather communal dependency. Itinerancy and
dependency: heal, stay, move on.

Poverty and Royalty

I conclude this section with a series of quotations from the philosopher
Epictetus, not to argue about who influenced whom but simply to show how
poverty and royalty could be combined not just by Jesus within Judaism
but by Epictetus within Greco-Roman paganism. Epictetus was born the
slave son of a slave mother and lived between 55 and 135 C.E. He was
allowed by his master to study philosophy, was eventually freed, and was
banished from Rome along with other philosophers by the emperor Domitian
in 89 C.E. Here is a justly famous passage from "On the Calling of a
Cynic" in his posthumously transcribed Discourses 3.22.

{quote} And how is it possible that a man who has nothing, who is naked,
houseless, without a hearth, squalid, without a slave, without a city,
can pass a life that flows easily? See, God has sent you a man to show
you that it is possible. Look at me, who am without a city, without a
house, without possessions, without a slave; I sleep on the ground; I
have no wife, no children, no praetorium [official power], but only the
earth and heavens, and one poor cloak. And what do I want? Am I not
without sorrow? Am I not without fear? Am I not free? When did any of
you see me failing in the object of my desire? or ever falling into that
which I would avoid? did I ever blame God or man? did I ever accuse any
man? did any of you ever see me with sorrowful countenance? And how do I
meet with those whom you are afraid of and admire? Do not I treat them
like slaves? Who, when he sees me, does not think that he sees his king
and master? {endquote}

Notice, in the flow of that passage, the sequence from nothing to free
to king, the logic of poverty leading to freedom leading to royalty.
Notice, also, the intense political undertones of the passage. If
Epictetus represented royalty, what was the Roman

{p. 120} emperor? And those three terms are best explained by other
quotations from Discourses 3.22.

Poverty, first of all. Epictetus is very concerned that the externals of
Cynicism may be mistaken for its internals. Since a Cynic philosopher
looks much like a beggar, is not every beggar a Cynic philosopher? Do
staff, knapsack, and one cloak automatically make one a Cynic? But, even
while warning against that danger, he never suggests abandoning those
externals. He simply insists that internal poverty must beget external
and that external must not replace internal.

{quote} So do you [would-be Cynics] also think about the matter
carefully; it is not what you think it is. "I wear a roughcloak even as
it is, and I shall have one then; I have a hard bed even now, and so I
shall then; I shall take to myself a wallet and a staff, and I shall
begin to walk around and beg from those I meet, and revile them. ..." If
you fancy the affair to be something like this, give it a wide berth;
don't come near it, it is nothing for you. ... Lo, these are words [the
long quotation from 3.22 that I cited earlier] that befit a Cynic, this
is his character, and his plan of life. But no, you say, what makes a
Cynic is a contemptible wallet, a staff, and big jaws; to devour
everything you give him, or to stow it away, or to revile tactlessly the
people he meets, or to show off his fine shoulder. {endquote}

It is obvious that Epictetus is speaking to an audience of the poorer
classes whose normal poverty is not that different, in externals, from
Cynic poverty. But, he insists, it is voluntary not necessary poverty
that counts.

Freedom comes next. The one who has nothing and wants nothing is totally
free. This comes not only from a physical poverty that renders one
impervious to both desire and loss, but especially from a spiritual
poverty that renders one oblivious to both attack and assault.

{quote} For this too is a very pleasant strand woven into the Cynic's
pattern of life; he must needs be flogged like an ass, and while he is
being flogged he must love the men who flog him, as though he were the
father or brother of the mall. But that is not your way. If someone
flogs you, go stand in the midst and shout, "O Caesar, what do I have to

{p. 121} -fer under your peaceful rule? Let us go before the Proconsul."
But what to a Cynic is Caesar, or a Proconsul, or anyone other than He
who has sent him into the world, and whom he serves, that is, Zeus? ...

Now the spirit of patient endurance the Cynic must have to such a degree
that common people will think him insensate and a stone; nobody reviles
him, nobody beats him, nobody insults him; but his body he has himself
given for anyone to use as he sees fit. {endquote}

It is fascinating to watch the Christian nervousness of some earlier
translators in handling that passage. Does Epictetus sound too much like
Jesus? In the 1910 edition of The Moral Discourses of Epictetus, for
example, Elizabeth Carter compares that passage with Matthew 5:39-44,
which speaks of turning the other cheek, giving up your garments, and
going the second mile under constraint. She notes that "Christ specifies
higher injuries and provocations than Epictetus doth; and requires of
all his followers, what Epictetus describes only as the duty of one or
two extraordinary persons, as such." Not really.

Royalty, true royalty, is the final theme, still from Epictetus. It is
interesting, in this regard, that the same Greek word could be used for
royal scepter and for Cynic staff:

{quote} Where will you find me a Cynic's friend? ... He must share with
him his sceptre and kingdom. ... See to what straits we are reducing our
Cynic [if he marries], how we are taking away his kingdom from him. ...
And yet shall the Cynic's kingship [or: kingdom] not be thought a
reasonable compensation [for celibacy]? {endquote}

Poverty, freedom, and royalty, then, because the Cynic "has been sent by
Zeus to men, partly as a messenger ... and partly ... as a scout" so
that he walks the earth as "one whoshares in the government of Zeus." It
is not my point that Jesus and Epictetus are saying or doing exactly the
same thing. Difference must be respected just as much as similarity. But
what Jesus called the Kingdom of God and what Epictetus might have
called the Kingdom of Zeus must be compared as radical messages that
taught and acted, theorized and performed against social oppression,
cultural materialism, and imperial domination in the first and second

{end of quotes} more from Crossan at http://mailstar.net/downing.html

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