And Now Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming: A Review of The Economy of the Kingdom

Note: Many of the ideas I wrote on previously were derived from this work. I find it only fitting to summarize it here.

econkingHalvor Moxnes in The Economy of the Kingdom seeks to examine the role of money and wealth in Greco-Roman Palestine as it is presented by Luke in his Gospel. Moxnes attempts to achieve this goal through two means. First, Moxnes traces the portrayal of the Pharisees throughout the Gospel of Luke, and then he applies socio-economic models from modern sociological discussions to bring the underlying social ramifications of the various behaviors portrayed in the Gospel to light. He then reinterprets the portrayal of the Pharisees through the lens of the socio-economic context that he postulates and thereby not only comes to an understanding of Luke’s portrayal of the Pharisees but also an understanding of the ethic demanded of the reader by the text.

Moxnes begins his search for a Lukan ethic of wealth by asking a question: why does Luke call the Pharisees “lovers of money”? Moxnes starts by looking for some sort of historical basis for making such an incendiary charge against the Pharisees. By examining both ancient sources like Josephus and modern scholarly research like that done by Neusner, Moxnes comes to the conclusion that this accusation made by Luke is less a description of a historical reality and more a function of a literary argument derived from stylistic choices. In essence, being a money-lover was an accusation that was common in the presentation of opponents, especially those who put forth some type of teaching. With Luke’s choice to portray the Pharisees in an adversarial manner in this one instance, Moxnes embarks on finding a fuller picture of the Pharisees in Luke. He does this by surveying their appearances in the Gospel, and then he compares their portrayal in Luke with that of Mark and Matthew to get a fuller overall picture of Luke’s attitude. Moxnes finds that while much of the picture painted of the Pharisees is shared by the synoptics, but the tendency of Mark and Matthew is to portray them merely as anti-types to Jesus, one of a number of opponents who are contrary to the mission of Jesus. Luke, on the other hand, portrays Pharisees as being an integral part of the Galilean community, and often the hosts of Jesus at their tables. They voraciously guarded their purity and the upholding of the Law. Moxness, borrowing from Luke T. Johnson, argues that this portrayal of the Pharisees as lovers of money is ultimately a result of the fact that they rejected Jesus. In Luke, the poor accept Jesus and the rich do not. This may tell us why Luke did what he did, but it still does not tell us how this portrayal of the Pharisees functions in his narrative.

In order to answer this question, Moxnes explores the relationship between the economy and society in antiquity. He does this by applying sociological observations about peasant economies to the world of Luke’s gospel. He quickly comes to the conclusion that the economy in antiquity is not compartmentalized in the way that it is in modern times. In an “embedded economy” the exchange of resources is an inherently social action. This economy functioned through three main means: reciprocity, redistribution, and market exchange. Reciprocity is the mutual exchange of goods, services, or loyalties, and can occur in varying degrees of fairness. This reciprocity occurs in three types. 1) Generalized reciprocity is the giving of a gift with a general sense of recompense in the form of good will. 2) Balanced reciprocity is the attempt to reach near equivalence in exchange. Essentially it is tit for tat. 3) Negative reciprocity is the attempt to get something for nothing. This reciprocal system of exchange is the dominant factor in the ancient economy. It is the basis for the pervasive Patron-Client system that existed in Luke’s Gospel. This system allows the societal elites to control wealth through their use of economic superiority to ensure the continued clientage of the poorer individual and then consequently the continued patronage of the elite. The poor are not able to earn enough to make their way out from under the thumb of the elites. When we add to this the social norms and concerns of Palestinian society, specifically the view of insiders and outsiders and the constant struggle for subsistence by the poor, we have a recipe for exploitation. Furthermore, the traditional dynamic of sharing within a Palestinian village’s local economy is upset by the demands of external powers.

When we turn back to the question of the Pharisees, we begin to see a little of the implications of Luke’s charge against the Pharisees. Their concern with purity uses the Law to place certain members of the community on the outside. They can then seek a form of reciprocity that best benefits them. They have essentially used purity and the Law to place others below themselves and have consequently obtained a sort of societal currency that can be used to further extract favor and wealth from the community. Their attempts at hospitality are actually shrewd attempts to advance their own status by buying into this patron-client system. Consequently, Luke’s charge against the Pharisees is not some personal oddity that made its way into the text, but a coherent and rational criticism of a common activity in Luke’s day through the use of the Pharisees as a foil. The Gospel proclamation against this (and rooted in status reversal) is the voluntary redistribution of wealth through alms-giving and socially deconstructive hospitality. Moxnes concludes his work by laying this demand at our feet. He asks a question which should burn in our hearts: How do we live in a manner that is consistent with this view of economy? Moxnes challenges the reader to view the world through the eyes of the poor even while acknowledging the difficulty that poses. Nonetheless, the charge is now laid on us to act.

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