January 2, 2010

Overlording: Inherently Non-Jewish?

Jesus said: The rulers of the gentiles Lord it over their subjects. It shall not be so with you. According to some, that leaves room for rulers can "rule" without "lording over". Really?

According to some, Jesus may as well have said, You know how some of the rulers of the gentiles are gracious and some of them are too authoritarian? Don't be like the bad ones.

Or maybe he elaborated, off the record: Some rulers of the gentiles lord it over their subjects. Pontius Pilate, for instance, has caused nothing but trouble. But that Tetrarch Philip, now, he's alright. All his people like him and they're mostly Arabs! So you guys be like him.

Or maybe Jesus meant: The rulers of the gentiles are really mean and unloving in the way they govern their people. So when you guys govern our people, make sure you do it graciously and with love.

Some imply that's what Jesus meant. But that's not what he said.

Jesus said, "The rulers of the gentiles..." As in all of them. So what did they all have in common? Top-down, hierarchical, executive authority. It may also help to note whom Jesus excluded - the Rulers of the Jews. I know it's shocking to imagine that Jewish government might be more in line with the ideas God himself had about Government, but it just might be true.

Moses instituted Judges, and Samuel tells us God didn't want Israel to have a King. The second Temple institution of Jerusalem's High Priest was more Hellenistic than Jewish, and while Annas & Caiaphas are technically excluded from what Jesus said about overlords, they moved and functioned in an extremely Hellenized matrix. Therefore, I'd still argue that Jesus was contrasting pecking-order hierarchy with the traditional plurality of elders, consistent in Jewish culture from before Moses all the way up to first century Synagogues.

The record about Synagogue leadership is difficult to interpret, and seems to have varied in practice especially in the diaspora. There is evidence of evolution towards more hierarchical structure in some places, but it is still clear that neither Roman republicanism nor Greek oligarchic democracy is reflected at all by a Synagogue community where every local countryman was automatically enfranchised. By the way, the organization of most christian congregations has mirrored this same enfranchisement in theory, but not always in practice.

The Corinthian Synagogue replaced one Synagogue leader with another. Capernaum and Antioch-near-Pisidia had a plurality of officials. As with most elements of Jewish law and custom, I'd bet Jesus had a simplified, purified version of a traditional view on congregational government. If we go waaaay back in the Jewish wayback machine, Jesus' instructions about ruling also mirror God's desire, as stated to Samuel to avoid giving Israel a King. Like the Gentiles had.

Jesus said: The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over their subjects. They get put individually "over" their people. Thus, they are "lords".

It shall not be so with you.


Alan Knox said...


Is it possible that ethnos in Matthew 20:25 should simply be translated and understood as "nations" instead of "Gentiles", and that Jesus was not making a distinction between Jewish and Gentile rulers? (i.e. Matthew 25:32; 28:19)


Bill Heroman said...

Well, if so it wouldn't change my deeper point. What "nations" would that add to the mix? Was Galilee a Jewish Nation? Was Philip's tetrarchy? Was Roman Occupied Jerusalem? Unless we answer yes, your question doesn't really change anything. Antipas, Philip, Annas & Caiaphas were all ruling in top down style, weren't they?

In turn, that doesn't diminish my initial point, either. That domineering arrangement was in contrast to the more primitive Jewish structures. In other words, maybe it's precisely this context which suggests that ethnos should be "Gentiles" instead of "nations". (?)

Alan Knox said...

Thanks for the response, Bill. I think we're on the same page, I just misunderstood part of your original post.


Bill Heroman said...

Oh, I hate do so be unclear to.


Recent Posts
Recent Posts Widget
"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton