The answer to this question is yes. But beware, the commandment of love is rarely found on Jesus' lips. Two passages have a good chance of going back to the historical Jesus.
The first is Mark 12:28-34 where Jesus answers a question from a scribe about the first commandment by uniting Deuteronomy 6:4-5 on the love of God and Leviticus 19:18 on love of neighbor. In the absence of multiple attestations, it is the criterion of discontinuity that leads us to recognize its historical character, for the gesture of quoting word for word and together these two passages of the Old Testament and describing them as the first and second commandments is quite unique and unprecedented, and one would look in vain for the equivalent throughout the Old Testament, in intertestamentary literature, in Hellenic Judaism, in rabbinism, or even in the rest of the New Testament.
The second passage is from Document Q where Jesus asks to love his enemies (Luke 6:27 || Matthew 5:44). Here again, it is the criterion of discontinuity that leads us to recognize its historical character, since this direct and laconic expression is found nowhere else, either in the Old Testament, or in Qumran, or in the Apocrypha of the Old Testament, or in Hellenistic Judaism, or in the Greco-Roman philosophers, or even in the rest of the New Testament.
As for many other expressions around the relationship to others, it is impossible to trace them back to the historical Jesus. This is the case of the golden rule ("What you want men to do for you, do for them likewise", Luke 6:31 || Matthew 7:12), whose equivalent is found throughout the entire sapiential tradition of the ancient Near East. This is the case of the call to love one another in John's gospel (13:34; 15:12), which is probably only a rereading of Leviticus 19:18 in the context of the evangelist's great theological synthesis.
Widening the Focus: The Love Commandment of Jesus
- Introduction: The Various Commandments of Love
The portrait of Jesus that we have so far is that of a first century Jewish teacher engaged in discussions on practical points of the Law such as the Sabbath, oaths, or divorce. It is therefore legitimate to ask ourselves the question: what is Jesus' attitude towards the Law in general? A word of caution is in order: his approach is always to discern God's will, never to see it as a moral system. In this vein, let us examine the passages where Jesus speaks of the commandment of love.
Contrary to popular belief, the commandment of love is rarely found on Jesus' lips, and it usually comes from a Scripture citation. We will look at three texts: 1) Mark 12:28-34 where Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-5 on the love of God and Leviticus 19:18b on the love of neighbor; 2) Tradition Q (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27) where Jesus asks his disciples to love their enemies; 3) John 13:34 where Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment at his last supper.
- The Double Command of Love in the Gospel of Mark
- The Place of the Double Command of Love (Mark 12: 28-34 || Matthew 22: 34-40 || Luke 20: 39-40)
Our text fits into the cycle of Jesus' dispute stories in Jerusalem (11: 27 - 12: 40) which corresponds to the cycle of Jesus' dispute stories in Galilee (2: 1 - 3: 6), a structure meticulously composed by Mark. This Jerusalem cycle can be divided into seven pericopes.
- Dispute stories over Jesus' authority (11: 27-33). This is the great opening of the cycle where the central question of Jesus' authority is asked following the "cleansing" of the temple. Mark sets up the great actors who will condemn him to death: the chief priests, the scribes and the elders.
- Parable of the murderous wine growers (12:1-12). Jesus begins a veiled attack on his opponents who challenge his authority in the first pericope.
- The tax due to Caesar (12: 13-17). The trick question comes from the Pharisees and Herodians, the same opponents found in the first cycle of the dispute stories, who are deadly hostile to him. Each time Jesus is victorious in his answer, demonstrating his authority.
- Dispute stories over the resurrection of the dead (12: 18-27). The trick question comes from the Sadducees. Mark seems to want to present the full range of opponents. Jesus shows his authority by interpreting Scripture correctly. But the theme of the death-resurrection is also the thread of all the dispute stories, announcing the final outcome.
- The double commandment of love (12:28-34). This pericope is in contrast with the whole background of the other pericopes and appears as a ray of sunshine. Hostility has given way to the sympathetic attitude of a scribe who finds Jesus' interpretation of Scripture regarding the first commandment judicious. The opponents are speechless.
- The interpretation of Psalm 110 (12:35-37). It is Jesus who now takes the initiative to ask a question to embarrass his opponents. For Mark this text is a Christological prophecy of the exaltation of Jesus after his death.
- Warning against the scribes (12:38-40). Jesus goes straight to the attack and rebukes the scribes for their ostentatious behavior and their harshness towards the poor.
It is by looking at this entire cycle of dispute stories that we can see how much the pericope of the double commandment of love is at odds with it. As Jesus is surrounded by opponents who challenge his authority, and as we witness a series of attacks and counter-attacks, with the arrest and death of Jesus looming, suddenly a scribe appears who appreciates Jesus' response to his opponents. This does not fit Mark's editorial context and his portrayal of the scribes. We are probably looking at a preMarkan unit that circulated independently in a primitive oral tradition.
- The Structure and Content of Mark 12: 28-34
- The Struture of Mark 12: 28-34
A Introduction (setting the scene) : vv 28 abc
v 28a And one of the scribes, having approached
v 28b having heard them arguing,
v 28c having seen that he (Jesus) answered them (the Sadducees) well
B Scribe's first address to Jesus (question): vv 28de
v 28d asked him:
v 28e "Which is (the) first commandment of all?"
C Jesus' first reply to the scribe (answer): vv 29-31
v 29a Jesus answered:
v 29b "(The) first is:
v 29c 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord,
v 30a and you shall love the Lord your God
v 30b from your whole heart and from your whole soul and from your whole mind and from your whole strength.'
v 31a (The) second (is) this:
v 31b 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
v 31c Greater than these (two) is no other commandment."
Bˊ Scribe's second address to Jesus (approval): vv 32-33
v 32a And the scribe said to him:
v 32b "Well (spoken), teacher;
v 32c in truth have you said that he is one
v 32d and there is no other except him;
v 33a and to love him from (one's) whole heart and from (one's) whole understanding and from (one's) whole strength
v 33b and to love (one's) neighbor as oneself
v 33c is greater than all holocausts and sacrifices.
Cˊ Jesus' second reply to the scribe (approval and conclusion of dialogues): v 34abc
v 34a And Jesus, having seen that he answered intelligently,
v 34b said to him :
v 34c "You are not far from the kingdom of God."
Aˊ Conclusion to the Jerusalem dialogues: v 34d
v 34a And no one dared to ask him (anything) further.
The structure is fairly simple, but there are a few complex elements that deviate from the usual gospel narratives.
- The story has two conclusions, one in v 34a which closes the series of questions asked of Jesus since 11:27, the other in v 34c which closes the dialogue with the scribe.
- There is a unique phenomenon in the Synoptics, that of the pattern address - reply (B - C) which is doubled (Bˊ - Cˊ). The first address (B - C) revolves around the notion of commandment. It begins with a brief question from the scribe and is followed by a very elaborate answer from Jesus. The order is reversed in the second intervention (Bˊ - Cˊ) with an elaborate reply by the scribe (but nevertheless shorter than Jesus' previous answer), followed by a short conclusion by Jesus (but nevertheless longer than the scribe's initial question). We have a chiasm or cross discourse: short discourse - long discourse - short discourse.
- Several key terms cement the narrative together. The attribute "well" is used twice by the scribe to refer to Jesus' speech and will be echoed in Jesus when he considers that the scribe answered "wisely (or intelligently)". The tone of the whole narrative is decidedly positive, and does not fit the whole context of the dispute stories.
The story of Mark 12:28-34 is not a creation of the evangelist, otherwise he would have done a better job of integrating it with the whole context. Rather, it comes from an isolated preMarkan tradition that Mark inserted into the cycle of exchanges in Jerusalem to put it at the service of his catechesis on the authority of Jesus and his superiority over his Jewish adversaries.
- Exegesis of Mark 12: 28-34
- In all of Mark's gospel, except for this passage, the scribes are never presented in a favorable light. The plural is always used to refer to "the scribes" who join with the elders and chief priests in plotting to arrest Jesus and mock Him on the cross.
- So there is one scribe who stands out from the others because he appreciates Jesus' response to the Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead. He is the exception that proves the rule. He is not said to be a Pharisee. The Jews in general, and the scribes in particular, believed in the resurrection of the dead.
- This scribe asks a question: "What is the first of all commandments?" Beware! The question is not: "Which commandment sums up all the others?" The question is about order, about priorities. To answer, Jesus turns to the traditional Jewish prayer, called Shema', which is jumble of Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41. He emphasizes the fundamental point proclaimed at the beginning of the prayer, faith in the true God of Israel and its necessary consequence, the complete and undivided love of God. Mark names four different faculties (heart, soul, mind and strength) to emphasize the total commitment of the Israelites to Yahweh both in worship and in daily life. It should be noted that the love spoken of here has nothing to do with a felt emotion, but is a matter of will and action based on a covenant, just as a vassal from the Near East was obliged to maintain an exclusive relationship with his overlord. This commandment is therefore the foundation of all the other commandments within the alliance.
- Jesus' answer could have ended here. But he adds a second commandment which he places next to the first. This second commandment is taken this time from Leviticus where, in chapter 19, we find a series of social obligations that reach a positive climax in v. 18b: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Again, the love in question here means wanting and doing good, not feeling any emotion. And neighbor (Hebrew rēaʽ) means one with whom one comes into regular contact, i.e., members of the Jewish community; resident foreigners are not included in this category. It is therefore a question of a Jew showing solidarity with his people. Finally, the expression "like yourself" refers to the rights and privileges, the support and honor that everyone expects from the community, which he in turn must guarantee for others.
- By combining two different texts of Scripture (Deut 6:4-5 and Lev 19:18b), Jesus uses a method of interpretation later known as gěsērâ šāwâ. This method consists of bringing together two different texts that have the same key words or phrases so that they can interpret each other. This method is well known in Jesus' time because people like Paul and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews use it. By using this method, Jesus demonstrates a remarkable knowledge of Scripture, for there are only four passages where the expression "and thou shalt love" is found. Finally, we note that Jesus keeps the two commandments distinct, God first, then neighbor second.
- In accepting his answer, the scribe recognizes in Jesus an authoritative teacher. But his commentary modifies Jesus' words in three ways.
- It emphasizes the oneness of the true God. Let us not forget that the whole Mediterranean world was dominated by polytheism.
- The scribe not only reduced the faculties to three (heart, understanding, strength), but reduced the formulation of the two commandments to two verbs in the infinitive (to love him (God)...and to love one's neighbor...), thereby accentuating the unity of these commandments.
- It specifies which commandments are inferior to the first two: the commandments that regulate sacrificial worship in the temple.
- This pericope belongs to a literary genre called scholastic dialogue. Indeed, it is a positive dialogue around Scripture in which everyone contributes. But the positive side has a limit: if the scribe is not far from the Kingdom of God, he is missing something, i.e., the complete acceptance of the message of a Kingdom that is coming and partly already present. For Mark, it is the recognition of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. But the fact remains that Jesus' authority is recognized by one of the scribes of the Jewish community. All this puts an end to the verbal attacks of the Jews against Jesus.
- To conclude, it must be admitted that there is a tension in this text between Mark's theological project and the tradition he holds in his hands.
- On the one hand, in spite of the recalcitrant side of the tradition which he has, Mark succeeds in a skillful adaptation.
- A narrative that was basically a scholastic dialogue with a positive tone becomes the climax and conclusion of a series of dispute stories. The authority of Jesus is even recognized by a Jewish scribe.
- Mark succeeds in making Jesus triumph over the authorities in Jerusalem even through the voice of a Jerusalem scholar, this Jewish scribe.
- In spite of the friendly side of this scholastic dialogue, Jesus keeps the initiative and enjoys the leading role.
- In spite of Jesus' approval, the scribe is not yet where he should be, i.e. welcoming Jesus as Messiah.
- On the other hand, in spite of all Mark's editorial work, the pericope does not appear to be a pure creation of the evangelist.
- This unique scribe is the exact opposite of Mark's portrait of the scribes.
There is no reference in this pericope to any malicious intent on the part of the scribe. On the contrary, he praises Jesus' intervention. We have a unique case in the early Christian tradition of a Jewish teacher who agrees with Jesus and praises him, but does not follow him as a disciple.
We have already described this pericope as a scholastic dialogue. We even have two rounds of discussion, one initiated by the scribe's question, the other by his feedback to Jesus' response. This is a unique case in the synoptic tradition.
What is also unique in Mark is the questioning of the place and interpretation of the Mosaic Law as a whole. Mark has no interest in such a question, unlike Matthew or Luke.
All this confirms our observation that we are facing a preMarkan tradition that does not fit at all with the whole set of dispute stories. This tradition is very old and could go back to the first Christian generation (30-70).
- The Argument for the Historiccity of Mark 12: 28-34
- A Brief Articulation of the Argument
The argument has four elements:
- Jesus quotes word for word both Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18b. This is quite unique and is not found anywhere else, neither in the Old Testament, nor in Qumran, nor in Philo or Josephus, nor in the rest of the New Testament.
- Jesus quotes them together, not just one of them.
- Jesus gives them an order, one is first, the other is second.
- Jesus concludes that these two commandments are superior to all other commandments.
- Discontinuity: the Old Testament
Neither Deuteronomy 6:4-5 nor Leviticus 19:18b are quoted as such again in the rest of the Old Testament, without mentioning being quoted together. Some examples of similar texts are
- 2 Kings 23:25: "There was no king before him who like him turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his strength, according to the law of Moses, and after him there was none like him."
- Ecclesiasticus 13:15: "Every living creature loves his fellow man and every man his neighbor."
- Ecclesiasticus 17:14: "He (Yahweh) said to them, 'Beware of all evil', and gave them commandments, each regarding his neighbor."
- Ecclesiasticus 31:15: "Judge your neighbor according to yourself, and in everything be thoughtful."
- Micah 6:8: "You have been told, man, what is good, what the Lord requires of you: nothing else but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God".
- Psalm 15:3: "Do not let your tongue rung; who (the friend of Yahweh) does not harm his brother in any way, does not reproach his neighbor.
- Zechariah 7:9: "(Thus saith the Lord of hosts) He said, 'Do true justice and practice kindness and compassion, every man to his brother'."
First of all, we find echoes of Deut 6: 4-5 in 2 Kings 23: 25, but that's all. There are no direct citations. In Ecclesiasticus there are allusions to Lev 19:18, but it could also be said that the text reflects the typical Greek ethic of reciprocity among friends. One might add that it also echoes the second part of the Ten Commandments, which focuses on relationships with others. In short, it is in vain to look for direct citations. All that can be observed in the rest of the Old Testament is a tendency to summarize the obligations of the law in a short list, as in the text of Micah 6, Psalm 15 or Zechariah 7.
- Discontinuity: Absence in the Dead Sea Scrolls
Let's look at some texts.
- Damascus Document (CD) 9: 2: "You shall not take vengeance on and you shall not hold grudge against the sons of your people."
- Damascus Document (CD) 6: 20-21: "(among the obligations of the community) to love each one his brother as himself, and to support the hand of the needy and the poor and the stranger, and to seek each one's well-being."
- Rule of the Community (1QS) 1: 1-2: "...that they may live according to the rule of the Community; that they may seek God with all their heart and soul... and that they may love all the sons of light...."
What is surprising is that the citation from Lev 19:18 found in CD 9:2 stops short and does not mention its finale (v. 18b): "You shall love your neighbor as yourself". In fact, his exhortations to love are limited to members of the community. As for CD 6: 20-21, it is not really a citation from Lv 19: 18 and speaks in a general way of the love due to the members of the community. Finally, one could add a striking thing: among the 16 copies of Leviticus found in Qumran, none contains this verse 18b.
In the text of 1QS we find an echo of Deut 6:4-5 with the commitment of heart and soul in the search for God. Thirty-three copies of Deuteronomy have been found in Qumran, and they all contain Deut 6:4-5, but only fragmentarily, so that no copy exists without some gap around it. In short, one could recognize at most in Qumran the presence of the double commandment of the love of God and brother, but without the exact content and conciseness found in Mark.
- Discontinuity: Absence in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha
Let's start with the Book of Jubilees.
- Jubilees 20:2: "He (Abraham) commanded them to keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness, to love one another, and that it should be so in all mankind, that each one should behave towards one another in doing righteousness and justice on earth."
- Jubilees 7:20: "In the twenty-eighth jubilee, Noah began to issue to his sons' sons the ordinances, commandments, and all that he knew (as) law. He commanded his children to do righteousness, to cover the shame of their bodies, to bless their Creator, to honor father and mother, to love each other, to guard against fornication, uncleanness, and all violence."
- Jubilees 36:4: "(Isaac speaks) Continue, my children, to love one another as brothers love one another, as a man loves himself, each seeking the good of his brother and acting in harmony on earth. Let them love one another as they love themselves ... Be those who fear Him (God) and adore Him, each one loving his brother with tenderness and justice..."
The first two quoted texts of the Jubilees refer to Lev 19:18, although the expression "as oneself" is absent. But one looks in vain for the reference to Deut 6:4-5. Our third text does indeed speak of love of others as well as of oneself and of the fear of God. It can therefore be said to be the forerunner of a tendency in Judaism to summarize the commandments of the Law in obedience to God and in love for the members of the community.
Some biblical scholars would like to include the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs in this analysis. Here is one of these texts.
- Testament of Issachar 5: 1-3: "Therefore, my children, keep the Law of God, acquire simplicity and walk in innocence without indiscreetly examining the actions of your neighbor. But love the Lord and your neighbor, and have mercy on the needy and the weak."
But these biblical scholars are ill-advised. First of all, the Greek manuscripts that we have date from the Middle Ages or even from modern times. Second, they have the clear influence of a Christian hand in their final version. In addition, its many moral exhortations have a Stoic flavor. It cannot be denied that a testament of the patriarchs existed in the first century, since an Aramaic version of Levi and a fragment of Nephthali have been discovered. But it is different from the text we have today. And the latter does not quote verbatim Deut 6:4-5 and Lev 19:18, and if we speak of love of God and neighbor, we generally speak of it at different times.
- Discontinuity: Absence of Philo and Josephus
- Philon of Alexandria
In classical Greek philosophy, there is a tendency to summarize human obligations to God under the term eusebeia (reverence, piety), and human obligations to others under the term dikaiosynē (justice, righteousness). This is what the Jews of the Diaspora will do to summarize the commandments of the Law, as Philo did.
- On the Special Laws 215: 63: "There are, so to speak, two great principles that bring together the innumerable special lessons and doctrines, the one that regulates conduct with God by laws of piety and holiness (Greek: eusebeias kai hosiotētos), and the one that regulates conduct with men by laws of humanity and justice (Greek: philanthrōpias kai dikaiosynēs); each group is subdivided into a large number of subordinate, praiseworthy ideas.
- On the Decalogue 22: 109-110 "But those who thought that, beyond their duties to their fellow men, there was no such thing as goodness, they clung only to fraternity toward the society of men, and, being wholly occupied with the love of the society of men, invited every man to equal participation in their good works, working at the same time in the measure of their ability to relieve them in disasters. Now, the latter could wisely be called philanthropic men (philanthrōpoi), and the former lovers of God (philotheoi), but half perfect in virtue; for the truly perfect are those who have a good reputation in both categories. On the other hand, those who do not attend to their duties towards men in order to be able to rejoice in common blessings and to weep in the face of adversity, or who do not devote themselves to piety and holiness towards God (eusebeias kai hosiotētos), could be considered as having been transformed into wild beasts, on the same footing as those who, from the point of view of ferocity, neglect their parents, and are therefore hostile to the two groups of virtues mentioned earlier, namely piety towards God and duty towards men.
- The Life of Moses 2: 31, 163: "But when the recriminations continued in the camp on the part of the men gathered in large and dense crowds and spread over a great distance, to the point where the sound reached the top of the mountain, Moses, hearing the tumult, became very perplexed. He was both a fervent follower of God (theophilēs) and a friend of mankind (philanthrōpos), not being able to convince himself on the one hand to leave the society of God with whom he was conversing and discussing in his own name, being alone with him, nor on the other hand to remain indifferent to the completely anarchic and evil multitude."
Philo does not really speak like Jesus of two types of love, but rather of reverence or piety towards God and philanthropy for mankind. As we see in On the Special Laws, the Law does not boil down interchangeably to either piety to God or philanthropy; both are necessary. For him it is a mistake to have only reverence for God and to ignore his brethren, or to express philanthropy without reverence for God (see On the Decalogue). But his perspective is that of the two parts of the Decalogue given by God to Moses, whereas Jesus' perspective is outside the Decalogue. Moreover, Philo never explicitly comments on Jesus' use of Lev 19:18b on love of neighbor. Finally, when he speaks of love of humanity (philanthrōpos), he restricts it to those who are worthy of it. In short, there is something original with Jesus.
- Flavius Josephus
Josephus continues the tradition of Hellenistic Judaism of grouping all human duties under two principles.
- The Jewish War 2.8.7: "But before touching the common food, he (the novice in the community of the Essenes) commits himself to his brothers, by formidable oaths, first of all to venerate the divinity (eusebein ton theon), then to observe justice towards men (anthropous dikaia), to harm no one either spontaneously or by order; to always hate the unjust and to come to the aid of the just.
It will have been noted that justice towards men implies hating the unjust and limiting one's solidarity to the just, an approach different from that of Jesus. Moreover, like Philo, Josephus never quotes directly from Lev 18:19b.
In conclusion, our investigation of Philo and Josephus has allowed us to confirm that we do not find in these authors the four elements of Jesus' argument that we identified earlier.
- Discontinuity: Absence in the Early Rabbis
Let's transport ourselves to the year 200, to the Mishna period. There are at most scattered citations from Deut 6:4-5 and Lev 19:18b. There is a tendency in rabbinism to group the commandments under a general principle, called kělāl. But beware! A kělāl does not summarize all the commandments, it simply groups them together. Moreover, when we turn to the commentaries of Lev 19:18b, we find this commentary called Sipra, whose core belongs to the second part of the third century. In it we hear Rabbi Aquiba say: "This is a great rule in the Law." Biblical scholars often make the mistake of replacing "a great rule" with "the great rule", which distorts its meaning. In fact, the text is followed by a citation from Rabbi Ben Azai proposing an even greater general rule based on Gen 5:1: "This is the book of the birth of mankind on the day God created man; in his image he created him."
Once again, we are in a totally different register from the one found in Mark 12:28-34.
- Discontinuity: Absence in the Rest of the New Testament
Let us say it right away: there is no explicit reference to Deut 6:4-5 in the rest of the New Testament. At most there is a vague allusion to certain elements in Paul, 1 Corinthians 8:6, while Lev 19:18b is mentioned a few times.
- Mt 5: 43-44 (|| Lk 6: 27): "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you"
When Matthew takes up Lev 19:18 (You shall love your neighbor), he drops the last part: like yourself. The reason is simple and literary: to achieve the perfect balance between "loving your neighbor" and "hating the enemy. V. 43-44 are at the climax of a series of antitheses constructed by Matthew.
- Mt 19: 19 (|| Mk 10: 19): "Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself"
This time the quotation from Lev 19:18 is complete, but the whole is a rewriting by Matthew of Mark's version.
- Galatians 5: 14: "For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself"
In a very controversial context, Paul affirms that Christians, freed from the Law, do not indulge in immorality because they now follow the law of love.
- Romans 13: 8-9: "Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, 'Love your neighbor as yourself'"
This time, Paul launches his exhortation in a completely peaceful context. Nevertheless, his goal is always the same: to reduce tensions in a community of very diverse people.
- James 2: 8: "You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'"
The scope of the exhortations in the epistle is much more general, but it is nonetheless aimed at reducing certain tensions between rich and poor.
Whether in Paul or in James, Lev 19:18b represents the summary or the quintessence of the whole Law. This use of Lev 19:18b could be an example of a teaching of the historical Jesus that reached anonymously in the epistolary exhortations.
In conclusion, in the rest of the New Testament there is no text that meets the four elements of Jesus' argument. Thus, the criterion of discontinuity strongly supports the idea that the historical Jesus taught the double commandment of love by joining together Deut 6:4-5 and Lev 19:18b, and that this teaching was preserved in Mk 12:29-31. And the setting provided by Mark, with this sympathetic scribe, may have historical value for the following reasons:
- The presence of a sympathetic scribe, who engages in a legal debate to come to an agreement with Jesus, is quite unique in the New Testament.
- Jesus' response that begins with the Shema fits very well with the Temple in Jerusalem where it was part of the daily prayer.
The reference to monotheism in the Shema and its repetition by the scribe can be explained in the context of the Roman presence in the fortress of Antonia.
The insistence on monotheism is plausible in the context of a religious feast where the prefect Pilate was traveling to Jerusalem.
- The scribe's remark that the two commandments of love take precedence over all sacrifices is perfectly explained within the temple precincts
- The fact that the meeting ends with Jesus praising the scribe is unparalleled in the Synoptics and could correspond exactly to the way the original event ended.
Some biblical scholars insist that the 613 commandments of Judaism were equally important. This is a purely rabbinic view and does not reflect pre-70's Judaism, as seen in Philo where summarizing all the commandments under certain main principles was in the air. And we must probably admit that Jesus was influenced by the Greco-Roman culture of the time.
- An argument of multiple attestation?
There are biblical scholars who believe that the parallels of Mark 12:28-34 in Matthew and Luke are independent, and therefore offer a multiple attestation argument. A close analysis of the parallels invalidates this idea and shows that the minor agreements between Luke and Matthew against Mark do not require the hypothesis of a second source.
Let us therefore compare the synoptic narratives. Underlined are word from Mark that appears as well in Matthew or Luke. Words in Matthew and Luke that are similar are in blue.
|Mark 12||Luke 10||Matthew 22|
|28a And having come forward, one of the scribes, having heard them reasoning together, having seen he answered them, he questioned him, ||25a And behold, a certain lawyer stood up, testing him, saying, ||34 Then, the Pharisees, having heard that he had muzzled the Sadducees, gathered together to the same place, 35 and questioned (him) one of them, [a lawyer], testing him, |
|28b "Which is commandment the first of all?"||25b "Teacher, what having done, will I inherit eternal life?"||36 "Teacher, which commandment (is the) greatest in the law?"|
|29 Jesus answered that,||26a Then, he said towards him, "In the law, what has been written? How do you read? 27a Then, he, answering, said, ||37a Then, he was declaring,|
|"First is 'Hear Israel, Lord our God is one Lord'|
|30 and you shall love Lord your God from all your heart, and from all your soul, and from all your mind, and from all your strength.||27b "You shall love Lord your God from all your heart, and from all your soul, and from all your strength, and from all your mind, ||37b "You shall love Lord your God from all your heart, and from all your soul, and from all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. |
|31a Second (is) this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.||27c and your neighbor as yourself."||39 Then, second (is) like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.|
|32b Greater than these, there is not other commandment.||40 To these two commandments the whole law is hanged and the prophets.|
|32 And the scribe said to him, "Well, teacher, on truth you said that one he is, and there is not another except him, 33 and to love him from all the heart, and from all the understanding, and from all the strength, and to love the neighbour as oneself is more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices. |
|34 And Jesus having seen him that sensibly he answered, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God"||28 Then, he said to him, "Rightly you have answered. Do this and you will live."|
The differences in Luke and Matthew are due to their creative activity. First of all, let us not forget that Matthew and Luke were better Greek stylists than Mark, who has a very rough style, and therefore tried to modify Mark in accordance with their own theology. Thus, even if the texts of Matthew and Luke sometimes seem similar, their theology is different. And this can be seen from the general context: Matthew retains the context of the debate with the Sadducees, but the question that introduces the pericope is a trap set by the Pharisees and pursues an open conflict, while Luke places the question earlier in Jesus' journey to Jerusalem as Jesus teaches his disciples to prepare for his departure.
The two cases of minor agreements between Matthew and Luke must now be discussed.
- For Matthew as for Luke, Jesus' interlocutor is a lawyer (Greek: nomikos) rather than a scribe (grammateus). It is important to know that Luke is the one who most often features lawyers in all the Synoptics, and that he does not really differentiate them from the scribes. In addition, he never uses the term scribe in the singular. In Matthew's work, it should first be noted that the term lawyer is not assured: it is absent from several manuscripts, which is why we have put it in brackets. But let us assume that it is part of the original text. It makes perfect sense for Matthew to stage a lawyer, because he puts the question on the Law (what is the greatest commandment of the Law?) and ends the narrative with a conclusion on the Law (to these two commandments the whole law is hanged and the Prophets), thus creating an inclusive effect that he so enjoys.
- How to explain this reference to the Law in Matthew and Luke. Let's start with Luke. Here, let's note that it is Jesus who refers to the Law, not the lawyer, thus adding a clever side to his answer: you are a specialist in the Law, isn't that something you should know? It is therefore the presence of the lawyer who introduced this reference to the Law, and the Law disappears from the landscape, because the pericope serves as an introduction to the parable of the Good Samaritan and the duty of compassion. On the other hand, for Matthew the Law is at the center of his concerns as he intends to insert the whole pericope in his great program of right understanding of the Law.
In short, Matthew and Luke had no source of difference from Mark's account and their differences from Mark can be explained.
In conclusion, it is the very strong argument of discontinuity that supports the idea of the historical character of the tradition presented by Mark 12:28-34. It is also likely that the context introducing Jesus' words is also historical. To the argument of discontinuity we can add that of coherence: the historical face of Jesus is the one who put mercy, forgiveness and healing at the heart of his prophetic mission. And it is logical that he who saw himself as the gatherer of his people refers to Deut 6:4-5, the Shema, which is the foundation of the existence of this people, and to Lev 19:18b, the love of his brothers. Finally, on several occasions it has been observed that the historical Jesus was someone who debated the practical points of the Law, like a rabbi, and it is not surprising that he used this known method of interpreting Scripture, called gěsērâ šāwâ, where one text is interpreted with the help of another text.
- The Command to Love Enemies in the Q Tradition
- Clarifying the Question
After the question of love of God and neighbor in Luke, let us look at a phrase from the Q tradition found in Luke and Matthew where Jesus asks to love his enemies.
|Luke 6: 27-29||Matthew 5: 44|
|But to you I say, to those hearing, "Love your enemies, do good to those hating you. 28 Bless those cursing you, pray for those reviling you. 29 To the (one) striking you on the cheek, offer also the other; and from the (one) taking up your cloak, do not withhold also the tunic".||Then, me, I say to you, "Love your enemies and pray in favour of those persecuting you, bless those cursing you, do good to those reviling you and hating you".|
- Unlike Jesus' statement on the double commandment of love of God and neighbor, this one is short and sharp: 4 Greek words (agapate tous echthrous hymōn: love the enemies yours) which could be reduced to 3 in Hebrew or Aramaic.
- Jesus does not quote Scripture, but speaks something on his own.
- Like the dual commandment of love of God and neighbor, the call to love one's enemies is unique to this passage from Document Q, and therefore cannot be supported by the argument of multiple attestations.
Can we then invoke the criterion of discontinuity to affirm that the expression "Love your enemies" goes back to the historical Jesus? Yes, on the condition that one limits oneself to this expression and eliminates all the text that surrounds it.
- In fact, the entire text surrounding it is a collection of disparate phrases on non-violence or non-vengeance for which parallels can be found in ancient literature. One often makes the mistake of confusing love of enemies with non-violence or non-vengeance, even though they are two different realities.
Let us remember that love is a matter of wanting and doing good to others, and has nothing to do with warm or romantic feelings for others. In fact, feeling in love or warm feelings for another person would make him or her no longer an enemy.
- The only words that make clear what it means to love your enemies are those that follow immediately: "do good to those hating you. Bless those cursing you, pray for those reviling you (Luke 6:27-28); "and pray in favour of those persecuting you (Matthew 5:44). The other words deal with another subject: non-violence, non-resistance, a strategy for surviving in cases of injustice and violence. The author of Document Q has thus collected in the same collection disparate words, probably coming from the oral tradition, which have circulated independently.
As will be seen later, the demand to love one's enemies is quite unique and is not found in the Old Testament, nor in intertestamentary literature before the year 70, nor in the rest of the New Testament, nor in the works of pagan philosophers of the same period.
- "Love Your Enemies": Is There an Exact Parallel?
The traditions of the ancient Near East were well aware of the wisdom advice concerning non-vengeance. Here are a few examples:
- In Egypt Instruction of Amen-em-Ope, 21.22, 1-8: "Do not say, 'I have found a strong superior, for a man in your city has injured me.' Do not say, 'I have found a patron, for one who hates me has injured me.' For surely you do not know the plans of god, lest you be ashamed on the morrow. Sit down at the hands of the god, and your silence will cast them down."
- In Babylon, Counsel of Wisdom: "Unto your opponent do no evil; your evildoer recompense with goods; unto your enemy let justice [be done]...let not your heart be induced to do evil."
- "Love Your Enemies": Absence in the Old Testament
The Old Testament is a library that covers the lives of various nations and individuals over more than a thousand years. It contains both the best and the worst.
- Non-vengeance in the sapiential tradition
Here are some texts:
- Proverbs 20: 22: "Do not say, 'I will repay evil,' but trust in the Lord who will save you."
- Proverbs 24: 17-18: "If your enemy falls, do not rejoice, do not let your heart rejoice at his stumbling, lest, when you see it, the Lord be displeased and turn away his wrath from him.
- Proverbs 24: 29: "Do not say, 'As he has done to me, so will I do to him, and to every man according to his work will I repay'".
- Proverbs 25: 21-22: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink, heap coals on his head, and the Lord will repay you.
- Ecclesiasticus 28:1-2: "He who takes vengeance will experience the Lord's vengeance who keeps a strict account of sins. Forgive your neighbor his wrongs, then at your prayer your sins will be forgiven."
Let's make some observations:
- In general, the wise man asks not to take revenge, for revenge belongs to God.
- But the image of God that emerges is that of a distant and sovereign being who wishes to remind us of the place of each person in the universe, and that he can take offense of the one who wants to do justice in his place.
- If the wise man asks to take care of the enemy and not to rejoice in his misfortune, it is because he knows that God will act in his time.
- Legislation in the Pentateuch
Here are some texts:
- Exodus 21:23-25: "But if any harm follows, you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, foot for foot, burn for burn, bruise for bruise, sore for sore."
- Exodus 23:4-5: "If you meet your enemy's ox or donkey that wanders, you must bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of the one who hates you falling under his charge, stop standing aside; with him you will help him.
Let's make some observations:
- We are in a different context from the sapiential writings where the sage addresses students to show them the path to success and happiness in life. We are now in a legal context.
- Exodus 21 guides the judge in his decisions in order to avoid the spiral of revenge within the clan.
- Exodus 23 may appear to be a love of the enemy like our text in Luke 6:27, but in fact the context remains casuistic and aims to maintain the solidarity of the people, essential for the survival of the covenant community.
- Hatred of enemies throughout the Old Testament
Here are some texts:
- Deuteronomy 7:2: "The Lord your God will deliver them (the peoples in Canaan) to you, and you shall smite them. You shall utterly destroy them. You shall not make a covenant with them, you shall not show mercy to them."
- Deuteronomy 7:24-25: "He shall deliver their kings into your hands, and you shall blot out their name from under heaven: no man shall stand before you until you have destroyed them. You shall burn the carved images of their gods, and you shall not covet the gold and silver that cover them. If you take them, you will be caught in a snare; for this is abominable to the Lord your God."
- Psalm 139:22: "I hate them with perfect hatred; they are my enemies."
- Psalm 109:6-15: "Bring the wicked man to him, let the accuser stand at his right hand; 7 Let him be found guilty of the judgment, let his prayer be counted as sin; 8 Let his days be shortened, let another take his place; 9 Let his children be orphans, and his wife a widow. 10 His sons, let them wander and wander, let them beg and let them be driven out of their ruins. 11 Let the usurer take all his goods, let the stranger plunder his income. 12 Let not one be merciful to him, let not one have pity on his fatherless children; 13 let his seed be cut off, let their name be blotted out in one generation. 14 Let the Lord remember the iniquity of his fathers, and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out: 15 Let them be before the Lord continually, that he may cut off their remembrance from the earth."
Let's make some observations:
- Hatred and destruction of the enemy nations is an obligation imposed on Israel by Yahweh, the divine warrior, because his people are engaged in a holy war and must eliminate all risk of apostasy.
- In the psalms, a person becomes a personal enemy because he is primarily an enemy of God, doing evil things; hatred of the enemy is primarily hatred of evil.
- "Love your enemies": Absence in Qumran
The dualism typical of Essene thought also marks the rules that guide the community, and therefore call to love the sons of light, i.e. the members of the community, and to hate the sons of darkness, i.e. all others. Here is what the Rule of the Community tells us:
- 1Qs 1:3-4: "(the rule of the community is) to love all that He has chosen and to hate all that He has despised; to depart from all evil."
- 1Qs 1:9-11: "and that they may love all the sons of light, each according to his lot, in the counsel of God; and that they may hate all the sons of darkness, each according to his fault, in the vengeance of God."
It is a little with surprise that we read certain passages where we ask not to take revenge. In fact, it is rather a call for patience until the battle and the final judgment, when God will exercise His great judgment and bring about the final carnage.
- 1Qs 10: 17-20: "I will render to no man the recompense of evil: for I will pursue every man by good; for the judgment of every living creature is with God, and He will pay to every man his recompense.... As for the multitude of the men of the Pit (those doomed for final destruction), I will not seize them until the Day of Vengeance, but I will not bring my wrath away from the perverse men, and I will not be satisfied until He (God) has carried out the Judgment."
In short, talking about love of enemies is unthinkable in Qumran.
- "Love Your Enemies": Absence in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha
- Book of Jubilees
- 22:16: "And you, my son Jacob, remember my words and keep the instructions of Abraham your father. Separate yourself from the nations, do not eat with them, do not act according to their ways, and do not become like them, for their deeds are unclean and all their conduct is unclean, filthy, abominable."
There are references in this Jewish writing to love of one's brother or neighbor, but never to love of one's enemies. The emphasis is on a strict separation from non-Jews.
- Letter of Aristeas
- 207: "Insofar as you do not wish evils to come upon you, but to partake of every blessing, (it would be wisdom) if you put this into practice with your subjects, including the wrongdoers, and if you admonished the good and upright also mercifully. For God guides all men in mercy."
- 225: "'How can one despise his enemies?' He replied, 'By practicing goodwill to all men and by forming friendships, you would owe no obligation to anyone. To practice goodwill to all men, and to receive a handsome gift from God - this is the highest good'"
- 227: "'To whom must a man be generous?' 'It is a man's duty,' he replied, '(to be generous) toward those who are amicably disposed to us. That is the general opinion. My belief is that we must (also) show liberal charity to our opponents so that in this manner we may convert them to what is proper and fitting to them. You must pray God that these things be brought to pass, for he rules the minds of all'"
The ethics of this letter reflects the influence of the Stoicism of Hellenic culture and the Jewish diaspora. It is less a question of loving one's enemies than of demonstrating the superiority of one's own morals and a total detachment from emotions such as anger or anxiety. The expression of one's benevolence only aims at showing one's emotional independence and thus keeping peace of mind, as well as keeping one's distance from the common man.
- Fourth Book of Maccabees
- 2: 14: "And refrain from cutting down fruit trees that belong to the enemies, save a beast that his opponent has let loose, help him to raise the fallen one"
- 9:24: "It is through piety that the righteous Providence, which watches over us as it watched over our fathers, will become propitious to our people and will punish the cursed tyrant (Antiochus)!"
- 12:18-19: "I invoke the God of my fathers to be favorable to my race. But you (Antiochus), He (God) will punish you both in this life and after your death"
- 13:3-5: "But this is not the case here! On the contrary, by reason so praiseworthy with God, they (the seven brothers) have prevailed over the passions. And the supremacy of judgment can no longer be disdained, for they have mastered both passion and pain. How then can one fail to recognize the power of reflection on passion in these young men, who, on the one hand, did not shrink from the sufferings caused by the fire...?"
This book shows two opposite attitudes. On the one hand, we find the stoic mentality, which we have talked about, where the
benevolence in the face of enemies is the expression of the rule of serene reason over stormy emotions. But on the other hand, in the
the martyrdom of the 7 Maccabean brothers, we call for the divine and eternal condemnation of the infamous Antiochus Epiphanes
- Joseph et Aseneth
- 23:9: "Levi said to him, 'Why are you angry with him? Are we not the children of a God-fearing man? It is not fitting for a God-fearing man to return evil for evil to his neighbor"
- 28:4: "Then Aseneth said to them, 'Fear not, do not be afraid, for your brethren are God-fearing men, and they return evil for evil to no one"
- 29:3: "As he was about to strike Pharaoh's son, Levi rushed up, grabbed his hand, and said, 'Never, brother, will you commit such a crime; we are God-fearing men, and it is not fitting for a God-fearing man to return evil for evil, nor to trample underfoot the one who is on the ground, nor to crush the enemy until he dies"
It is possible that this Judeo-Hellenistic text dates probably from the beginning of the 2nd century AD and that a Christian hand added a number of sentences to it. Leaving aside this probability for the moment, we note that the principle of non-vengeance receives an astonishing articulation in it. This principle stemming from the sapiential tradition was widespread in the ancient Near East and in the religions of the Mediterranean world. In this context, it is surprising that Jesus did not use it.
- "Love Your Enemies": Absence in Philo and Josephus
- Philo, On the Virtuess
- 23: (116) "And so, by pouring precept after precept into ears ready to listen, the lawgiver asks to show his humanity (Exodus 23:5). Moreover, if a beast belonging to the enemy succumbs under the weight of its charge and falls under it, he commands the people not to stand aside, but to lighten its load and lift it up, thus teaching through a few isolated examples not to rejoice in the unforeseen misfortune even of those who hate them, knowing that to rejoice in the disasters of others is an evil and odious passion, both similar and contrary to envy; similar to it, because each of these feelings comes from a passion, and these feelings are similar to each other and, so to speak, respond to each other; but contrary to it, because one feeling takes shade from the luck of another, and the other feeling rejoices in the sight of the misfortune of its neighbor. (117) And the law also says: 'If you see the beast that wanders from your enemy (Exodus 23:4), leave the excitement of the quarrel to perverse dispositions, and bring the animal back and hand it over to its owner'; for you will bring him no more advantage than yourself, since he will have gained only an irrational beast that may be of no value, whereas you will obtain the greatest and most valuable thing in nature, excellence. (118) And as out of necessity, as sure as a shadow follows a body, the dissolution of your enemy will follow; for a man who has received a good deed willingly accepts to make peace from now on, as a slave of the goodness shown to him; and he who has bestowed the good, having allowed himself to be counselled by his own good deed, is already ready in his spirit for complete reconciliation"
Philo was deeply influenced by Stoic morality, and so he rereads the Old Testament in the light of Stoicism. Keeping the commandments of the Law becomes a matter of virtue, especially the great virtue of philanthropy or love of human beings. According to him, two philosophical elements underlie the whole Law, personal growth in virtue (being generous reflects on the magnanimous person), and practical diplomacy (ending enmity).
- Josephus, Against Apion
- 2: 10: (121) He (the Jew) also forges an oath by which, he claims, by invoking the god who made heaven, earth and sea, we swear to show no kindness to any stranger, but especially to the Greeks... (123) As for the Greeks, we are too far away from them by places and customs for there to be any hatred or jealousy between them and us. Far from it, it has happened that many of them have adopted our laws; some have persevered in them, others have not had the necessary endurance and have detached themselves from them.
- 2: 28: (209) The legislature's concern for fairness to strangers is also worthy of note: it will be seen that it has taken the most effective measures to prevent us both from corrupting our national customs and from repelling those who wish to participate in them. (210) Whoever wishes to come and live with us under the same laws, the legislator welcomes him with benevolence, for he believes that it is not race alone, but also their morals that bring men together. But he has not allowed us to involve in our intimate life those who come to us in passing.
- 2: 29: (211) His other prescriptions must be stated: to provide fire, water and food to all who ask for it; to show the way; not to leave a body unburied; to be fair even to declared enemies; (212) for he forbids the ravaging of their country by fire, he does not permit the cutting of cultivated trees, and even forbids the robbing of soldiers who have fallen in battle; he has made provisions to keep prisoners of war, especially women, from violence. (213) He taught us so well about gentleness and humanity that he did not even neglect animals deprived of reason; he allowed their use only in accordance with the law and prohibited it in all other cases. Animals that take refuge in houses as supplicants are not to be killed. Neither does it permit the simultaneous killing of parents with their young, and it orders that even in enemy country, labor animals should be spared and should not be killed.
Let us recall the context of this book. Composed around the year 100 AD, it is addressed to anti-Jewish writings that reproach Jews for hating humanity and showing them no benevolence, especially the Greeks. Like Philo, Josephus will insist on the philanthropy and magnanimity of Judaism, on its obligation to do good to strangers, and even to wild animals. However, he will never speak of love, and a call to love one's enemies would be foreign to him.
- "Love Your Enemies": Greco-Roman Philosophers
Surprisingly, it is the Stoic philosophers of the Roman Empire, from Musonius Rufus to Mark Aurelius, who offer us the best parallels to Jesus' command. Let us take two of them that belong to his time.
- On Anger 2: 32: "'But anger has its charms: it is sweet to return evil for evil.' I deny it. If it is beautiful to respond to one benefit with another, it is not beautiful to return insult for insult. In the first case, it is necessary to blush at one's defeat, and in the second, at one's victory.
Revenge! a word which is not man's, and yet it is made synonymous with justice. It differs from provocation only in the order of time. To take revenge, even if only moderately, is to do harm only with a little more right for excuse. A man had, at the public baths, inadvertently hit Marcus Caton without knowing him (for who could have knowingly insulted this great man?). As he apologized: 'I don't remember being hit,' said Caton. He thought that it was better not to notice the insult than to avenge it."
- On Anger 3: 5: "A big heart, sure of what it is worth, does not take revenge, for it does not feel the insult; thus the features bounce off a hard body, and the compact masses painfully affect the hand that strikes them. No, a tall azure is never sensitive to insult: it is always weaker than it. How beautiful it is to surround oneself with an impenetrable aegis that dismisses all the features of offense and contempt! Revenge is an admission that the blow has been dealt, and it is not a strong soul that bends under an insult. Is the man who hurts you weaker than you? spare him; more powerful? forgive him for your own sake.
- On Steadfastness 4: 1: "But then again, won't there be anyone who tries to outrage him? We will try, but the outrage will not reach him. Too great an interval keeps him away from contact with inferior things, so that no harmful power will extend its action to him. When the mighty of the earth, when the highest authority, with the unanimity of a people of slaves, would try to harm him, all their efforts would expire at his feet, as the projectiles driven into the air by the bow or the triggerfish dart as far as the eye can see, only to fall back far below the sky"
- On Benefits 4: 26: "If you imitate the gods, we are told, do good also to the ungrateful: for the sun rises for the wicked, and the sea is open to pirates. Here we are asked whether a virtuous man should do good to an ungrateful one, when he knows his ingratitude. Allow me a word of explanation, so as not to find myself embarrassed by a captivating question. In the system of the Stoics, let us admit that there are two kinds of ungrateful people: one is ungrateful because he is foolish, the foolish is wicked; the wicked has all the vices; therefore he is ungrateful. Thus, all those who are wicked we call them intemperate, avaricious, lustful, envious; not because each of them has all these vices in an eminent and notorious degree, but because they can have them, and indeed do have them, though they do not show them. The ungrateful of the first species is he to whom the vulgar gives this name, and who is naturally inclined and subject to this vice. To the ungrateful of the second kind, who falls into this fault only because he is not free from any vice, the virtuous man will do him good: for he would do no one any good if he excluded such people. But as for the ungrateful man who makes a profession of denying benefits, whose heart is fundamentally devoted to ingratitude, the wise man will no more grant him a benefit than he would lend money to a banker, or entrust it to a man known to be an unfaithful depositary.
For Seneca, as for any Stoic, to be impervious to insults is a way of preserving inner peace. And this peace is all the more important when one knows how short life is. To achieve this, reason must reign over passions. This reason is present only in the great, noble and philosophical being.
- Discourses 3: 4: "When entering the theater, one should not say: 'Come on! Sophron must be crowned' but this: "I will dispose my will in such a way that in this matter it is in conformity with nature, because no one is dearer to me than myself'"
- Discourses 3: 22: Think carefully, know yourself; consult God, do not do anything without God's help, and if he advises you to do so, know that he wants to make you great or to have you beaten up. For this is one of the sweetnesses of the cynic; he must be beaten like a donkey, and when he is beaten, he must, as father and brother of all, cherish (Greek: philein, to love) those who beat him. Far from it, if someone hits you, go to the middle of the public square and write to yourself: "O Caesar! How I am mistreated in the midst of the peace you have established!"
- Discourses 3: 22: "Otherwise it would not torment us and we would not be surprised that the cynic did not marry and have children. My dear, he is the father of the human race, men are his sons, women his daughters; it is in this capacity that he comes close to all, and takes care of all. "
The same absolute control over one's feelings that was observed in Seneca can also be seen in Epictetus. If he refuses to take revenge, it is less out of concern for the enemy than for himself, i.e. the desire to preserve his inner peace and dignity. Similarly, one might be surprised to hear him talk about his desire to take care of everyone. In fact, two factors explain his love of humanity. On the one hand, even though he inherited the Stoic tradition, Epictetus espouses the ideal of the Cynic who wants to be the unmarried apostle of the gods sent on a mission to all humans. On the other hand, in his cosmology he considers that the entire universe is made of the same matter, including the human soul and the gods, so that human reason is a fragment of divinity, and we are all brothers and sisters; to love others, including enemies, is therefore to love oneself. But Epictetus will never issue a direct invitation to love one's enemies.
- "Love Your Enemies": Absence in the Rest of the New Testament
The only passage in the rest of the New Testament where one can hear an echo of the other commandments that accompany the Document Q calling to love one's enemies appears in the epistles of Paul, especially the one addressed to the Romans.
- Romans 12: 9-21 "Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. "
By asking to bless those who persecute us and not to curse, the epistle offers us an echo of both Matthew (5:44: pray for your persecutors) and Luke (6:28: bless those who curse you, pray for those who revile you). The call to pray and bless enemies may belong to a collection of Jesus' words that has been circulated in oral form. On the other hand, when he asks not to take revenge (v. 17), Paul does not call upon any word of Jesus, but upon a sapiential tradition present not only in Deuteronomy 32:35 or Proverbs 21:21-22, but also in the ancient Near East and in the Mediterranean world, as we have seen in Joseph and Asseneth. Thus there is nothing typically Christian about Paul's teaching on non-vengeance. Moreover, despite the echo of Jesus' words inviting us to bless and not to curse the persecutor, but to pray for him, we are surprised at the absence of Paul's direct call to love his enemies.
To affirm that this call to love one's enemies goes back to the historical Jesus, we can therefore apply the criterion of discontinuity, discontinuity with respect to Judaism, the Old Testament, the tradition of the ancient Near East and Greco-Roman culture. What is truly original is the laconic, succinct and peremptory side of the call. And in this, one could invoke the criterion of coherence with what we know of the figure of Jesus, because on several occasions we find in him shocking, brief, sharp formulas: "do not swear", "follow me", "let the dead bury the dead", "what God has united, do not separate".
- The Golden Rule in the Q Tradition
The golden rule takes this form:
|Luke 6: 31||Matthew 7: 12|
|And as you want that the men should do to you, do to them likewise.||Therefore all (things) as many (as can be) that you might want that the men should do to you, in the same way yourself also do to them. For this is the Law and the Prophets.|
Here are its characteristics:
- It is a succinct maxim
- It gives a general direction to human conduct
- It presupposes reciprocity in social interaction.
- One's own desires serve as a yardstick for how one behaves towards others
- This rule does not contain the word "love".
- This rule does not include a direct reference to God.
Strictly speaking, this rule is not a commandment of love, and first of all, it is not a commandment. It therefore has no place in a reflection on the call to love and, as we shall see, there are no solid arguments to trace it back to Jesus. Matthew is the only one to suggest that it summarizes the Law and the Prophets. Perhaps the evangelist got too carried away with the desire to establish an inclusion with the beginning of his discourse on the Mount (5:17: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets: I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill"). Let's consider two major arguments for doubting that the Golden Rule comes from the historical Jesus.
- The golden rule does not meet the criterion of discontinuity
The first thing we know for sure is that Jesus is not the origin of the golden rule. This one has its source in the sapiential tradition of the ancient Near East, inviting us not to take revenge. It is an ethic of reciprocity that probably originated in popular circles and was later widely developed by the Greco-Roman philosophers. The first known formulation in Greek literature can be found in Herodotus (5th century BC):
"You know, Samians, that Polycrates entrusted me with his scepter by his authority, and that today it is up to me to keep the empire over you. But, as far as I can, I will never do what I condemn in others. I have blamed Polycrates for having made himself master of his equals, and I will never approve of the same conduct in another." (History 3: 142)
The one who contributed to the spread of the Golden Rule was the influential sophist and rhetorician Isocrates (436-338 BC):
But set your zeal on this conviction, that the whole will be either prosperous or doomed, because of the state of each party. Do not give less care to my interests than to yours, and do not regard as a small advantage the honors accorded to those who nobly preside over the conduct of our affairs. Respect the property of others, so that you may more safely own your own. (Nicocles or the Cyprians, 49)
"Prove to me your devotion by your deeds even more than by your words. Do not make others feel what they feel is arousing your anger. What you blame in your words, do not realize in your actions. Believe that your fortune will depend on how you feel about me. Don't just praise good people, imitate them." (Nicocles or the Cyprians, 61)
"Be to your parents what you wish your children were to you". (To Demonicus, 14)
At the dawn of the modern era, with the rise of ethical concerns, the golden rule became important in the writings of major philosophers. For Seneca, for example, it belongs to those maxims that are obvious to every human being, without the need for philosophical demonstration.
"Let us give as we would like to be given; above all, let us give willingly, promptly, without hesitation" (On Benefits, 2, 1)
It was probably during this Hellenistic period that Stoic philosophy entered Judaism. A good example is the Letter of Aristeas (207) which we have already seen above, as well as the book of Tobit, probably written in Aramaic in Palestine: Do to no one what you would not like to suffer (4: 13), or Ben Sira: Judge your neighbor according to yourself and in everything be thoughtful (31: 15).
In the rabbinic tradition (see the Babylonian Talmud, b. Sabb. 31a), Rabbi Hillel is said to have answered a gentile, who wanted a brief summary of the Law: "What you hate, do not do to your fellow man. This is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary."
As we can see, it is impossible to apply the criterion of discontinuity because the golden rule was so well known in the New Testament period.
- The golden rule does not meet the criterion of coherence
The main reason why this rule does not meet the criterion of coherence is that Jesus precisely rejected the ethic of reciprocity.
|Luke 6||Matthew 5|
|"32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.||46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? |
|33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.||47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? |
|34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.|
Thus, given the absence of the criteria of discontinuity and multiple attestation, and given the fact that we cannot really have recourse to the criterion of coherence, we must admit that it is probable that Jesus never taught this golden rule, but that this rule was put into Jesus' mouth by Judeo-Christians.
- The Love Command in the Johannine Tradition
- The Theological Context of the Love Command within John's Gospel
- High Christology
In the entire New Testament, the 4th Gospel is the only one to thematize the pre-existence and incarnation of the person of Christ. This is how the entire religious system disappears in favor of the Word made flesh which becomes the basis and standard of everything.
- Strongly Realized Eschatology
The events planned for the parousia at the end of time have already happened with the incarnation of Christ: the final judgment is now taking place and is forcing humanity to take a stand for or against Christ.
- Stark Dualism
Two types of dualism are present in John, the cosmological dualism where heaven, associated with the world of light, and earth, associated with the world of darkness, collide, and the decisional dualism where humanity is divided between believers and unbelievers, those who accept to believe in Christ, and those who refuse.
- The Love Commands: John and the Synoptics Compared
- A different audience
The double commandment of love in Mark 12:28-34 is addressed to a Jewish scribe, while the whole scene is addressed to a very large audience, without a precise figure. The commandment to love one's enemies (Lk 6:27 || Mt 5:44) is addressed first to the disciples, but also to the crowd. In principle, love concerns all men, at least all Jews.
When analyzing John's passages about love, we note that they are concentrated in chapters 13-17 recounting Jesus' last supper. Love then concerns the mutual love of one another within the same community. Here we have the echo of a group of Christians who have cut themselves off from the Jewish world and are experiencing a break within the community itself.
- A different context
Let us read again this passage from John 15:
8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."
In John, love has two dimensions, an ontological dimension and an ethical dimension. In its ontological dimension, mutual love is based on and participates in the love between Father and Son. It thus proceeds from a new existence where the community of love is the very life of the Father and the Son. In its ethical dimension, love becomes service to others as shown in the scene of Jesus' washing of feet and the gift of his life on the cross.
These two dimensions are made explicit by John through the Greek expression kathos (just as, in so far as, to the degree that):
- John 13: 34: "A new commandment I give you: Love one another; as (kathos) I have loved you, so you should love one another."
- John 15: 12: "This is my commandment: Love one another, as (kathos) I have loved you."
"As I have loved you" means that Jesus' love for them is the foundation or starting point (ontological dimension) of the love they will have for one another. This is what is meant by the scene where Jesus gives up the spirit when he dies (Jn 19:30) or where water and blood flows on his side when a soldier pierces him (Jn 19:34): by pouring out his Spirit, Jesus makes possible the love of others. On the other hand, Jesus' love for them is the measure or model (ethical dimension) that they will use to love others; as Jesus loved to the point of giving his life, so should they follow the same path.
In short, this Christological dimension of love that we find in John is totally absent from the synoptic texts. The double commandment of love of God and neighbor in Mark simply brings together two Old Testament passages, and the love of enemies in Document Q may find some parallels in pagan writers, even if they are not exactly the same words.
- The Question of Historicity
The commandment of love in Jn 13:34 and Jn 15:12 appears as an isolated element not only in relation to the other three gospels, but also in relation to the whole of the 4th gospel. One notes the strong imprint of John's special theology on the pre-existence and incarnation of Christ, as well as the eschatology realized. The call to love is inextricably linked to this great theological synthesis and one would search in vain for any nucleus that could be traced back to the historical Jesus.
When John invites the community to love one another, one feels the echo of Leviticus 19:18b which asks to love one's neighbor as oneself. It is possible that the author of the 4th Gospel reread this passage in the context of a major crisis within the community itself and in the context of its high theology.
It will have been noted that John's gospel never speaks of love of enemies. No one has greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you" (John 15: 13-14). On the other hand, it is not said that one should hate the "sons of darkness" as in Qumran. But in this isolated and besieged community, a position in the face of enemies is not a topic of discussion.
- The Love Command in the Johannine Epistles
In fact, only John's first epistle presents elements likely to be of interest for our analysis. Even though it has only 5 chapters, it uses the Greek verb agapaō (to love) 28 times, more often than almost any other book in the New Testament, and the noun agapē (love) 18 times, more than the 7 occurrences of John's gospel. We do not know the author, which seems to be different from the gospel. But the occasion of this letter seems to be a dispute in the community about the correct interpretation of the 4th Gospel, which led to a schism: the secessionists would have accentuated the divine dimension of Christ to the point of almost completely erasing the salvific meaning of Jesus' human life and his real death; it borders on Gnosticism.
The author of the epistle will therefore accentuate the human and incarnate dimension of Jesus' earthly life and the atoning for our sins of his death. His message focuses on two points:
- Christian faith involves faith in the Son of God becoming truly human, assuming a true human body and knowing the sufferings of a true death for our sins;
- The love of one's brothers in the community must be embodied in practical acts of charity.
When he speaks of love, the author makes no explicit reference to Jesus as its source, as we have seen in Jn 13:34 or Jn 15:12, but he could indirectly echo the double commandment of God's love and love as we have seen in the Synoptics :
- 1 John 4: 20-21: "Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also."
It combines the love of God and the love of neighbor, which are both bound together, and it is a commandment and a commandment that goes back to God.
On the other hand, there are notable differences with the text of the Synoptics.
- The epistle does not trace this association of two commandments, love of God and love of neighbor, back to an original and unique gesture of Jesus himself.
The only words that are identical with Mark are "love" and "God".
- The epistle speaks of a commandment, in the singular, because in fact it concerns only the love of the brother; the love of God is not presented as a commandment.
In short, the author of the epistle reinterprets a tradition about Jesus preserved in the Johannine community, and this tradition could contain a vague echo of the double commandment of love of God and neighbor. But the present text does not go back to the historical Jesus.
- Concluding Reflections on the Love Commandments
The double commandment of love of God and neighbor is likely to be traced back to the historical Jesus because of its uniqueness:
- Quoting verbatim both Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18b at once
- Quoting them together one after the other, not just one of them
- The fact that, while uniting them, one keeps an order, one is first, the other is second
- The assertion that these two commandments are superior to all other commandments.
Similarly, the call to love one's enemies, as laconically formulated in Document Q, is also likely to be traced back to the historical Jesus because of its uniqueness. On the other hand, the calls to love in the Johannine tradition cannot be traced back to the historical Jesus because they are too much of a large theological synthesis.
By examining these two passages, which are likely to be historical, we can draw a portrait of Jesus, more particularly that of a man deeply rooted in the Jewish Scriptures, a man who accepted to debate certain legal questions and, surprisingly, proved to be one of the first to use the technique of sězārâ šāwâ, a method consisting in bringing together two different texts but with the same key words or phrases so that they could interpret each other. At the same time, he appears as a man open to Hellenistic influence, as can be seen in his call to love enemies, some parallels of which can be found among the Stoic philosophers. If Jesus was able to engage in debates with Jewish scribes without discrediting himself, then we must admit that he had a good knowledge of the Scriptures. And it is legitimate to ask the question: where did this carpenter from a small village receive his training? Unfortunately, the answer to this question will forever remain unknown to us.
What is clear at the end of this chapter is that Jesus took a stand on the Law as a whole. This is revealed in his response to the scribe when he speaks of the love of God as the first commandment and the love of neighbor as the second, thus affirming that love is supreme in the Law.
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