The Chreestology of Ephesians

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Re: The Chreestology of Ephesians

Post by mbuckley3 »

Peter, many thanks for taking up my suggestion on a related thread that the 'inclusive' method of interpreting the Χριστος/Χρηστος data, pioneered by John Moles, was worth considering; and especially for doing the hard yards to provide generous excerpts from his essay.

There's another example (minor but intriguing) which I think is worth sharing. That χρηστος was commonly an epithet of a dead man is uncontroversial. Moles takes this a step further with the locution ποιειν χρηστον/ 'to make [someone] good/worthy' being a euphemism for 'to kill.' He entertains the possibility that this usage was more widespread than is apparent from literary sources.

The direct evidence is in Plutarch :

Greek Questions 5 (Moralia 292B) :
"Who are the 'good' [χρηστοι] among the Arcadians and the Spartans ? When the Spartans had come to terms with the Tegeans, they made a treaty and set up in common a pillar by the Alpheius. On this, among other matters, was inscribed : 'The Messenians must be expelled from the country; it shall not be lawful to make men good [και μη εξειναι χρηστους ποιειν].' Aristotle, then, in explaining this, states that it means that no one shall be put to death because of assistance given to the Spartan party in Tegea."

Roman Questions 52 (Moralia 277B-C) :
"Why do they sacrifice a bitch to the goddess called Geneta Mana and pray that none of the household shall become 'good' [χρηστον αποβηναι] ? ............Or, because of the fact that the dead are gracefully called 'the good' [χρηστους], are they in veiled language asking in their prayer that none of their household may die ? One should not be surprised at this; Aristotle, in fact, says that there is written in the treaty of the Arcadians with the Spartans : 'No one shall be made good [χρηστον ποιειν] for rendering aid to the Spartan party in Tegea'; that is, no one shall be put to death."

Indirect evidence comes from Tacitus, Annals 15.44.2, the Nero persecution passage, if read as including bilingual punning. Moles writes (p.951) :
"Karrer, following the main-text Liddell and Scott interpretation of χρηστος as = 'dead" in the Aristotle fragment, sees in the Tacitus passage a malign Roman folk etymology of 'Chrestiani', and this brilliant suggestion, which seems to have eluded Tacitean scholarship, is surely right : 'af-fecit...Chrestianos' and " est' gloss χρηστον ποιειν = 'kill'. Here again, given also 'suppliciis' (characteristically, and certainly here, of the punishment of death), one recalls the common application of χρηστος to the dead."

With this possibility in mind, consider the appearance of Jesus before Pilate in the gospels of Mark and Matthew. In Mark, Pilate, addressing the crowd, twice styles Jesus (unnamed) as 'the king of the Jews' (15.9,11). In his rewrite, Matthew deletes this term and replaces it with 'Jesus called Chreestos' (27.17,22). The first instance is immediately glossed by the 'righteous one' intervention of Pilate's wife; chreestos as 'good/worthy'. The second contains a ποιειν χρηστον overtone, i.e. 'execution', which is glossed by the immediate response, 'let him be crucified' : Τι ουν ΠΟΙΗΣΩ Ιησουν τον λεγομενον ΧΡΙΣΤΟΝ/ΧΡΗΣΤΟΝ. It is a very skilful edit.


On a more general point, John Moles was convinced that the same bravura punning found in self-consciously classical writers was also evident in the NT; this was how ancient texts 'worked'. As Jane Heath notes in her introduction to his NT essays (pp.515-6), methodologically this was only an assumption : "Often the proof of the pudding is in the eating : it is because the insights gleaned in this way are so rich that they carry conviction."

Moles never claims that his 'inclusive' results tell the whole story of the Χριστος/Χρηστος phenomenon. On the one side, there is that long riff from Theophilus of Antioch on Χριστος as 'anointed' (Ad Autolycum 1.12). On the other, "Christian adoption of the eta form can sometimes have active force : to dilute Jesus' Jewishness, by subtracting the notion of Messiahship inherent in the original term, or to point positive theological reflections" (p.938).

But as Neil is wont to remind us, literary analysis, an examination of what is 'going on' in a text, is an essential preliminary to any attempt to extract 'facts' from that text.
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Re: The Chreestology of Ephesians

Post by Secret Alias »

I knew that Plutarch example too. Good point Mr Buckley.
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Peter Kirby
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Re: The Chreestology of Ephesians

Post by Peter Kirby »

Ken Olson wrote: Sun Feb 18, 2024 6:04 am Peter Kirby's recent post on The Chreestology of Ephesians has introduced a lot of data that complicates our understanding of both χρηστός and ἀγαθός . I have not thought out what all the implications of the post are.

If you do have any thoughts here, I would love to hear them.
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