2019-03-08

Love of Enemies in Antiquity

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by Neil Godfrey

Quotations from an article I followed up for some reason I can’t quite recall. For those interested, and at the cost of misleading readers into thinking the author’s article was overly complimentary of pre-Christian thought …..

On the other hand there is a thought which can be found in the tradition of the Roman Stoics Musonius, Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius which leads the reader in the direction of this ethic. Musonius maintains that a true philosopher would never take someone to court for slander. He doesn’t mind being abused, beaten or spat at because he realizes ‘that human beings commit most sins as a result of ignorance or lacking knowledge [namely of the real good and evil]; they stop as soon as they have been taught otherwise’. The Stoa and the whole of pagan antiquity doesn’t know of original sin. Musonius overlooks the phenomenon of the weakness of human will too. So he arrives at a naive anthropological simplicity like that. But because of this conviction the philosopher as Musonius sees him is constantly ready to practise forbearance (συγγνώμη) and regards retaliation (άντιποιεΐν κακώς) and ‘biting back’ (άντιδάκνειν) to be beneath contempt. It is not suffering injustice that is humiliating in his view, but doing injustice.44 Epictetus goes a step further than Musonius when he declares that it is part of the life of a true cynic that while being beaten like a donkey, he does not cease loving the person beating him, as if he were his father or brother.45

44 Muson. Io (see O. Hense 52-7. Here there are parallels, too.) We find these thoughts also in Marcus Aurelius’s writings, e.g. 6.6; 7.22.26; 8.51; 9.13; 18.15-18. The word in 7.22 is often wrongly translated: here it is not a question of loving those who have sinned against us, but of loving those who have fallen (τούς πταίοντας). Seneca and Epictetus only deal with variations on the thoughts of Musonius. Cf. John Piper, ‘Love your enemies‘ (SNTSMS 38; Cambridge, 1979) 21-7.

45 Arr. Epict. diss. 3.22.53f.

. . . .

In Plato’s dialogue Crito Socrates puts forward a principle and from it deduces two conclusions which signify a revolution in fundamental Greek convictions. The principle is: One may never commit injustice (ούδαμώς δει άδικεΐν).’ The conclusions: so one may not repay injustice with injustice either (άνταδικείν) or evil with evil (άντικακουργείν).47

47 Pl. Cri. 49b/c.

Reiser, Marius. 2001. “Love of Enemies in the Context of Antiquity.” New Testament Studies 47 (04).
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Neil Godfrey

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3 Comments

  • 2019-03-08 16:52:34 GMT+0000 - 16:52 | Permalink

    Interestingly, “love your enemies” is first found in Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount and is part of the double tradition. The closest precursor to this appears to be 1 Corinthians, which talks a lot about love, but doesn’t explicitly say “love your enemies”.

    David Oliver Smith, I believe, make a case that the Sermon on the Mount is derived from the letters of Paul, embellished by the author of Matthew, which makes sense.

    Of course, ironically, this apparently late addition to the material, by the author of Matthew, is considered by “Qists” as “early” material that is likely an “authentic saying” of Jesus because of course they transport the double tradition material back in time to the earliest accounts of Jesus (despite the obvious fact that it was produced in the last first century at best, if not the early 2nd century).

  • Pingback: Love of Enemies in Antiquity — Vridar | James' Ramblings

  • Neil Godfrey
    2019-03-10 00:54:41 GMT+0000 - 00:54 | Permalink

    And some researchers (e.g. Crossan) have seen the Q material as influenced by Cynic philosophy, and (e.g. Engberg-Pedersen) Paul himself as strongly influenced by Stoic philosophy.

    As we know, many critical scholars reject 1 Cor 13 as authentic to Paul.

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