2020-01-29

Once more on Jesus’ humble origins and that presumed criterion of embarrassment

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by Neil Godfrey

Concerning Aesop’s lowly origin:

While Aesop is defined βιωφελέστατος in the incipit of the Vita, meaning ‘very useful for life’, ‘great benefactor of mankind’, he is, in effect, an ugly and misshapenslave of Phrygian origin who, throughout most of the biography, is at the service of his master, Xanthus. In his case too, it is the modest, or better, lowly, origins which make the hero’s life so remarkable.

Andreassi, Mario. 2015. “The Life of Aesop and the Gospels: Literary Motifs and Narrative Mechanisms.” In Holy Men and Charlatans in the Ancient Novel, edited by Stelios Panayotakis, Gareth Schmeling, and Michael Paschalis, 151–66. Ancient Narrative Supplementum 19. Barkhuis. p. 154
It’s almost as if Jesus had grown up in Bethlehem the evangelists, who wanted to give him the most remarkable career imaginable, would have invented his move to a one donkey hick town like Nazareth just to make his splash on the world even more astonishing.
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3 thoughts on “Once more on Jesus’ humble origins and that presumed criterion of embarrassment”

  1. For what it’s worth, The Gospel of Philip (Nag Hammadi Scriptures) says that Nazara means “truth,” and so “the Nazarene” means “truth.” “The apolstles who came before us used the names Iesous nazoraios messias, which means “Jesus the Nazorean, the Christ.”. . . “the middle name is ‘the Nazarene.'” (Meyer, HarperCollins 2008: 169).

    1. Yes, I find the arguments that the “of Nazareth” tag on Jesus’ name really began as a cult identity. The “sect of the Nazarenes” more likely had something to do with a term meaning “observant” — or “truth” as you point out. I am quite sure for reasons already covered elsewhere, as perhaps you are too, that Jesus was never known to be “from Nazareth” until an evangelist made that connection in one of the gospels, likely an attempt to deny the original term.

  2. Another detail that undermines the criterion of embarrassment assumptions is that the early “church fathers” did opine that Jesus was ugly (based on Isaiah – “no form or comeliness”), and Aesop was also depicted as misshapen and ugly. It’s all part of the idea of God using the humblest of vessels. People do “make up” such “embarrassing” things about heroes as part of the way of exalting their genuine superiority and divine favour.

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