154: JESUS WAS A LOWER CLASS POWER-BROKER

“Welcome to Zingcreed – a Christian/Atheist manifesto. In this blog I muse aloud about religion and life for my own benefit. Should you care to eavesdrop, I hope you get something out of it!” Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.

First I’ll look at class then at brokers.

The Roman Empire was an agrarian society, characterised by the forging of iron ploughs, the harnessing of animal traction, and the use of wheel and sail to move goods. It was also characterised by an abysmal gulf separating the upper from the lower classes. (i)

The class divisions probably looked something like this:- (Upper classes first)

 Richest 1%

  • Rulers and governors
  • Owned half the land, received about 50% of the wealth (iii)
  • Urban, hellenised, literate

Second richest groups (top 10%) if combined with the top 1% above received about two thirds of the wealth.

  • Priests, owned upto 15% of the land
  • Retainers, bureaucrats, generals
  • Merchants, often wealthy, some political clout

Middle classes

  • Did not exist

THE GREAT DIVIDE

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Below this divide, lie the remaining 90% of the population, who produced most of the wealth yet retained only about one third of their production. Why? Tithes, taxes and the ownership of the land. (iii) This 90% was divided up as follows:_

The peasants (a) owning their own land

  • The vast majority of the population
  • Two thirds of their annual harvest went as tribute to  the upper classes (who provided little or nothing in return) (ii p.31)
  • Lived at subsistence level – or below
  • Prey to drought, flood, disease, debt and illness
  • At risk of being forced off their own land

The peasants (b) not owning their own land

  • sharecroppers
  • tenant farmers
  • slaves
  • indentured labourers

Artisans even poorer than the peasantry

  • About 5% of the population
  • Recruited from dispossessed peasants
  • Went where the work was
  • Included ‘tektons’ like Jesus, often translated as ‘carpenter’ but this can be misleading as carpenters today are skilled middle class people often earning good money. The term ‘labourer’ or ‘day labourer‘ would give a better idea of his work. Polish day labourers in London can be seen in the early hours of the morning outside builders’ supply yards when builders drive in to pick up their materials for the day. The lucky ones get a day or more’s casual work, cash in hand. Whether they get above the minimum wage is anyone’s guess. Some of them sleep in tents in woodland, under railway arches or under tarps in hidden places (I’ve seen all 3 near where I live). Wasn’t it Jesus who said “The son of man hath nowhere to lay his head”?

The degraded class

Outcasts because of their origins, conditions or occupations. I’m not sure what Crossan means by this. Lepers? Tanners? Swineherds? If I get clarification, I’ll come back to this blog and insert it.

The expendables

  • about 10% of the population
  • beggars, outlaws, some day-labourers, hustlers, thieves
  • they were surplus to requirement as far as agrarian society was concerned, but a useful pool of unskilled labour should the need arise

Class struggle
The art of everyday resistance  of rural people is the prosaic but constant struggle between the peasantry and those who seek to extract labour, food, taxes, rents and interest from them.  Jesus and his family most likely participated in foot dragging, dissimulation, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, arson, sabotage,and so forth. (ii p.72)

Jesus and the other classes

Although a ‘mere’ illiterate labourer, there are hints that Jesus mixed with people of a higher class than his own. “The gospels certainly imply that …Jesus networked with both poor and rich. …It is notable that Jesus networked with people of the upper strata of Palestinian society as well as the lowest strata. He seems to have been welcomed by those of means.” (ii)

For example
(a) Jesus helped the Centurion in Capernaum”
(b) Jairus  (Mk 5:22)
(c) Levi (Mk 2:15)
(d) The Pharisee (Lk 7:36-50)
(e) Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10)
(f) these contacts are corroborated in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Lk 18:10-13)
(g) The parable of the feast shows that Jesus was quite familiar with such affairs (Q 14:16-24)
(h) He had contact with someone in the Upper City (rich quarter) of Jerusalem (Mk 14:13-15)

Patrons, clients and brokers

Maybe the ‘three layer sandwich’ class approach to understanding the context of Jesus’ life is too modern; are we trying to squeeze an old round post into the square hole of industrial society? Crossan mentions a pivotal set of values in Mediterranean society which while not necessarily replacing class at least complement it usefully.(Crossan op.cit. p.107)
This very polarised society was held together by many cross links of patronage and clientage, i.e. those without power could be clients (providing loyalty and services) to the patrons (who provided benefits) above them, and those patrons could themselves be clients to others far more powerful than themselves.

A broker or second order client is a patron to those below him and a client to those above.He is well-networked  and assists clients in connecting to the primary resources of patrons. (Oakman op.cit. p. 32) The broker thus plays an important role in social contexts like the countryside of agrarian civilisations, where villagers tend to be oriented to the horizon of the village or have limited connections in town or city. Special needs have to be handled somehow, and a broker can help to mediate Everybody was openly after influence. The system gave hope or a chance in life to the lower classes, but at its worst it confirmed dependency, maintained hierarchy, sustained oppression, and stabilized domination.
Society resembled a mass of little pyramids of influence, each one headed by a major family or autocrat. Quite different from the triple decker class society we are familiar with in the west.

Jesus as power-broker (Oakman op. cit. p.83)

(a) As a healer, Jesus brokers power between God and man. “He developed a reputation as an effective broker and garnered a network. The centurion …asks Jesus for help. In responding, Jesus brokers the power that heals the centurion’s slave. The centurion becomes a client of the Power”. (Oakman’s  synonym for the metaphor ‘Kingdom of God’.)

(b) Reverse broking: some of his meals provided opportunities  to appeal  to the ‘haves’ to help the ‘have-nots’. Jesus could in other words work against the standard Herodian patronage (exploitation of the villagers for the benefit of the elites)  Jesus could broker a patronage counter to that of the dominant order, which would benefit the sick and the destitute and represent a different kind of patronage at the behest of the Power. “Jesus was active as a subversive broker of the Power – the definitive court of appeal and weapon of the weak wielded under the Herodian order.” (p. 84)

 

TO BE CONT (Oakman index p. 191 power-broker and outcasts/degraded class)

Sources:
(i) Crossan, J.D. “Jesus: A Revolutionary biography” Harper (1994) p.27
(ii) Oakman, D. “The political aims of Jesus” Fortress Press, (2012) p.32, 83
(iii) Boulton, David “Who on earth was Jesus?” O Books (2008) p.228

Related Posts on Zingcreed:

Jesus dark side 
Small dark ugly and illiterate – the real Jesus 
Nazareth a.k.a. “Nowheresville” 
Jesus was a sage, not a priest prophet or king
Wilderness
Jesus the subversive
Jesus’ real political message
Red Christian documents #24: Jesus’ Revolutionary Politics by Miranda

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One comment

  1. […] dark side Jesus was a lower class power-broker Jesus was a sage, not a priest, prophet or king Nazareth […]

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