Friday, June 14, 2024

It's all about gratitude

Thus, for Seneca, the essence of a benefaction is not its content, the favor or gift contributed by one party to another, but the goodwill in which it is given: as a Stoic, his primary focus is on the animus, not the res (2.34—35; 6.2.1). What matters about a benefaction is not what is given or how much it is worth (which may be determined by fortune, good or bad), but how it is given (15.3); it is at this, the deepest, level that human relationships are most powerfully formed. At the same time, and for the same reasons, what matters about the return is not the thing reciprocated but the grateful attitude of the beneficiary: since Stoics refer all things to the animus (2.31.1), what a benefit aims to achieve is not an external counter-gift but an internal virtue, gratitude.—J. M. G. Barclay, Paul and the Gift, 48

Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Roman Republic's collapse

The Roman Republic collapsed as powerful individuals sacrificed the common interests of the state to their quest for political supremacy, and in place of this dysfunctional pluralism Augustus eventually emerged as the supreme patron of the Roman state. Although Augustus and his successors certainly curtailed the exercise of senatorial patronage in Rome, and developed their own direct patronage of the Roman plebs, it would be a mistake to regard the emperor’s universal patronage as entailing a monopoly of patronal power.—J. M. G. Barclay, Paul and the Gift, 38

<idle musing>
Hmmm... sounds suspiciously familiar, doesn't it?
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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Euergetism and taxation (Greek)

In recent years, particular attention has been given to a form of public gift relation, “euergetism,” that is prominent in the inscriptional record of Greek cities deep into the Roman era. With roots in the royal gifts made by kings to their subjects, a form of civic benefaction arose in the Greek city-states where members of elite families were expected to perform “voluntary” services (λειτουγίαι) for their fellow citizens while exercising a variety of civic roles, including magistracies. In time, a large array of public benefits might be fulfilled in this way: the construction and refurbishment of public buildings, the provision of military equipment and defences, the dedication and enhancement of temples (together with the public sacrifices, feasts, and banquets associated with the worship of the gods), the funding of games and choral competitions, the equipment of gymnasia, and the performance of embassies, priesthoods, and civic administration — all, or chiefly, at their own expense. In most cities, where taxation was inadequate for “extraordinary” expenses, these burdens were shouldered by a small number of wealthy families, whose unequal status was tolerated by their fulfilment of such services.—J. M. G. Barclay, Paul and the Gift, 32

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

The more things change…. SCOTUS and Pericles (5th cent. BCE Athens)

A parallel restriction of the power of gift-reciprocity is evident in laws concerning the administration of justice. Because gifts expect, and oblige, a return, those invested with judicial roles who are also embedded in gift relationships, and therefore have obligations to their benefactors, are liable to skew their assessment of legal disputes. Hence Pericles’ innovation, in fifth-century Athens, that citizens who took part in judicial hearings should receive payment from the state (a source that commits them to the interests of the city) —and this to counter the power of Cimon, whose gifts to his demesmen kept them beholden to him. Wherever we find civic oflicials swearing to conduct their roles without regard to favors, and judges required to refuse gifts, we find the clash between two transactional regimes, the regime of the gift, with its strong personal ties of loyalty and reciprocation, and the regime of civic-legal power, which claims a higher authority within its own domain.—J. M. G. Barclay, Paul and the Gift 30

<idle musing>
The more things change, the more they remain the same, eh? Not much has changed in 2500 or so years. Think SCOTUS, gits, and justice. Which one suffers when SCOTUS accepts gifts? (Hint: it isn't the gift-giver!)
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Tozer for Tuesday

Normally, we draw a conclusion based on evidence rather than go along with feelings. Carnal Christians tend to live by their feelings. First, they must have what they call a good atmosphere in the church and then they have had a good time. If there is not a good atmosphere, they do not have a good time. If this continues, they will look for a place more conducive to having a good time. They are more or less victims and fools of their environment.—A.W. Tozer, Reclaiming Christianity, 121–22

Monday, June 10, 2024

do ut des, but…

The common representation of Greek and Roman) religion as do ut des (“I give that you may give”) is right to recognize the reciprocity ethos of ancient religious practice, but is wrong in putting one-sided stress on the human giver as the initiator of the gift-cycle, and in suggesting a crude commercialism in the transaction. Just as friends are engaged in continuous cycles of benefit exchange, without calculating who started the process or totting up precisely what each benefit is worth, so Greek (and Roman) worshipers gave honor, gratitude, and gifts to the gods to recognize and continue the bonds of benevolence between them, always with the potential that the relationship may go sour. Among other things, such gifts made clear who were fitting recipients of the favors that the gods would distribute to worthy (e.g., pious and grateful) partners in such an exchange.—J. M. G. Barclay, Paul and the Gift 28

Friday, June 07, 2024

Grace. What in the world is it?

More fundamentally, what do we mean by “grace”? In the Christian tradition, the nature of “grace” has been the subject of intense controversy and polemical redefinition; the term comes to us already over-determined by particular connotations. It is the strategy of this book to place the relevant terms and concepts, both those of Paul and those of his fellow Jews, within the category of “gift.” This is not to say that all the vocabulary we take into our purview is best translated as “gift”: in some cases, even for χάρις, that is manifestly not the case. It is rather to claim that the conceptual field we are studying, with its varied terminology, is best captured by the anthropological category of gift. This category is broad, but covers a sphere of voluntary, personal relations that are characterized by goodwill in the giving of some benefit or favor and that elicit some form of reciprocal return that is both voluntary and necessary for the continuation of the relationship. Hence, our study is confined to no single term (and certainly not to χάρις); its focus is on concepts, not words. Among other things, by approaching this topic through the category of gift we hope to gain some analytical distance from the specific theological meanings of “grace,” even where we continue to use that term.—J. M. G. Barclay, Paul and the Gift 2–3

Thursday, June 06, 2024

Relax and smile!

Thus, given that we live under a smiling, relaxed, all-forgiving, and all-powerful God, we too should relax and smile, at least once in a while, because, irrespective of anything that has ever happened or will ever happen, in the end, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and every manner of being shall be well.”—The Holy Longing, 241

<idle musing>
That's the final snippet from this book. I hope you enjoyed it and found some beneficial thoughts in it. I know I did.

Next up is John Barclay, Paul and the Gift. It's a monster of a book, but extremely interesting.
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