jesus the cynic?

It’s interesting to view Jesus scholarship over the last 50 years. Most of it seems to reflect more on the political climate of the era it was written rather than on the actual historical Jesus, i.e. by turning Jesus into “Jesus the Revolutionary”, “Jesus the Mystic”, “Jesus the Philosopher”,etc.

It’s an easy mistake to make. Arguably I make it when I refer to Jesus as a “populist” figure of the time (I don’t mean that as a compliment. I mean that in its most literal sense: Jesus was addressing working class problems in a religious/political context.) It’s very difficult to separate our biases from the subject being analyzed, especially one as controversial as the historicity of Jesus.

I think there’s a (growing) minority consensus that Jesus took some influence from the Cynics. Some quack scholars might even say he was an outright Cynic.

I think this is an interesting question. In my view, the majority of mainstream scholars, both Christian and secular, wish to paint Jesus as a figure that almost emerged from a vacuum. It makes sense actually. All of the earliest, independently attested documents (The hypothetical Q…which survives almost in its entirety between the Gospels of Matthew and Luke…the epistles of Paul, Gospel of Mark, and Josephus) make no mention of Jesus’s origins (Q and Mark both start with the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist). So an attempt to say anything about Jesus’s influences, other than that of John the Baptist, would be pure conjecture. But there are some interesting parallels between Jesus and the Cynics: Mark 6:8, the location of Nazareth and its proximity to an apparent hotbed of Cynicism, Jesus’s confrontational style and eschewing of fame and fortune, embracing of poverty, etc. etc.

But read the Cynic texts. To the Cynics, Diogenes was their “Christ figure”. They all tried to emulate him. And to be honest, he was a disgusting asshole. While Diogenes definitely had his influence, I doubt he would have accumulated very many personal followers. I mean, many might have tried to ACT like him, but there’s no way anyone could have spent more than 10 minutes around him. Jesus, meanwhile, was probably trying to do something entirely different and would have certainly disapproved of things like…I dunno…MASTURBATING and SHITTING in public.

In my humble view, the Cynic modus operandi was likely something that was in the air at the time which some itinerant and apocalyptic preachers might have adopted. But just because that aesthetic was in vogue at the moment doesn’t mean that they were practicing Cynics.

While it’s fun to speculate, the simplest explanation is probably the correct one: Jesus was an apocalyptic Jewish preacher preaching to a mostly Jewish audience.

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