Friday, November 3, 2017

gratitude in Greek votive and hymn

Jan-Maarten Bremer tag-teams it with Robert Parker in Reciprocity in Ancient Greece, Bremer writing on "reciprocity" as expressed in votive gifts and prayers/hymns, while Parker tackles sacrifice. I've seen Parker's essay cited frequently, but Bremer's article also deserves to be better known.

Introducing the votary evidence, Bremmer remarks that, "In a discussion of religious gratitude one cannot neglect the impressive corpus of votive-offerings presented to the gods by Greeks from all ways of life. When they were poor, in bad health, or threatened by enemies they prayed to a god and promised her or him a gift; when their hope had been fulfilled, the danger averted, their efforts crowned with success, they put up a gift for the god in return; these gifts, however small, were monuments of gratitude." (130). 

Similarly, though humans rarely make explicit expressions of gratitude, Bremmer argues that the form itself pushes us in that direction: "The sheer fact that hymns commemorate and praise the gods for their presence, their power, and their gifts to mankind confers on these texts the status of thanksgiving. It is important to keep in mind that in ancient Greek, gratitude was expressed in terms of praising, an important point made by Quincy (1966). When Greek wanted to say 'thank you', they said: 'That is excellent, I praise you', [kallist', epaino]." (134)  

The hymnic paean was an attention-getting measure: "worshippers invoke the divinity with a paean because they hope that this god is going to rescue or heal them" (135). But Greeks "often sang a paean also after the event, when they realized that they had been saved fro the danger. At these moments the paean must have fulfilled the function of a thankful outburst in the direction of the saving god who had demonstrated that he deserved to be invoked as such." (136) 

A lex sacra published by Wilamowitz (1909) is worth remembering: "All persons who--after a (successful) incubation--bring a sacrifice in return to Asklepios and Apollo, or who bring such a sacrifice according to a vow which they made--when such a person puts the sacred portion [which is to be burnt] on the altar, then he must first sing this paean around the altar of Apollo, three times ie Paioon, o ie Paioon."

Such practice looks pretty similar to Israel. Bremmer's essay makes a nice complement to de Hemmer Gudme's excellent recent treatment of Yahwistic votary practice.

Bremmer: "the essential asymmetry between human and god exludes 'reciprocity of gifts' in the sense of equivalence," -- certainly, but also, "all this 'traffic' between god and man should not be seen in a framework of contract (do ut des), but in one of goodwill and friendship" (133).

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

gift and memento

Some of the conclusions from de Hemmer Gudme's very fine study on votive offerings/inscriptions and their result in "good remembrance":

"To sum up, there are several examples in biblical literature of cultic actions or objects said to serve as reminders before Yahweh. In some cases these are symbolic representations or persons that are literally brought to the deity's attention by being brought into the deity's presence, as in the case with the onyx stones on the Ephod and the gem stones on the breastplate in Exodus 28. In other cases the reminders are prescribed ritual acts like the sounding of the trumpets in Numbers 10:9-10 and we see gifts of money or treasure donated to the sanctuary described as reminders before Yahweh in Exodus 30:16 and Numbers 31:54. Thus, in both biblical literature and in the votive inscriptions containing a version of a remembrance formula there are very similar ways of thinking of the remembrance of a deity. To be remembered by the deity is desirable, equal to blessing, and expected to be beneficent both for the person remembered and her or his dependents and relatives. Furthermore, the desired 'good remembrance' can be obtained by offering gifts and worship to the deity.

"Of course there is a possibility that the formulaic language of remembrance in our inscriptions has been formalized to a degree where it has become 'frozen' and therefore 'meaningless' in Fritz Staal's sense of the word. However, if we dare to assume that this is not the case, our material shows an extraordinary similarity in the ways of thinking about blessing, materiality and giving gifts to the gods and in the practices that are a reflection of these ideas. We find this closeness of ideas and practices not only between the inscriptions from Mount Gerizim and biblical literature, which perhaps comes as less of a surprise, but also from contemporary religious systems in the Levant.

"In both literary texts and inscriptions there is a recognition of the close link between material objects and memory and how the deity's good remembrance may be obtained by placing a material representation of the worshipper, an index, in the sanctuary which is the place where the deity is supposed to be. Thus, Yahweh's good remembrance is secured by the means of two mutually interlinked strategies: the gift establishes and maintains the beneficent social relationship between the deity and worshipper and a memento gift, in the case of Mount Gerizim an inscription, is placed literally in front of the deity to remind him of the gift and to make sure that the worshipper is never forgotten."

(Before the God of this Place for Good Remembrance: A Comparative Analysis of the Aramaic Votive Inscriptions from Mount Gerizim, 146-47)

a God who remembers (and forgets)

De Hemmer Gudme summarizes aspects of the OT's concept of God's memory:

"Generally, in biblical literature Yahweh's remembrance entails more than a mental exercise to recall past events. As Brevard S. Childs puts it, 'God's remembrance has not only a psychological effect, but an ontological as well.' To be remembered by Yahweh is thought to have a tangible beneficial effect for the one remembered; Yahweh remembers (zkr) Noah in the ark in Genesis 8:1 and makes the waters withdraw; and Yahweh remembers the childless Rachel in Genesis 30:22 and opens her womb and similarly in 1 Samuel 1:19 Yahweh remembers Hannah and she conceives Samuel...

"To be remembered by Yahweh is to be taken care of. This is expressed by the parallelism in Psalm 8:5: 'What is man that you remember (tizkerennu) him and mankind that you care (tipqedennu) for him?' In Psalm 115:12 Yahweh's remembrance is described as resulting in blessing. The consequences of Yahweh's good remembrance equal blessings and to some extent the two are the same, but the emphasis on remembrance seems to indicate something more, something personalized -- to be be remembered by the deity is to have the deity's special attention. In the Deuterocanonical Bel and the Dragon 1:38, when food is miraculously brought to Daniel in the Lion's den by the prophet Habakkuk, Daniel exclaims: 'You have remembered me..., God, and have not abandoned those who love you!

"Not to be remembered by Yahweh is described as similar to death: 'like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you do not remember anymore (lo' zekartam 'od) (Ps 88:6).'

"In prayers, Yahweh is frequently implored to remember his worshippers; in Judges 16:28 Samson is preparing to bring the temple of Dagon down on the heads of the Philistines and in the decisive moment he prays to Yahweh: 'My lord Yahweh, remember me (zokreni) and give me strength.' When Hannah prays for a child in the temple at Shiloh in 1 Samuel 1:1 she pleads, 'if only you will look on the misery of your maid-servant, and remember me (uzekartani), and not forget (lo' tiskah) your maidservant....However, it is usually clear from the context that good remembrance is what the worshipper desires particularly because the opposite, bad remembrance, is also a possibility and it is sometimes prayed for as a means of vengeance; in Neh 6:14 and 13:29 Nehemiah begs Yahweh to remember (zokra) his opponents for the things they have done to hinder Nehemiah's plans and in the well-known cry for vengeance in Ps 137:7 the Psalmist beseeches Yahweh to remember (zekor) the Edomites and their part in Jerusalem's fall. In Ps 109:14, the Psalmist prays for vengeance over his accusers: 'May the guilt of his father be remembered before Yahweh.' Just like good remembrance, bad remembrance can be passed on and have consequences for the following generations (cf. Ps 79:8). In 1 Kings 17:18, the widow grieves over the illness of her child and accusingly asks Elijah: 'have you come to bring my sin to remembrance (lehazkir) and to kill my son?' If bad things are happening it is because Yahweh has remembered or has been reminded of a person's transgressions.

"In sum, to be remembered by Yahweh is perceived in biblical literature as having direct and tangible consequences for the persons remembered and their dependents and relatives. Yahweh's good remembrance is desired and prayed for whereas his bad remembrance is feared and wished for only as vengeance over his enemies." (Before the God of This Place for Good Remembrance, 136-38) 

Monday, October 9, 2017

ambiguity of the term "reciprocity"

Notes de Hemmer Gudme: "reciprocity is a notoriously ambiguous term, which is used both in its widest sense as describing any kind of exchange as well as in the present narrower sense describing a particular type of exchange, namely the giving, receiving and reciprocating of gifts and favours" (22-23). Obvious, but important to bear in mind.

Her own operating definition: "Here, I accede to Richard Seaford's definition of reciprocity as 'the principle and practice of voluntary requital, of benefit for benefit (positive reciprocity) or harm for harm (negative reciprocity).' Reciprocity is most commonly conceptualized as involving two parties and in known as direct reciprocity. But indirect reciprocity, involving a third party, is also well-known. Direct reciprocity is straightforward: A offers something, a gift, a challenge, respect, threats, etc. to B who requites it at a later time. Indirect reciprocity is the kindness (or insult) directed at a stranger who is unlikely to make a direct return, but who may extend the courtesy to a third party, C, who does a favour for D and so on until the chain (or net) eventually reaches A." (23)

Friday, October 6, 2017

vows as gifts for the gods

Gudme points out that the evidence suggests that types and purposes of votive actually intermingle:  

"Very often a votive inscription not only contains a thanksgiving for the answering of a prayer or for good fortune, but also an expression of a hope that the deity will continue his or her beneficent activities. Thus a cyclic process is established linking the acts of prayer, answering the prayer, giving thanks and stating a new prayer.

"Folkert van Straten points out the following votive epigram by Callimachus as a good example of votive practice as continuous interaction between man and god: 'Come again, Eilethyia, answering the call of Lykainis, thus alleviating the birth pangs and producing a fortunate delivery. Just as you have now received this, mistress, as thanks for a daughter, so will your fragrant temple receive something else in thanks for a son.' While giving thanks for the recent birth of a daughter the epigram points to a prayer of safe delivery, perhaps accompanied by a vow that has been made in the past, and promises further gifts in the future in case of the birth of a son." (Before the God of this Place, 11)

Gudme goes on to observe that "the differences between the vow-based votive offering, the thanksgiving offering and the free-will offering are mere nuances within the general scope of the broad definition of votive practice." 

In the end, "The common denominator is the aspect of the gift. In all instances we are dealing with a gift dedicated to a deity and the specific dedication is only one instance in an extended relationship of reciprocal exchange." (12)

what's all this clutter doing here...?

Anne de Hemmer Gudme spots an interesting lacuna in the study of ancient religions: there are very few studies that address the meaning of votive practice. Rather, "the focus is primarily on the votive objects themselves, their types, manufacture and style, and less on how the practice of bringing votive offerings to the sanctuary fits into the overall scheme of religious practices" (6). She cites the explanation for this state of affairs offered by Robin Osborne: the circumstance is due to archaeologists' tendency to privilege the object rather the assemblage. 

At least the archaeologists notice the objects. Biblical scholars -- not to mentioned general readership -- routinely overlook them.

Anne de Hemmer Gudme, Before the God of this Place for Good Remembrance. A Comparative Analysis of the Aramaic Votive Inscriptions from Mount Gerizim (de Gruyter, 2013).

Friday, November 4, 2016

distinguishing types of general reciprocity (again)

Zeba Crook is not persuaded by Stephan Joubert, summarized in the last article. Crook disputes Joubert's interpretation both of the literary sources (viz., Joubert has treated Seneca's idealizing and prescriptive text as though it were descriptive) and of the behaviors and motivations typical of each type of reciprocity. Most generally, it's nearly impossible to make a clean distinction between the categories:

"In order to begin to understand the similarities and differences between patronage and benefaction it helps to open with the observation that patronage and benefaction are two types of general reciprocity. As Joubert rightfully points out, they are closely related but not entirely synonymous. However, as he admits on occasion, there was considerable overlap, not the least of which concerned the language used to refer to each...When we allow the common elements to cancel each other out, all that appears to distinguish patronage and euergetism is that patronage was more prone to being political, exploitative, and elitist than was euergetism. In the end, however, we find that the same person could be called a patron and a benefactor (as we shall see below), but it had more to do with the nature of the offering than with the exploitation, real or potential. That is, patronage occurred on a daily level, and tended to have to do with survival (including here career posts), while in contrast benefaction occurred sporadically and tended to have to do with luxury (games, buildings, etc.). Patronage tended to occur between individuals, and thus lent itslef more to exploitation (on this Joubert and Batten are right); this is because it was easier for a patron to exploit an individual relying on his or her largesse (say in the form of a promise of a feast or by forcing a client to follow him or her around town) than it was to exploit a city or association. Nonetheless, exploitation is a secondary feature of patronage, not a defining characteristic of it. Conversely, benefactions tended to be directed at groups of people, like countries, cities, and associations.

"By way of illustrating the difficulty of distinguishing patronage and benefaction too starkly based on any standard, consider the following examples. Were the gods patrons or benefactors? In some instances, what they gave to humans had to do with survival and was given to individual humans (worshippers). This would make them patrons. In some cases, however, the gods gave to 'the Greeks' or to all humanity, and this would have made them benefactors. Is a god who heals a person once a benefactor, but one who establishes a long-standing relationship with that person a patron? Is a slave owner who manumits a slave, something that happens only once, a benefactor? Or if she does so only as a means of extending the service of the slave while receiving credit for manumitting a slave in her service is she a patron? Is the Emperor a patron when he provides a senatorial position and a benefactor when he funds a games [sic]? Cannot what a patron gives be called a benefaction? These questions are rhetorical; their point is to illustrate that the general tendencies of patronage and benefaction do not override the fact that they are often extraordinarily difficult to distinguish from one another." (Reconceptualizing Conversion: Patronage, Loyalty, and Conversion in the Relgions of the Ancient Mediterranean, 64-66) 

distinguishing types of ancient social exchange

After surveying the general evidence for "euergetism" and "patronage" to be found in Greek and Roman sources, Stephan Joubert asks, "Do benefaction and patronage refer to the same form of social exchange between socially disproportionate individuals and/or groups, or to two distinct relationships? In other words, do we have similar exchange relationships in ancient Greek and Roman cultures that were expressed verbally in numerous modes and forms within different socio-historical contexts?" (21)

His answer is No. A closer inspection suggests that the Greeks in general did not understand the "benefits" bestowed upon them as part of Roman rule as entailing patrocinium. "The Romans were rather seen, and duly honored, as powerful benefactors, less frequently as patrons. In other words, the Greeks used well-known honorary concepts from their traditional verbal repertoire and reinterpreted these to honor the Romans, and not so much the typical Roman forms, which were more frequently used in western parts of the Empire." (22) And there are similar indications that the Romans understood patronage as a specifically Roman relationship.

The result is that scholars--and Joubert has in mind biblical scholars in particular--need to distinguish the terms more carefully: "Contrary to the consensus among many scholars that patronage and “euergetism” refer to the same social form of social exchange in the Graeco-Roman world, the available data in my opinion present us with a more nuanced picture--that is, with two different but related forms of social interchange. In other words, in both these relationships we have an exchange of goods and services that leads to mutual obligations, together with differentiations of status and power between the interlocutors. However, the contents of the goods exchanged and the nature of the ensuing social relationships (in terms of the status and reciprocal responsibilities of the individuals/groups) are different." (23)

Specifically, characteristics that distinguish the forms of social exchange are set out as follows:

"Specific forms of patronage were unique to the Roman world in terms of their structure and content, such as the relationship between patrons and freedmen, or that between the emperor and the people of Rome. Official patronage of communities, where the title “patron” was conferred upon individuals who possessed the necessary “qualifications” as determined by the leges Ursonensis and Malacitana, also took on a distinctively Roman shape in terms of both form and content. The same is true of the large clienteles who gathered at the doors of Roman nobles during customary morning salutations. Regarding its social nature, patronage also differed from “euergetism” in terms of the unbridgeable status differentials between patrons and clients that were further enhanced by social exchanges. Patrons remained in the superior social position, even if they failed to reciprocate their clients’ public bestowals of loyalty and honor. “Cliental gratitude” did not place patrons in a submissive position. The harsh realities of Roman life frequently led to exploitation of clients. Although clients could end a relationship in such instances, this was easier said than done. Competition among large groups of would-be clients for the benefactions of a relatively small group of Roman patrons was intense, making it difficult to find new patrons. Socio-economic realities therefore forced many clients to bear with public humiliations and failures to reciprocate on the part of patrons. At the same time patronal “rewards” for the services rendered by clients became more or less fixed around the middle of the first century CE. By the time of Trajan, six cesterces was the “standard” daily payment (Prell: 262).

"Turning to “euergetism,” we also find a number of characteristics that justify distinguishing it from patronage. In terms of public benefaction the evidence makes it clear that benefits were always furnished on all citizens of a specific community, and not just on a few fortunate individuals, as was often the case in patronal relationships. The basic characteristic of civic benefaction was its collective nature. However, in the case of individual benefit exchange between persons and groups of equal or near-equal social status, it was just the opposite. Here the relationships were formed and kept intact by face-to-face exchanges of services and counter-services.

"Other than in patronage, status differentials between public benefactors and beneficiaries were not 'entrenched' by benefit-exchanges. The (collective) recipients of public benefits, for example, seldom took on a submissive role (which was often the case with clients of powerful Roman patrons). On the contrary, in honorary decrees they frequently state how they proudly fulfilled their obligations toward their benefactors, thus placing the latter in their debt once more. In order to maintain their public honor and status, benefactors therefore had to confer further benefits on their communities. In interpersonal benefit-exchanges it was somewhat different. In these face-to-face interactions the change in the roles and status of the interlocutors (that is, from benefactor to beneficiary, and vice-versa), was more accentuated." (23)

[Joubert, Stephen J. "One Form of Social Exchange or Two? 'Euergetism,' Patronage, and Testament Studies." BTB 31 (2001): 17-25.]

Thursday, November 3, 2016

anonymous donors

Susan Sorek, summarizing epigraphic evidence from synogogues in regard to benefactions, draws attention to a possible meaning of occasional anonymity of a donor:

“If the Jewish benefaction system is differentiated [from a Greaco-Roman euergetistic perspective] by the idea that all benefactions originate with God, then all benefactions should encompass a degree of piety, something irrelevant in the Graeco-Roman system. This is clearly manifested in those inscription where the donor remains anonymous. There could be no reason for anonymity other than piety, the belief that God knows what the donor has done, and it is God who will reward the donor, not the community.” (157)

context of a proverb

In a short article from JSOT, Andreas Scherer picks up on the earlier observation of Whybray that "the great majority of Yahweh-sayings in Prov. 10.1-22.16 are intended to reinterpret their contexts either by commenting on single adjacent verses or even playing the leading role in the formation of small groups of proverbs." (59-60) This points to a larger pattern of reinterpretation of one proverb by another, thinks Scherer: "a full exegesis has to deal with both the individual proverb in its original sense and its editorial context, which may place it in a new light. Thus, while the meaning of a single proverb is limited, whereby only a certain kind of experience or conviction is expressed, and the thought restricted to a specific aspect of daily life, or morals, or religion, juxtaposition with other proverbs may create wider themes and applications. Such grouping may even modify the sense of the individual proverb and prevent the reader from misunderstanding what an editor thought was its true sense." (60) 

As Scherer's subtitle suggests, the bulk of the article is a suggestive treatment of passages relating to the themes of surety, bribery, and friendship. In each case, individual proverbs are open to the interpretation that they articulate nothing but a self-seeking attitude--yet their contexts, argues Scherer, prevent us from arriving at this interpretation.

["Is the Selfish Man Wise?: Considerations of Context in Proverbs 10.1-22.16 with Special Regard to Surety, Bribery and Friendship." JSOT 76 (1997): 59-70.]