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.]

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

competing for the city

A couple of paragraphs on Graeco-Roman "euergetism" from Susan Sorek's Remembered for Good: A Jewish Benefaction System in Ancient Palestine:

“The essence of euergetism was that communities, in particular cities, were dependent upon the rich and powerful for their economic and political success. Euergesia was the urge to ‘do good’ by public benefactions, and a euergetes was a’doer of good’, virtues which were highly prized by the elite. The rich saw themselves as fellow citizens of a distinctive community, their city. The euergetai showed their love for their city by giving gifts, either to increase the civic amenities by building temples, gymnasia or other civic buildings, or by giving to a core of citizens, ideally those who were descended from citizens and who had resided there fore many generations. For these acts a rich man would be praised for being philopatrios, a lover of his city. Comparisons were made between one city and other, and so the euergetai, spurred on by this competitive aura, endeavoured by their gifts to make their city the best. It had to outshine its neighbour in the quality of its architecture, resulting in, as the Digest (L 10.3) comments, ‘competition between cities’.

“Euergetism had two sides: it was civic in that it was of benefit to the city or citizens as a whole, but it was also the act of a particular social class, the notables, who gave because they considered themselves to be superior to the mass of people. This second aspect was essential, for euergetism was the expression of political ascendency. The city consisted of those who gave and those who received. The work done by scholars such as van Bremen shows that although euergetai were normally men, it is not unusual to find financially independent women acting as euergetai, especially in Asia Minor, sometimes even ob honorem.” (25-26)

Saturday, October 29, 2016

a means of mutual coercion

Go at summarizing Durkheim, once again from Mary Douglas:

"Durkheim proposed to speak only about social facts, but he based his whole theory of the Sacred on two psychological factors. One was emotional effervescence, the idea that rituals rouse violent, ecstatic feelings, like crowd hysteria, which convince the worshipper of the reality of a power greater than and beyond the self. The other was the emotion of outrage, teh idea of sacred contagion and consequent dangers to the community unleashed by breach of cherished norms. Putting them together he produced a theory of social solidarity: first the loosely associated crowd recognizes its unity in ritually aroused emotions, and then it proceeds to harness the whole universe in an intellectual drive to attribute sacred contagion to individual deviation from its norms.

"Both fear and emotional effervescence are psychological concepts. The former idea--emotional response to sacred contagion--does not present a problem to an anthropologist who really likes Durkheim and expects to make his theory work. Fear of sacred contagion can be transposed from the language of emotions to the sociological language of claims and counter-claims. Zeus's thunderbolts, Apollo's arrows, the floods and plagues of the God of Exodus, when interpreted as punishments, form the distinctively religious part of the local theory of causation. Like the theory of the person, sacred contagion is a moral theory of connections and causes. By its means the members of a community manipulate one another. Sacred contagion serves the oblique objective of making a group of persons into a community; it is a means of mutual coercion and is susceptible of analysis in political and social terms." (1996 Introduction to Natural Symbols, xvi) 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

indebtedness for favors and Stoic paradoxes

Brad Inwood prefaces his discussion of Seneca's use of Stoic paradoxes in the treatise De beneficiis with remarks on the broad interest on the topic among ancient writers:

"It is also worth keeping in mind that [Seneca] was not devoting himself to a topic which is distinctively Stoic. Any philosopher with a serious interest in moral, political, or social philosophy will have had reason to tackle the topic of good deeds. In the De beneficiis Seneca speaks, as he often does, with a Stoic voice about a topic of bread interest.

"Roman society, more than some other hierarchically organized ancient cultures, depended on the reciprocal exchange of services and favours among members of the same social class and also between members of different classes. Patronage and clientela are institutions vital to anyone aiming to understand Roman history and the functioning of Roman society. Seneca swam in the sea of patron-client relations; he used it to further his career and to define his position in Roman society. He knew the institution of giving beneficia and repaying gratia as well as anyone living in Rome. As well, he was a philosopher who read widely and thought acutely about a range of problems, a self-defined Stoic with a solid grasp of the school's traditions, but free of unconditional commitment to specific models and masters." (244)

Inwood ends his discussion of the often indirect, certainly puzzling way that Seneca deployed Stoic paradoxes with remarks on the pedagogical point. Inwood directs attention to the way that giving and receiving (and giving again)--even if it is supposed to bind society together, according to Seneca--also destabilizes society with feelings of indebtedness. In ways that echo and earlier Sage who lived across the Mediterranean pond, Seneca wants to convince his reader that other men's ingratitude shouldn't discourage one from continued giving:

"The justification for such language that Seneca himself gives here is also protreptic, but has a more distinctively social justification. The paradoxical claim, he says, is an exhortatio, designed to reduce our uneasiness about being enmeshed in the giving and receiving of good deeds. Seneca fears, with good reason I think, that in a hierachical society with dramatic disparities of wealth and power people will be reluctant to take on the potentially insupportable burden (II.35.3) of such relationships. The feeling that one can never repay what one has been given is an oppresive one, which underminds the social bonds forged by beneficia. Knowing how easy it is to repay the aspect of a benefit which really matters is liberating. vis reddere beneficium? benigne accipe. rettulisti gratiam, non ut solvisse te putes, sed ut securier debes (II.35.5) is the conclusion of this book and well summarizes the genuinely social purpose to which Seneca puts his analysis of the traditional paradox. In the course of this discussion of a Stoic paradox Seneca has shown not just that the rigoristic and purely ethical dogma of the school can be reconciled with the realities of social and political life; he has also argued effectively that the metaphysically bound ethics of pure intention can actually strengthen social and political ties in the real world.

"The encouragement to accept social indebtedness with an easy mind is the natural complement to the major message of the whole treatise. From the opening lines to the conclusion of book VII Seneca is persistently concerned with ingratitude and with the discouraging effect it has on the giving of benefits. Seneca's view, of course, is that man's ingratitude should never incite (and cannot justify) the abandonment of giving. That message, the major message of the treatise, is aimed primarily at the givers of benefits and favours, Seneca's social equals--and betters.

"The two sides of this work are the encouragement to give freely despite the likelihood of ungrateful recipients and the reassurance to recipients that one can be indebted with confidence and dignity....The crucial point which Seneca sees and elaborates in such a variety of ways throughout the treatise is that social structure, itself an image of the order of the divinely ordained cosmos, is founded on the reciprocal bonds between rational animals, who are capable of appreciating and articulating the conventions which bind them to one another." (263-64)

["Politics and Paradox in Seneca's De beneficiis." Pages 241-265 in Justice and Generosity: Studies in Hellenistic Social and Political Philosophy. Proceedings of the Sixth Symposium Hellenisticum. Edited by A. Laks and M. Schofield. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.]

the so-called expressive order

Douglas offers a series of articles that "approach the so-called expressive order full of wariness against the misleading implications of the verb 'to express'. That word establishes a distinction between the expression and that which is expressed. The object of our study discloses no such cleavage. Knowledge is a continuous process of realisation involving both the implicit and the explicit." (Implicit Meanings, 7)

Transpose that: discussions of rites and sacraments have to remember that rites and sacraments don't (merely) express -- more fundamentally, they realize.

not worth a *serious* scholar's attention

"Defilement and magic were not thought to be worthy of a nineteenth-century scholar's attention and to poke into the processes of thought which attached the label of impurity was suspect in the same way as the investigation of sex or death in our day. [NB - she was writing in 1975] In consequence, a lot of unexplained  assumptions have lumbered the study of primitive religion." (Douglas, Implicit Meanings, 4)

Every discipline is founded on certain exclusions -- unavoidably so. But it's an interesting exercise to contemplate what topics are deemed "unworthy" of attention by a serious scholar in that field. Does "theology" still think that "primitive religion" is unworthy of its attention?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

farewell to the helpless peasant

Guillaume (Land, Credit and Crisis) circles back repeatedly to the claim that "The economic viability of large estates is directly affected by the number of farmers living nearby who could rent estate land besides their own land. To make the latifundia productive, manpower was the crucial factor." (95-96) The evidence for the creation of large-scale land holdings in ancient Palestine is far less secure--whether pre-exilic, Persian period, or Hellensistic/Roman--is far less secure than we are frequently led to believe. It was in the interests of kings, nobles, and the much-maligned tax farmers to have as much of the land under cultivation as possible. Unlike conditions today, land was abundant and manpower was relatively scarce. Guillaume also mounts a strong case that the "myth of the helpless peasant" has simply got to go. He summarizes,

"These lines are not meant to present colonialism as a benevolent phenomenon. The object at hand is to let go some of the ideological baggage that hinders biblical scholars from moving beyond the crude opposition between the all-powerful 'rich' and the miserable 'poor', the parasitic urbanites living off the countryside, skimming off a substantial portion of the proceeds of agricultural production hardly leaving the pauperized fellahin sufficient means for their bare existence. The more careful writers would sometimes admit that they are 'going slightly beyond the information given in the biblical sources' while claiming that 'in the light of anthropology, the scattered bits of economic and social information fit into a definite and clear picture known as rent capitalism'...In fact, such descriptions are faithful reflections of prophetic propaganda, but they have little contact with the growing body of knowledge of the ancient Orient." (66)

The warning to pay attention to the actual evidence from antiquity is well-taken -- and Guillaume does an admirable just sorting through it -- but still, one wonders what the "propaganda" was aiming at...