The ancient Greeks saw the household as the primary institution through which order was kept in society. To promote effective household management Greek sages would offer their advice to the paterfamilias on household management. These discourses came to be known as the “household codes” or “household tables” (and sometimes the German haustafel.) Aristotle’s household instructions (fourth century B.C.E.) in Book I of Politics are among the most commonly referenced of the household codes. Included in the codes are usually instructions about how the paterfamilias should manage his wife, his children, and his slaves. There is often wisdom given about how to manage wealth. Most codes articulate the importance of the paterfamilias dutifully fulfilling his role for the good of society. Some sages advocated an authoritarian approach and others a more benevolent demeanor but whatever their take was on style, they were unified in their conviction that the paterfamilias was obligated to rule his household for the good of society. As noted on an earlier post, the Stoic philosopher Arius Didymus drew up a summary of Aristotle’s household ethics for Augustus Caesar in the years just prior to Christ. He argued that “a man has the rule of this household by nature, for the deliberative faculty in a woman is inferior, in children it does not yet exist, and in the case of slaves, it was completely absent.” Arius Didymus spoke for considerable numbers of influential men in the Greco-Roman Empire of the first century C.E.
Scholars that study this era note that the household codes also found their way into the teaching of the Jewish Rabbis in the centuries prior to Christ. While Arius Didymous may have seen women as innately inferior to men, some rabbis began to find biblical warrant for this assessment. They viewed Eve as the prototype woman who was easily deceived or she was a seductress luring men to their doom. Concerning the noted second century B.C.E Jewish teacher Yeshua Ben Sira, John Collins writes:
Ben Sira has often been accused of misogyny in recent years, and the charge is difficult to refute. His more egregious statements include his reading of Genesis 2-3 (Sir. 25:24: “From woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die”) and the conclusion of his discourse on daughters (42:14: “Better the wickedness of a man than the goodness of a woman,” author’s translation). His gross generalization about the headstrong daughter in 26:12 – “she will sit in front of every tent peg and open her quiver to every arrow” – verges on pornography. In the earlier wisdom literature we find occasional negative remarks about women, but they are mild in comparison. Moreover, Ben Sira sometimes modifies traditional sayings to give them a negative application to women. Ben Sira is also decidedly more negative in his attitude toward women than are the wisdom texts from Qumran. The most extensive sectarian wisdom text, 4QSapiential Work A, shares Sirach’s emphasis on the authority of the husband over the wife but refrains from derogatory comments on women in general. The Qumran sage was mainly concerned that a man entering marriage “take care lest you be distracted from the mystery that is to come.”
It has been suggested that the negative representations of the female, and specifically the “misogynist expansions of the Eden story” that associate Eve with sin, death, and suffering, resulted from “the superimposition of Greco-Roman thought and cultural forms on the biblical world.” There is no precedent in Hebrew tradition for the view that woman is the source of all evil, but there is a clear Greek precedent in the story of Pandora’s box (Hesiod, Works and Days 42-105). A tradition of Greek philosophy beginning with Aristotle insisted on the subordination of women in the codes of household behavior. … (Marriage, Divorce, and Family in Second Temple Judaism in Families in Ancient Israel, 143-144)
Collins goes on to observe that this turn toward negative views of women cannot exclusively be attributed to Greek influences and notes that there were Greek works that were more affirming of women. Furthermore, there were differences among the leading rabbis. Nevertheless, other scholars I have read, including people like Kenneth Bailey, see a significant devaluation of women and an intrusion of Greek thought into rabbinic teaching during the Second Temple era.
In the preceding two posts, I have made the case that Jesus was a rabbi, having possibly spent as much as eighteen years in religious training. We have seen the power hierarchies and status seeking proclivities of the Greco-Roman world enforced through the time honored wisdom of the household codes. We have seen how these values devalued and diminished all but the strongest men. We know that Jewish rabbis offered teaching that would parallel the typos of the Greek household codes. So if Jesus was a rabbi, did he offer his own version of the household code? Some scholars believe that in fact he did. We find it in the gospel of Matthew.
Scholars who have studied Matthew see a structure built around five discourses (chs. 5-7; ch. 10; ch. 13; ch. 18; chs. 24-25.) Each of this passages is followed by a statement “When Jesus had finished saying these things…” or some similar wording. Matthew is believed to have been written to Greek speaking Jews. The gospel may have been intended to serve as a “new torah” with five divisions (discourses) just like the Jewish Torah (i.e. first five books of the Old Testament.) These discourses are supplemented with additional stories and teaching that expand on Jesus’ ministry.
The fourth discourse (chapter 18) is Jesus discourse on life in the Kingdom of Heaven. It is my take that the Kingdom of Heaven and the Household of God are virtually synonymous concepts. Jesus uses his Kingdom of Heaven as a counter to the vision of the kingdom the Jews believe the messiah is to bring about. Jesus’ alternative vision is a Kingdom where all are adopted sons and daughters of the King living in his household. After giving his discourse on life in the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus then offers a type of household code in chapters 19 and 20. It is to this that we turn next.