Blessings and Boundaries

Interpretations of Jesus' Death in Q


David Seeley

[This article first appeared in Early Christianity, Q and Jesus, Semeia 55 (ed. John S. Kloppenborg; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991) 131-46. It appears here by permission of Scholars Press. The Greek of the original has been transliterated.]


This article maintains that Q 14:27 is the earliest interpretation of Jesus' death in Q, and that it functions in accordance with the pattern of the philosopher's noble death. The noble death is held in both Cynic and Stoic circles of the first century CE as a model to be re-enacted imaginatively by students of philosophy. Those who do so gain the strength to re-enact it literally. If one is capable of dying for one's philosophy, then one has become a true philosopher. The congruence between 14:27 and a redacted version of Q 6:22-23 helps establish the early dating of the former, since the latter has been persuasively identified as part of the earliest stratum of Q. The reference to prophets in 6:23c is shown to be a transitional phase between the noble death and the later, deuteronomistic-prophetic outlook. This outlook is used by the later strata of Q as a context for the Q community's rejection and, it seems, for Jesus' death. Q 7:24-35 demonstrates the outlook emerging, 11:47-51 contains a hardened form of it, and 13:34-35 evinces a late, somewhat moderated version. Throughout, the methodology employed to determine the relative age of a pericope centers on the issue of boundary formation. The assumption is that, as the Q community developed, it experienced more and more friction with competing groups and so erected stronger and stronger boundaries to mark off its own identity against them.


While Q never comments explicitly on Jesus' death, there are a handful of passages (6:22-23; 7:24-35; 11:47-51; 13:34-35; 14:27) which treat the subjects of persecution and death in a way that could readily have been applied to his demise. These passages are, however, quite diverse in outlook and function. This diversity makes it hard to believe that they come from the same literary stratum.

The present article will show why Q 14:27 should be considered the earliest of the passages just listed. It will also show why the other Q texts that concern the rejection and the killing of the prophets and perhaps by extension, Jesus' death, ought to be regarded as later. It will do so by demonstrating that 14:27 is not indebted to any of the boundary formation procedures attached to those possible allusions (Q 7:24-35, 11:47-51, 13:34-35). Q 14:27 concerns itself, not with boundaries between the Q group and its enemies, but with the moral achievement that should distinguish a member of the Q group. In this, the verse bears comparison to Cynicism and Stoicism, neither of which is particularly interested in the problem of social boundary formation. Indeed, according to these philosophical schools, the sage should assiduously avoid such activity. By contrast, Q 7:24-35, 11:47-51, and 13:34-35 evince the deuteronomistic-prophetic outlook, which draws lines between the Q community and its enemies. It seems logical to regard as early those parts of Q that do not set boundaries. Presumably, they pertain to a period in the life of the community when the tensions separating it from its opponents had not yet arisen. Conversely, signs of such tensions would seem to signal relative lateness.

That 14:27 should be the earliest interpretation of Jesus' death in Q makes a difference in how we conceive of Christian origins. In this verse, we find a style of thought familiar from Cynic and Stoic schools. That fact, in turn, suggests that even the first strata of Christianity were more open to Hellenistic influences than has often been thought (Seeley, 1990:nn. 30-32).


 Below is Kloppenborg's translation of the Matthean and Lukan versions of Q 14:27 (Kloppenborg, 1990b:67). Boldface indicates identical wording.
And whoever does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me is not able to be my disciple.
 I discuss elsewhere the reconstruction of Q 14:27, along with its possible relations to Mark 8:34 and Gospel of Thomas 55 (Seeley, 1992). Here, a brief summary of the argument is sufficient. The basic meaning of Q 14:27 is this: to associate with Jesus in an authentic one must carry the cross and travel the path he walked. Two points are important here. First, regardless of whether or not Q 14:27 derives from the historical Jesus (Vaage, 1989:175), and regardless of what stauros originally meant, there is little doubt that to any Christian living after the death of Jesus, "to bear one's cross" would signify the imitation of that death. Second, although 14:27 ought therefore to be interpreted as including the idea of literal crucifixion, its focus on discipleship indicates that it also envisions a constant readiness to re-enact such an end. After all, any movement which was satisfied only with the literal execution of its adherents would itself soon perish. The worthy disciple is thus to be constantly aware, not only of death, but death in its grisliest, most dishonorable form. Now, these two points suggest a certain kinship between Q 14:27 and Cynic and Stoic ideas about a philosopher's noble death.

According to Cynic and Stoic circles of the first century CE, it is the readiness to follow a teacher in suffering or even death that qualifies one as a true philosopher. This belief is based on the following sequence of logic: 1) a true philosopher seeks what is right; 2) the worst threat one can face in this search is that of suffering and death; 3) if one can continue the search even unto death, then one's status as a true philosopher is beyond challenge. The question is: how does one arrive at a readiness to endure the worst? Such a state is not easy to achieve. The answer is: one imaginatively re-enacts the noble death of a model by hearing or reading the story of it. One thereby gains the fortitude to face death literally, if necessary. This explains the frequency with which such stories are encountered. The more often one imaginatively re-enacts the deaths of great teachers or models, the more often one proleptically enacts one's own death for the sake of philosophy, and the less daunting such a prospect becomes.

An extensive account of this notion has been given elsewhere (Seeley, 1990a:113-41; cf. also Seeley, 1990b). It will suffice here to refer to an epistle of Seneca, who writes to encourage his friend Lucilius not to worry over a lawsuit. The path to serenity is simple, Seneca avers: picture to yourself the worst that can happen. Soberly take its measure, and "You will thus understand that what you fear is either insignificant or short-lived" (Seneca, Epistulae morales 24.2). There are plenty of exempla available for imagining such a worst-case scenario. Seneca names Rutilius, Metellus, Socrates, and Mucius. He knows that this kind of thinking is so common as to be a cliche: "'Oh,' say you, 'Those stories have been droned to death in all the schools; pretty soon, when you reach the topic 'On Despising Death,' you will be telling me about Cato'" (Seneca, Epistulae morales 24.6). Still, the frequency with which the lesson has been taught does not make it any less valid, and so Seneca does tell Lucilius about Cato. He recommends the great Roman's death as an exemplum to steel the heart.

Now, it is true that Cato is not usually regarded as a philosopher. That, of course, need not keep Seneca from using his demise as an object lesson. But there is also evidence that Seneca treats Cato precisely as one who exemplifies the virtues of a philosopher: 1) he considers him alongside Socrates; and 2) in 24.7-8, he describes Cato's life and even his death as on behalf of the principle of freedom. In any event, it is clear that by imaginatively re-enacting the noble man's end, strength will be gained to face instruments of torture and death without fear (Seneca, Epistulae morales 24.14). One will become worthy of even so august a forerunner. The picking up of a cross is not mentioned, but it would not have looked at all out of place here.

This same, basic pattern is at work in Q 14:27. The mark of Jesus' worthy follower or true disciple is carrying the cross and following him. That is, a willingness to die like the model qualifies one as a true Christian. Only in Cynic and Stoic circles do we find such a willingness put forward as a test to determine who is authentic and who is false. That the similarity between 14:27 and Cynic and Stoic thought is a coincidence strains credulity. Given the lack of any other source for this view, and the accessibility of centers of Hellenistic philosophy from most locations in Galilee (Edwards, 1988; Overman, 1988; Seeley, 1991), one must grant the possibility that Q 14:27 reflects the influence of Cynic and Stoic popular philosophy.

2. Q 14:27 IN LIGHT OF 6:22-23

The hypothesis that Q 14:27 is early and reflects the influence of Cynic and Stoic views on death finds support in Kloppenborg's (1986) exegesis of Q 6:22-23. As a result of his exegesis, these verses can be seen to have provided for the Q community an ethic which would have made the call to emulate Jesus' death quite natural. Kloppenborg argues that: 1) from the point of view of stratigraphy, Q 6:22-23 belongs to the formative stage of Q; and 2) from the point of view of vocabulary and construction, it reflects a Cynic ethos. If such an ethic did indeed pertain at an early level of the Q community, then a Cynic sort of reference to the teacher's death in 14:27 would hardly be surprising.

In what follows, I shall briefly summarize Kloppenborg's article and add several points of clarification. He reconstructs and translates Q 6:22-23 thus (1986:44):

22a Blessed are you when they hate you and exclude (persecute?) you,
b and reproach (you) and cast out your name as evil
c on account of the Son of Man.
23a Rejoice and be glad,
b for your reward is great in heaven;
c for thus they did to the prophets (who were before you?).
There are two parts of this passage which Kloppenborg peels away as later additions. The first is 22c. Colpe has pointed out that phrases beginning with [the Greek word] heneken (on account of) and alluding to Jesus seem secondary. For example, in the saying on gaining and losing one's life, Matt 10:39 and Mark 8:35 have "on account of me," while both Luke 17:33 and John 12:25 lack this phrase and appear to be more primitive versions (Kloppenborg, 1986:45; cf. Colpe, 1972). In an analogous fashion, neither version of the persecution beatitude in Thomas 68 or 69a refers to the Son of Man. Further, Schuermann's (1975) findings on the lateness of the Q Son of Man sayings, and the brusque fashion in which "Son of Man" is mentioned here both suggest that 22c is secondary. The other part of this passage which Kloppenborg removes is 6:23c. Trilling and Steck have shown that v 23c is logically superfluous; it adds to v 23b another--and quite different -- rationale for rejoicing. In addition, 6:23c employs the so-called deuteronomistic-prophetic view of history, according to which God sends prophets to call for repentance, but Israel persecutes and kills them (cf. Steck, 1967). Jacobson has shown that this view tends to appear at a late stage of Q composition (1978). Hence, v 23c should be judged as secondary (Kloppenborg, 1986:45-46). Kloppenborg proposes Cynicism as a context for the meaning of Q 6:22ab.23ab. In seeking a life according to divinely established natural law, Cynics customarily broke conventional norms. Not surprisingly, this made a lot of people angry. While Q does not expressly invoke the ideal of living according to nature, its ethic would inevitably provoke a similar response.
The refusal to engage in socially sanctioned transactions puts one in the position of being reproached and ostracized. Those who refuse to treat enemies as enemies threaten the integrity of social boundaries. Rejection of the ordinary modes of retaliation, legal redress and the etiquette of economic transactions will quite naturally be viewed as a threat to the stability of social order. Clearly, those who take seriously Q's parenesis will soon find themselves in the position of being hated, reviled and excluded. (Kloppenborg 1986:51)
What did it mean for a Cynic to find himself in such a state? That he was doing the right thing, of course. Reviling and persecution signaled the successful carrying out of the Cynic lifestyle. "It is precisely on the occasion of reproach that the sage's freedom becomes apparent." (Kloppenborg 1986:50)

While Kloppenborg does not refer to it, a 1978 article by Malherbe sharpens this point very nicely. In the course of this article, Malherbe comments on a pseudonymous, first century CE Cynic epistle attributed to Diogenes. The theme of the letter is

that Diogenes' self-sufficiency and garb demonstrate his freedom from popular opinion (eleutheros doxes) to which all men are enslaved. He is called kuon ho ouranou [the dog of heaven] because he conforms himself to heaven, ou kata doxan, alla kata phusin eleutheros hupo ton dia, eis auton tetheikos tagathon kai ouk eis ten plesion [not according to opinion, but according to nature, free under God, attributing good to him and not to a neighbor]. It is his freedom from doxa [opinion] that is equivalent to being free under God. His clothing, like that of Odysseus, that wisest of the Greeks, is an invention of the gods, and he lives pros theon [in the presence of the Gods] . . . The contrast between doxa [opinion] and phusis [nature] in this context is certainly Cynic, and his statements that to live kata phusin [according to nature] is to be free from popular opinion, free under God and in the presence of the gods, are to be understood in light of such statements as that of Dio Chrysostom [6, 31] who says that in his self-sufficiency and natural way of life Diogenes imitated the life of the gods, and of ps-Heraclitus [ep. 9], that the gods are his fellow citizens and that he dwells with them through virtue. (Malherbe, 1978:50; cf. also Epictetus, 1.9.22-26)
Malherbe's comments make a difference in how the temporal orientation of Q 6:22ab.23ab is to be interpreted, because they offer a way to link it to Cynicism more closely than has been done so far. Kloppenborg places the passage between a straightforwardly present orientation and one directed toward the eschaton:
The blessedness of those who are excluded is already manifest in the present in their rejoicing and dancing but this realization of eschatological joy is also coordinated with the promise of further reward. (Kloppenborg, 1986:48)
If we take seriously what Malherbe has to say, however, the "eschatological" aspect of Q 6:22ab.23ab ceases to be very compelling, and can be seen instead as a Cynic appreciation of the sage's kinship with the gods. Q 6:23ab does, after all, lack a future verb; indeed, it lacks any verb at all. Malherbe shows how the verse can be made sense of in a simple and straightforward manner. We no longer have to imagine it suggesting that the addressees will receive a future reward in heaven, despite the fact that it does not say so. Now it can be regarded as very much in keeping with the Cynic tone of 6:22ab. The phrase "your reward is great in heaven" refers, not to the eschaton, but to the persecuted addressees' participation in a divinely established and sanctioned mode of life.

This can be seen even more clearly in light of a passage from Epictetus to which neither Malherbe nor Kloppenborg advert. Epictetus states that the true philosopher derives advantage from any situation, no matter how awful it may seem

. . . bring whatever you will and I will turn it into a good. Bring disease, bring death, bring poverty, reviling [loidoria], peril of life in court; all these things will become helpful at a touch from the magic wand of Hermes. "What will you make of death?" Why, what else but make it your glory, or an opportunity for you to show in deed thereby what sort of person a man is who follows the will of nature . . . Everything that you give I will turn into something blessed [makarios], productive of happiness, august [semnos], enviable. (Epictetus, 3.20.12-15)
This shows that makarios could be used in the Cynic and Stoic traditions to signal the blessedness attendant upon persecution and even death. Such negative experiences exhibit and, indeed, intensify the extent to which a philosopher lives in accordance with divinely constructed natural law. They thus exhibit and intensify also the extent to which a philosopher participates in the divine, as suggested by the fact that semnos carries connotations of holiness. A philosopher could indeed say readily and with conviction that he is makarios when he is persecuted and reviled. (See also Plutarch's essay "How to Profit by One's Enemies.")

It should be clear, then, that whatever the precise genealogical relationship between Q 6:22ab.23ab and 14:27, the former presents an outlook which could readily have served the Q people as the basis for the point made by the latter. Q 6:22ab.23ab comments on persecution in an oddly dialectical manner. Only the Cynic and Stoic schools offer any compelling parallels to its approach. The way seems to be open, then, for concluding that a movement indebted to Cynic and Stoic notions concerning persecution would show a similar indebtedness in describing the demise of its founding figure. Just as Cynic and Stoic views could portray persecution as a blessing, so also the same sort of thought presents the master's death as something which a true follower must be prepared to emulate. If Kloppenborg's argument is right (along with my treatment of it via Ps-Diogenes and Epictetus), then Q 6:22ab.23ab remarks on persecution in a Cynic and/or Stoic way. This, in turn, would increase the likelihood that Q 14:27 remarks on the related issue of the master's death from a similar perspective.

It should now be asked whether Kloppenborg's placement of 6:22ab.23ab in the development of Q aids in so placing 14:27. The answer is that it does. Kloppenborg concludes that 6:22ab.23ab belongs in the earliest stratum of Q.

While the later strata of Q exhibit strong tendencies in the direction of "strong boundary language" (e.g., 10:21-22, 11:31-32; 13:28-29), the comportment of the earlier strata . . . is less influenced by the exigencies of communal self-justification and self-definition. (Kloppenborg, 1986:50)
These "exigencies" commonly involve defining one's own group over against rival groups, adhering to "a particular confession or logos," and appealing to "a transcendental explanation for membership (election, predetermination)." (Kloppenborg, 1986:49) None of these pertains to Q 14:27. Although suffering and death are salient concerns there, persecutors are nowhere in sight. This fact is striking enough that it ought to be regarded as determinative for setting the verse within Q's compositional history. The Q community is not being defined here by excoriating those who drove Jesus along his way of the cross. The interest of 14:27 in the way of the cross is, on the contrary, confined to the Q group's own ethos. It is used, not as an issue over which to berate others, but as a yardstick to measure the genuineness of Q people themselves. Q 14:27, therefore, can be judged early according to this by now familiar logic: a) as a community forms itself, it gives off signs of that formation; b) these signs become more aggressive and belligerant as the community forms itself more sharply over against competing communities; c) pericopae that lack these sorts of signs should be placed at an early stage in the life of the group.

All this is not to say that a communal sensibility is absent in Q1. The predominantly second-person plural form of address which Q1 uses demonstrates that a group is being spoken to and advised. Certain modes of behavior which the Q people are at least implicitly expected to live up to (Q 6:22ab.23ab, 27-35, 36; 14:27), concern about relationships with others (6:36-38; Q 17:1-2, 3-4), and interest in the role of guides (6:39, 41-42) indicate a social network beginning to emerge. However, the communal sensibility which Q1 does exhibit is relatively loose and imbued with a heady optimism more interested in appreciating its ethos than justifying or defending it.

We may sum up our treatment of Q 14:27 with three points: 1) this verse conspicuously lacks the deuteronomistic-prophetic outlook which Jacobson has shown to be characteristic of Q's later strata; 2) persecution and death are viewed within the framework of a mimetic ideal, not rationalized as the inevitable fate of a prophet; and 3) the focus is on the moral achievement of the disciple, not the perverse character of the persecutors. Each of these features supports an alignment of 14:27 with the formative stage of Q as described by Kloppenborg (1987a).

3. Q 6:23c

We have already noted 6:23c cursorily, but a closer examination is in order. As always with the deuteronomistic prophetic outlook, it should be remembered that Jesus' death is not overtly connected with those of the prophets. In fact, the link between the addressees and the prophets is quite explicit here--more so than anywhere else in Q. The Greek of Matthew (houtos or "thus") and of Luke (kata ta auta or "so") makes this clear. It is also noteworthy that, unlike Q 11:47-51 or 13:34-35 (or even Q 7:24-35, after its fashion), there is no attempt to portray the prophets' persecutors as evil. The focus is simply on the prophets, and on the analogy between them and the addressees. The prophets are being used here in much the same way that Jesus is used in 14:27, that is, as models. There does not seem to be any sweeping Geschichtsbild. Indeed, because of the limited way in which "prophets" is used, it is doubtful whether one should say the deuteronomistic-prophetic outlook is present at all. What seems to be happening is that the characteristically Greco-Roman, mimetic pattern of 14:27 is being adapted to accomodate a more Jewish topic: prophets. Q 6:23c can thus be considered a "bridge" between the early, mimetic interpretation of Jesus' death, and the later, deuteronomistic-prophetic outlook. The structure of its thought is essentially that of the former, but its Jewish-oriented subject matter allows it to begin looking toward the latter.

4. Q 7:24-35

The deuteronomistic-prophetic outlook can be seen actually emerging in Q 7:24-35. This passage is not as pronounced an expression of it as the remaining two passages (Q 11:47-51 and 13:34-35, discussed below). Nor is it even as clear a reference to persecuted prophets as 6:23c, though, as just observed, 6:23c is working with a logic different from the deuteronomistic prophetic outlook. Nevertheless, it is generally placed in the interpretive matrix of that outlook (Kloppenborg, 1987a:112; Schulz, 1972:353; Steck, 1967:213; cf. Luehrmann, 1989:65). John the Baptist is called a prophet in 7:26, the theme of rejection occurs in 7:33-34, and in 7:35 Wisdom can be seen as the sender of prophetic figures down through John and Jesus. For these reasons, the passage deserves our attention.

In terms of the logic of boundary formation, Q 7:24-35 stands between 6:22ab.23ab on the one hand, and 11:47-51 and 13:34-35 on the other. In 6:22ab.23ab, the only boundary operative is that which separates the addressees from conventional, boundary-making society. Since the Q people stand on the far side of that boundary, they are a threat to the boundary-making procedures that constitute "normalcy," and are thus a threat to society. The persecution that naturally arises from this situation shows them they are doing the right thing, that they are in accordance with the divine, and hence that they are "blessed" (cf. Kloppenborg, 1986:51). In Q 11:47-51 and 13:34-35, as we shall see, boundaries are sharply drawn. But in Q 7:24-35, boundaries are emerging, yet not solidified.

Cameron has shown that Q 7:24-25 portrays John the Baptist as a "recognizable Cynic" (Cameron, 1990:56). Vaage had already demonstrated that 7:25 is a Cynic topos used to contrast the soft lives of courtiers with a Cynic's rigorous existence (Vaage, 1987:556-57; cf. Cameron, 1990:42). Cameron explicates Q 7:24 along the same lines. It remains true, however, that 7:26 makes some gesture toward characterizing John as a prophet. Why does 7:26 do this? My answer would be that in this verse, we see boundaries starting to form. A prophetic designation is beginning to be attached to John and, perhaps by implication, also to his successor Jesus. The move from Cynic to prophet is happening because, as the community starts to form boundaries, it must employ designations that can serve that end. "Prophet" fits the bill nicely because, as we shall see in Q 11:47-51 and 13:34-35, it has the potential to form some very strict boundaries over against the Q people's increasingly negative picture of Judaism. The peculiar thing is that, despite its use in such boundary formation, "prophet" carries with it a Jewish ambience. The reason for this peculiarity involves the ethos of the earliest strata of the Jesus movements. Apparently it consisted merely of the strange sort of anti-ethos ethos typical of Cynicism, one which defined itself only to the extent that it had cast off all humanly constructed ethe. (This renders inappropriate Horsley's call to determine precisely what the Q1 "counterculture" was counter to; cf. Horsley, 1989b:195-96.)

Early Christianity was thus not easily able to articulate a contrast between itself as a community and other communities, for it had been accustomed to regarding itself as a community precisely to the degree that it eschewed community boundary formation. The early Jesus movements therefore had to appropriate elements from a recognized community (i.e., Judaism), and then use those elements against that community (Mack, 1990:95). The prophet was no doubt attractive in this situation because, as portrayed in the deuteronomistic-prophetic outlook, he is Jewish, and yet he is critical of Jewish practices. He is sent by God, rails against society, is persecuted, and even killed. At the same time, the prophet provided the closest Jewish analogue to a Cynic, to whom the preceding sentence could also be applied. This made him eminently useful to the Q people for boundary formation, as 11:47-51 shows. But in 7:26, such use is not much more than a glimmer, for "prophet" attaches to John in a rather pallid way. He is a prophet essentially because, as v 27 says, he is an aggelos [messenger] sent before Jesus (Cameron, 1990:39; Kloppenborg, 1987a:109). Obviously, the emphasis is on Jesus, and John's "prophetic" role here is to announce him. The issue of rejection, so fulsome in 11:47-51, does not appear until 7:31-35, and then only in an attenuated fashion.

This attenuation is seen in the imagery that is used. It is not at all clear how "this generation" is to be related to the children of Q 7:32-34 (Cameron, 1990:40; Kloppenborg, 1987a: 111; cf. also Cotter, 1987). What is clear, however, is that "this generation" likely refers to Israel and that it is being criticised, but not in an intense manner. The problem is that you just can't satisfy "this generation." John does one thing, and they complain. Jesus does another, and they still complain. They're never happy. The tone is one of grousing, not cold hostility. Boundaries are being drawn, but they are not rock solid. If one were in a speculative mood, one might say that it sounds as if the Q community had been trying out different ways of getting its message across, and had met with rejection each time. Still, hope does not seem to have been abandoned. There may yet be a chance that dancing and singing will be done concordantly.

In any case, the community assures itself in 7:35 of its own legitimacy. There, notice is given that "Sophia is vindicated by her children." This verse neatly caps the entire pericope. It brings the subject of legitimation to the fore again, thus echoing the start, and it contains a figure who could be taken as a symbol of Q's sapiential roots. Kloppenborg's point in labeling Q1 "sapiential" was "more formal than material," but nonetheless, that stratum operates "in the realm of individual sagacity and folly," calling on people to have the (uncommonly) common sense to see God's rule in the world around them and reject the foolish conventions screening it (Kloppenborg, 1989:210-11). But in 7:35, Sophia does not stand for this kind of worldview. Here, she is quintessentially a sign of legitimation. Q 7:31-34 shows that tension is building with another group. Yet even so, this legitimation is not gained by dint of hard boundary formation. The rejection of John and Jesus as prophets has not yet become a reality. Perhaps one could say that it hangs vaguely in the air, like the scent of smoldering tinder. There is no real interpretation of Jesus' death presented here, though we can see the structures which will be used for the deuteronomistic-prophetic interpretation beginning to emerge. Conversely, the Q community's legitimation, of which v 35 speaks, is won in spite of "this generation," not at its expense. There is no victory over the opponents envisioned here. As noted, the hope still seems to be held out that the singing and dancing might be successful. In such an event, the phraseology of Luke ("all her children") would have a sweet fulfillment.

5. Q 11:47-51

The hopefulness evinced by Q 7:24-35 has vanished in Q 11:47-51. The rejection of prophets which had been nebulous has now become distinct. Q 11:47-48 rages at the addressees, though the accusation against them makes little sense. They are criticised for entombing prophets killed by their fathers. Kloppenborg offers a summary of attempts to explain v 47 without coming to a solution (Kloppenborg, 1987a:141-42). More recently, Miller has observed that "Here the logic of Q breaks down. Building tombs is a way of honoring the dead, not of expressing approval of their murders." (Miller, 1988:230) This fact is further complicated by the absence of a uniform explanation in v 48:
The explanations not only show marked verbal differences, but offer different reasons. In Luke the building of tombs entails complicity with the deeds of the fathers (tomb-builders are guilty because they ratify the deeds of their ancestors). In Matthew, the tomb complicity stems from inherited guilt (tomb-builders are guilty because they are the sons of guilty fathers). (Miller, 1988:227)
This situation would seem to leave us with three basic alternatives: 1) Matthew reflects Q 11:48; 2) Luke reflects Q 11:48; or 3) Q 11:48 is unrecoverable, and we can only assume that it made some kind of reference to the addressees' fathers killing the prophets, as well as to "witnessing" in some manner. If the first is true, then Q's accusation was based simply on guilt through bloodlines. If the second is true, then Q did not really make sense here because, as Miller notes, building tombs is more logically construed as a way of honoring the dead. If the third is true, then we can only assume that, whatever Q 11:48 said, it was unsatisfactory to both Matthew and Luke. In any event, the likelihood that there was ever a plain or persuasive grounding of the accusation appears to be small.

What difference does this make? It shows the Q community sliding into a mode of polemical rhetoric. The addressees are being comprehensively castigated for no very good reason. "Woe to you (all)," Q 11:47 begins, and perhaps we should take the lack of any specificity in the (probably more primitive) Lukan account seriously. Deep, and yet general, disaffection is being expressed here. The grumpiness of Q 7:24-35 has descended into what Garrison Keillor portrays as the motto of the Norwegian bachelor farmer: "Tellwidem." (Keillor, 1985:151) Perhaps it is inappropriate to search for a specific enemy here. Perhaps it is also inappropriate to search for a specific accusation that makes sense. Perhaps the point is that the Q community is beginning not to care so much about making sense. It is fed up.

That accusations no longer need to be genuine for the Q community to use them is amply demonstrated by 11:49-51. Here, boundaries have become extremely hard. Hope of convincing the other side seems to have been entirely abandoned. Sophia has gone beyond merely giving a stamp of legitimation, as she does in 7:35. Now she stands more intimately with "our side" as the sender of prophets (something she does not do in Q 7:24-35). Remarkably, this sending seems designed to provoke hostility, which will then be duly punished. Sophia will send prophets to be killed so that the blood of all the prophets (Luke) or righteous (Matthew) will be required of (Luke) or come upon (Matthew) this generation (Q 11:49-50). Enemies now are such so surely that they are condemned by divine fiat. The entire sequence occurs so that the guilt of "this generation" may be heaped up.

Miller argues that "some of the bitter irony of the hina" (so that) in 11:50 is blunted, for it can be taken as signaling "a less specific consecutive clause rather than a strict purpose clause" (Miller, 1988:232). He quotes Bauer in support of his position, but Bauer himself notes that "[i]n many cases purpose and result cannot be clearly differentiated, and hence hina is used for the result which follows according to the purpose of the subject or God" (Bauer, 1952:378; emphasis mine). Whether the irony is blunt or sharp, it seems clear that 11:50 contains an especially insidious form of accusation. The Q community appears to be rationalizing the failure of its "prophetic preaching" (Miller 1989:233). But there are many ways to rationalize failure. We saw one very interesting way above in Q 6:22ab.23ab. The latter did not engage in this sort of boundary formation to explain rejection. Instead, it had recourse to Cynic understandings of what naturally happens to the sage when he calls people out of their folly and exemplifies a divinely sanctioned lifestyle. I have argued that Q 14:27 makes sense out of Jesus' death in accordance with this outlook. Here, however, the problem is not folly, but evil; what's more, the evil is virtually mandated by the divine (not that that makes "this generation" any less guilty). The difference is evident. The "enemies" of 6:22ab.23ab bring a blessing. Indeed, they act like enemies only because the sage knows that all people are brothers and sisters under God, and refuses to engage in enemy-making boundary formation (cf., e.g., Epictetus, 1.9). So "enemies" in this context are really friends, except they don't know any better. Q 11:50 focuses on people who might be regarded as not knowing any better because they are caught up in a supernaturally initiated sequence of prophet killing. Yet they are condemned precisely because they have been caught up in this sequence (11:51b).

The situation is analogous, of course, to Mark 4:10-12, where Jesus speaks in parables "so that" his listeners will not comprehend, repent, and gain forgiveness. The follower of a teacher who purposely obfuscates would seem to have no ground for condemning those who misunderstand and persecute that teacher. Yet Mark does present the destruction of the Temple as God's definitive judgment against the Jews (Mack, 1988b). Likewise, there is no prospect here in Q of a reconciliation between the Q people and "this generation." The sapiential aspect of Q, instead of signifying the wisdom that dissolves conventional boundaries, now appears as a character so angry and vengeful, she arranges the opponents' sins so they can then be punished. She not only creates boundaries, she does so literally with a vengeance. Indeed, it may be the displeasure of the community which brought about the combination of the deuteronomistic-prophetic outlook, on the one hand, and Sophia as the sender of prophets, on the other. There is no real evidence for this combination in pre-Christian literature (Jacobson, 1978:234, 1982:387; Johnson, 1974:47-52). Perhaps the Q community was able to forge such an ideological novum in the fire of anger and resentment.

6. Q 13:34-35

We come, finally, to Q 13:34-35. The first thing to be noted about this passage is its focus on Jerusalem. The city has killed the prophets and refused the speaker's tender advances. But up to the writing of this passage, the deuteronomistic-prophetic outlook had never been applied to Jerusalem. The latter had not been accused of disobedience or associated with the prophets' deaths (Miller, 1988:235; Schulz, 1972:351; Steck, 1967:227-28). Odd as well is the reference to the Temple, unusual for Q. The explanation for all this would appear to be the date of 13:34-35, which was sometime around 66-70 CE (Steck, 1967:237-39). The dire circumstances invited by 11:49-51 have now materialized in the form of the war with Rome. And yet, it appears that vengeance was not as sweet as the Q community may have expected it to be. The tone of 13:34-35 is not angry; it is sorrowful. It does not gloat, but rather shakes its head sadly at the ruination. In viewing the imminent or actual destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the Q community may have experienced a sense of shock. The slaughter of those on the other side of the newly drawn boundaries apparently gave it pause for thought. Still, there is no thought of a return to the dialectical approach of 6:22ab.23ab, according to which an enemy is really a friend and persecution is really blessing. Here, a straightforward, tit-for-tat arrangement holds firm. Jerusalem refused the speaker's offers of kindness. Therefore, it has paid the price. The destruction is unfortunate, but the city brought on ruin by its own doing.

In a similar manner, even the act of forgiveness, by which a previous deed is effectively cancelled, is too dialectical for the straight lines of social interchange imagined here. There will be no more association between the speaker and Jerusalem until the city capitulates and blesses the coming one. The scene of blesssing does imply a reconciliation of sorts, but it is not based on forgiveness. It is based on the "other side" finally coming around and admitting the rightness of "our side." One cannot resist noting the irony of "blessed" here. The Greek is eulogemenos, and not makarios, but a comparison with 6:22ab.23ab is still revealing. In the latter, blessedness came about because of persecution. It was bestowed, so to speak, on the addressee by the active hostility of a (dialectically construed) "enemy." Here, a blessing is called out by the (very straightforwardly conceived) enemy to seal the process of his buckling under. Before any reconciliation takes place, capitulation must be complete.

Even so, it must be acknowledged that a reconciliation is envisaged. Here, at least, the Q community does not engage in the absolutistic drawing of boundaries found in Mark. Mark seems to take a certain satisfaction in the Jews finally getting what they deserve. The Q community is not dismantling its boundaries, but it is waiting for the day when Jerusalem sees the light. On that day, presumably, it will extend the hand of friendship and invite the defeated Jews to join it inside its borders.

The last item that must be noted regarding 13:34-35 is the way in which the focus on the deuteronomistic-prophetic outlook in v 34 changes to a focus on the "coming one" in v 35. The scheme used to interpret Jesus' death is turned away from in the face of the opponents' ruin, and the future, with the risen Christ being hailed by his erstwhile persecutors, is anticipated. With this, the deuteronomistic-prophetic interpretation of Jesus' death comes to its fulfillment. As charted above, it begins by riding piggy-back on notions of mimesis at home in Cynic and Stoic circles (Q 6:23c). It hovers nearby as the characterization of Jesus and John is transformed from Cynic to Jewish-prophetic (Q 7:24-35). It grows rigid when 11:49-51 places it in the context of a divinely established, deterministic regime. Finally, it softens without altering structurally as the Q community eyes its fallen adversaries and contemplates a day when they can be safely embraced. At that point it is time to move from the resentful rationalization of the founder's death to the happier thought of his return. But make no mistake: it is only because the boundaries that have been constructed via the deuteronomistic-prophetic outlook are so firm that the community can afford the thought. Q 13:35b does not exactly constitute magnanimity. It expresses a self-confidence sufficient to foresee the legitimation of its murdered but risen leader by his penitent murderers. Boundaries are not being let down; a gate through them is being entertained for those who wish to join the insiders.


This article has demonstrated that 14:27 is the earliest interpretation of Jesus' death in Q. That verse fits well with 6:22ab.23b in its avoidance of communal boundary formation. Kloppenborg has already shown that 6:22ab.23ab belongs to an early stage of Q, and so, it would seem, does 14:27. Both use thought patterns characteristic of Cynic and Stoic circles. Q 6:23c refers to prophets, but in a way more similar to Cynic and Stoic notions than to the so-called deuteronomistic-prophetic outlook. Q 7:24-35 shows the elements of that outlook beginning to come together and be used for communal boundary formation. Q 11:47-51 exhibits the deuteronomistic-prophetic outlook being used for rigid boundary formation, and Q 13:34-35 presents the outlook being restrained a bit in response to the first Jewish war with Rome. This progression reflects the relative ages of these interpretations of Jesus' death in Q.

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