The Social Setting of Jesus and the Gospels

By Wolfgang Stegemann; Bruce J. Malina et al. | Go to book overview

18
Gifts, Tributes, and Offerings

Gary Stansell

The measure you give will he the measure you get.

—Mark 4:24

The exchange of gifts, with its accompanying rules about reciprocal activity between two parties, is now assumed to be a universal human phenomenon. All human societies exchange gifts, but the norms that govern exchange in a given society exhibit their own cultural adaptation and setting. Not much has been done to study gift exchange relative to the New Testament. At most, scholars interested in the social sciences have studied patterns of reciprocity (Malina 1986; Oakman 1986; Moxnes 1988), especially as the principle of reciprocity relates to the economy or to the socioeconomic relations of patron-client arrangements. I know of only two recent studies that focus on gift-giving in the Bible and that attempt an analysis with some help from anthropological models: Herman’s Tithe as Gift (1991) and Peterman’s Paul’s Gift from Philippi: Conventions of Gift-Exchange and Christian Giving (1997).

I offer a provisional overview of gifts and gift exchange in the New Testament on the basis of selected passages of the Synoptic Gospels. Further, I hope to suggest several lines of interpretation as they emerge from a social-scientific perspective with the help of a cross-cultural model.

Historians and anthropologists have long noted the importance of gift exchange in the ancient world. The world of Homer attests to its significance in archaic Greece (Finley 1956). In the classical Greek world, Aristotle and others take up the notion of giving and receiving (Nichomachean Ethics 2.7.4). For the Greco-Roman world, Seneca (De beneficiis 56–62) is particularly significant, for he discusses the social conventions of giving and receiving. The “aim

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