Modelling Early Christianity: Social-Scientific Studies of the New Testament in Its Context

By Philip F. Esler | Go to book overview

9

THE MATTHEAN BROTHERHOOD AND MARGINAL SCRIBAL LEADERSHIP

Dennis C. Duling

The cult-association is primarily a family. Its head is called ‘pater’… The members of these sodalities are brothers…

A.D. Nock, 1924


INTRODUCTION

Research on the Gospel of Matthew in the last half-century is rich with studies about the Matthean ‘church’ (Stanton 1985; Meier 1992:625). Within the last few years social-historical and social-scientific critics have also begun to analyze the Matthean group. Studies include the Matthean ‘honour code’ (White 1986), insider and outsider labelling (Malina and Neyrey 1988), economics and household themes (Crosby 1988; Love 1993), the Matthean community as a form of sectarian Judaism (Overman 1990; Saldarini 1994), intragroup conflicts and the geographical location of the community (Viviano 1990; Balch 1991; Theissen 1991; Saldarini 1992a), gender issues (Anderson 1983; Corley 1993b; Love 1993; 1994), marginality (Duling 1993), and a variety of other social concerns (Stanton 1992a; 1992b; Duling 1992).

In this study I take up voluntary associations in ancient Mediterranean antiquity and then look at the brotherhood and scribe texts in Matthew in relation to them. The ancient voluntary associations do not explain every aspect of the Matthean group; nonetheless, as brotherhood associations they explain some of its features. My view is that the Matthean group is in the process of formation beyond the stage of a Jewish faction recruited by Jesus of Nazareth; indeed, it has factions within it. Further, while retaining certain features of a sect, it is beginning to move to a level of assimilation, formal organization, development of norms and style of leadership which suggest that it might be called an ‘incipient corporation’. This hypothesis will have to be eventually tested with other variables in the Gospel. Here I focus on three features: ‘brotherhood’ language, related internal disciplinary processes and scribal leadership. The level of analysis is primarily microsocial and, while conflict between

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