Burton Mack

In Galilee During Jesus' Life, The Influence of Greek Cynics Was Probably Greater Than Jewish Influence

Burton L. Mack


Is an author and scholar of early Christian history and the New Testament. He is John Wesley Professor emeritus in early Christianity at the Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, California.[1] Mack is primarily a scholar of Christian origins, approaching it from the angle of social group formation. Mack's approach is skeptical, and he sees traditional Christian documents like the Gospels as myth as opposed to history (here, "myth" is not meant to imply "falsehood" or "lie" but "in the sense of narratives that reflect and advance specific ways of representing the world and, along with it, one's place in it"). He sees the gospels more as charter documents of the early Christian movement than as reliable accounts of the life of Jesus.

In the field of religious studies more generally, Mack is known for popularizing the term "Social Formation," originally coming from the work of Louis Althusser, as a descriptive category for religion. This stems from his development of a theory of religion as "social interests." Along with his close friend Jonathan Z. Smith, Mack is active in the Redescribing Christian Origins Group of the Society of Biblical Literature.




Though he does not regard himself as a Historical Jesus scholar, he suggests that Jesus was a wandering sage, similar in style to the Greco-Roman Cynics, and that the earliest "Jesus Movements" followed a similar model. He is a noted scholar of the hypothetical Q Document, and is confident that it can be sifted into three layers: one containing primarily wisdom sayings, another giving details on how the community ought to behave, and another containing apocalyptic pronouncements. This model of Q is highly controversial.



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