PEOPLE AND POWER
Some thoughts on patronage, missiology and the East Mediterranean today
—by me a ‘western’ man and follower of Jesus and my brothers, sisters and friends
Rich James and friends
IN THIS ARTICLE, we’re basically going to talk about people and relationships where power dynamics are involved. We’ll look at some of these dynamics, with reference to the East Mediterranean—where Jesus lived and where me and my friends live today!
First, we’re going to look at some Western ideas about people of the ‘East’ which can lead to misunderstandings about this region now and when we read the Bible. Then, we’re going to look at power-dynamics that can be involved in building relationships, sharing the Good News and forming church communities that it can be helpful to explore.
1 WHAT AMAZING FAITH!
IN THE FIRST–CENTURY world where Jesus lived and ministered, men got married in their late teens or early twenties and women in their early-to-mid-teens. Three quarters of people died before 30.
Life was hard and most lived close to the bare minimum subsistence level. Wealth gave you lots of power. The community was controlled by the Romans and Herod Antipas, who the Romans set over the region of Galilee. The elder men, religious scholars and leaders of synagogues held a lot of power in the Jewish community. One day, some elders of the Jews came to Jesus. They told Jesus about an important soldier in the area who had a slave he valued who was sick and about to die. They exhorted Jesus to come with them to his home. They said, ‘this man deserves you do this, because he loves our people and has built our synagogue.’
Jesus went with them.
When the man heard that Jesus was on the way, he sent other messengers to him to say,
‘Lord, don’t trouble yourself
for I don’t deserve for you to come under my roof. That’s why I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to you.
But say the word, and my slave will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority,
with soldiers under me,
I tell this one, Go! and he goes.
And that one, Come! and he comes.
I tell my servant Do this! and he does it.
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at the man, and turning to the crowd following him,
Jesus said, ‘I tell you, I haven’t found such great faith even among the people of Israel.’
Read in context, there are so many power dynamics between the people in this story.
2 PEOPLE AND POWER AND ‘PATRONAGE’
A FEW YEARS ago, one of my friends who was very wealthy, paid to build a mosque in some land in an area that didn’t have one.
He felt it was a way of pleasing God, and building a name for himself in the area.
The local government wouldn’t pay to connect the mosque in the field up to the road network. So, he told them that a very powerful politician was coming to open the mosque.
The local politicians didn’t want this important politician to have to get out of his car and walk to the mosque. It’d make their area look poor to him. So, they built the road. Western people use the words ‘patronage’ or ‘clientalage’ to talk about the relationships between people with different amounts of power.
The words patro and client are based on Latin words from the Roman Empire.
The Roman world was a very hierarchical society. Those with wealth had more power. They helped those with less. The people they helped would be loyal to them, serve their interests and help them. They called these people who relied on them, their ‘cliens’ which meant something like their followers/ companions. One of the words they used to talk about the more powerful figure in the relationship was ‘patron’ which was a term related to the word ‘father.’
My friend used his wealth to gain friends and influence people. He also used his connection to the powerful politician to get the local politicians to build the road. By the way, the powerful politician never came. He never was coming. Yes, my friend lied about it to get them to build the road.
He thought they would, because he understood the power-dynamics involved.
People and power dynamics are important parts of life in many collective cultures.
They can be used well and abused badly.
This is why it matters to talk about people and power.
3 THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
IT’S IMPORTANT TO talk about the Elephant in the Room, before we talk about people and power in the Bible and the ‘East’ today.
—I’m a (relatively) wealthy protestant man from the ‘West’, and I’m talking to you about men and women,
Christians and Muslims of the ‘East.’
While I’ve lived in the East Mediterranean for nearly all of my adult life, I grew up in the United Kingdom. Clearly, you may have a different life journey from me. I don’t want to overly focus on me—but I do want to recognise that my life journey having grown up in the UK can shape my perspectives in some ugly ways. There are some ways of thinking about the people of the ‘East’ that are widespread and have become deeply entrenched among people from Britain, France and (more recently) in the US.
These ideas affect people who study, teach, write about the history, politics and society in the ‘East,’ as well as people who live, work, learn languages, study the Bible and do theological and missiological training. One of my Iraqi friends who went to live in the US, also found these western ideas about the ‘East’ affected him too. Everytime someone in his Bible study group in LA asked a question about what the Biblical World was like at the time of Jesus, everybody would turn to look at him, expectantly.
‘It’s so annoying! I’m just one guy, why do I have to speak for every single person in the Middle East’ He said. That’s a lot of pressure.
It’s also a stereotype he suffered from.
We can all suffer from these Western stereotypes. So, let’s talk about these Western ideas before we go on.
4 EAST OF WHERE?
ONE OF THESE ideas is the idea of the ‘East’ itself. For example, the ‘East’ can be used to talk about Morocco on the Atlantic, Turkey and Lebanon on the East Mediterranean, Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea, India on the Indian ocean and even China on the Pacific! These places are ‘East’ of where? They include most of the world.
Australia and New Zealand are in the Pacific but we call them the ‘West.’
‘West’ of where?
They lay south of the Philippines—the ‘East’—and Indonesia—also the ‘East’—and yet they are the ‘West.’ It’s clear that ‘East’ is not something actually based in geography.
The terms refer to a conceptual or imagined world. It exists in the contours of Western thinking.
So, I’ll place the terms ‘East’ and ”West” in speech marks to highlight this conceptual meaning.
I’m not doing this to be pedantic or academic—I’m doing it to help us see the power dynamics involved, that can cloud how we see.
Many diverse people groups, civilisations and societies live in different places in the ‘East.’
When people who grew up in Britain, France or the US view the different civilisations, societies and customs in the ‘East,’ they naturally see that they are different from the ‘West’.
At first, they often respond to these differences by polarizing them—the West and the East. This is a natural part of cultural assimilation. But left unchallenged, we can imagine that all the different civilisations, societies and people groups together as being homogenous! We can miss that these peoples, civilisations and societies are different from one another too! For example, many Christian communities today are Assyrian, or Armenian or Coptic ethnically. These communities are also Christians. Assyrian Christians are now members of Arabic speaking states and so they are Arabic speakers. But, they are not Arabs. They are Arabic speaking Assyrians.
If we see all the people in the region as ‘Easterners’ our vision is too clouded to navigate the beautiful multiple cultures around us and how members of different communities relate together.
5 ‘EASTERN CULTURE’
THE MISUNDERSTANDING THAT the diverse people groups, civilisations, language groups and cultures in these regions all have a shared culture, means we can make many overgeneralizations.
A generalization is when we take something that might be the case in one situation, and then stretch it out like pizza dough over others.
We might see that some people in the region prefer to
learn about religion by talking about it with people. This can be accurate, but then this insight can get spun and stretched out to become ‘Easterners are oral learners.’ The thing about stretching pizza dough is that as it stretches out, it gets thinner and thinner.
It’s the same with this overgeneralization about orality. If we stretch the idea so far, it becomes so thin it doesn’t have any real weight.
The insight can become just, ‘tell stories.’
But, there are lots of other things involved too in this. There are questions like, which stories do this community tell about religion when they chat? Why do they tell them and what do they believe about these stories? Who tells the stories? When do they share stories? Which language? These questions matter to how that community speak, what they believe and help us think how we might join in and ‘tell stories.’
But these things vary from one community to another. Eventually, western people can say, ‘this is being too pedantic.’
The insight that people are oral so tell stories, sounds clear but like an overly stretch pizza dough, it can soon disintegrate on contact! These ideas can promise missiological applications, but soon fall apart in our hands!
People in the West can hear these ideas and assume they are correct. For example, they haven’t walked through the book shops of Beirut or Cairo—both centers of the Arab literary world that have annual international book festivals.
So, they don’t know that many people choose to read about religion. That’s not orality.
They may not google the Arabic religious websites that have articles, lists and search boxes that people often consult for religious information—as well as talking about it with friends. That’s literate and oral…
A website may be a great way to share information! For some people. Again, let’s not replace one generalization with another. Which people? Which language? Which topics? Etc etc etc
‘But, you’re being pedantic, how can we ever know?’ This takes us to our next topic.
6 POWER DYNAMICS
POWER DYNAMICS OFTEN enable these misunderstandings and over-generalisations to continue.
People from the ‘West’ might speak to other people from the ‘West,’ about people of the ‘East,’ who aren’t there to speak for themselves or to correct misunderstandings. When people of the ‘East’ are in these discussions, people from the ‘West’ can hold the main points of power. They might be the main speakers, or they might choose the topics of the discussion. Maybe other people would start somewhere else or would have taken the conversation in a different direction.
In conversations with ‘Eastern’ friends, I’ve often guided the discussion to my way of thinking, asking certain questions about, ‘yes, but ….’ These helped me and my friends have patiently explained and answered my questions.
But, when I don’t speak and ask questions, I hear these friends taking the conversation in different directions. I needed to learn to listen—to learn, rather than to ask. When people from the ‘West’ choose the topics, give the talks or chair the discussions, they are given the relative upper hand in the conversation over people of the ‘East.’6 These power dynamics can be unintentional. But, they can still exist—and everyone is the poorer for it.
The body is weakened when it could be strengthened. This is the same in publishing. Without learning to read Arabic, I had to rely on English books about the region. Most of these were written by people of the ‘West’ or published by publishers in the ‘West’ who accepted the books.
The perspective can be partial. I learnt to read English translations of Arabic books. This helped me to hear the topics chosen and the issues raised. I also learnt to read Arabic.
Now I rarely read English books about the Arab world or Islam. If I want to read about this, I prefer to read people talking about themselves. It is so much more useful. I realize reading this can be demoralizing.
But, English is not the main language of the region. Being able to read and understand in your mother tongue is not a privilege you have!
You can learn Turkish, or Arabic, or Greek or Hebrew or French. These take a few years but then you are able to read and listen and learn. What a good investment. If you’re at a stage in life where you don’t have the time to do this, let me encourage you to not speak as an expert on these topics. Make space for someone else, put them at the center. Then listen to them and learn.
While this can seem odd to English or French speakers, it’s the situation for most people in the region. They are used to listening and receiving, and not having the chance to speak.
But God has gifted me why should I be held back by language? It’s the question many non English speakers feel too.
Trust God that he will show you your role in that—it may be to listen and receive.
7 LET’S INTERVENE TO HELP!!!
WESTERN (MIS)UNDERSTANDINGS OF the ‘East’ are deeply entrenched and have long roots.
Just think about how the region or Muslims are portrayed in Hollywood movies, or how the focus of Western news articles on the region is so often religious extremism.
Have you noticed how many books about ‘the Middle East’ in bookshops have these menacing titles. They often continue to put forward these Western starting points, perspectives and value-judgements.
They can carry on promoting fear of Muslims, military interventionalism (ie against religous fanatical terrorists) and exotic ideas of peoples’ zealous commitment to the cause.
Let’s think who I met today, a bus driver, my son’s playground attendant—a smiley lady in her 30s, a tailor and his wife and so who has a broken arm, another bus driver, a barrister in MacDonalds who gave me a discount on a coffee, two women talking about their mums being too overprotective, a bus driver, another tailor who took my measurements to adjust my shirt I’d bought, and a shopkeeper whose leg is hurting him.
All sorts of people, getting on with life, and struggling with pain, and driving buses.
There are sometimes terrorist attacks (by the way normally its Muslims who are killed in them). But while the risk of terrorism is present, its fairly rare. These misunderstandings can validate overly dominating ‘Western’ intervention whether political, educational or pastoral!
These ideas can justify sending Western political or military apparatus to the region to dominate it due to the idea that they’re making it better.
They can justify churches not sending families who love God and want to get a job teaching in a school and make friends and love people in the region.
Western educational institutions can be established and maintained with ‘Western’ funding to spread ‘Western’ ideas, values and perspectives where local educational institutions may not have the same power.
‘Western’ funded organizations can pay much higher salaries to ‘help the economy.’ But, people with the best skills can gravitate towards them and the higher salary. The organization becomes highly skilled, but the left local organizations who paid them less, that are now lower skilled. Others don’t fill those vacancies because they’re waiting out for higher salaries. I’m living this right now where I’m helping a friend recruit people for his business but they keep saying no because they’re waiting for a higher paid ‘Western’ funded job.
While ‘Western’ people may want to make a difference, those who lose their jobs, or employees, or are undercut in the local market, by them don’t feel empowered. ‘Western’ theology, missiology and pastoral strategies can be brought into the ‘East’ as the way forwards for the people of the ‘East’, without those people being involved in shaping them.
This can be the case with fear of creating ‘dependency’ too, which we’ll discuss later on!
8 PEOPLE AND POWER
SO, I, A man from the ‘West’, am speaking about power, relationships and people of the ‘East’ from a bit of a western perspective.
I guess the Elephant in the Room stands out clearer now! God has called me to live in the region and to build relationships.
I’ve spent most of my adult life in the region, learning Arabic, making friends, and going through the sometimes joyful—sometimes painful journey of my perspective changing.
I’ve also felt God speak to me about studying the ancient world. So, I’ve spent a lot of time reading first hand accounts from the time of the New Testament in the original languages. I’ve studied lots of books on history and society back then. I’m trying to read, listen and learn. I’ve chatted with many people, some from Arab societies, some from non-Arab societies who have lived in the East Mediterranean for centuries, like the Assyrian Christians and the Copts.
I have learnt lots and have experiences with particular people.
But, please don’t take me as authoritative on people in the region.
Take what I say and ask people about it.
Invite them into the conversation!
Listen to them and let them explain, disagree, agree, add things, and teach you about themselves and their community.
So far, I’ve been focusing on the region today. But, many of these dynamics can be woven into Biblical Studies in the ‘West.’ The Bible was written in this region but most of the main theological books and ideas written about it—in English—are the thoughts of people in the ‘West.’ Much of this is helpful. But there are weaknesses. The head is not the foot, and the hand is not the eye. The body needs them all.
Western Biblical studies can begin with certain perspectives, ask particular questions and carry certain values. These can shape the discussion, just like it can in a conference or a coffee shop if the voice is given too much weight.
Financing, publishers and sizes of readership and pre existing assumptions can mean that these ideas gain the upper-hand and perpetuate when others could challenge them or begin in new places or take the discussion in new directions.
I think the English theology voice does have too much weight.
There are other voices in the world we can listen to. But, again, this might mean language learning. What a wonderful investment it is to listen or read members of the body look at the Bible.
The hand and the foot and the eye…
There is a long history, over 1,200 years at least, of churches in the ‘East’ translating the Bible and writing commentaries and theology in Arabic. It’s a major theological language, alongside Greek, Latin, French, German and English.
Yet, most of these Arab theologians and their interpretations are not referred to in English language Biblical Studies.
Lots of what I will share has come up in conversations with Arabic speakers. I can’t footnote them and I won’t keep mentioning them by name. In fact, many I have forgotten. But I have learnt much from them. Like I said, if anything, I hope this encourages you to ask other people in the region and listen to them. They may have different perspectives.
The hand, the foot, the eye…
With this said, let us turn to—or rather continue—the topic of people and power.
PEOPLE HAVE BEEN talking about patronage forever. In the last half a century, English writing historians have shown interest in exploring collective communities around the East Mediterranean and wider afield. As they did this, more and more aspects of patronage have emerged in their discussions.
For example, in 1954, the anthropologist Julian Pitt River wrote a book about his observations of a peasant society in Southern Spain. As part of this, he said, ‘while friendship is in the first place a free association between equals, it becomes in a relationship of economic inequality the foundation of patronage. The rich man employs, assists and protects the poor man, and in return the latter works for him, gives him esteem and prestige, and also protects his interests by seeing that he is not robbed, by warning him of the machinations of others and by taking his part in disputes.’
In 1964, J.K Campbell wrote, ‘Honor, Family and Patronage’ where he described the ‘institutions and moral values’ of a Greek mountain community.
In it, he wrote a chapter on patronage where he described dynamics in relationships between people with different social power.
For example, he described how villagers would send a gift like some cheese to the home of the president of the village. Then a few days later, they’d go to his office and make a request for something. The giver hoped that the
gift would help the president to feel obliged to help them. Sometimes he helped and other times he didn’t. Academics have explored power dynamics between people in other areas too. One area is in politics and socio-economics.
For example, John Powell explored how a number of economies in peasant communities interlinked through wealthy landowners into their larger national economies.
He also noted how relationships between people with different amounts of power varied massively. For example, some powerful people provided a wider range of services than others, who could only provide certain services. He also noted that some people felt more of a sense of obligation and duty to help one another, or more grateful, than others did.
He also observed that the power-dynamics in relationships could change over time.
These kinds of dynamics have been formed into a theory of relational power-dynamics called Patron-Broker-Client relationships.
WE SAID EARLIER that the words patronage patron and clients are based on Latin terms that were used in hierarchical Roman society.
The word patron is used to mean the more powerful person in the relationship. The patron provides services to the weaker person or people.
These might include material things like items or finance, as well as access, for example to social connections and opportunities, and other things like forms of legal protection and guidance. Some patrons can provide a wide range of services, whereas others might be able to provide a particular kind of service.
The clients—the weaker members (which meant something like their followers/ companions) —provide other services to the patron, like honoring them, giving them allegiance, giving them information to help them, and publicizing their power to others.
When we say weaker—its by comparison to the patron. In the Greek and Roman world, elite people were patrons of other elites. Both could be very powerful compared to most people, but the weaker of the two, was the client of the stronger.
Other times, middling people were patrons of lesser middling people. And so on… So when we talk about strongER and weakER we don’t necessarily mean the rich and the poor. But, that can be part of the dynamics.
These relationships are non-legal in that their terms are not enforceable by law. You can’t take someone to court for not showing gratitude—at least explicitly of course, you might be able to get a judge to put them in jail on some other pretext.
Instead, they’re based upon social understandings and values where members of the relationship understand themselves to be morally/socially obliged to provide services to the other.
These are not closed relationships between two parties, in reality people were very often both a patron to some and a client of others. We can call these people ‘brokers’. They connect the two parties and facilitate the exchange of services.
These relationships can join together to form very large and complex networks of relationships.
These networks favour the powerful (who can say no to requests) more than those who are weaker. These networks were a major way Roman society was connected together into cities, regions and an empire.
PATRONAGE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
THE ACADEMICS’ INTEREST in patronage began to spread into New Testament Studies where academics began to ask new questions (which are actually old questions but fell out of interest in the Western academic world for a while).
For example, Frederik Danker studied the language that
people in the Greek and Roman World used to talk about patronage and the language used in the New Testament. This study helped people to see how the New Testament uses language connected with patronage—and helped
them to think about the language in the context of the First Century.
Bruce Malina wrote a book about The Social World of Jesus and the Gospels and did a chapter looking at how Jesus is portrayed as a ‘broker’ between the Father and people in the synoptic gospels.
Then David deSilva wrote a book called Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity in which he wrote about many aspects of patronage in the Ancient World and the New Testament.
In 2015, John Barclay wrote a book called Paul and the Gift where he looked at Patronage and Paul’s theology. Overtime, the way patronage is talked about in the New Testament language has become much better understood and the metaphors that would’ve come into different peoples’ minds when they heard it in the first century world.
For example, in the Greek and Roman worlds used the Greek word Charis to talk about the patronage system in general, as well as to talk about the benefits that were given. They used the word pistis to talk about loyalty/ trust and how the people in the relationship entrusted themselves to one another.
Charis is the word translated Grace in English and Pistis, ‘faith.’ These were patronage terms.
Paul used these patronage terms a lot to help people in his world to understand what God achieved through Jesus in those who trust in him.
12 GIVING FOR SELFISH REASONS
THE IDEA THAT those with power (patrons) help those who were weak (clients) who return loyalty to them, makes a nice theoretical diagram.
But, this is just a model—a theory—a diagram. People don’t always act the same way. There’s lots going on.
If we assume that people follow this model all the time, the model will muddle what we see.
I once gave a talk on patronage and in one example I described a ‘patron’ seeking to bless those he helped. In another example, I described a ‘patron’ who sought to manipulate those he helped.
In the question and answer time, someone asked, ‘You described patrons as blessing and manipulating people, which one is your view?’
Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to get to this question. But, I would have answered, ‘both.’
People with power act in different ways for different motives.
The ancients knew this.
The Roman senator and philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca encouraged his fellow powerful elites, ‘The book-keeping of benefits is simple: it is all expenditure; if any one returns it, that is clear gain; if he does not return it, it is not lost, I gave it for the sake of giving. No one writes down his gifts in a ledger, or like a grasping creditor demands repayment to the day and hour. A good man never thinks of such matters, unless reminded of them by someone returning his gifts; otherwise they become like debts owing to him.’
Seneca wrote this to encourage people to give because they saw an opportunity where they had the power to do good for someone in some way.
He encouraged them not to keep a record of who owed them for the help they gave them.
However, another elite Roman statesman called Quintus Tulius Cicero who also lived in the first century had a different view.
His brother was campaigning for a political position. Cicero wrote a letter to him—think of a wealthy powerful man giving another wealthy powerful man advice. He told him to recall all the people he’d helped in some way and ‘by admonitions, requests, or any other means of making it clear that there will never be another chance for those who owe you a debt to thank you.’
He encouraged his brother to think about who he’d helped and who owed him and to use their sense of gratitude to coerce them to support him.
Seneca and Cicero had different ideas about why to give and whether to keep a record of who owed you in return. They both knew the patronage, but they had different views.
Paul used patronage language. But, if we just read our theory of patronage in, we can misread what he says. We must listen to what Paul says about it himself!
13 PEOPLE AND PATRONS TODAY
PATRONAGE NETWORKS PLAY big roles in Lebanon. Nizar Hamzeh sats that patronage networks have evolved to persist alongside the modern state system, where patrons provide access to ‘state’ services they control to their followers.
Many Lebanese people have suffered due to not gaining services. They can have a very negative view of patrons. They can point to patronage networks as one of the causes of the country’s terrible financial crisis and are suffering its effects.
Other Lebanese people see their patronage networks and their patrons as sources of support to them, and especially value these networks given the current difficult financial crisis.
Like the pizza dough, if we take one of these views and stretch it out over everyone, we’ll find it breaks in our hands.
The Satirist Juvenal lived in first century Rome. He wrote this picture of upper-class people—only those allowed to wear the toga—lining up at a patrons home, ‘Look now at the meager dole set down upon the threshold for a toga-clad (i.e. upper-class) mob to scramble for! Yet the [benefactor] first peers into your face, fearing that you may be claiming under someone else’s name: once recognised, you will get your share.’
He talks about the patron being suspicious of those lining up. It also shows people coming in based on their status ranks.
Paul wrote a letter to people in Rome who would’ve known patronage systems very well—Like the people of Lebanon. Maybe they’d experienced patrons like Cicero encouraged his brother to act. Maybe they had sought help but potential patrons were suspicious and refused to help them. Maybe they couldn’t even get charis because they were not of high enough rank in society to attract the help of a patron.
Paul said, ‘The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature— have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…’ (Rom. 1:18-20).
He carried on, ‘For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened’ (Rom. 1:21).
Paul sought to lead his hearers to feel shame. They had missed the opportunity to show gratitude to God. Cicero implied that his brother could use this to intimidate people to support his interests. If they didn’t show gratitude to him, the relationship would be broken. 24
But, God is not like Cicero. Paul explained, ‘There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace (charis) through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 3:21-24).
People have fallen short of honouring God. But, God doesn’t reject them like Cicero might have.
God does not bless them because they deserve it as his faithful clients, but because he can bless them! Even when they have been ungrateful.
Many Lebanese people might find Paul’s portrayal of God in patronage terms a helpful way of thinking about how God sees us and how he is different to some patrons today.
14 ALWAYS A STRONG SENSE OF LOYALTY?
THE RABBINIC WRITINGS record that Rabbi Yudan said, ‘Flesh and blood has a patron. If a time of distress befalls him, he cannot enter the [house of his patron] unexpectedly; but rather he comes and stands at his gate and calls to [the patron’s] slave or to a member of his household, and that one says [to the patron]: “A certain person stands at the gate of your courtyard.” Perhaps [the patron] lets him in; perhaps he leaves him.
But the Holy One, blessed be he, is not like that.’ Rabbi Yudan doubted that people could count on human patrons to help them.
After all, the tenants wanted to take the land from their patron.
Jesus told the parable of the tenants. The tenants wanted to take the land from the wealthy landowner who’d allowed them to live off his land.
Patrons also doubted the loyalty of their clients. In the parable of the good shepherd, Jesus spoke about some hired hands looking after a flock. They were in it for themselves, not their flock. They fled and abandoned their flock when they faced danger.
He contrasted them with the good shepherd who was devoted to protecting his flock.
Jesus is completely loyal to protecting his flock. But not every patron is. They fluctuate, or pretend!
People have different strengths of loyalty to one another. We mentioned that the people of the ‘West’ tend to imagine that the people of the ‘East’ are super committed to a cause.
This can lead ‘Western’ people to assume that clients are always zealously loyal to their patron.
This can lead them to make overly confident predictions that everyone will feel a strong sense of loyalty. This can lead people to hold back from giving help, or taking help, because they think there will be super strong bonds of loyalty created.
For example, someone turns down a request from someone to help them start a business—because he doesn’t want them to subsequently become his client and create dependency.
We can see the power-dynamic we’ve discussed at work again in such settings.
The western person made the decision based on a model and assumptions. People are flesh and blood. He didn’t involve the person asking for help.
15 FAITH AND ALLEGIANCE
THE WORD PISTIS was used in the Greek and Roman world to talk about relational loyalty/ trust. It was used to talk about how the people in a patronage relationship trusted
one another and so entrusted themselves to one another. The word pistis used throughout the book of Acts to talk about people choosing to put their ‘faith’ in Jesus. It carries the idea of people who are persuaded to confidently entrust themselves to Jesus.
Peter, Paul and others proclaimed the truths about Jesus’ death, resurrection and what God had accomplished through this to people. They called them to entrust themselves to Jesus.
In Acts, we see that different people coming to entrust themselves to Jesus because of different things. These included seeing signs and wonders (Acts 5:12-15), hearing people tell stories about things Jesus had said and done (Acts 4:4; 10:37–43; 16:32), being taught what these things meant for them (Luke 1:1–4).
God opened peoples’ hearts to understand.
How can you share the good news about Jesus with those you know so they entrust themselves to him? Lots of people in Lebanon have friends, colleagues and neighbours from different religious and cultural backgrounds.
These relationships can mean that people have multiple and complex allegiances. They navigate them in life. It may be helpful to highlight the way the apostle Paul describes God using patronage language and the relational element of faith to help people to explore their allegiance to God in the midst of these complex cultural, political and relational allegiances they navigate on a daily basis.
16 WHO IS THE PATRON?
I’VE NOTICED WHEN people from the ‘West’ talk about patronage, they tend to put themselves in the role of the patron—the more powerful person.
This can arise from a ‘Western’ sense of belonging to a superior country, class or way of seeing the world. Some people in the region also treat ‘Western’ people this way.
But, this is not always because they think the ‘Westerner’ is superior. Don’t confuse their hospitality that they choose to show to you, the guest, where they treat you with respect, as a sign they see you as a potential patron. They are the powerful person, showing hospitality to you, the weaker guest in their setting.
Even if they think you are superior, why not approach the relationships as the weaker party. You don’t have a long term right to remain. You don’t know the language(s) as well as those in this country. You don’t have a wide network of friends and connections. Why do you think you are more powerful?
They are the more powerful who are helping you. Christ is sufficient for us. He helps us. He blesses people through us—amazingly!
But he doesn’t make us superior and never promised to. He actually teaches us to take the place of the lower class person.
Let’s finish by looking at the story of Paul in Ephesus. Paul lived in the city for a couple of years and many people came to faith in Jesus through many ways. Acts tells us some snapshots. Paul found some disciples who hadn’t yet received the spirit. He spoke in the synagogue. He taught in a school hall. God healed people after touching Paul’s garments that he wore tentmaking. Some people tried to use Paul’s name in exorcism and were beaten up by evil spirits. People came to entrust themselves to Jesus in all sorts of ways—and many people!
Then a silversmith and his connections worked up a riot against them, probably because people were buying less Artemis statues.
Paul wanted to go out into the theater to address the mob.
The disciples wouldn’t let Paul go do it.
‘And even some of the Asiarches, who were friends of his, sent to him and urged him not to go into the theater.’ Asiarch was a title given to those who held high political offices in the cities in the province of Asia.
Rather than talking about patrons or clients, it was more common for people to simply call one another ‘friends.’ It avoided explicitly pointing out who was the stronger/ weaker people in the relationship.
These Asiarches who were ‘friends’ of Paul, were upper class and held power in the area. They may have acted to protect Paul by urging him not to go.
Paul was not the most socially powerful person in Ephesus, and yet God worked through him to bless many. Why did Luke highlight the Asiarches alongside the disciples here?
Luke seems to highlight some upper-class people in the book of Acts who are sympathetic to the spread of the movement of followers of Jesus in some way (e.g. Acts 13:12; 17:4, 12, 34).
Maybe he wanted to show that upper-class powerful people in Asia were interested in Paul and patronized him, probably as a teacher. Maybe this would have helped upper-class powerful people who heard Acts to show similar interest in Paul.
Maybe, it suggested the movement need not be viewed as a threat to the Greco-Roman world.
Having powerful friends can reassure other powerful people. Being weak can be the opportunity for these friendships to develop. 30
Sometimes ‘Western’ people have expressed that they don’t feel comfortable being honoured or given more opportunities. They prefer to seek low places. But, some friends from the region encourage them to use these opportunities—they would if they had them. Seek ‘friends’.
Be a patron, and bless people.
Be a client, and bless people.
Sabine R. Huebner, Papyri and the Social World of the New Testament. Cambridge: 1 Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition, pp. 74-75.
Arnaldo Momigliano, and Tim Cornell, “Cliens.” In The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Edited 2 by Simon Hornblower, Anthony Spawforth and Esther Eidinow. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, 334.
These issues come from my own experience, but the Palestinian Christian Edward W. Said 3 describes and analyses them far beyond what I am talking about here, see Orientalism. New York: Penguin, 1995. While people from other European countries have had interest in the East, they do not have the long history of colonial relationships to the region that Britain, France and now the US have, and so the dynamics are somewhat different. Many Arabic speakers use the term sharq, but this carries various connotations that differ 4 from the English term.
Edward Said, Orientalism, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985, 8. 5
Said, Orientalism, 7. 6
Julian, Pitt-Rivers, The People of the Sierra. London: Weidenfield and Nicholson, 1954, 140. 7 J.K. Campbell, Honour, Family and Patronage: A Study of Institutions and Moral Values in a 8 Greek Mountain Community. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964, 234.
Joshua Rice, Paul and Patronage: The Dynamics of Power in 1 Corinthians. Eugene: 9 Pickwick Publications, 2013, 47.
(John Duncan Powell, “Peasant Society and Clientelist Politics.” The American Political 10 Science Review 64(2). (1970):411–25, 413).
Powell, Clientelist Politics, 413. 11
Powell, Clientelist Politics, 414. 12
Arnaldo Momigliano, and Tim Cornell, “Cliens.” In The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Edited 13 by Simon Hornblower, Anthony Spawforth and Esther Eidinow. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, 334.
Frederick W. Danker, Benefactor: Epigraphic Study of a Greco-Roman and New Testament 14 Semantic Field. St. Louis: Clayton, 1982.
Bruce. J. Malina, The Social World of Jesus and the Gospels. London: Routledge, 1996, 15 143-178.
David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture. 16 Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000.
For example, see Teresa Morgan, Roman Faith and Christian Faith: Pistis and Fides in the 17 Early Roman Empire and Early Churches. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015; and James R. Harrison, Paul’s Language of Grace in its Greco-Roman Context. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2017.
BDAG and Morgan, Roman Faith. 18
Seneca, On Benefits, 1.2. 19
Cicero, Com. Pet. 4. 20
See for example, Samir Khalaf, “Changing Forms of Political Patronage in Lebanon.” In 21 Patrons and Clients in Mediterranean Societies. Edited by Ernest Gellner and John Waterbury, 185-205. London: Duckworth, 1977. Yusri Hazran, The Druze Community and the Lebanese State: Between Confrontation and Reconciliation. New York: Routledge, 2014. Joseph Daher, Hezbollah: The Political Economy of Lebanon’s Party of God. London: Pluto Press, 2016. Nader Moumneh, The Lebanese Forces: Emergence and Transformation of the Christian Resistance. Rowman & Littlefield, 2019. Diana Zeidan, “Networks of Dependency and Governmentality in Southern Lebanon: Networks of Dependency.” In Clientelism and Patronage in The Middle East and North Africa. Edited by Laura Ruiz de Elvira, Christoph H. Schwarz and Irene Weipert-Fenner, 192-210. New York: Routledge, 2018. Nizar A. Hamzeh, “Clientalism, Lebanon: Roots and Trends.” Middle Eastern Studies 37(3) 22 (2001): 167–78.
Juvenal, Satires, 1. 95-107. 23
- Ber 9.1, 13a, modified from Susan Sorek, Remembered for Good: A Jewish Benefaction 24 System in Ancient Palestine. The Social World of Biblical Antiquity, Second Series, 5. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2010, 237.
BDAG and Morgan, Roman Faith. 25
Morgan, Roman Faith, 382. 26
- F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (New International Commentary on the New Testament). 27 Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988, 376-377; Craig S. Keener, Acts. 3. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014. Kindle Edition, 102109-102110.
David W.J. Gill, “Acts and the Urban Elites.” In The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting. 28 2. Graeco-Roman Setting. Edited by David W.J. Gill and Conrad Gempf, 105-118. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.
Rich lives with his family in a socially deprived area of Beirut. They and their friends are sharing the love of God with people of many different backgrounds. Rich enjoys teaching the Bible in hookah cafes, living rooms, corner shops and also sometimes in universities in the US and Lebanon and in some books and blogs. He loves learning about God with their Arabic speaking friends and can’t understand God’s generosity to him in adopting him into his global family.