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Love for enemies — it’s so BC

06 Jul

The most radical aspect of Jesus’ teaching is supposedly his instruction to love one’s enemies. But compare the explicit teaching of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus . . .

Epictetus . . . calls for a sort of “love of enemies”: the sage (i.e., the ideal philosopher and human being) “must needs be flogged like an ass, and while he is being flogged he must love [φιλεῖν] the men who flog him, as though he were the father or brother of them all.”

(2010-11-01). Stoicism in Early Christianity (Kindle Locations 875-877). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Not that the Stoics were the first to conceive of the idea, either.

Avalos takes us farther yet, however. The concept of loving enemies is found in Near Eastern and other texts long before the Roman era. In the Akkadian Counsels of Wisdom we find

Requite with kindness your evil doer. Maintain justice to your enemy. Smile on your adversary.

Avalos further cites similar a passage in ancient Egyptian wisdom literature, and finds the comparable ethic expounded at length by the Jewish philosopher Philo. In fact, Philo extrapolates a “wider human kinship” from passages in the Pentateuch that require kindness towards animals owned by enemies. This gives the lie to those who have tried to make Jesus’ teachings unique by insisting that the Old Testament was not so understood by Jewish interpreters of the day.

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1 Comment

Posted by on July 6, 2015 in early Christianity

 

One response to “Love for enemies — it’s so BC

  1. Shira

    July 9, 2015 at 10:12 am

    The Buddha, in the parable of the saw sutta, taught: “Monks, even if bandits were to savagely sever you, limb by limb, with a double-handled saw, even then, whoever of you harbors ill will at heart would not be upholding my Teaching. Monks, even in such a situation you should train yourselves thus: ‘Neither shall our minds be affected by this, nor for this matter shall we give vent to evil words, but we shall remain full of concern and pity, with a mind of love, and we shall not give in to hatred. On the contrary, we shall live projecting thoughts of universal love to those very persons, making them as well as the whole world the object of our thoughts of universal love — thoughts that have grown great, exalted and measureless. We shall dwell radiating these thoughts which are void of hostility and ill will.’ It is in this way, monks, that you should train yourselves.

    I am not familiar with Jain scripture (which is, in the main, older than Buddhist scripture), but I would be surprised if that teaching was not found there at all. It might even have representation in the Vedas, which would make it very ancient indeed.

    Moreover, I suspect that there have been unusual individuals teaching this message throughout human existence, even as the majority of human beings are very well adapted for vengeance.

     
 
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