John Dominic Crossan
Crossan discusses this cluster, along with 043 Blessed the Poor and 199 Kingdom and Riches under the heading "A Kingdom of Nobodies" Historical Jesus, 266-68. This discussion draws on his "Kingdom and Children: A Study in the Aphoristic Tradition." Semeia 29 (1983) 75-95. He concludes:
But what would ordinary Galilean peasants have thought about children? Would "like a child" have immediately meant being humble, being innocent, being new, being credulous? Go back, if you will, to those papyrus fragments quoted in chapter 1 of this book and think for a moment of the infants, often female but male as well, abandoned at birth by their parents and saved from the rubbish dumps to be reared as slaves. Pagan writers were, according to Menahem Stern, rather surprised that Jewish parents did not practice such potential infanticide (1976-84:1.33, 2.41), but still, to be a child was to be a nobody, with the possibility of becoming a somebody absolutely dependent on parental discretion and parental standing in the community. That, I think, is the heart of the matter with all other allusions or further interpretations clustering around that central and shocking metaphor. A kingdom of the humble, of the celibate, or of the baptized comes later. This comes first: a kingdom of children is a kingdom of nobodies.' (p. 269)
The views of the Jesus Seminar on this item may be represented as follows:
- Thom 22:2
- Thom 22:2
- Mark 10:14b
- Matt 19:14
- Luke 18:16
- Mark 10:15
- Luke 18:17
- Matt 18:3
- Matt 18:4
- John 3:3,5
Lüdemann Jesus, (68) takes v 15 a detached saying, inserted into the scene of Mark 10:13-16. He understands the wider scene to be a community creation, reflecting discussion on whether children were to be baptized. He suggests that the memory of Jesus' treatment of children could have been the basis for the scene's creation. He accepts the authenticity of v. 15 primarily on grounds of coherence with other authentic sayings. He dismisses Thom 22:2 as a secondary created (based on Mark 10:15 par) to serve as an introduction to the exposition of Gnostic character in the following sentences.
John P. Meier
While Meier several times refers to these texts as examples of "entrance into the kingdom" sayings [eg, Marginal Jew (III,485 n. 146), he does not address the question of their historicity in the first three volumes of his study.
Mahlon Smith [DOING and UNDOING the WORD: Jesus and the Dialectics of Christology] (Forum 3.2 (Fall 2000) 321-56) has described the divine commonwealth as a "kingless kingdom," a "beggars' opera" and an "unsupervised kindergarten" in which there are no carers on duty:
(4) Unsupervised kindergarten. Born into a world where Israelite ideals were difficult to maintain in the face of the pervasiveness of Greek culture and Roman military and economic imperialism, any Jew other than Jesus might have mimicked and elaborated the ancient prophetic descriptions of YHWH's hierarchical heavenly domain. And several did. But there is no reliable evidence that the historical Jesus chose this tack. Rather, he paradoxically depicted God's basileia as the possession of paidia -- i.e., children under the age of seven -- and insisted that only those who mimicked paidia had access to it. Preachers and theologians have long romanticized or allegorized this pronouncement. But no one who has ever lived with a child in this age bracket or tried to teach kindergarten could honestly maintain that what Jesus really meant was that people should be innocent or absolutely dependent or obedient or display unqualified trust. If there is anything a pre-schooler, whatever its culture, is not, it is all of the above. So, if Jesus meant any of these, he chose the wrong metaphor. Pre-schoolers are notoriously and innately independent-minded and hard to control. That is precisely why classic pedagogy stressed the need for strict discipline. But Jesus' pronouncement leaves no space in God's basileia for any pedagogue other than the benign Papa (Abba) who provides his offspring's daily nourishment and tolerates the bad along with the good. Instead of depicting this Parent as a strict disciplinarian dedicated to reforming his children, Jesus portrayed him as one who celebrates the homecoming of the wayward child who had lost everything he had given him. Jesus, for his part, did not volunteer to act as supervisor of such urchins. Instead of posing as a teacher, Jesus thanked his Abba for revealing to infants (NEPIA) -- i.e., children who are not ready for any instruction -- what sages per se cannot see. Infants are not passive subjects; they demand attention and do what they -- not any parents -- want. So, if the synoptic anecdote that portrays Jesus as identifying himself as a paidion is a Markan fiction, at least it is what R. W. Funk terms a 'true fiction': a story that accurately illustrates the logic and attitude of Jesus himself. The historical Jesus was a Jewish Peter Pan, who warned his fellow homeless 'boys' (and 'girls'?) against acting like educated -- supposedly grown-up -- scholars who seek personal recognition and vie for places of honor for themselves. Thus, the only people who were (or are) in an appropriate position to proclaim Jesus as their 'master' (kyrios) and themselves as his 'students' (MAQHTAI) would be those who follow(ed) his example of childish autonomy, even if that meant defying parents and older siblings and defaulting on the most basic honor children owe their natural fathers: a decent burial. Crossan is certainly correct, therefore, to characterize Jesus as a 'rebel with a cause.' For, far from demanding that others recognize him as their master, Jesus encouraged youngsters to assert their own autonomy vis-a-vis even domestic autocratic hierarchy. He did not offer to save them from the consequences.