Why was Judeo-Christian culture charitable to the poor?

#1
https://aeon.co/essays/the-poor-might-ha...ty-has-not

EXCERPT: In Greco-Roman culture, the well-to-do weren’t expected to support and help the poor. The Greek and Latin verbs for ‘doing good, being beneficent’ never have ‘the poor’ as their object, nor do they mean ‘almsgiving’. The Greek word philanthrôpia doesn’t have the sense of our modern philanthropy. One is philanthrôpos towards one’s own people, family, and guests – not towards the poor. [...]

Religion was not much help to the poor: they simply weren’t the favourites of the gods. There was a Zeus Xenios (for strangers) and a Zeus Hiketêsios (for supplicants), but there was no Zeus Ptôchios (for the poor), nor any other god with an epithet indicating concern for the needy. It was rather the rich who were seen as the favourites of the divine world, their wealth being the visible proof of that favour. The poor could not pray for help from the gods because they were poor, for their poverty was a disadvantage in their contact with the gods. This was the implication of the common belief that the poor were morally inferior to the rich. They were often regarded as more readily inclined to do evil; for that reason, their poverty was commonly seen as their own fault. No wonder that they were not seen as people deserving help, and that no organised charity developed in Ancient Greece or Rome. In such societies, giving alms to the poor could not be seen as a virtue, as care for them was often regarded as a mere waste of resources.

[...] While care for the poor, let alone organised charity, was a non-item in Greco-Roman antiquity, it is a central concern in the Jewish Bible. Caring for the poor is seen as a major duty and virtue not only in the Torah of Moses, but also in the Prophets and other biblical writings. Most significantly, God is seen as the protector of the poor and the rescuer of the needy. They are his favourites and the objects of his mercy, regarded as humble before God and therefore often as pious and righteous.

That is not to say that we will find a positive evaluation of poverty here – the poor are ‘righteous’ only insofar as they are the innocent victims of injustice, and poverty does not automatically translate into piety, but it does seem to make one closer to God. In a courtroom, an Ancient Greek could invoke his opponent’s poverty in order to cast a dubious light on his character – this strategy was not available to a biblical Israelite.

The Torah urges Israel to be generous towards the poor in their midst. The prophets warn repeatedly against oppressing the poor and the needy. A ‘day acceptable to the Lord’ is the day on which the people share their bread with the hungry, bring the poor into their house, and clothe the naked. In the book of Job, the protagonist’s efforts to help the poor are emphasised as laudable. The poor were to be allowed to harvest the borders or corners of the fields and vineyards, and the sabbatical year was instituted in order that the poor might eat. The biblical adage ‘Open your hand to the poor’ encapsulates the Jewish Bible’s approach to charity.

In spite of the fact that there is much concern for the poor in the Bible, there still is no organised charity. [...] It’s hard to say when these poor-relief systems came into force because the sources that inform us about them are mostly late, that is, rabbinic. It is likely that the large-scale impoverishment caused by the two great wars against Rome (66-74 and 132-135 CE) was the most important trigger for producing this systematic care for the poor. Still, it’s not out of that question that some form of the system was already operative before 70 CE...

The Christians had a system of poor relief right from the start, as indicated in the New Testament. In the earliest phase, when the Church was still a Jewish movement in the early 30s CE, the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem appointed seven men to oversee the daily distribution of food among the widows in their community. Not much later, the Jerusalem apostles and Paul agreed that the latter would organise a large-scale collection of money for the poor of the Christian community in Jerusalem. But these Christian initiatives cannot be regarded as a proof that Jewish-organised charity was already fully developed by the first half of the 1st century CE.

If there was a Jewish system of poor relief in the period when all Christians were still Jewish and remained within the fold of Judaism, a separate system was not necessary because poor followers of Jesus would be supported by the Jewish system. Otherwise one would have to assume that a ‘parting of the ways’ between Jews and Christians was taking place right from the start, which is very unlikely. So on the one hand it would seem that organised charity was a Christian innovation from the beginning. On the other, it is very hard to imagine that the Jews of the early Jesus movement spontaneously created from scratch a system of care for the poor without any Jewish precedent....

[...] What accounts for the difference between Greco-Roman and Jewish and Christian approaches to the care of the poor? The Dutch professor of ancient history Hendrik Bolkestein argued in his influential Charity and Poor Relief in Pre-Christian Antiquity (1939) that the differences between these two cultural spheres – as far as poor relief is concerned – had little or nothing to do with the differences between their respective religions. The contrast should be explained, he says, as a result of the different socioeconomic position of the poor in these cultures. To put it simply, Bolkestein states that the poor’s dependence upon the rich, and their lack of rights, was much higher in Israel than in Greece and Rome. However, recent research has shown that Bolkestein overstated the contrast between the socioeconomic position of the poor in Israel on the one hand and in Greece and Rome on the other. And aside from that, his interpretation of the evidence and the one proposed by me and others are not mutually exclusive.

It would seem, therefore, that there is little reason not to take seriously the Jewish and Christian claim that charity is a divine commandment, and that the poor have to be regarded as God’s protégés. The religious motivation of charity, the strong association of love for God with aid for the needy, is so omnipresent in all the Jewish and Christian evidence that it would be unwise to belittle or ignore it. To give an example, in the Jewish book of Tobit, the protagonist states right from the start that his care for the poor is the most obvious mark of his Jewishness, and that almsgiving is an excellent offering to the Most High. Nowhere is that religious principle stated more forcefully than in the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, when he says to those who fed the hungry and clothed the naked: ‘You did it to me’. (MORE - details)
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#2
I'm having some thoughts about ways to wage war and in particular how to raise an army.
If the poor greatly outnumber the rich and you need an army then you need the poor to fight for you. To enable the poor to fight you have to give them weapons. So you (the rich) are potentially greatly outnumbered by a bunch of (poor) folk who are armed and may not particularly like you. Even assuming you can avoid armed insurrection there is the possibility that your army will choose to join the opposing side if it looks like it might offer them a better life - or just a life as opposed to death in battle.

So rich and nice gives you a military advantage.
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#3
That's awful cynical.
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#4
(Mar 26, 2019 12:48 AM)confused2 Wrote: I'm having some thoughts about ways to wage war and in particular how to raise an army.

If the poor greatly outnumber the rich and you need an army then you need the poor to fight for you. To enable the poor to fight you have to give them weapons. So you (the rich) are potentially greatly outnumbered by a bunch of (poor) folk who are armed and may not particularly like you. Even assuming you can avoid armed insurrection there is the possibility that your army will choose to join the opposing side if it looks like it might offer them a better life - or just a life as opposed to death in battle.

So rich and nice gives you a military advantage.


Yah. Christianity promising the potential of elevated status in the afterlife and a minimum of equality even at worst, was no doubt a key factor in garnering the interest of the lower classes, the poor, and the dregs of society. After that appeal eventually swelled it toward becoming the dominate religion, then it was time for the nobles, pedantic elite, and political institutions to appropriate and employ it for their own purposes.

In retrospect, it's astonishing that a new or struggling belief system never recruited the wretched to that extent before. But then again, the Egyptian workers are said to have entertained flavors of the local religion which differed from that of the rulers. So there were perhaps subset faiths tailor-made for the unwashed masses throughout the ancient period (gone undocumented by scribes), that gave those members self-esteem and some remote hope for rank promotion in the eyes of the gods. They just never quite got it together with the passion and combination of dramatic features that Christianity sported.

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#5
CC Wrote:Christianity promising the potential of elevated status in the afterlife
Yeah, I might have underestimated the effect of transubstantiation, resurrection, reincarnation, Narnia and the Easter Bunny. Maybe another time.
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#6
Quote:To enable the poor to fight you have to give them weapons. 

But you might also pay them as well. There may be other perks (meals, plunder, pillage,rape) but I don't think a paid soldier is as poor as s/he was before entering the army.
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