The Sermon on the Mount and Spiritual Exercises Open Access

Branch-Trevathan, George Benjamin (2016)

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This dissertation poses a general question in ethics--How do people become able to realize ethical ideals?--and examines one early Christian text--the Gospel of Matthew--to address it. To describe how Matthew imagines people attain moral ideals, I take as a starting point the evangelist's depiction of regimented practices and, more specifically, his depiction of the function of the sayings collection that constitutes chapters 5-7 of his composition, the Sermon on the Mount. Following an introductory chapter that surveys the scholarship on regimented practices and on the Gospel of Matthew on which I build, in chapter two I present the evidence that leads many scholars of antiquity to conclude that some ancient sayings collections formed the basis for practices intended to transform practitioners into particular ethical ideals, for what the historian of philosophy Pierre Hadot calls "spiritual exercises." Chapters three, four, and five argue that comparable evidence exists for Matt 5-7 and that therefore it is reasonable to conclude that Matthew portrays the Sermon on the Mount as the basis for spiritual exercises intended to transform practitioners into the moral ideal articulated in Matthew's gospel. This conclusion about Matthew's depiction of chapters 5-7 has implications for our understanding of Matthew's ethics in its ancient contexts, the history of self-transformation in antiquity, and the study of ethics generally. As I explain in the concluding chapter, it implies that Matthew views the attainment of moral ideals as a long travail characterized by spiritual exercises, that the prevailing periodization of the history of spiritual exercises must be abandoned because it claims that a first-century Christian author like Matthew should not feature such exercises in his ethical theory--the opposite of what this dissertation shows--, and that the approach this dissertation takes, its focus on spiritual exercises, can be useful for discerning how other authors portray moral transformation and thus valuable in addressing the general question this dissertation seeks to address.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Introduction. 1

The Question and the Starting Point. 1

Prior Research. 4

The Plan of This Study. 59

Chapter Two: Sayings Collections and Spiritual Exercises. 64

The Contents of Sayings Collections. 64

The Functions of Sayings Collections. 90

Sayings Collections and Spiritual Exercises. 103

Conclusion. 143

Chapter Three: Matthew's Moral Ideal, Part I: The Fruits Metaphor. 145

The Roots of Right Actions. 154

Moral Duplicity. 174

Conclusion. 218

Chapter Four: Matthew's Moral Ideal, Part II: Other Evidence. 220

15:1-20. 221

Chs. 24-5. 245

Hypocrisy. 278

Conclusion. 287

Chapter Five: The Sermon on the Mount as the Basis of a Spiritual Exercise. 291

Internal Evidence that the SM Resembles the Basis of a Spiritual Exercise. 292

External Evidence that the SM Resembles the Basis of a Spiritual Exercise. 354

Conclusion. 357

Chapter Six: Conclusion. 359

Implications of this Study. 370

Bibliography. 377

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