Family Values: Anti-Familial Rhetoric And Counterculture In The Sayings Of Jesus: A Social-Structural Study

Date of Graduation

Summer 2001


Master of Arts in Religious Studies


Religious Studies

Committee Chair

LaMoine DeVries


In contrast with the Old Testament and much of the New Testament, there exists a high degree of anti-familial rhetoric in gospel accounts of Jesus and his followers. Furthermore, other groups, including Cynics and Essenes, relativized family ties during the first century, leading many scholars to search for direct behavioral influences between these groups, Jesus, and his followers. This work argues that underlying socio-structural factors led to the rise of many groups exhibiting anti-familial behavior in first-century Palestine. First, typical and non-typical family structures are examined according to the historical evidence. Then, selected sayings from the gospel literature are subjected to form-critical and redactional criticism, as well as specific criteria of authenticity to determine the probability of each saying originating with the historical Jesus. Finally, social-scientific conflict theory is used to determine the social structural forces that impacted families. As a result, this study demonstrates that Jesus and his immediate followers exhibited a cavalier disregard for traditional family ties, but they were not unique. Rather, the presence of this behavior among several groups suggest that economic and political exploitation of traditional families by the elite led many people to abandon typical families in protest and form redefined fictive kinships based primarily on a motivated ideology.

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© James A. Murphy