The “benefactor” (Luke 22)

In Luke 22:25 Jesus spoke of how Gentile rulers loved to call themselves “benefactors”. The Greek word for “benefactors” is euergetes, and classical scholars speak of “euergetism”, a social phenomenon of the Greco-Roman world in which rulers and wealthy people would gain a reputation for themselves as philanthropists on behalf of the people through acts of public generosity. This became extremely important during the Roman Republic, when senators struggled for success in the cursus honorum (“the path of honours”), the career track that took a citizen through various public offices to the height of Roman power, the rank of consul. In order to win popularity and votes, a senator would sponsor public games and spectacles, build parks and temples and perform other works of public service. Julius Caesar, for example, was lavish in his public beneficence during his rise to power. Roman rulers would also gain the support of the provinces by sponsoring public improvements around the Roma world. The Mediterranean region contains thousands of inscriptions commemorating the public generosity of such individuals.

Jesus’ use of the word “benefactor” was obviously intended as irony – and for good reason. Although there are examples of real generosity from such donors, the practice was often inspired by political self-interest or financed by ruthless taxation of the provinces ot other corrupt practices. In addition, such benefactors often demanded the submission of those whom they had allegedly helped.

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