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Cynics and Cynicism

CYNICS AND CYNICISM, Greek philosophy glorifying the unspoiled primitive life that left its imprint upon many ages and cultures. The Cynics used a fable-like witty anecdote, the chria, which immortalized the extreme actions and caustic bon mots of their favorite sages (often nonhistorical). They were followed in this by *Philo , tannaim, and amoraim, and some Church Fathers. Philo repeats many chriae and portrays the Jewish festivals and Moses' life in a cynicizing manner. It has recently been argued by Fischel that in the rabbinic stories of *Hillel and, to a lesser degree, *Eliezer b. Hyrcanus , *Joshua , *Meir , and *Akiva , are found cynic chriae or composites of chriic materials including their original social values, such as endurance, poverty, lowly toil, strenuous effort, and total non-worry (all non-biblical). Cynical invective, bawdiness, and offensive humor, however, are somewhat toned down in the talmudic stories or reinterpreted through halakhah and belief in a transcendental world. As in the Greco-Roman tradition these exempla were apparently used to increase the stature of a founder-sage.

Additional cynic-rhetorical favorites reworked in rabbinism include Heracles at the Crossroads (Eccl. R. on 1:14, etc.); the Laughing Democritus (Akiva) and the Weeping Heraclitus (Gamaliel, etc., Mak. 24a, etc.); the Forgetful Thales (Hillel, Pes. 66a, et al.); and anti-Alexander items (Tam. 31b, et al.). The cynical thaumaston, a chria on a visiting foreign sage (esp. the Scythian Anacharsis) who "marvels" (thaumazei) at the inner contradictions in the culture of his guests, may be the pattern for similar stories on Aesop, Jesus, and Hillel (TJ, Suk. 5:4, 55b; et al.).

The transition of cynic stances from the Greco-Roman scholar-bureaucracy to the Jewish-tannaitic one may have been facilitated by cynicism's superficial resemblance to biblical prophecy and by its critique of "paganism." Meir's reported disputations with the Cynic *Oenomaus of Gadara, although hardly genuine, may reflect some personal contacts, but then Oenomaus was a favorite target of Greco-Roman rhetoric. Kinukos (kunikos) as a destructive person occurs in the Jerusalem Talmud (Git. 7:1, 48c; et al.). Living under similar conditions the Cynics may have occasionally found rabbinic items congenial: Peregrinus Proteus' spectacular suicide at the Olympic Games of 167 C.E. resembles that of the Jewish high priest *Alcimus-Jakim according to the Midrash (Gen. R. 65:22).

Sources:D.R. Dudley, History of Cynicism (1937); R. Höistad, Cynic Hero and Cynic King (1948); I. Heinemann, Philon's griechische und juedische Bildung (1932, repr., 1962); Fischel, in: Religions in Antiquity, Essays… E.R. Goodenough (1968), 372–411; idem, in: American Oriental Society Middle West Branch Semi-Centennial Volume (1969), 59–88.

[Henry Albert Fischel]

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