Challenging The Authority Of Jesus: Mark 11:27-33 And Mediterranean Notions Of Honor And Shame -- By: Joseph H. Hellerman

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 43:2 (Jun 2000)
Article: Challenging The Authority Of Jesus: Mark 11:27-33 And Mediterranean Notions Of Honor And Shame
Author: Joseph H. Hellerman


Challenging The Authority Of Jesus:
Mark 11:27-33 And Mediterranean Notions Of Honor And Shame

Joseph H. Hellermana

The final quarter of the twentieth century has been characterized by the employment of a variety of new methodologies in NT study. Models imported from the field of cultural anthropology have proved particularly fruitful for scholars interested in gaining a better understanding of the world of the early Christians. Near the beginning of almost every introductory textbook dealing with the cultural background of the NT, the reader encounters a chapter addressing Mediterranean sensibilities concerning honor and shame. Honor is consistently identified as the single most important value or “good” in the ancient world. The cultural centrality of honor serves, in turn, to explain much about Jesus’ interactions with his antagonists in the Gospel narratives. Specifically, the questions which Jewish leaders repeatedly bring to Jesus must be interpreted as challenges to Jesus’ honor. 1

Beyond these general observations, however, few writers have attempted to utilize the honor-shame construct in a close reading of a specific Gospel passage. 2 The escalating confrontations between Jesus and the Jewish leaders in Mark 11:27–12:34 offer particularly promising material for such

analysis, and this has not gone unnoticed in the literature. 3 But even in commentaries intentionally designed to highlight the socio-cultural background of the Gospels, one finds only general comments about the place of honor-and-shame, and challenge-and-riposte, in the conflicts between Jesus and his opponents. 4 My intent here is to carefully examine a single important encounter between Jesus and his adversaries narrated in Mark 11:27–33. I will highlight the way in which the pivotal value of honor in Mediterranean society illumines the text at crucial points in the course of the highly charged dialogue.

I. Understanding Honor And Shame

1. Defining honor. Bruce Malina and Jerome Neyrey define honor as “the positive value of a person in his or her own eyes plus the positive appreciation of that person in the eyes of his or her social group.” As they proceed to elaborate, “In this perspective honor is a claim to positive worth along with the social acknowledgment of that worth by others.” You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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