The Erasure Of Distinction: Paul And The Politics Of Dishonour -- By: J. R. Harrison

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 67:1 (NA 2016)
Article: The Erasure Of Distinction: Paul And The Politics Of Dishonour
Author: J. R. Harrison

The Erasure Of Distinction: Paul And The Politics Of Dishonour

J. R. Harrison



The article investigates the deliberate erasure of inscriptional honours of two individuals in the first century: Augustus’s ‘friend’, the infamous Gaius Cornelius Gallus, and the famous orator of Isthmia, Nikias. The public dishonouring of rivals by their enemies was common in antiquity. The author explores how this phenomenon illuminates Paul’s conception of glory in Romans and his attack on boasting in oratorical performance in the Corinthian epistles. Paul sets forth a different understanding of honour based on the shame of the cross, God’s election of the socially despised, and the elevation of the dishonoured in the Body of Christ.

1. Introduction

In antiquity the erasure of an inscription was a significant act of public dishonour to the honorand.1 It could be perpetrated by personal or family enemies of the honorand, or by rivals consumed with invidia (‘envy’, ‘jealousy’) over the honorand’s civic distinction, or by political regimes redefining the past or, alternatively, reclaiming the past because of the despised actions, attitudes and ideology of the previous ruler(s). The phenomenon was widespread in antiquity but, surprisingly, it has only recently been studied in classical scholarship in

an extended way,2 and, so far as I am aware, it has been overlooked by New Testament scholars. The damnatio memoriae (‘condemnation of memory’) of figures of antiquity, perpetrated primarily through the destruction of their iconography and the erasure of their inscriptions, is well known,3 with Nero and Domitian being celebrated first-century examples.4Sometimes the ‘politics of dishonour’ gripped ancient city states with particular intensity, spanning the original eulogy of the honorand, his subsequent damnatio memoriae by the new regime, and his restitution to political honour at a later period.5 The erasure of the public honour mentioned in the eulogistic inscription or of the honorand’s name is the key ritual. There is little doubt, therefore, that the obliteration of distinction was deeply feared by the socially and politically powerful, as well as by their clients who basked in their patron’s deflected honour.

Paul’s refusal to be ‘ashamed’ of the ‘foolishness...

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