Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Honour and Shame in Mark's Gospel
When I was in theological college, I took a course on Jesus and the Gospels and my lecturer, Jeff Pugh, introduced us to social-scientific criticism of the New Testament. What I found particularly helpful was his interpretation of the Gospel of Mark through the categories of honour and shame. Jeff showed, with great pathos and pastoral effect, that in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus enters into the competitive honour game of challenge-response in the honour stakes in his encounters with his opponents. In fact, as the credentials of his opponents gradually increases in the narratives (Scribes --> Pharisees --> Saducees --> Herodians --> High Priests --> Pilate), Jesus is up to the task. And despite the fact that Jesus' honour is overtly attacked, Jesus emerges as more honourable than his opponents because, despite their protestations, Jesus defends God's honour (see esp. Mk. 3.20-35). Indeed, seeking honour in servitude represents a whole new praxis for his followers to emulate (Mk. 10.41-44), and Jesus makes the "cross", the quintessential symbol of the dishonourable death, the criterion for honouring him and God.
In a fairly recent article, David Watson ('The "Messianic Secret": Demythologizing a Non-Existent Markan Theme,' Journal of Theology) writes:
"Mark not only proposes a new context for securing honour, but through the actions of Jesus promotes new criteria by which honor is established. God's own Son has shown a new way of living, and those who wish to be a part of this new community centered on Jesus must be ready to adopt a vision of honorable behavior quite different from that held by the vast majority of people in the wider culture. By enduring dishonor from outsiders, showing compassion and humility, becoming a servant, and putting others first - all of which Jesus does in Mark's gospel - Christians displayed honorable behavior according to the standards of their own group. Thus, they achieved honor among other Christians."