Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Seminary Papers #1: Applying Social Science Criticism

Over the past few months I have written A LOT. I know most people won't care, but I thought I would share one paper from each class I had last semester so that you can see what I have been up to and what I have been "learning". This paper is one of my best ever. I say this because I actually managed to get above a perfect score on it.

The cultural of first century Palestine was dramatically different than today’s Western cultural. While this is an over-simplification, there were three major traits that defined this culture: the patron-client relationship, the value of kin, and most importantly the concept of honor and shame. The way that these traits worked in the first century society were often intertwined. Biblical scholars can gain a deeper understanding of the text by utilizing the social science criticism. By using Mark 5:21-43, it will be shown how the socio-cultural context can illuminate scripture

Nearly everything in the first century culture revolved around the idea of honor and shame. Honor is how much self worth one viewed that they possessed. Another key aspect of honor is that there was a limited amount of it to go around. This limited good meant that people were always aware of what they had and took, because it meant others would not have it. This concept of limited good applied to all resources and commodities. The example of how this works can be seen in the woman with the issue of blood, as she touched Jesus in hopes that some of his would transfer to her. Honor also came in two forms: ascribed and acquired. Ascribed honor is honor that one inherited from their family, whereas acquired honor is honor that which society deems upon a person (Esler 27). In Mark 5:21-43, Jarius the synagogue ruler is a person of considerable honor both ascribed and acquired. The title synagogue ruler is a highly honorable one, so the reader can assume that Jarius comes from a family that has a great deal of ascribed honor. In addition to that, verse 35 claims that some men came from the house of Jarius. This signifies that Jarius had clients which would have prescribed acquired honor upon him.

The workings of the patron-client relationship can be seen throughout Mark 5:21-43. A patron was often a person of higher honor, who supported clients. The patron received more honor by having people identify themselves as their client, and the client received honor by being associated with their patron. Jesus could have been perceived as person with a great deal of honor, as his twelve disciples could easily be interpreted as clients to him. When one wanted to gain honor from another, there was a series of challenges and responses. In this situation, an individual challenges the social space of another. The challenge is then received, then there is a counter challenge and finally there is the public reaction which determines how honor has been reshuffled. It is important to note that the challenge-response can only happen among equals (Esler 28). The interactions between Jesus and Jarius can be seen as a challenge-response. Jarius challenges Jesus when he throws himself before Jesus asking for his help. In doing so, Jarius gives up some of his honor to Jesus, in exchange for a service. Jesus does this service for Jarius, and in doing so restores honor to Jarius, both in what was given up and in the restoration of his daughter, who can bring honor to his family. This illustrates the importance of kin in this society. A daughter was an asset to be protected, because they carried a great deal of honor that could easily be lost. If a daughter was successfully married to another family, then the daughter brought a great deal of honor to the family. Some also argue that the incident with the woman with the issue of blood is also a challenge response, but I do not think this is the case. The woman does not formally challenge Jesus, but instead acts in a way that is shameful by touching a stranger. The woman was so desperate for a healing, and her faith was so strong that she was willing to sacrifice her honor to be freed from her suffering.


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