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Honor and Shame in the Time of Palestine

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In first century Palestine, honor and shame were important to social elites because the two values defined the status within the communities. Honor is an important status because it is what separates the higher classes from the lower classes. Shame is the opposite of honor because it can lower social status through humiliation and disgrace. Once one loses his honor, it becomes difficult to regain it, if at all. In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, the chief priests and the elders attempted to find reasons to question and find fault in Jesus without bringing shame upon themselves or losing their own honor. The reasoning behind the chief priests’ and elders’ questions and behavior are uncovered by applying the historical context of what honor and shame meant in Jesus’ time.

In this situation, there are two types of honor, ascribed and acquired honor. Ascribed honor is when one is born with honor. Ascribed honor is inherited from one’s descendants. (Hanson and Oakman, 183) Acquired honor is when one establishes his honor, unlike ascribed honor, the acquired honor is not inherited. Acquired honor is earned by achievement (Hanson and Oakman, 183). In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, the chief priests and the elders question Jesus’ honor. They questioned whether his honor was ascribed or acquired and wondered who in an essay, should the title be underlined or quotation marks? mlagave him such authority to perform his duties. While Jesus performed his miracles, he never brought shame upon himself.

Because a person’s honor is defined by who and what they are, it is reasonable to understand why the chief priests questioned Jesus’ authority. The chief priests were trying to bring shame upon Jesus and to see as if Jesus was really the Messiah. Jesus responded back with a question of his own: “I will also ask you one question, If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism— where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” (Matthew 21:24-25). Jesus then mocked the elders because they did not know how to answer his question. Therefore, they made a fool of themselves and brought shame upon themselves due to the fact that they tried to shame Jesus and gain honor.

In Mark 7:1-22, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law tried to shame Jesus they thought he was not following the traditions. Since Jesus was eating with his disciples who had “defiled” hands, the Pharisees and the teachers of law pointed out that Jesus and his disciples were not following traditions. Then Jesus responded back with, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions” (Mark7:6-8). Jesus made a fool of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law by telling them that they do not follow the laws of the Lord, but follow of the laws they created themselves. They do not love or worship the way they should. They worship because they are forced to, not because they want to. Mark 7:6-8 shows that Jesus did not put shame upon himself, but on the Pharisees and the teachers for questioning his way of practicing his religion. Jesus brought himself honor because he did not fall into the course of the Pharisees and the teachers of law.

However, in Mark 14:1-2 the chief priests were trying to arrest Jesus when the day of Passover and Unleavened Bread was only a couple days away. The chief priests knew that if they were to arrest Jesus days before the Passover and Unleavened Bread, they could put shame upon themselves and be humiliated. The chief priests says “Not during the festival, otherwise there might be a riot of people” (Mark 14:2) During this time in history, the day of Unleavened Bread and Passover was very important to the people Jewish community because of their ancestors past. The feast of the Unleavened Bread is a sinless sacrifice, whereas Leavened Bread is a type of sin. Passover is one of the many important religious festivities in the Jewish community. They celebrate Passover to remember the freedom of the people of Israel after they were led out of Egypt by Moses. If the chief priests were to arrest Jesus before, during, or after the festivities, the citizens would cause an uproar and disrupt the peace they originally had. Not only would they disrupt the peace, they still would not have found any reason why they would have arrest Jesus and if they were to make a fool out of themselves again, then they would bring more shame upon themselves and Jesus would have gained more glory and honor.

In the end , honor and shame played a major role in the first century of Palestine because the reputation depended upon their honor. Shame would only make the elders and priests look immodest and others will look down on them. Shame affects honor because the elders and priests can make themselves look bad by disgracing themselves. To gain honor back from committing a shameful act, they have to perform a duty that will have them earn their honor back. Thats where the ascribed and acquired honor comes in, they both reflect on the behavior of the priests and elders. Both honor and shame were important in the time of Palestine because they defined to what socialite group they belonged to and if they disgraced themselves, they would have a hard time climbing back up the ladder to their original position. Shame and honor will always be important in the Jewish community because it was what they were raised with. There are still some Jewish community that still use the same type of traditions and believe that if they lose their honor, then they are disgraced by the action that has been committed.


Coogan, Michael David., Marc Zvi. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins. “Mark 7:1-22.” The New Oxford Annotated Bible: With the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. N. pag. Print.

Coogan, Michael David., Marc Zvi. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins. “Mark 14:1-2.” The New Oxford Annotated Bible: With the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. N. pag. Print.

Coogan, Michael David., Marc Zvi. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins. “Matthew 21:23-27.” The New Oxford Annotated Bible: With the
Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. N. pag. Print.

Hanson, K. C., and Douglas E. Oakman. Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998. N. pag. Print.

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