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  • The Construction of Shame in the Hebrew Bible: The Prophetic Contribution
  • Victor H. Matthews
The Construction of Shame in the Hebrew Bible: The Prophetic Contribution, by Johanna Stiebert. JSOTSup 346, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002. 196 pp. $95.00.

Over the last decade there has been a great deal of interest in the honor/shame model as it is described in relation to patterns of Mediterranean social organization. This volume provides a new survey of the anthropological and psychological literature on this subject as well as a critical analysis of the application of this social model to the biblical narrative. Stiebert does an excellent job of laying out potential hazards involved in the use of comparative models in relation to biblical studies, in particular pointing out that the “texts of the Hebrew Bible are not field studies.” As a result the text must be considered a compilation of materials and ideologies over time, not a report on a “static society” (p. 164). One particularly useful section in the introductory chapters provides a more complete look at the work of T. J. Scheff (pp. 21–23) on emotions and social structure. This material is not as well known to biblical scholars and should be added to the mix of cultural analysis. While those who have been employing social-scientific techniques to biblical interpretation may wish to skim over these initial chapters, there is a great deal of helpful information here that will benefit both those who are novices to this methodology and those who are looking for a cogent summary and analysis of the most recent studies.

The latter half of the book treats the use of the honor/shame model in the major Hebrew prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel). Since the author chooses not to accept the concept of a “guilt culture,” as it is described by other scholars such as David Daube and T. Jemielty, she instead chooses to draw on psychology and language found in the prophets that reflect feelings, emotions, and a basic vocabulary of shame. In this sense anti-social behavior can be identified as offensive, classified according to the degree to [End Page 145] which it is harmful, and “checked” by specific rhetorical means, as well as by social expectation and physical restraint on those actions or speech that engender shame.

In the author’s analysis of the prophets she makes it clear that the books are not “preoccupied with shame” (p. 117). Furthermore, she asserts that the use of social-scientific honor/shame model is “unsuitable for examining shame discourses” in Isaiah and Jeremiah (p. 127). Where shame is employed it is in the ideological character of the prophetic message. Thus, in Isaiah it is demonstrated that the vocabulary of shame is found in the contrast between the honor due Yahweh and the perverse actions of humans (thus Isa 3:8; 26:10–11), and even the celestial bodies may not outshine the glory of God (Isa 24:23). Jeremiah contains a dual form of shame, which takes the people to task for their transgressions (Jer 2:20–26), but also berates them for not exhibiting the proper level of shame when faced with their improper conduct (Jer 6:15). In particular the people’s shameful conduct, identified most graphically as idolatry and apostasy, is illustrated through “extended sexual metaphors in chapter 2, 3, and 5” (p. 123).

Making the point that the central themes in Ezekiel are purity and holiness, the depiction of Israel’s deliberate sinful conduct (Ezekiel 16) provides a graphic demarcation between the people and their God. No purity ritual can atone for this shameful behavior. Only the holiness of God is capable of removing it and restoring the nation to its covenantal obligations, but this will require humiliation of the nation (even to the extent of bearing the contempt of other nations who are scandalized by Israel’s behavior—16:27) as a “necessary prerequisite of restoration” (p. 132). While this argument is clear, the section in which the author explores various scholars’ use of psychoanalytic analysis to recreate Ezekiel’s childhood and personal torments is less convincing and, as the author notes, “unverifiable” (pp. 134–38). More...

Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 145-146
Launched on MUSE
2004-04-05
Open Access
No
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