Vernon K. Robbins

Sociorhetorical Interpretation

Emory Studies in Early Christianity

Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity

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Emory Department of Religion

Emory Graduate Division of Religion



Mark 15: Honor

The Gospel of Mark

Males dominate the action in Mark 15. Thus, honor is at stake throughout the chapter. Pilate is concerned to maintain honor in a setting where members of the temple hierarchy bring Jesus to him bound as a criminal. The narrative does not tell the reader if Pilate has ascribed honor from birth or family. There is an assumption, however, that Pilate enjoys acquired honor among certain colleagues who have invested him with special power in Jerusalem. As the narrative recounts the story, Pilate's honor is at stake in the manner in which he deals with Jesus once the members of the temple hierarchy have delivered him bound as a criminal. Pilate maintains a certain kind of "social rating" with both the temple hierarchy and the crowd by flogging Jesus and delivering him to soldiers to crucify him. On the other hand, the story negotiates with the reader a certain kind of honor for Pilate when he finds no crime guilty of death within Jesus. In addition, the narrative portrays Pilate as an honorable man when he seeks eyewitness information and releases the corpse of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea (Mark 15:43-45).

According to Malina and Rohrbaugh, the choice of crucifixion as the mode for Jesus' death submits Jesus to the "ultimate in public degradation and humiliation" (1992: 276). They refer to the sequence of events as a "status degradation ritual," "a process of publicly recasting, relabeling, humiliating, and thus recategorizing a person as a social deviant" (1992: 273). In addition, they perceive the mockery of Jesus by the Roman soliders as "King of the Judeans" to bring insult and dishonor on the population of Jerusalem for calling for his humiliation and death (1992: 275). In the end, Pilate allows Jesus to have an honorable burial. "Romans often denied burial to criminals.... This passage [15:42-47] underscores Jesus' honorable burial, in spite of the dishonorable manner of his death and the incidents that lead up to it" (1992: 276).

Mark 15 features women "watching from afar" as Joseph buries Jesus, and they come to the tomb after the sabbath to anoint his body (15:40-41; 16:1). According to a male-oriented first century Mediterranean social system as current social-scientific critics reconstruct it, these women are enacting "shame" as a positive value. Shame in this context takes the positive form of "following and serving" Jesus from the time he was in

Galilee until he came to Jerusalem. The women continue this role when they come to the tomb to "serve" his body after it is buried. From the perspective of current social-scientific reading of this account, then, these women enact the role of "shame" in exemplary manner (Malina 1993: 50-55).


From V. K. Robbins, Exploring the Texture of Texts, (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1996), pp. 76-77.

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