Vernon K. Robbins

Sociorhetorical Interpretation

Emory Studies in Early Christianity

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Social-scientific criticism

Socio-Rhetorical Examples

Another mode of discourse that has developed during the last quarter of a century emerges from social-scientific criticism. Here is some of the discourse produced by Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh on Mark 15 in this mode:

In all of the Gospels [Jesus' opponents destroy his standing in the eyes of the people] through what anthropologists call "status degradation rituals," by which is meant a process of publicly recasting, relabeling, humiliating, and thus recategorizing a person as a social deviant.... The attempts of many to treat [Mark 15:1-20] as a "legal" trial notwithstanding (frequently citing the regulations of the Mishnah for the conduct of criminal cases even though there is little attempt here to "prove" criminality), Mark and the other evangelists portray these events as a public ritual of humiliation aimed at destroying the status that until now had given Jesus credibility in the eyes of the public (Malina and Rohrbaugh 1992: 272-273).

This discourse aligns itself with anthropologists and focuses on "pivotal values" like honor and shame and common perceptions like patron-client and kinship relationships, limited good, hospitality, and purity in the Mediterranean world (Malina 1993; Elliott 1993; Neyrey 1991). The discourse invests itself most directly with social and cultural anthropologists, with a special commitment to overcoming ethnocentrism and anachronism. The leadership of this group of interpreters grew out of the Catholic Biblical Association and they have established this mode of commentary in the Society of Biblical Literature with both national and international practitioners. The ideological texture of this discourse locates a person among social scientists rather than literary critics or theologians.


From V. K. Robbins, Exploring the Texture of Texts, (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1996), p. 107.

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