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Not to be Disregarded,
This review is from: Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew (Paperback)
Most readers will learn quite a lot reading this book. Some might just have their perspectives changed on the interpretation of Biblical texts. A lot depends on what you bring to the book. If you are broadly acquainted with inter-disciplinary textual analysis of ancient literature, this work will be less striking than if this is your first exposure to such an analysis. That being said, this is a remarkably good starting point for any reader to gain an acquaintance with socio-rhetorical commentary on ancient texts. The author, Jerome Henry Neyrey, is Professor of New Testament Studies at Notre Dame University and is a member of the Society of Jesus and an ordained Roman Catholic Priest. He is also the Executive Secretary of "The Context Group: A Project on the Bible in Its Cultural Environment."
And indeed, this entire book attempts to place the text of the gospel of Matthew into its proper cultural setting in a society where honor and shame were vital social determinatives. To do this, the author leads us through a ground up education on the rhetorical conventions of ancient Mediterranean society and its fixation with honor and shame. These rhetorical conventions when coupled with honor and shame values current in the first century CE as applied to the Matthean text explain much of the gospel that generally remains otherwise obscure. Like it or not, the thought patterns and value structures of the world of antiquity were radically different than those of the Post Modern world in which we live. Reading ancient texts through the lens of our anachronistic values and cultural assumptions renders them opaque at best and grossly misinterpreted at worst.
Substantively the following struck me: The author of the gospel of Matthew was in all likelihood a very highly educated Greek speaker with a formal classical education; When analyzed by the socio-rhetorical methods used by Neyrey, Jesus' teachings are extremely demanding of his followers, then as well as now, far more demanding than we would normally assume; and, Jesus' maxims were entirely unique and very out of step with the antique Mediterranean society he lived in and that includes the specific contemporary Jewish world which he spent his entire life in. To some degree the later may explain Matthew's critical attitudes towards certain sectors of Jewish society and their practices. However, I perceive other factors based on the Matthean community and the location of the gospel in time and place as pivotal to the author's acrimony with certain elements of Judaism. Lastly, I became convinced while reading this book that Matthew's author was far more skilled at Old Testament exegetics than I had previously been willing to grant. I found this book straight forward and easy to understand but worth deep consideration and study. This is a must read for any New Testament scholar or student.