483: SOCIAL DIVISIONS IN JESUS’ TIME AND TODAY

“A warm welcome to Zingcreed, one person’s Bible Study course, which has produced some surprising findings, such as that comrade Jesus, or Yeshua, to give him his correct name,  was a gay leftie! I didn’t make it up – it’s all there in black and white.

Our motto remains: More Jesus, Less Christ, No God!

I bumped into a new pavement preacher yesterday, up a stepladder near the mall. I asked him the usual 2 questions to see how biblically literate he was. ‘Which was the first of the 4 gospels to be written?’ to which he answered “Matthew”. Honestly! and ‘Which was the first book of the New Testament to be written?’ to which he gave the same wrong answer as to the first question! Where do they dig these preachers up? The only problem with my teasing these dumb believers is that I run the risk of getting swollen headed. After all, my bookish knowledge is not as important as having a compassionate character and helping those less well off than oneself. I honestly think we could both learn a lot from each other.
(The answers are Mark and First Thessalonians.)

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[London street art]

This Post is a spin off from the last one “The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax/Toll collector” and is a fascinating quote from William Herzog, whom I find difficult to abbreviate.
I guess the topic of Social Divisions is basic sociology really, but it’s important to grasp the topic (just as the bible can’t be understood without a grasp of the first century Shame/Honour system) because Jesus was all for breaking down social barriers: inclusivity was his bye-word as he dined commensally with rich and poor alike.

I hope you find this as interesting and useful as I do!
In solidarity,
Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.”

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DEVIANCE AND PROMINENCE: SOCIAL DIVISIONS IN JESUS’ TIME AND TODAY

The society in which Jesus worked was filled with factions in constant conflict. Because it was a given that all goods were limited, each faction struggled with the others for its piece of the pie. Factions were also engaged in creating boundaries  that defined their social territories and spheres of influence, boundaries  that were constantly clashing with those drawn by other groups. The purpose of such boundary drawing was to define proper places for everything and everyone, as well as proper behaviour for those who inhabited the social spheres so constructed.

Those who embodied the values of a group were labelled prominent, but those who violated the lines and lived out of bounds were labelled deviant. Deviance, like the social world in relationship to which it is defined is a social creation. (i.e. it is man-made, not divinely ordained).

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When a group identifies a threat to its boundaries it attaches a negative label or stigma to that person or group in order to assess the nature of the threat and generate a socially shared interpretation of its meaning. Group boundaries spring from the group’s rules, which are generated by moral entrepreneurs ( like the Pharisees then and the Press today) who also enforce those rules. They identify those norms and goals which will receive public consent and further their own interests. People or groups that threaten their interests are the ones they label as deviants. Once identified, the label must be disseminated widely to get public support and approval for the status quo, and to isolate the deviant.

To increase their own strength, moral entrepreneurs borrow respectability through alliances with existing high-profile figures, and by seeking endorsement from holy texts. During the time moral entrepreneurs are increasing awareness of the value of the rule threatened by the deviant (tithing, for example), they must create stress in the population to persuade the people that the threat is real.
This is accomplished in three ways:
(i) by demonstrating that present rules do not either cover the value or define it adequately;
(ii) by showing that agencies charged  with enforcement of the rule are inadequate;
(iii) by emphasizing the lack of means to resolve the crisis. (So increase the defence budget!)
The outcome of these strategies is an increase of alarm and pessimism in the population while loyalty and devotion to the threatened rule, value or value system are increased.

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The deviant, meanwhile, can expect to have their biography interpreted as “a case of the thing he/she is alleged to have done”. If the cycle is completed, the deviant is subjected to a status-degradation ritual (such as a trial) in which an old identity is destroyed and a new identity created; the ritual completes the dehumanization of the deviant.

Because prominence theory works in a structurally parallel way, the same process could be repeated in a framework of affirmation of group values, with appropriate substitutions. For example, a status degradation ritual can become a status elevation ritual. The immoral behaviour to be shunned can become positive behaviour to be emulated and honoured.

In the aforementioned parable (see previous Post) the Pharisee is from a faction of moral entrepreneurs, whose scribal members assume the role of rule creators while other members become rule-enforcers. His recitation of character traits – “extortioners, swindlers, adulterers” stigmatizes his enemy as one living outside the bounds of the acceptable. He contributes to depersonalizing and dehumanizing the toll collector because he is a deviance-processing agent: it is his job to participate in the systematic, institutionalized violence originating from the temple, the kind of violence that violates the personhood of the toll collector.

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The Pharisee’s prayer masks the fact that he and the toll collector belong to parallel systems of tributary exaction. The Pharisee is a functionary in a larger institutionalized expression of oppression that retrospectively interprets peasant farmers as degraded dirt farmers (am-ha-aretz) and equates toll gatherers with robbers. But one (the Pharisee) is prominent, the other (the toll collector) is deviant. In this case, the toll collector is so branded because his behaviour in the service of roman rule thratens the economic interests of the temple-centred elites and their retainers.

Source:
Herzog, William “Parables as subversive speech. Jesus as pedagogue of the oppressed” John Knox Press (1994) p. 189ff

Related Zingcreed Posts:
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector
Church and Empire. Why was Jesus crucified?
Jewish “Purity maps” in the first century
560: Just how Jewish was Jesus?

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