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How Honorable! How Shameful! A Cultural Analysis of Matthew’s Makarisms and Reproaches

The formulaic character of makarisms (or ’beatitudes’) and reproaches (or ’woes’) has long been recognized; but often commentators and translators have neglected to take these insights into account. Furthermore, their cultural and theological functions have been largely misconstrued. These forms are part of the word-field and value system of honor and shame, the foundational Mediterranean values; they exemplify the agonistic nature of Mediterranean culture. I propose the translation of ’How honorable’ for ashrê and makarios, and ’How shameful’ or ’Shame on’ for hôy and ouai. Linguistically these translations are confirmed by parallel terms, the antipodal character of makarisms and reproaches, as well as their literary contexts. This impacts the interpretation of not only these words, but whole text-segments (e.g., Ps 112; and Luke 6:20-26). Matt 5:3-12 and 23:13-36 are examined here in light of their linguistic, cultural, and theological importance. Finally the function of these two text-segments is investigated in terms of their location and function within the first gospel.

Author(s):  Hanson, K. C.
Format:  Article
Date:  1997