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Unformatted text preview: O n e HONOR & SHAME C o n n e c t i n g P e r s o n h o o d t o G r o u p Va l u e s T he culture of the first-century world was built on the foundational social val- ues of honor and dishonor. Seneca, a first-century Roman statesman and philosopher, wrote: “The one firm conviction from which we move to the proof of other points is this: that which is honorable is held dear for no other reason than because it is honorable” ( De Ben. 4.16.2). Seneca claims that his peers regard honor as desirable in and of itself, and dishonor as undesirable in and of itself. Moreover, he understands that the concept of “honor” is fun- damental and foundational to his contemporaries’ thinking. That is, he expects them to choose one course of action over another, or to approve one kind of person over another, and, in short, to organize their system of val- ues, all on the basis of what is “honorable.” From the wealth of literature left to us from the Greek and Roman periods, including the New Testament, it appears that Seneca’s analysis of the people of his time was correct. 1 In his book on ethics Aristotle lists two motives that people might have 1 For a close investigation of honor language at work in several major Greek, Latin and Jew- ish authors, see David A. deSilva, Despising Shame: Honor Discourse and Community Mainte- nance in the Epistle to the Hebrews, SBLDS 152 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995), chaps. 2 and 3; for discussion of honor in the world of Homeric and Classical Greece, see Arthur W. Adkins, Merit and Responsibility: A Study in Greek Values (Oxford: Clarendon, 1960) and the Chap1.fm Page 23 Wednesday, September 27, 2000 11:19 AM 24 H O N O R , P A T R O N A G E , K I N S H I P & P U R I T Y for choosing some course of action: honor and pleasure ( Nic. Eth. 3.1.11 [1110b11-12]). Honor, however, is viewed as the first and foremost con- sideration. Isocrates, an Athenian orator who was Aristotle’s senior, advised his young pupil that, while honor with pleasure was a great good, pleasure without honor was the worst evil ( Ad Dem. 17). Those who put pleasure ahead of honor were considered to be more animal- like than human, ruled by their passions and desires. He also placed the value of honor above one’s personal safety ( Ad Dem. 43), an evaluation that would persist through the centuries. In the first century B.C. a teacher of public speakers held up honor and security as the two pri- mary considerations when trying to win an audience over to support the course of action the speaker promoted. He recognized, however, that one could never admit a course to be safe but dishonorable and still expect to win ( Rhetorica ad Herennium 3.5.8-9). Quintilian, a teacher of rhetoric from the late first century A.D., holds up the “honorable” as the fundamental factor in persuading people to adopt or avoid a course of action ( Institutes 3.8.1); from Aristotle to Quintilian, successful orators were the ones who could demonstrate that the course of action they...
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- Summer '09
- Ben Sira