In Luke 4:1-30 we are presented with two remarkable scenes in which the birthright of Jesus is seriously challenged: first at the cosmic level, where no secrets of the heart can ever be concealed, and then at the most uncompromising level of all, where unwarranted honour claims would quickly be cut to ribbons, in Jesus’ own home town. The tension in Luke 4 rises sharply as claims and counter-claims, challenges and counter-challenges are played out in a drama where the honour of both Jesus and Luke is on the line. In order to understand the nature of these challenges and their import for Luke’s story, however, it is necessary to see them (as far as we are able) through the eyes of the honour-shame society to which the story was originally addressed.
The working assumption in what follows is that Luke 4, like every other text in the New Testament, emerged from a Mediterranean society in which honour was the core social value. Since the basic concepts of honour and shame in ancient Mediterranean societies are increasingly well known among New Testament scholars, however, there is no need to repeat all the details here. 1 It will suffice to remind the reader of a few salient features of honour/shame societies that play a key role in the texts we are examining.
Essential is the fact that concern for honour permeates every aspect of public life in the Mediterranean world. Honour is the fundamental value. It is the core, the heart, the soul. Philo speaks of ‘wealth, fame, official posts, honours and everything of that sort with which the majority of mankind are busy’ (Det. 122). He complains that ‘fame and honour are a most precarious possession, tossed about on the reckless tempers and flighty words of careless men’ (Abr. 264). Fundamental, then, is the notion that concern for honour pervades all social interaction in the world of Luke. We should not be surprised to find it as an overriding concern in his Gospel as well (Malina and Neyrey 199la: 26).
Simply stated, honour is public reputation. It is name or place. It is one’s status or standing in the village together with the public recognition of it. Public recognition is