Fortress Press

Honor Among Christians: The Cultural Key to the Messianic Secret

Honor Among Christians

The Cultural Key to the Messianic Secret

David F. Watson (Author)


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Readers have long puzzled over peculiar aspects of the Gospel of Mark: Jesus' attempts to conceal his deeds and his identity. William Wrede called these and similar motifs the "messianic secret" in Mark, and proposed that Mark had invented the "secret" to explain why the announcement of the arrival of the Son of God had not taken the world by storm. Other scholars have disagreed: perhaps Mark meant to highlight Jesus' divinity (after all, Jesus usually doesn't succeed in keeping himself hidden!)...or perhaps Mark wanted to tie Jesus' identity to his destiny on the cross as a warning to disciples that they may face persecution. Or, some have proposed, there simply is no single explanation for all of Jesus' bewildering behaviors in the Gospel.

David F. Watson brings a new perspective to the "messianic secret," relying not on the Christological concerns of nineteenth- and twentieth-century theologians, but on recent insights into the role of honor and shame in ancient Mediterranean culture on the part of social scientists. Mark's portrayal of Jesus simultaneously shows his ability to provide favors and benefits to others and his refusal to put himself forward or draw attention to himself as a benefactor, thereby teaching that in God's kingdom it is not the great and powerful who are most highly regarded, but the humble. Mark's depiction of Jesus is part of a larger effort to promote a radically different understanding of honor within the family of faith.
  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9780800697099
  • Pages 256
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Publication Date October 1, 2010


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"Taking up and refining insights from recent social–scientific exegetical research on secrecy in the Ancient Mediterranean world, Watson convincingly demonstrates that Wrede's Messianic Secret hypothesis is entirely culturally implausible. Concealment passages in Mark primarily reflect the day–to–day concerns about honor and shame among early believers who would have understood the Gospel to be addressing these issues."
—John J. Pilch
Georgetown University

"David Watson has written a scholarly and very useful monograph. His soundings into the roles of secrecy in the ancient Mediterranean would further illustrate the value of anthropological history. Perhaps now Wrede's understanding of the 'Messianic Secret' in Mark may finally be laid to rest."
—Bruce J. Malina
Creighton University

"Honor among Christians evinces perhaps the most thorough deployment of cultural anthropology for understanding Mark's Gospel that I know, and one of the most sophisticated. Watson convincingly argues that Wrede's durable prism of 'the Messianic secret' has occluded our exegetical vision, which may be corrected by adopting lenses more appropriate to Mark's own social world. The text, not a method, remains focal in Watson's analysis, which opens rather than shuts down a broad range of productive conversation with other interpretive approaches. This is a work of genuine importance, chiefly because it illumines how subversive the Second Gospel was in its own place and time—and remains so in our own."
—C. Clifton Black
Otto A. Piper Professor of Biblical Theology
Princeton Theological Seminary