Sunday, October 19, 2008

Book Review of Joseph's Dilemma Part II

Marohl, Matthew J.
Joseph's Dilemma: "Honor Killing" in the Birth Narrative of Matthew
Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009. Pp. 104
Paperback. $13.00 ISBN 1556358253.

Part I of my review can be viewed here.

In Chapter 3, Marohl explores ancient evidences of honor killing. The secrecy of the act makes both modern and ancient honor killings hard to document, but nevertheless, Marohl presses forward with some surprising results. Before the author explores the evidence, he makes three observations about "honor killings" in the ancient world: 1) The term "honor killing" will not be evidenced in the ancient world. That does not mean that "honor killing" did not occur, but simply put, the ancient Greek and Latin sources fail to use this terminology. 2) The practice of honor killings was a family matter, not a judicial one. 3) Honor killings were both public and private. Public in the sense that the offended family had to be seen defending their family honor by killing the offending female member (38).

Next, the author briefly discusses some modern biblical interpreters who "have identified the importance of female virginity and chastity in the first-century Mediterranean world" (39-41; e.g. Carolyn Osiek and Margaret Y. MacDonald, A Woman’s Place; et al. ). Finally, Marohl begins his canvassing of the ancient sources. This is one of the finest sections in the book as Marohl surveys the Apocrypha (Book of Susanna; e.g. 19-22;36-41; pp.42-43), the Pseudepigrapha (Jubilees; e.g. 20:4; 30:7-8; 43-44), the OT (Judges 19:22, 27-30; 44-46), the NT (John 8:1-11; 46-47), Greco-Roman Literature (e.g. Livy 1.58.1–5, 9–10, 10–12; 3.44.1; Suetonius, Augustus 65.1–3, 4; pp.47-51) and finally, ancient Jewish Literature (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 7.131.; Jewish War 1.486.; Philo On the Decalogue 121–31, 126;
On the Special Laws, 3.11, 31, 52–53, 58, 72–73; Hypothetica 7.1; On Joseph, 43–44; and the Mishnah: Sanhedrin 7.9; 9.1; pp.51-52). Marohl concludes the chapter by investigating how the OT prophets utilized the metaphors of adultery and honor killing to speak of Israel's waywardness (e.g. Hos 2:2-3; Ezekiel 16:35-43; pp.52-53), and how early Christian interpretations support the author's reading of Matt 1.19 (e.g. Protevangelium of James 13:1-14:8; Patrologiae Cursus Completus, 56:633; Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew 4.7; pp.53-60).

Chapter 4 describes Marohl's "macro-thesis," namely, the Matthean theme that "from expected death comes unexpected life." The author begins by rehearsing Herod's planned killing of Jesus (2:1-23), hot on the heels of the story of Jesus' birth. Marohl concludes:
Immediately after telling the story of the birth of Jesus, a story in which
Mary and her unborn child face expected death, the author of Matthew tells
another story of violence and murder. The story is dramatic and continues
to capture the imaginations of all who hear the account. It is easy to imagine
Herod’s men searching for and killing all male infants. The story makes
clear that this is a moment of expected death. However, just as an angel of
the Lord visited Joseph in the midst of his dilemma, again an angel of the
Lord visits Joseph in the midst of Herod’s violent plan. Just as Mary and her
unborn child were granted unexpected new life, Jesus is again spared and
new life prevails (66).
Marohl explores this theme further by Jesus' calming of the storm on the sea (8:23-27), explaining that the disciples believe they are about to die, but in this case, unlike the aforementioned two, Jesus is the one who offers unexpected life out of certain death. Next, the healing stories of Matthew 9 are explored with first the healing of the hemorrhaging woman and the man's recently deceased daughter (9:18-26). Marohl explains that his thesis can also be seen it what he terms instances of "social death" in Matthew's gospel (67). These include: Jesus' encounter and subsequent healing of a leprous man (8:1-4), along with Jesus' teaching in 10:34-39 that "when followers commit to him, rather than experiencing the expected (social/familial)
death, they will experience a surprising, unexpected new life in him
"(68). Also, Jesus' teaching via use of the parabolic method is also explored as the author points to the example of the "Parable of the Lost Sheep" (18:12-20), noting that "in this parable, there is great rejoicing when the expected loss, the expected death, of one sheep turns into the unexpected discovery, the unexpected new life, of the animal"(69). Marohl also sees this theme in Jesus' commissioning of the disciples in 10:5-15. They too, are expected to bring "unexpected new life to those expecting and experiencing death"(69). Finally, a discussion about Jesus' death and resurrection (Matt 26-28; 69-71) rounds the discussion out as the author astutely concludes:

The birth of Jesus and his death and resurrection make perfect “bookends”
for the theme of new life. It is expected that Jesus will be killed while
still in the womb. As Joseph agonizes over his dilemma, he is visited by an
angel of the Lord. From this situation of expected death comes unexpected
new life. The theme weaves throughout the ministry of Jesus. Both literally
and metaphorically, new life emerges from death in the deeds and words

of Jesus. Again at the end of the story, unexpected new life triumphs over
death, even death on a cross
Matthew J. Marohl is to be congratulated for contributing an insightful and provocative thesis. The author has shed considerable light on the horrofic, yet somewhat common practice of "honor killings" in the Mediterranean world. At the same time, Marohl has successful exposed this cultural phenomenon without coming off as a neocolonialist. North Atlantic NT scholars in general, and Matthean scholars specifically, will be forced to reckon with Marohl's work for the foreseeable future.
As much as I found myself in agreement with Marohl's overall thesis, one point still nags at me, one that I believe could have made this volume even stronger. Marohl adapts the reading of the NRSV at Matt 1:19 (Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.) It is this latter verb "dismiss" (ἀπολύω) that could have included an excurcus, since much of Marohl's thesis hinges on this word. As many a commentator notes, ἀπολύω probably means "divorce" in its Matthean context due to its subsequent use elswhere (5:31-32; 19:3-9). Moreover, Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 15.259; 16.265) seems to translate ἀπολύω in this way (although, it must be noted, he uses other words for "divorce"). Diodorus Siculus (12.18), and 1 Esdras 9.36 provide two other similar examples. It can be admitted that other glosses of ἀπολύω can include to set free, to let go, dismiss, release, and of course, divorce. Marohl, may have chosen to avoid this exegetical minefield due to possible space constraints, but nevertheless, this particular word study would prove vital for his thesis on Matt 1:19.
This is not take away from Marohl's outstanding achievement. In a very short space (roughly 90 pages or so), he has renewed discussion in a case once settled, namely, Joseph intended to divorce Mary quietly; or did he?

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