Mark 7: 24-30 and Matthew 15

A really interesting example of the dynamics of shame and honour, challenge and riposte, is highlighted by Zeba Cook. In the middle of a discussion about the place of women in public life she relates the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician/Canaanite woman (Mark 7:24-30 and Matt 15:22-28, respectively).

Mark and Matthew agree on the general outline: “Jesus is in Gentile territory when a woman approaches him and begs that he heal her daughter, who has a demon. In Matthew, Jesus initially ignores the woman. … The woman re-issues the challenge, and Jesus ripostes again. In Matthew, Jesus’ first riposte is dismissive, while the second escalates to insult. In Mark, both components are contained in the one riposte: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs?” But the challenge and riposte exchange does not end there. The woman’s final challenge ends the exchange: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matt 15:26). In a clever retort, the woman accepts the insult “dog” and turns it back on Jesus, thereby outwitting him. Having been outwitted, Jesus is obligated to give the woman what she wants; she has bested him.” [1]


[1] Zeba Cook; “Honor, Shame, and Social Status Revisited;” p608-609. She notes that Malina and Rohrbaugh comment on these passages, but do not address the challenge and riposte in the story (Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels).

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