Esther: An honour shame paraphrase

Esther: An honour shame paraphrase

Title: Esther: An Honor Shame Paraphrase

Author: Jayson Georges

Published: 2017

Reviewer: C. Hine

Esther is a story that comes alive with meaning when understood in its cultural context of honour and shame. One of the first two books of the Bible paraphrased by Jayson Georges in the Honor Shame network publications, Esther was a very good choice, though I want to suggest later for more reasons than Georges picks up in either his introduction or the paraphrase.

In her review of the paraphrase of Georges 1 Peter, Moyra Dale helpfully notes the contribution of the introduction to this series in bringing implicit information to the readers attention, information that is rooted in cultural norms and frames understanding that give meaning to life. This introduction is included in Esther and then followed by an outline of the social context of Esther in which Georges highlights specific social activities that gain meaning when understood from an honour shame cultural reading of life.

Three aspects of the story that are brought into focus in Georges introduction are food, social hierarchy and status reversal. Hospitality and meals are more than events, something we see throughout the Old Testament. They signify relationship to which is wedded honour and the potential of shame. Social hierarchy identifies the place of an individual in a collectivist society and their knowledge of how to act in and from that place in relation to those above, below and on equal footing with them. Status reversal, Georges suggest, follows an Old Testament pattern of favour (honour granted), threat (honour threatened), reversal (honour vindicated) and exaltation (honour enhanced).

Each of these aspects and the descriptions given to them in honour and shame societies is helpful introductory material and provides a context for anyone unfamiliar with negotiating life in honour and shame cultures to read the story of Esther with deeper insights.

It is this point, however, where I long for a deeper understanding of honour and shame. I think Georges misses the impact of honour and shame on women, something that the book of Esther openly unfolds for us, if we read it from the perspective of the women involved. This gap hit home for me when reading the paraphrase Georges says of Esther as she goes in for the first night with the king that ‘she was content to trust God for her future status’. Within the systems of honour and shame, women are forced to carry the weight of shame in their bodies. While I do not disagree with the truth of trusting God, when we brusher the deeper impacts included in the story, we miss a richer revelation of the text into honour and shame.

Because we know the end of the story of Esther and we celebrate the rescue of the Jewish people, we miss or forget the cost born by women throughout this story. It is easy to tell the story of Esther from the perspective of Mordecai, and make Esther a part player. Georges’ paraphrase is in danger of following that way of reading this book, and even though the story carries deep implications of shame for women, neither in the introduction to the context or the emphasis of the paraphrase is this included. (See blogs referenced in Moyra Dale’s review of 1 Peter.)

I hope Georges might be courageous to rewrite this paraphrase in conversation with women who could give him insights into shame and honour from women’s lives.

Having made those comments, this is still a paraphrase to be commended. It helps the reader begin to see meanings in events in the story with greater clarity, and enables a more wholistic rendering of this story. 

While I commend this paraphrase and invite you to read it, I also look forward to seeing further work to wrestle with the harder parts of honour and shame and their implication for women.

(c) When Women Speak … May 2018

C Hine spent nearly three decades in South Asia and the Middle East working in education, community development and the Church, and was part of Interserve’s International Leadership for nine years. Her research has included women’s activism and social change in South Asia, violence against women and missiology. She is currently focussed on developing new streams of ministry among women who live under Islam and enabling women academics and practitioners to shape missiology and mission practice. She holds a PhD in Gender Studies (Australian National University).

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