Psalms: An honour-shame Paraphrase of 15 Psalms

Psalms: An honour-shame Paraphrase of 15 Psalms

Title:  Psalms: An honour-shame paraphrase of 15 Psalms

Author:   Jayson Georges

Publisher: Time Press. 2017

Reviewed by CH

As Christians explore the cultural context of honour and shame aspects of the Bible are increasingly being understood more accurately. A helpful addition to the literature of honour and shame in the Bible is Jayson Georges’ Honor – Shame Paraphrase of 15 Psalms. This paraphrase further develops our understanding of the Psalms in light of their traditional honour – shame, patron – client covenant relationship with God. This document would be suitable for anyone who wants to understand the original writers more accurately. 

Georges’ emphasis on this honour – shame, patron – client covenant relationship with God is a helpful corrective for the significantly different individualistic, western culture. He makes explicit the implicit assumptions of the original psalmists showing how original hearers might have heard the message. His writing helps to illuminate the honour – shame, patron – client aspect of God’s covenant with Israel. 

As Georges helpfully states in his introduction, the Psalms are full of emotions. Honour and shame are both strong feelings explicitly expressed throughout the Psalms but not often understood in western cultures and so it is helpful to provide an honour – shame paraphrase of some of these Psalms. 

Georges argues that in honour-shame terms the basic message of the Psalms is that ‘the honourable God faithfully keeps his covenant by honouring his people and by shaming their enemies,’ stating that most Psalms are either lamenting or celebrating this patron-client relationship.  

Georges states that there are five theological motifs around this covenant relationship that ‘flow out of an honor-shame worldview’ (p.14). They are 

  1. The Honour of God
  2. The Shamefulness of People
  3. Honouring the Faithful
  4. Honouring the King
  5. Shaming the Enemies

These paraphrases helpfully highlight how Israel’s patron-client relationship affects the reason, motivation and need for praise, it adds a dimension not naturally understood in western cultures. God is praised for His benevolence, patronage, faithfulness and favour. Georges argues that in the Psalms salvation is seen as vindication of honour restoration of status and deliverance from shame and humiliation from enemies not just forgiveness of sins and entrance into heaven. 

While, reading with individualistic equalitarian eyes, we may at first find it confronting to read that being honoured by God is a theological theme in the Psalms, the reality is that collectively God’s people bring honour to God by praising Him and they bring honour to God when they are honoured by God and so rightly, Georges helpfully highlights to western readers that a reason why the Psalmists are crying out for God’s intervention is to restore Israel’s honour so that God’s honour can be preserved. 

In several places the Psalms request God to bring shaming judgement on the enemies of God’s people. For western readers this can be hard to digest, however, reading through the eyes of the honour-shame motif with respect to God’s covenant relationship with Israel it makes sense that these requests are not about revenge but about restoring honour to God and his covenant. Jayson Georges needs to be praised for helping his audience appreciate that more fully. 

Jayson Georges then presents a paraphrase of 15 Psalms, for each of these Psalms he provides an introduction.  These introductions are very helpful summaries of the themes and the logical flow of the Psalm.  

While Georges is clear to highlight that he is doing a paraphrase not a translation, his use of ‘patron’ instead of ‘shepherd’ in Psalm 23 loses some of the imagery and meaning of care that a shepherd lavishes on his sheep, but by using this word it reminds the western reader of the patron client relationship that is inherent in the shepherd-sheep relationship. Georges seems to miss the opportunity to emphasise the purity/clean-unclean aspects found in Israel’s culture when in Psalm 12:6b he refers to the gold (note silver is more common translation) being refined in a furnace purified seven times as a reference to the solidness of God’s word rather than leaving it as an unclear reference that advocates for the purity of God words.

It is very helpful to be reminded by Georges that the word ‘chesed’ in Hebrew translated in the NIV as ‘love’ is more appropriately translated in the context of covenant loyalty as ‘favour’. Due to ‘God’s love for me’ being such as strong western Christian theme it is a challenge to be reminded that ‘favour’ rather than ‘love’ was the original intention of the writers. This, original meaning is helpful to keep in mind when interacting with people from other cultures where the concept of ‘God’s love for me’ is foreign.  

Jayson Georges’ honour-shame paraphrase provides a helpful resource of understanding how the Psalms could have been understood and used in the Ancient Near East. 

(c) When Women Speak … February 2019

CH is an Australian who grew up living overseas and has lived the last 13 years in the Middle East with her family. She now lives in multicultural Australia working with Culture Connect, Interserve providing training in Cross Cultural communication and understanding.

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