formulaic character of makarisms (or "beatitudes") and reproaches (or "woes")
has long been recognized; but often commentators and translators have neglected
to take these insights into account. Furthermore, their cultural and theological
functions have been largely misconstrued. These forms are part of the word-field
and value system of honor and shame, the foundational Mediterranean values; they
exemplify the agonistic nature of Mediterranean culture. I propose the
translation of "How Honorable" for
ashręe one who is not scandalized by me" (Matt 11:6; par. Luke 7:23). Like those
in the Old Testament, one finds makarisms pronounced both upon specific persons
(e.g., Matt 16:17; Luke 1:45) and more generally upon those who uphold the
values of the Christian community (e.g., Rom 14:22; Rev 1:3). The connection to
values is made especially clear in the fact that makarisms often occur in
series: e.g., Ps 32:1-2 (par. Rom 4:7-8); Matt 5:3-10 + 11-12; Luke 6:20-22; Rev
1:3a, 3b; Sir 14:1-2; 25:8-9; 2 Enoch 42:6-14; 52:1-14; T. Jac.
2:12-23; Gos. Thom. 79a-c; Thom. Cont. 145.1-7.
Luke 11:27-28 provides an interesting juxtaposition of a third person
singular makarism (referring to Jesus' mother), countered by a third person
plural makarism (spoken by Jesus): "And it happened as he said this, a certain
woman called out from the crowd: 'O how Honorable
[makarios] is the womb who bore you, and the breasts you sucked!'
But he said: 'Rather—O how Honorable
[makarios] are the ones who hear God's word and keep it!'"
(compare John 13:17). The woman's makarism, while in third person form, retains
the personal and dialogical character of honoring (positive challenge), as
already seen in 1 Kgs 10:8. Their juxtaposition, then, emphasizes the shift of
esteem from the particular (Jesus' mother) to the general (all who obey God's
word). One could also read this as Jesus' positive response to a positive
challenge: she honors him and his mother, and he in turn honors all those
responsive to God's word.
An example of how the Greek use of makarios fits in with
honor/shame and community ideals is found in Josephus's account and explanation
of Judah Maccabee's speech to his troops before battle. Here he positively
challenges the soldiers' honor in order to motivate them (although
makarios is used as a simple adjective):
"Since, therefore, at the moment it lies in your power either to recover
this liberty and regain a prosperous [eudaimona] and Honorable
[makarion] life"—by this he meant one in accordance with the
laws and ancestral customs—"or to endure the shame
[aischista], and to leave your people without descendants by
being cowardly in battle. You yourselves must fight, then, since those who
do not fight will also die; believing that suffering for such great
causes—freedom, patrimony, laws, worship—secures you perpetual honor
[eukleian]" (Ant. 12.7.3 [§ublic
ministry, and the reproaches close it. The makarisms thus encourage aspiring to
the positive ideals of the kingdom— which will unfold throughout the story of
Jesus' ministry. The reproaches reflect back upon the opposition to Jesus by the
Pharisees and scribes.
Figure #3 clarifies the antipodal character of the makarisms and reproaches.
It also highlights the distinction between theses forms and blessing and
FIGURE #3: Blessings and Curses; Makarisms and
Identifying the makarisms and reproaches throughout the Bible, as well as
those in other early Judean and Christian literatures, allows us to see them
more clearly in their cultural perspective. Most previous discussions have
failed to see their large numbers and their common perspective on honor and
shame. The primary conclusions can be summarized as follows: 1) Makarisms and
reproaches are thematically related to formal blessings and curses, but
linguistically and contextually distinct from them. Consequently, makarisms
should not be translated "blessed." The translations of "happy" or "enviable"
for the makarisms are also inappropriate since they do not refer to either human
emotion or the evil eye. 2) Makarisms and reproaches are value judgments, which
can be uttered by sages, prophets, or anyone in the community. They should be
translated in keeping with value judgments: the makarisms with "O how Honorable" or "How honored";
and the reproaches with "O how Shameful" or "Shame on." 3)
Makarisms and reproaches are comprehensible only in terms of Mediterranean
honor/shame values and the challenge-riposte transactions. Thus they describe
and challenge values, but also call for a response. 4) Matt 5:3-12 provides the
introduction to Jesus' public ministry and Matt 23:13-31 its conclusion.
Consequently they form an honor/shame inclusio around Jesus public teaching.
Furthermore, the evangelist has not only employed them as formal and semantic
antitheses, but has paralleled key-words throughout their formulations.
1. This paper was first delivered in Portland, Oregon, on March 25, 1990, to
The Context Group: Project on the Bible in Its Cultural Environment. I would
like to thank the members of that group for their suggestions, especially Jerome
H. Neyrey, S. Scott Bartchy, John H. Elliott, Bruce J. Malina, and Vernon K.
Robbins. David Seeley also offered helpful suggestions.
2. The texts which employ these variations are: Singular noun: Isa
56:2; Ps 1:1; 32:2; 33:12; 34:9; 40:5; 84:6, 13; 89:16; 94:12;
112:1; 127:5; 144:15a, 15b; 146:5; Job 5:17; Prov 3:13; 8:34; 28:14. Plural
noun: 1 Kgs 10:8a, 8b; Isa 30:18; 32:20*; Ps 2:12; Prov 20:7; 2 Chron 9:7a,
7b. Singular participle: Ps 32:1; 41:2; 128:1; 137:8, 9; Dan 12:12.
Plural participle: Ps 84:5; 106:3; 119:1, 2. Singular pronominal
suffix: Deut 33:29; Qoh 10:17. Plural pronominal suffix: Isa 32:20*.
Finite verb: Ps 65:5; Prov 8:32. Relative pronoun: Ps 146:5.
Isa 32:20 (*) combines the plural suffix and the plural participle forms, but is
listed only once. In four texts ashrę