This character of the honor/shame society and clan system goes along with the death of genuine charity in religion and society. It is a dog eat dog world, perhaps in modern terms it could be compared to the godfather or gang mentality, except that it dominates all society
Molina and others describe how all phases of ancient Mediterranean society were tightly structured and emphasize meeting expectations of honor, and avoiding shame. The immediate family relationships, that is, mother, father; sons, and daughters, and brothers and sisters are the most important relationships. Closely related cousins are next in importance. Women become imbedded into the family that they marry into, but are held in a secondary position, almost like strangers to the family. Even the affection between married couples is held as secondary to brother/sister and parent/child relationships. The closest ties are between brother and sister, brother to brother, and sister to sister. But even in these relationships the intense need to protect honor overrides affection. Marriages are arranged, and options for marriage are very limited. Almost all marriages were based on improving status: they were a very important way of bringing honor or shame to families. Marriages were arranged by elders who possessed a savvy eye to political and economic gain. Clans formed by families grouping together; they bonded mostly by the marriage of their sons and daughters. The main purpose of the clan system was to strengthen individual and family status.
The best way for a woman to raise her honor within the strada of her status is to bear a son. A son will often be a women’s closest bond and best advocate. When sons marry the clan will try to keep the young family in the same house, or within a kind of courtyard access. Parents usually advise and interfere in a young family’s issues. The particular status of a woman and her family is portrayed in complex color designs on the women’s dress, which is still practiced today. These designs were taught, read, and obeyed by everyone.
In the family and clan all are responsible for each other’s shame and honor. Fathers were much wearied by daughters, because daughters are most vulnerable to shaming the family. If they commit a sexual violation, or are unable to find marriage and bear a child the family suffers shame. As a result civil punishments for women were more severe than for men. If a woman was mistreated by a man her brother would try to avenge the offense, while the father negotiated with the other party to save honor. If a person commits dishonor the whole family is shamed, and the clan is also shamed to some extent. The greater number of strong members in the clan the greater protection the clan has against destructive events of shame. It is a game of numbers and survival.
Moving out of, or above ones status is very unusual, almost impossible. Males follow the occupation of their fathers, and inherit their social status. Within ones status level each person tries to ally themselves with those who have influence, power, or good status, and to avoid those who cause shame. For instance, if a person is known to be ill the question is asked ‘who’ harmed him or her, not ‘what happened’. If the question does not lead to a person, but a condition such as a storm, or accident, then the question of blame is extended to deceased spirits and gods associated with the clan. When harm is done it is possible that a living enemy put a curse on the suffering person from a doll, or that someone gave them the evil eye; it is also possible that a god disfavored them. It was a suedo-science in the ancient and New Testament world to know all the gods and influential dead for the sake of discerning how a person may have been caused harm, or how they received favor. For the Jews this practice of patronizing gods was a source of shame because the Jews were an occupied people, and according to their own deep rooted belief their God or gods were supposed to be more powerful than the gods of the pagan Romans, especially on their sacred land, but the longer they were subjects dominated by the Romans, the harder it was to sustain this belief.
A person of honor learned how to manipulate all of these factors. They were consumed in playing this complex social game; indeed it was a game, a game with terrible consequences. By nature it was intensely self-perpetuating. Everyone was forced to play, and their identity was consumed by it. They became numb to its cruelties. The biblical description of the people being sheep without a Shepard is apt in that the people had no way change things; they could not even see the trap they were in. The religious leaders were given very high authority by the people, and these leaders were keepers of the old ways using every means to maintain their power. Many of them were only motivated by power and would not tolerate change – as is seen in the gospels.
In Old Testament times marriage strategy gradually moves from being somewhat consolatory to agonistic in nature, that is, it became less about mutual inclination than it was pure competition between clans. Malina describes the evolution of aggressive marraige strategy that was the norm in the time of Jesus:
Marriage strategy emerges exclusively as an agonistic value, a conflict in which the winners are those who keep the daughters, sisters, and wives and take the woman of other groups in addition, giving only their patronage, their power and protection in exchange.
In the aggressive perspective (strategy) daughters should marry relatives as close to home as incest laws will allow. Sons on the other hand should marry non-relatives and bring the spouse into the family. Given this preference marriage ends up being a competitive, agnostic affair in which there are winners and losers.
The object of this competition is to increase the number of women and loyal men in the clan. Mostly this centers around accumulating woman into the clan by marriage in exchange for patronage. The more numbers one has the more power.
This general look into the clan system gives an idea of how it was that the people did not have a personal conscience, but an external one. External pressures and expectations consumed their heart and mind. Malina comments that: “Married dyadic personalities are in a complex and delicate state of mutual interdependence which tends to greatly limit personal emotional feeling – or at least its direct expression in action. Spontaneous affection would impinge on the rights and obligation and interests of too many others. This need to limit affection is a basic feature of arranged marriages found in kinship (clan) systems.” The average person’s internal life was smothered in this system.