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The Cross-Confessional Persistence of Honor Killings

One of the things that editing and proofreading books forces on you is the reading of books on topics you ordinarily wouldn’t choose to read. I just finished a manuscript arguing that the dilemma Joseph faced in the biblical account of the virgin birth involved potentially bringing about Mary’s death through an honor killing, similar to those that we hear about every so often in the news.

One of the other interesting points the book makes is that honor killings are equally common across religious lines. Among middle easterners (and other ethnic groups and regions, including China), religious affiliation is statistically irrelevant to the likelihood of one’s participating in an honor killing. This I found incredibly frightening. The book included an account of a Palestinian Christian who murdered his daughter that was particularly harrowing.

What the book shows very well is the way in which the quest for patriarchal power, not religious convictions as such, lies at the heart of honor killings. Most honor killings depicted in the book involve the murderers explicitly violating crucial tenets of the faith that they explicitly profess. The  logic of these honor murders revolves around an utterly patriarchal worldview in which the virginity of women is conceived of as the “property” of their fathers and husbands. Familial honor is breached when a daughter’s virginity is defaced outside of marriage and that dishonor is rectified by murdering the woman who brings this shame to the family. Truly disturbing realities to contemplate.

The stories and poems from women who have witnessed and escaped these horrible murders are quite jarring. The fact that Jesus was conceived in a situation vulnerable to this sort of patriarchal barbarism is a very powerful notion. The unborn Jesus dwelt within the vulnerable body of a powerless woman mired in an utterly dehumanizing culture in which her very life hung in the balance on account of her willingness to be used by God for our redemption. As such could we say that Jesus indwells all women who are victims of this sort of patriarchal violence in a particularly intimate way? Yes, I think we had better be able to.

2 Comments

  1. ericroorback wrote:

    That sounds like a fascinating book, one with a very perceptive insight and critique of patriarchal hegemony. I want to agree with you on your statement that “Jesus indwells all women who are victims of this sort of patriarchal violence in a particularly intimate way,” and I think I do, but I’m curious as to what you mean by “indwell?”

    “The fact that Jesus was conceived in a situation vulnerable to this sort of patriarchal barbarism is” indeed “a very powerful notion,” one that causes me to both love and recognize even more just how utterly “foolish” the gospel is, as well as desire to respond in such willing obedience as Mary did. This has definitely given me much to think about, as i think the implication for this are far reaching.

    Wednesday, September 17, 2008 at 7:46 am | Permalink
  2. james wrote:

    Does is not occur to you to suspect that the virgin birth as an idea arose specifically in response to a culture that conceived of honor killing? The likely connection at least seems worth bringing up here. If it is the case, the virgin birth is nothing to be celebrated.

    Wednesday, September 17, 2008 at 11:14 am | Permalink

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