Ehud, Stigma, and the Management of Spoiled Identity
A Sociological Retelling of Judges 3: 12–30
Keywords:Ehud, Eglon, Judges, disability, Goffman, stigma, sociology
The story of Ehud, and his assassination of the Moabite King Eglon (Judges 3: 12–30), continues to entertain readers and hearers alike. The story also perplexes, largely on moral grounds. This paper utilises the sociology of Erving Goffman and insights from disability studies to re-tell the story of Ehud as someone who is doubly stigmatised. That is, Ehud not only carriers the stigma of left-handedness but is also disabled; moreover, the Moabite King is also disabled/immobile because of his obesity. I take the biblical text as conveying that Ehud is left-handed by necessity given the impairment in his right hand/arm. Adopting a social model of disability, I apply Goffman’s account of the management of spoiled identity developed in his book Stigma (1963) to explore how the narrative depicts various dimensions of social stigma and Ehud’s moral career as he attempts to manage his spoiled identity and the degrees of societal acceptance and rejection he experiences in different contexts. The key arguments of Goffman are summarised before I apply central concepts from Goffman to the biblical story. Concepts include “moral career,” the distinction between social, personal and ego (self-) identity, and the key distinction between a person with a stigma being discredited (because the impairment is obvious and seen by all), on the one hand, or bearing a stigma that is discreditable (that is, it would discredit them if found out), on the other.
Alter, Robert 1981. The Art of Biblical Narrative. London: George Allen and Unwin
Auerbach, Eric 1968. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Avalos, Hector, Melcher Sarah J, and Schipper, Jeremy 2007. This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.
Barnes, Colin 1998. “The Social Model of Disability: A Sociological Phenomenon Ignored by Sociologists?” In Shakespeare, Tom ed. The Disability Reader: Social Science Perspectives. London. Continuum, pp. 65-78
- 2010. “A Brief History of Discrimination and Disabled People, Davis”, in Lennard J. The Disability Studies Reader. London: Routledge. Third Edition, pp. 20-32
Barnes, Colin and Mercer, Geof 2010. Exploring Disability. Second Edition. Cambridge Polity.
Barsley, Michael 1966. The Left-handed Book. An investigation into the sinister history of left handedness. London: Pan.
Belser, Julia Watts and Morrison, Melanie S. 2011. “Living it out: What No Longer Serves Us: Resisting Ableism and Anti-Judaism in New Testament Healing Narratives”. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 27.2.:153-170.
Boling, Robert 1975. Judges: Introduction, Translation and Commentary. New York: Doubleday.
Brune, Jeffrey A 2014. “In Defense of Stigma, or at least its Adaptations” Disability Studies Quarterly 34.1: 5-8.
Burns, Tom 1992. Erving Goffman. London: Routledge.
Cameron, Colin 2014. “Stigma”, in Cameron ed. Disability Studies: A student’s Guide. London: Sage pp. 147-50.
- 2014b. “The Historical Construction of Disability”, in Cameron, Colin ed. Disability Studies: A student’s Guide. London: Sage pp. 65-67
- ed. 2014c. Disability Studies: A student’s Guide. London: Sage
- 2014d. “The Social Model” in Cameron, Colin ed. Disability Studies: A Student’s Guide. London: Sage, pp. 137-140
Campbell, J.K. 1964. Honour, Family and Patronage: A Study of Institutions and Moral Values in a Greek Mountain Community. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chalcraft, D.J. 1990 “Deviance and Legitimate Action in the Book of Judges”, in Clines, D.J.A. et al eds. The Bible in Three Dimensions. 40 Years of Biblical Studies in the University of Sheffield. Sheffield: JSOT Press, pp. 177-201.
“Comparative Sociology on Israel: Herbert Spencer’s Contribution”, in Lawrence, L and M. Aguilar (eds.), Anthropology and Biblical Studies: Avenues of Research Leiden: Deo Publishing,
“Is sociology also among the social sciences? Some personal reflections on Sociological Approaches in Biblical Studies”, in Pfoh, E (ed.) Anthropology and the Bible: Critical Perspectives. Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias Press, pp. 35-71.
“Biblical Studies and the Social Sciences: Whence and Whither?” in D.J. Chalcraft, Frauke Uhlenbruch and Rebecca Watson eds. Methods, Theories, Imagination: Social Scientific Approaches in Biblical Studies. Bible and Social Science, volume 1. Sheffield. Phoenix Press, pp.Xiii- xxxv
“Matthew Henry’s Exposition of Joshua 7 in Socio-Legal and Sociological Perspective”, in Collins, Matthew A. and Middleton, Paul eds. Matthew Henry: The Bible, Prayer, and Piety. London: T&T Clark, pp. 133-151
Claassens, L. Juliana M. 2013. “Countering Stereotypes: Job, Disability, and Human Dignity”. Journal of Religion, Disability and Health, 17.2:169-183.
Coleman Brown, Lerita M. 2010. “Stigma: An Enigma Demystified”, in Davis, Lennard J. ed. The disability Studies Reader. London: Routledge. Third ed. Pp. 179-192
Browne, Stanley G 1986. “Leprosy in the Bible” in B. Palmer ed. Medicine and the Bible. Exeter: Paternoster Press, pp. 101-25.
Culpin, Millias 1931. Mental Abnormality: Facts and Theories. London: Hutchinson
Davis, Lennard J. ed. 2010. The disability Studies Reader. London: Routledge. Third edition.
Denzin, Norman 2002. “Much Ado about Goffman”. The American Sociologist, 33.2:105-117
Dentler, Robert A and Erikson, K.T. 1959. “The Functions of Deviance in Groups”. Social Problems, 7.2: 98-107
Dickens, Charles, 1870. “Hand-shaking”. All the Year Round, April 16th, pp. 466-469
Fanon, Frantz 1967. The Wretched of the Earth. London: Penguin
Goodley, Dan, 2014. Dis/Ability Studies: Theorising Disablism and Ableism. London: Routledge.
Goffman, Erving 1959. The Presentation of Self In Everyday Life. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
- 1961 Asylums: Essays on the Social situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
- 1963 Stigma: The Management of Spoiled Identity. Harmdonsworth: Penguin.
- 1967 Interaction Order: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. New York: Anchor Books
- 1971. Relations in Public: Microstudies of the Public Order. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Hardy, Thomas 1999. “The Withered Arm”, in The Withered Arm and Other Stories 1874-1888. Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Kristin Brady. London: Penguin Books.
Hentrich, Thomas 2007. “Masculinity and Disability in the Bible”, in Avalos et al ed. This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, pp. 73-87.
Hughes, Bill 2007. “Being Disabled: towards a critical social ontology for disability studies”. Disability and Society 22.7:673-684.
Hunt, Paul ed. 1966. Stigma. London: Geoffrey Chapman.
Josephus, Flavius n.d. “Antiquities, Book V”, in The Works of Flavius Josephus, Translated by William Whiston. Excelsior Edition. London: William P. Nimmo.
Junior, Nyasja and Schipper, Jeremy 2008. “Mosaic Disability and Identity in Exodus 4:10; 6:12, 30”. Biblical Interpretation 16: 428-441.
Katz, Jack 1972. “Deviance, Charisma and Rule-Defined Behaviour”, Social Problems, 20, 2:186-202.
Kellenberger, Edgar 2013. “Biblical Exegesis by Persons with Intellectual or Behavioural Impairments”. Journal of Religion, Disability and Health. 17. 4:418-425.
Kitto, John 1861. Daily Bible Illustrations. Being Original Readings for a Year: Moses and the Judges. Morning Series. 7th Edition. Edinburgh: William Oliphant
Linker, Beth 2013. “Beware the One-Armed Soldier”. Physical Therapy 93.9:1160.
Luckock, H. Mortimer 1905. Spiritual Difficulties in the Bible and Prayer Book, with helps to their solution. London: Longmans, Green and co.
H.H. Milman, n.d. History of the Jews. London: Ward, Lock and Co.
Mitchell, David and Snyder, Sharon 2010. “Narrative Prosthetics”, in Davis, Lennard J. ed. The Disability Studies Reader. London: Routledge. 3rd ed. pp. 274-287
Mitchell, Dymaneke 2013. “Disability in the Context of Blackness: is it a Manifestation of Past Sins or a Blessing in Disguise?” Religion and Education, 40.2: 221-235
Moore, George F. 1895. Judges. The International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T&T Clark
Murray, James, 1773. Eikon Basilike or the Character of Eglon King of Moab and his Ministry. (On Judges 3:22- And the dirt came out). Newcastle: P. Sanderson.
Oliver, Michael 2009. Understanding Disability. From theory to practice. Second Edition. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Orne, Jason, 2013. “Queers in the Line of fire: Goffman’s Stigma Revisited”. The Sociological Quarterly 54.2.: 229-253.
Palmer, B. ed. 1986. Medicine and the Bible. Exeter: Paternoster Press
E. Reeves Palmer 1892 The Development of Revelation: An Attempt to elucidate the nature and meaning of Old Testament Inspiration. London: Clement Sadler Palmer.
Park, Suzie, 2015. “Left-Handed Benjaminites and the Shadow of Saul”. Journal of Biblical Literature, 134.4: 701-20
Ritzer, George 1996. Sociological Theory. Fourth Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill
Rogers, Richard 1615/1983. A Commentary on Judges. Facsimile of 1615 edition. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust.
Rogerson, J.W. 2014 “Progressive Revelation: Its History and its Value as a key to Old Testament Interpretation”. (The A.S. Peake Memorial lecture 1981), in his Cultural Landscapes and the Bible: Collected Essays. Beauchief: Beauchief Abbey Press.
Ryken, Leland 1992. Words of delight. A literary Introduction to the Bible. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids. Baker Academic
Schipper, Jeremy 2005. Reconsidering the Imagery of Disability in 2 Samuel 5:8b, Catholic Bible Quarterly. 67: 422-34.
- 2006 Disability Studies and the Hebrew Bible: Figuring Mephibosheth in the David Story. London: T&T Clark.
Shakespeare, Tom 2010. “The Social Model of Disability”, in Davis, Lennard J. ed. The Disability Studies Reader. London: Routledge. Third ed. pp. 266-273.
Sherry, Mark 2010 (Post) colonizing Disability, in Davis, Lennard J. ed. The Disability Studies Reader. London: Routledge. Third ed. pp. 94-106.
William Robertson Smith 1880. “Judges, the Book of”, in Encyclopaedia Britannica; A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences and General Literature, Volume 13, 9th Edition. 763-4. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black.
Scott, John 2014. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Soggin, J.A 1981. Judges. London: SCM Press.
Titchkosky, Tanya and Michalko, Rod 2014. “Narrative”, in Colin Cameron ed. Disability Studies: A student’s Guide. London: Sage. Pp. 101-64
Weber, Max 1922/1952. Ancient Judaism. Glencoe: The Free Press
Weber, Max 1978. Economy and Society. Berkeley: California University Press.
Wells, H.G 1927. “The Country of the Blind”, in Complete Stories. Twenty Second Edition. London: Ernest Benn.
Williams, Robin 1998. “Erving Goffman”, in Rob Stones ed. Key Sociological Thinkers. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
Wiseman, Donald J 1986. “Medicine in the Old Testament World”, in B. Palmer ed. Medicine and the Bible. Exeter: Paternoster Press, pp. 13-42
Yong, Amos 2011 The Bible, Disability and the Church: A New Vision of the People of God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Wynn, K.H 2015. “Disability in Bible translation”. The Bible Translator, 52.4: 402-414.
How to Cite
© Equinox Publishing Ltd.
For information regarding our Open Access policy, click here.