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Ehud, Stigma and the Management of Spoiled Identity: A Sociological Retelling of Judges 3:12-31 with Goffman as Conversation Partner

Chalcraft, D (2021) Ehud, Stigma and the Management of Spoiled Identity: A Sociological Retelling of Judges 3:12-31 with Goffman as Conversation Partner. Postscripts: the journal of sacred texts and contemporary worlds, 11 (2). pp. 201-236. ISSN 1743-887X

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The story of Ehud, and his assassination of the Moabite King Eglon (Judges 3:12-30), continues to entertain readers and hearers alike, as it has done for centuries. 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. I show how the processes of concealing, passing and revealing operate in Ehud’s moral career, and in particular how his gaining entry to the presence of fat King Eglon revolves around an ironic inversion of Ehud’s normal practice of concealing his impairment, which can be clearly seen given Goffman’s perspective. However, if Ehud was attempting to gain admission to the able-bodied male society through his ‘able-bodied action’ I argue that the stigma of his impairment is never fully forgotten in the cultural memory of ancient Israel and this accounts for the ambiguity in the treatment of Ehud. The paper concludes with a note that this sociological re-telling of the Ehud story has elements of disablism within it given the limitations at source of Goffman’s view that the stigmatised desire to pass as ‘normal’.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: 2005 Literary Studies, 2204 Religion and Religious Studies
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BS The Bible
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology > HV697 Protection, assistance and relief > HV1551 People with disabilities
Divisions: Humanities & Social Science
Publisher: Equinox Publishing
Date Deposited: 16 Apr 2020 11:21
Last Modified: 03 Mar 2023 00:50
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/12749
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