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HTS Theological Studies

On-line version ISSN 2072-8050
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NEUFELD, Dietmar. Dressing down criminals, deviants and other undesirables. Herv. teol. stud. [online]. 2014, vol.70, n.1, pp.01-08. ISSN 2072-8050.

Fear of just censure and the sense of shame it produced kept Roman citizens from doing wrong (Cic. Rep. 5.6). Invective functioned socially as a strategy of social sanction. One amongst a number of commonly identified topics of accusation in the Roman tradition of ridicule was unusual appearance, clothing or demeanour. Not surprisingly, John the Baptist emerges from the desert attired distinctly, demoniacs come out of the tombs so fierce that no one would pass by them (Mt 8:28), a man with an unclean spirit lives amongst the tombs and, even though adorned with fetters and chains, cannot be controlled (Mk 5:15-20). Herod pretentiously puts on the royal robes and is eaten by worms and dies (Ac 12:21). A woman uninvited enters a rich man's dinner party with an alabaster flask of perfume and anoints the feet of Jesus (Lk 7:38). Clearly, in each case, unusual appearance, clothing, and demeanour suggest a lapse from the appropriate, socially acceptable style of deportment and clothing. Oddities in dress and demeanour were equated with oddities in behaviour and provided a powerful rhetorical means of excluding undesirables from society.

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