The man often called the “father of modern anthropology,” Claude Levi-Strauss, died on October 30, 2009, at the age of 100. He was only a few weeks shy of 101; he was born November 28, 1908.
Levi-Strauss influenced the social-scientific methodology in New Testament studies, especially in the methodology’s earliest years. In a very simplistic trajectory, Levi-Strauss influenced the anthropologist Mary Douglass (see especially Purity and Danger , and Natural Symbols ), who in turn influenced some of the earliest New Testament scholars such as Bruce Malina, John Elliott, Jerome Neyrey, John Pilch. These scholars turned their attention to anthropological studies and how these studies could be used as interpretative strategies for understand the New Testament world.
Levi-Strauss emphasized that experiences are often influenced or structured by a series of opposites, that is, male-female, purity-pollution, good-evil. This approach is a cornerstone for understanding the New Testament world as a shame-honor society and was highlighted by Bruce Malina in his 1981 book New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology.
The Wall Street Journal carried this interesting quote from Levi-Strauss (it is taken from a 2005 article in Agence France-Presse): “We live in a world where I feel out of place. The one that I knew, that I loved, had 1.5 billion inhabitants. The world today is made up of six billion humans. It is no longer mine.” Perhaps an understandable feeling, but a bit sad that a man who studied humanity could feel so out of place. One might think he would be enthused because he had more of humanity to observe.