Friday, October 12, 2007

the cultural angst of late capitalism

I am a moth
who just wants to share your light
I'm just an insect
trying to get out of the night

I only stick with you
because there are no others

You are all I need
You are all I need
I'm in the middle of your picture
Lying in the reeds

It's all wrong
It's all right
It's all wrong

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Exile and the Problem of the Diaspora

Exile and the Diaspora

A far more profound challenge for the exile and return motif is raised when the evidence is read in such a way as to call into question any use for the exile. More specifically does the exilic element in Second Temple Judaism(s) loose all its ability to resonate, if it is discovered that the Jews of the diaspora were not languishing in the constant reminder of national sin and thus longing for an idyllic restoration?

This new perspective of the diaspora argues that even though the Greek term for ‘diaspora’ may mean ‘scattering’, and while it has been argued that in ancient Jewish usage the term generally had connotations of ‘exile’, which was brought about by divine judgment,[1] we now know that some, perhaps most, Jews in the ancient ‘diaspora’ did not think of their location in that way, nor did all necessarily regard Palestine as their ‘homeland’ in any meaningful sense.[2] Many Jews were integrated into their respective cities of residence, and this did not mean the abandonment of active attention to Jewish distinctiveness. It was as Jews that they were involved in, and part of, the life of the cities in which they lived.[3]

The issue is often too readily conceived of in terms of mutually exclusive alternatives: either the Jews regarded their identity as exilic and the achievement of their destiny was wholly dependent upon re-entry into the Land; or they clung to their heritage abroad, shifting attention to local and regional loyalties, and cultivating a permanent attachment to the diaspora.[4] Those alternatives, of course, have continuing contemporary resonance, but the Jews of the Second Temple period did not confront such a stark choice.[5] The diaspora was not something to be overcome.[6] It was not as if pinning away for the restoration of their homeland was the single ideal which Jews embraced to remain faithful.[7] As a matter of fact, the Jews living around the Mediterranean were unapologetic and not embarrassed by their situation. They did not describe themselves as part of any diaspora. They did not suggest that they were cut off from the center, leading a separate, fragmented, or unfulfilled existence. People from communities and nations everywhere settled outside their places of origin in the fluid and mobile Hellenistic world without abandoning their identities as Athenians, Macedonians, Phoenicians, Antiochenes, or Egyptians. The Jews could eschew justification, rationalization, or tortured explanation for their choice of residence, for they felt no need to construct a theory of diaspora.[8] The Jewish communities abroad still paid respect to the holy land while standing in full harmony with and allegiance to the Gentile governments. Diaspora Jews did not bemoan their fate or pine away for the homeland. Nor, by contrast, did they ignore the homeland and become people of the book, which became a surrogate for the temple.[9] Palestine mattered, and it mattered in the territorial sense, but it was not a required residence. Just as the Jews made pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem, they likewise announced a devotion to the symbolic heart of Judaism and had singular pride in the accomplishment of the diaspora. Jewish Hellenistic writers were not driven to apology. Nor did they feel obliged to reconcile the contradiction, for as they saw it, there was none.[10]

The advancement of this corrective concerning the ability of Jews in the Second Temple period to live faithfully in foreign lands is needed and welcomed. And while we agree that it is simplistic to view the various Jewish rehearsals of the biblical history of exile as automatically proof for exilic thought in the Hellenistic diaspora, it seems that Gruen is alternatively too quick to gloss over any mention of exile during the period as having any present day ramifications. When we view the use of exile as shorthand for the multifarious ideas that restoration is still future, we are able to hold together the present day resonances of exile, without the doleful picture in which Gruen seeks to eradicate.[11] It is true that during this time the Jews did very little about their desire to be free from Roman rule and create a Jewish state in Palestine. But as James C. Scott has shown us it is dangerous to interpret passivity as equal to the idea that Jews had no hopes for a Jewish state at all.[12]

The crux of the issue resides in the questions that Gruen so carefully raises: does exilic theology have to be a theology of despair, a theology of national corporate guilt, where the righteous individual bemoans the fact that the nation is not what it ought to be, that the Temple is not functioning as it ought, or that Israel is not under self-rule?[13] Could it be that a man like Yeshua Ben Sira, while possibly being content with the religious autonomy the Jews enjoyed at the time, nevertheless dreamed that the Jewish nation would regain the political grandeur it had once enjoyed in the past (whether this be described in terms of political nationalism, or as discussed earlier in terms of the eschatological end of time)?[14] In fact exile could be interpreted metaphorically as Neusner postulates, in order that an ‘Israel’ might never take its very existence as a permanent condition; rather, the paradigm of exile and return might remind the Jews that ‘the life of an Israel was never to be taken for granted but always to be received as a gift.’[15] In this manner all Judaism(s) became a reworking of exile and return, alienation reconciliation, a group troubled by the resentment of that uncertain past and of that future subject to stipulation.[16]

Whatever the term exile meant to the various Judaism(s), it was obviously still a powerful symbolic term, with a potent array of meanings. It was the type of concept that was malleable enough for the variegated Judaic groups to use in diverse ways without talking about completely different concepts. It does not follow that all Jews were waiting for restoration in a literal sense (land), and it does not follow however that all Jews mourned their national sin and eagerly awaited God’s vindication (although no doubt some did). And while the remnant theology offered a way for the individual to be holy despite the larger sin of the nation, it did not diffuse the use of the exilic narrative as a powerful narrative.

Our task in this section was to offer enough plausibility to warrant our looking at Paul through the lenses of exile and return, through the lenses of a powerful biblical and extra-biblical motif in which the ‘second exodus’ was prevalent.[17] We have seen that neither the existence of a remnant theology nor the perspective of an assimilated faithful necessarily negate the powerful symbolic images of exile and return. We have also acknowledged that not all the Jews of this period believed that they were still in exile, and among those Jews who did, there was even more diversity as to how they thought the restoration would be consummated.[18] Whatever the Jew on the ground actually believed, we may never know for certain, but there are enough texts which have come down to us, that speak of a continued state of exile after the (re)building of the Second Temple, and its subsequent destruction, so as to speak of a plausible shared cultural background of exilic thought, albeit malleable enough to speak in many different ways.[19]

[1] See, Unnik, Das Selbstverständnis Der Jüdischen Diaspora in Der Hellenistisch-Römischen Zeit, 89-147.

[2] Barclay, "Diaspora Judaism," 48. It is important not to understand the encounter with Judaism and Hellenism as being one of only enmity. Furthermore, it follows that hellenization is not a single entity, and so if you are hellenized in one aspect it does not follow that you are hellenized in every respect. Perhaps a more nuanced view of diaspora Judaism is to recognizes that the object was not to ape Greek culture so much as to re-express Judaism within it, sometimes even with a significant polemical edge against non Jews. So Barclay, "Diaspora Judaism," 49, 51, 53. See also Thomas Kraabel, "Unity and Diversity among Diaspora Synagogues," in The Synagogue in Late Antiquity, ed. Lee I. Levine (Philadelphia: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1987), 57-58, who argues that over the centuries many Jews left the homeland voluntarily, just as did other people of the Mediterranean, to seek their fortunes in the centers of power of the Hellenistic and Roman world. These individuals did not understand themselves to be in exile, but rather welcomed and desired immigration as part of a new situation that was also under the control of Providence. The diaspora was not exile; but in some senses it too became a holy land.

[3] Paul R. Trebilco, Jewish Communities in Asia Minor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 187.

[4] Many who view the diaspora in this way view the Jewish people as no longer people of the ‘Land’ but as people of the ‘book’.

[5] Gruen, Diaspora, 235.

[6] Gruen, Diaspora, 233.

[7] Gruen, Diaspora, 234. cf. Deuteronomy 30.2-5; 1 Kings, 8.33-34, 8.46-51; 2 Chronicles 6.24-25, 36-39; Jeremiah, 29.10-14.

[8] Gruen, Diaspora, 243; Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora: From Alexander to Trajan (323 Bce - 117 Ce), 418-24, also argues that the attachment of the motherland could coexist with fidelity to the regions abroad, although he regards the degree of attachment as dependent upon the circumstances of the community.

[9] A popular alternative to an exilic understanding of Second Temple Judaism(s) is to posit that the Jews where in no way interested in a territorial sanctuary or national legitimation because through the Babylonian diaspora they had become ‘the people of the book.’ In this view their homeland resides in the text—not just the canonical scriptures but in a wide array of Jewish writings that help to define the nation and give voice to the sense of identity. Thus for these Jews the diaspora is no burden, but rather a virtue in the spread of the word. This justifies a primary attachment to the land of one’s residence, rather than the home of the fathers. See S.D. Ezrahi, "Our Homeland, the Text...Our Text, the Homeland," Michigan Quarterly Review 31 (1992): 463-97; G Steiner, "Our Homeland the Text," Salmagundi 66 (1985): 4-25.

[10] Gruen, Diaspora, 252.

[11] Gruen, Diaspora, 239.

[12] Doron Mendels, The Rise and Fall of Jewish Nationalism: Jewish and Christian Ethnicity in Ancient Palestine (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 7.

[13] See, for example, the puzzling criticism of Seifrid, Christ, Our Righteousness, 22-25, who bemusingly argues that an exilic interpretation of the Second Temple texts is just a ‘mere variation’ of an introspective psychologizing of Paul. Only the burden of personal guilt (sin) carried around by Paul, is replaced by the onus of national guilt (sin). Seifrid mistakenly views guilt with sin, the two may go hand in hand, but not necessarily. Why it follows that Jews of the Second Temple period who were expecting the return from exile, necessarily had to be guilt ridden seems to import the vary framework of introspective guilt on to the whole of the nation, a concept that Stendahl has vigorously tried to shed. See Krister Stendahl, "Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West," in Paul among Jews and Gentiles: And Other Essays (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), 78-96.

[14] Mendels, Jewish Nationalism, 6. Obviously there were Jews who accepted Roman rule and who were quite content with it. They may have actively supported the Romans because they believed either that God had justly deprived them of their state or that the Jews no longer needed an independent state.

[15] Neusner, Judaism When Christianity Began, 58.

[16] Neusner, Judaism When Christianity Began, 59.

[17] Of course there are those who deny or downplay the exile/return motif by offering an alternative narrative altogether. Most notably in the essay ‘See How They Go with Their Face to the Sun’ John Howard Yoder, For the Nations: Essays Evangelical and Public (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 51-78., sets out the history of diaspora Judaism as a means for God to accomplish the world mission that was impossible when Israel was settled in Judea. Thus instead of the theology of exile/return, the normative theology according to Yoder is that of the diaspora found in Jeremiah 19.4-7. The new pattern for the Jews was to live well among a foreign people, because in their ‘welfare you will find your welfare’. See also Daniel Boyarin, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 242-60; John Howard Yoder, Michael G. Cartwright, and Peter Ochs, The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited (Radical Traditions; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003). For a recent biblical theology of exile that incorporates many of these ideas see Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, A Biblical Theology of Exile (Overtures to Biblical Theology, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002).

[18] This is to say that the invention of single coherent grand narrative, like Wright suggests, which controls the range of Jewish expectations during this period is probability untenable. See the criticisms ofJames D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 473-77.

[19] Certainly enough evidence exists to move forward with a reading attuned to the motif of exile and return, even if such motifs were never part of the larger shared cultural background. See also the discussion in, J. Ross Wagner, Heralds of the Good News: Isaiah and Paul in Concert in the Letter to the Romans (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 29-33.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


I Just found out and had to post this:

This appeared on the Radiohead blog yesterday:

Hello everyone. Well, the new album is finished, and it's coming out in 10 days; We've called it In Rainbows. Love from us all. Jonny
The interesting thing is that Radiohead has been without a recording contract since their last album, and I imagine that any record label would have died to get Radiohead signed on, but when you are the super group of post rock, are you really concerned about distribution... So here is their little experiment, I think it is brill.

Two options. First you chose to download it from the "In Rainbows" site. (The kicker is You decide what to pay for it.)

Or you order the "Discbox" which includes two cd's and vinyls, a book with artwork and lyrics, and the download. Price 40 pounds.

It will be interesting to see if this is it, or if they will indeed sign a distribution deal, down the road. It would also be a great way to see what the price the public think premiere music should sell for.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Exile and The Problem of the Remnant

Exile and the Remnant

During the tenuous times of the ‘historical’ exile, the proliferation of what might be termed ‘remnant’ theology was developed. It was most likely developed in an effort to make sense of the delay of the second exodus and the ongoing tribulations felt by those Jews in captivity. The theology of a remnant can be traced to the canonical book of Isaiah, especially chapters 56-66. This theology of a remnant dealt with the issue of exile through the obedience and faithfulness of a few.[1] The general thinking was that if God was indeed going to be faithful to his covenant then he would have to preserve at least some of Israel. So even though the nation experienced the punishment for her sins collectively, there was still a reason for the individual to be faithful to the covenant. A careful reading of several texts of the Second Temple period seem to point to the developing view that only a remnant would survive to see the blessings of the restoration.[2] At its core this theology consisted of this basic story: the people transgress against yhwh’s will and thus anger him; yhwh is said to destroy the godless among the people; while yhwh spares the remnant.[3]

The existence of a remnant theology has recently been used to call into question the power the concept of exile and return had over the Judaism(s) of the Second Temple period.[4] It is argued by Seifrid, in rather syllogistic fashion, that a belief in a continuing exile demands that generally the Jews regarded themselves under a corporate guilt (guilt for Seifrid is equivalent to sin) and lamented their condition; but since remnant theology insists that Israel is divided into two groups, the pious and the wicked, the sin of the people as a whole can no longer be considered absolute, as an exilic reading would require; no corporate sin, no continuing exile.[5] Seifrid essentially wonders how the nation as a whole can be under sin, while at the same time the remnant, still under the umbrella of the nation can be considered faithful.[6] But Seifrid’s critique seems to be flawed on at least two fronts. Firstly, no one who argues for a continuing exile thinks that this state is due to the Jews sense of guilt. But as the prophets in the Scriptures of Israel are fond of saying, the exile is because the nation has failed to live by the covenant and failed to be obedient to yhwh.[7] Secondly, his notion that the concept of national sin can not coexist with remnant theology seems to be a quarrel with the idea of remnant theology itself, rather than that of a continuing exile. If Seifrid is right then why did these Jews hold to any view of restoration at all? What value would they see in nurturing any hopes related to ethnic or national Israel?[8]

It is possible, of course, that restoration was simply such a strongly held traditional belief, clearly expressed in the Scriptures, that removing it completely from the theology of these groups would have been impossible.[9] There is, however, another motivation that would make sense of the inclusion of the theology. The continuation of Israel in some form, even after judgment, offered the opportunity of vindication for the teachings or 'way' of the remnant group. Elliott writes:

It is a feature of these writings…that Israel would eventually come to the knowledge that the righteous were correct all along, even openly honoring them. Since Israel was the larger unit over against which these groups defined themselves, since Israel was the group they argued with and protested against, and since Israel shared with these groups similar claims on a common inheritance, it can be seen how a fuller restoration would grant to the cause of the remnant groups an especially satisfying, and ultimate, vindication.[10]

The faithful remnant of the present, having perceived an unprecedented degree of apostasy in the nation, and having voiced its protest against the present state of things and against Israel, firmly believed that its message of protest and teaching about the true righteousness would eventually be vindicated. This vindication would not only be by the Gentile nations being brought into the fold, but even more significantly, by the ‘elect’ nation itself, as they would come to honor the remnant group and eventually join their cause.[11]

But in most of these texts, while a return from exile is acknowledged, the teaching is that exile is an ongoing condition, one that may never end in historical time. The burden of these authors consequently fits within the same framework of an exilic narrative; i.e. to provide the necessary information and consolation so that the readers of their messages are able to cope with the discouraging course of history and to renew their confidence in the God who governs and directs all of history.[12]

But even if these texts only envision a return from exile within the sectarians own group, the wide variety of texts certainly would speak then of competing groups who would view themselves as the true remnant. Thus showing that the exile and return motif was a strong way to talk about who was the true remnant, and thus proving that the motif still carried strong currency in the Second Temple period.

[1] On remnant theology see, R. E. Clements, ""A Remnant Chosen by Grace" (Romans 11.5): The Old Testament Background and Origin of the Remnant Concept," in Pauline Studies: Essays Presented to Professor F.F. Bruce on His 70th Birthday, ed. Donald Alfred Hagner and Murray J. Harris (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 106.

[2] In Hebrew tyrav or hljylp, the concept of remnant, following the usage in the Hebrew Bible, assumes that sectarians at Qumran were the true representatives of the biblical remnant and it is they who will therefore survive into the end of days. This notion appears in 4Q393 (Communal Confession) frag. 3.7, where the author sees himself and his fellow (sectarians?) as the remnant of the patriarchs in accord with God’s covenant with Abraham. See Schiffman, "Concept of Restoration," 207.

[3] See the discussion in Antti Laato, Who Is Immanuel?: The Rise and the Foundering of Isaiah's Messianic Expectations (Åbo: Åbo Academy Press, 1988), 88-94.

[4] Mark A. Seifrid, Christ, Our Righteousness: Paul's Theology of Justification (NSBT 9; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000), 21-25.

[5] Seifrid, Christ, Our Righteousness, 22.

[6] Seifrid, Christ, Our Righteousness, 23. Ironically, the idea of a remnant theology might have been the impetus for a more individual conception of restoration, an idea that suggests the covenant endured through those individuals who despite the rebellion of the nation as a whole remained faithful to yhwh. See Gary W. Burnett, Paul and the Salvation of the Individual (Biblical Interpretation Series 57; Leiden: Brill, 2001), 81-82; Géza Vermès, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (New York: Penguin Press, 1997), 68-9.

[7] Seifrid seems to think that the conception of national sin is highly superficial when compared to Paul’s view of sin. Seemingly setting up the continuing exile as a foil to the heart of Paul’s real thought on sin. See Seifrid, Christ, Our Righteousness, 22.

[8] Not to mention Seifrid’s assumption that the sin of Israel is somehow their quilt, and not their disobedience? So Seifrid, Christ, Our Righteousness, 22, 24-5.

[9] According to Neusner the motif of exile and return itself was a self fulfilling prophecy which all Judaic systems have incorporated, regardless of whether it ever meshed with reality. See Jacob Neusner, "Exile and Return as the History of Judaism," in Exile: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Conceptions, ed. James M. Scott (JSJSup 56; Leiden: Brill, 1997), 221-38. One of the main reasons for this was the authoritative nature of the scriptures Jacob Neusner, Judaism When Christianity Began: A Survey of Belief and Practice (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 63. Neusner posits that this paradigm of exile and return, even when the Jews in question had no experience of exile and return, tells us more about the power of religion not merely to respond to world, but rather to define the world. See Neusner, Judaism When Christianity Began, 58.

[10] Elliott, Survivors, 636. cf. 1 En. 90.30; Jub 1.25

[11] Elliott, Survivors, 637.

[12] Vanderkam, "Exile in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature," 109.

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