Interpreting the Exile

Brad Kelle, Frank Ames, Jacob Wright (eds), Society of biblical Literature, 2011, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        The Jewish community underwent major upheavals through exile (the northern kingdom in 722 BCE, the southern kingdom in 587). The bulk of the common scriptures were written, shaped or edited by people in exile. ‘A deepened understanding of biblical texts that emerged from the crisis of exile can provide a higher degree of sensitivity for dealing with comparable catastrophes and migration or refugee problems in modern society’ (p 2)

        This volume looks not only at the biblical historical data about exile (Kings, Jeremiah) but to the ‘indirect’ sources (Ezekiel, Lamentations); a new interpretation is now taking place. Before, emphasis was given to the cohesive family life Judean deportees were able to pursue in Babylon, and little attention was given to the people and circumstances in the land of Judah between 587 and 539 (viewing Judah as a ‘virtually empty land’).

        Contemporary treatment of the situation focuses now on the experience of exile as a severe and traumatic personal, social and psychological crises, drawing on the experience of Japanese-American enduring internment and black South Africans in the midst of apartheid; the Jewish exilic community developed coping strategies (eg development of new folklore literature and heroes, such as Daniel and Joseph).

        Key is the third section of the book that looks at the psychology of exile, on aspects of trauma involved in experiences of forced displacement (p 33). The book’s final section examines the literature of the exile (eg Psalm 137, Esther, ‘those few brave texts show the exilic community’s refusal to mimic dynamics of domination’, p 374).

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.