Seeking a homeland : sojourn and ethnic identity in the ancestral narratives of Genesis
Kennedy, Elisabeth Robertson
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Sojourn is a Leitwort (leading word) in the ancestral narratives of Genesis, appearing 17 times in its various forms: verbal, √דונ gûr; and nominal, rGE gēr and rAgm' māgôr. Sojourn is an indicator of alienation and estrangement from land and community, yet it is repeatedly accentuated as an important descriptor of the patriarchs’ identity and experience. What accounts for this counter-intuitive emphasis? This thesis makes the case that the narrative development of sojourn in Genesis contributes to a strong communal identity for biblical Israel. Detailed exegetical analysis of the texts shows sojourn to strengthen biblical Israel’s ethnic identity in ways that are varied and at times paradoxical. Its very complexity, however, makes it particularly useful as a resource for group identity at times when straightforward categories of territorial and social affiliation fail. This study draws upon the sociological theory of Anthony D. Smith to structure its investigation of sojourn as a contributor to ethnic identity. Smith’s understanding of ethnic myth emphasizes the central functions of an ethnoscape (a symbolically significant geography) and a myth of election (an account of chosenness) in constructing communal identity. Ethnic myth uses the history of a communal past, constructed around these dual elements, to create a vision with directive capacity for the future of the ethnie; that is, to shape the ethics of the community. Smith’s categories of ethnoscape, election, and ethics provide analytical tools that reveal a distinctive role for sojourn in strengthening Israel’s ethnic myth. The Genesis sojourn texts are divided into three groups according to literary form: itinerary notices, promise speeches, and narrative dialogues. The tri-part division corresponds with a focus upon each of Smith’s three categories above, respectively. Close readings of each text in its narrative context result in an overall portrait of sojourn as a significant contributor to the strength and durability of Israel’s ethnic identity.