Monday, October 20, 2008

Ezra and עם הארץ: A Neo-Colonial Judaism?

There is no question that Ezra had ties to the imperial Persian court (cf. Horsley, Scribes, Visionaries, and Second Temple Politics [2007], 22-23). However, Ezra's history is both theocentric and monolithic, which is to say, there is a tacit assumption throughout his work, namely, that only the deportees are "true Israel" in a sense. For עם הארץ are demonized half-breeds, having "fallen prey" it seems to wickedness. But, Yahweh had "divinely" commissioned via the Persian empire a return to the land. There is no mention of the fact that Persian imperial practice normatively reconstructed a people's indigenous religion as a way of making the province functional both economically and civilly. Rather, Ezra paints a picture of pietism. The Ezra-led band of "true Israel" were "in terror of the local people" (Ezra 3:3; NET). Indeed, the Judahites that were not deported were now "enemies" of Judah and Benjamin (4:1). Thus, in the name of God, the Persian Empire sponsored the reconstruction and systematic colonization of Yehud, albeit in a disguised way---now Ezra and the Jewish Elite were given authority to rule the province, thereby ensuring the Persian Empire's return on their investment and they were given imperial authority to make everyone "obey God's law and the law of the king (Ezra 7:25–26)! Ezra was empowered with the ability to banish, imprison, and confiscate of property! This sounds like martial law, no? What Ezra offers is ONE narrative perspective. However, what many scholars have found is that Yehud was much more complex than Ezra paints the portrait. And the tacit dismissal of those in the land as "negligible in number" or "fundmantally Yahwistic apostates" as a professor recently said to me, is to fail historiography for a theological agenda.

Admit it, the book of Ezra functions as a colonial mandate, justifying theologically no less, the systematic colonization and oppression of an indigenous peoples. Was Ezra's commission sanctioned, truly sanctioned, by Yahweh? Certainly, Ezra thought so.... but to change the analogy, what would we call it if a people group today was sent by a large empire to populate and subdue another land, to subjugate it to the host empire? To confiscate land, to force "them" to obey? What would we call that?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Economic Crisis and Empire

As the savings, investments, and retirement hopes of millions of Americans have essentially stepped back in time 5 or more years, shedding in three or so weeks virtually everything they have gained in the past 5 years, the Empire teeters on the edge of utter disaster. The entire world economy is crumbling along with us and the reality is that no one knows or has the will or insight to really help. I am ashamed by both candidates for President. What I thought was an election that might, in fact, change things no longer appears that way to me.

With both parties, the president, and both candidates for president essentially supporting the nationalization of American financial institutions out of sheer panic, I find myself wondering how increasing the size, power, and control of empire will really help the average citizen. Here is the point I'm pondering. Most of my friends, who are critical of empire, support Barack Obama. But my question is this, if we are truly skeptical of empire, skeptical of its evils, skeptical of it as an ideological machine, why do we support the radical increase of American imperial reach? Congress cannot even balance the budget of their cafeteria without a multi-million dollar deficit, how then can we trust them to manage our futures, retirements, health care?

I am cynical, truly skeptical that either candidate will create change so that my daughter may grow up in a world not worrying where her next meal will come from. Such a statement one year ago could readily be dismissed as fringe-pessimism. However, with the global political and economic climate in the shape it is in, I find little if any energy left to "hope" that either candidate will positively affect the direction of this country. I think both candidates are going to expand the empire in a radical way, such a radical way that before long, before anyone has time to notice, the very fundamentals of America will no longer resemble what we once called "America." Maybe it will be for the better, or maybe not... What may be worse, however, is that it will no longer be able to sustain a reasonable standard of living for any of its shivering denizens. Will expanding Empire's reach really save us? If the banks are nationalized, if the health system is nationalized, if the power base of the government continue to grow, will the well being of the people really be affected? I remain skeptical, for I simply cannot trust empire, no matter who is at the helm. Now I wonder whether I can vote at all, should I elect not to vote? Will it matter?

As a Christian, I cannot pledge allegiance to the flag. As a Christian, can I, or should I vote?