Shifting the boundaries

[This article was first published by The Pacific Journal of Theology (Ser. II No. 16 {1996}: 55-71), where it took a different form at the hands of the editor, and is posted here by permission of the author.]

Shifting the boundaries: house of God and the politics of reading1

j.havea, student of the Hebrew Bible

Southern Methodist University

In this postmodern age mar(k/r)ed by the death of the autonomous bourgeois subject (Jameson) and the urgent call for change of subject (Fulkerson) to account for the margin(alized), incredulity to legitimizing metanarratives is no longer a luxury (Lyotard). In biblical studies, methodological-metanarratives2 are called to question (cf. Gunn, Burnett, Jobling 1990): autonomy of critics is an illusion in-deed (Fewell), and superiority of critical exegetes over ordinary readers is a misjudgment (Phillips, Patte). Our postmodern age demands a transformation, in method and attitude. As Fewell suggests, we “must enter into the value system of the work; that is different from saying that the reader must adopt that value system… . We read to be broadened, we read to be deepened, we read to be transformed. If we are in complete agreement with the work, no transformation can take place” (Fewell, 77). I take Fewell’s challenge seriously in this essay.

I propose ideological criticism as a responsible way to enter into the value system of texts. I will first sketch what ideological criticism entails, then manifest it in an analysis of Eskenazi’s reading of Ezra-Nehemiah’s house of God.3

To de-fine ideological criticism, I begin with the obvious: In the literary mode of production and the interpretive process of making sense, grabbing acts (involving desire, choice, conflict) take place (Penchansky 1992, 35): texts grab for readers; readers grab for texts; and readers need to grab for themselves and to let go of texts and meanings. Taken together, these grabbing acts make up ideological criticism.4 Ideological criticism is exegesis and metacriticism,5 in which “[t]he richest reading of a text … is not the one that can most effectively defend a particular angle of vision, but one that can hear a number of perspectives in juxtaposition” (ibid.). This affirms the fundamental openness of texts and the indeterminacy of meaning (meaning can not be decontextualized, it resists ultimate or final interpretation; BCC, 302). As metacriticism, ideological criticism urges androcritical multidimensional reading: it “pokes the eye/‘i’-s” of class-gender-racially privileged readers, and encourages us to recognize and affirm other readers and other readings (cf. Patte, 11). Texts are always beyond our grasp, and we (especially as islanders) must learn to read other-wise. This way of reading is both ethical and liberating, on behalf of all texts (e.g., literary, readerly-self, political-societal-contextual texts; cf. BCC, 187ff.) involved.

Given the otherness of texts and of other readers/readings, and because we read through an eye/i-view, ideological criticism acknowledges that we are “objective observers” who must learn to observe responsibly.6 Reading involves choice (i.e., discrimination). A choice is involved when we (s)elect to read a particular text in a particular way, and when we expose ideologies concealed within a text we make assumptions (expressions of choice) about meanings (we are meaning-makers). A choice is also involved in the hierarchization of interpretations attached to a text, in (not) affirming other readers and other readings, and in expecting that others will see what we claim to see in a text and not just in its interpretation. Consequently, ideological criticism shows that what one chooses as a reading about a text is the spinning of a new story (Penchansky 1992, 38-9). In this process, the subjectivity of the reader is always already under erasure (Derrida).7

Ideological criticism un-covers the power relations disguised in the signifiers and signifieds “as they come to expression in language, in the conflicting ideologies operating in discourse, and in flesh and blood readers of texts in their concrete social locations and relationships” (BCC, 274).8 It is an ethical exercise which is concerned with “lived” relations, and it endorses as better readings “those that support and encourage positive social change that affirms difference and inclusion” (BCC, 302).

Ideological criticism is often mocked for its interest in conflict. But this quality immerses us in the text, gives us access to the text’s value system, and drives us to identify the ideological impulses at the heart of all texts. The “ideological material is concealed, but may be exposed by examining the cracks or fault lines in the text, the point of dissonance” (Penchansky 1990, 38). We should therefore not be deflected by textual ambiguities, gaps, tensions and multivalences, nor downplay their presence (cf. Gunn, 68). As Penchansky puts it, “[i]n postmodernism, contradictions are not seen as a problem, but rather as an occasion for creativity” (Penchansky 1995, 9).

Ideological critics do not step over gaps, stay away from the margins, or reconcile contradictions. Rather, we identify violence committed when literary characters are stuffed into textual gaps, pushed off the margins, rejected for rebelling against or usurping dominant powers.9 As such, ideological criticism is not only concerned with ideologies at the surface structures of texts (ideologies one knows one has) but also with those at the deep structures (ideologies one does not know one has).10

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We should not restrict meaning to the cognitive core that lies at the heart of a knowable object; rather, we should allow it to reestablish its flux at the limit of words and things. Michel Foucault

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I have chosen Ezra-Nehemiah because it narrates the rebuilding of a nation, echoing my concerns as a ‘third-world’ reader, and because it deals with identity and boundary. In reading such texts I argue that a boundary separates and links inside with outside and that identity can only be fluid because the boundary that defines identity also defines nonidentity. These interests are present in Ezra-Nehemiah (cf. Eskenazi 1992). Secondly, I have chosen to “recognize and affirm”11 Eskenazi’s reading because she is a woman, she teaches outside North America, and she is a literary criticEskenazi is an outsider to dominant readers.12 And because Ezra-Nehemiah and Eskenazi’s reading are both other to my eye/i-s, a gap separates us, objectivity is involved in my reading. I will first summarize Eskenazi’s reading.13

The event that marks the beginning of Ezra-Nehemiah’s account is the conquest of Babylonia by King Cyrus of Persia in 539 B.C.E. This permitted the exiles to return to Jerusalem and face the task of rebuilding their homeland and their identity as a people and a religion. The restoration is initiated by an outsider, the objective is to rebuild the inside. Ezra-Nehemiah marks a new age, an “age of prose” in which power is transferred: Directions come from nonIsraelite authorities, the central focus is not on the leaders but the community, honor shifts from the ecstatic-inspired spoken word to the written, and authority is transferred from leaders to text (Eskenazi 1988, 1). Ezra-Nehemiah marks a new beginning where the “silenced” of the old community is heard, the heroic is de-emphasized while the prosaic affirmed. Eskenazi argues that three dominant themes characterize this age of prose:

first, that the community as a whole, not simply its leaders, was responsible for postexilic reconstruction; second, that the house of God was no longer confined to the Temple but encompassed the whole city of Jerusalem; and, third, that the unwritten text became the authoritative vehicle for divine communication and the source for insights and guidance. These themes express a shift away from hierarchy toward greater democratization of society and therefore imply greater opportunities for women so foreigners, abused, poor, and “other outsiders”.

It is the second “dominant theme” of Ezra-Nehemiah that I am concerned with in this essay. After discussing what Eskenazi understands to be Ezra-Nehemiah’s intention14 on this theme, I will (s)peek through the (often abrupt) “seams” of this “boundary” in order to show how a boundary also functions as a gap (that channels). This however is not to say that Eskenazi was not concerned with textual seams:

From a literary perspective, the divisions and fissures cease to be occasions to sever limbs but become, instead, clues to the book’s overall intention. The very tension among the parts in Ezra-Nehemiah, the diversity of sources, the jagged edges, the rough seams, the so-called memoirs which allow persons to “speak” in their own voiceall these convey something about Ezra-Nehemiah’s own concept of unity. They tell us, for example, that “unity” for Ezra-Nehemiah does not annul tension and differences. The book does not advocate homogeneity (Eskenazi 1988, 13; emphasis added).

But the “fissures” and “seams” that Eskenazi has in mind differ from the kind for which I read. While Eskenazi thinks of fissures and seams that the author knows are present in his text, I read for unintentional fissures and seams (textual-slips).

Eskenazi reads Ezra-Nehemiah as a “story” with three distinct structural features (appealing to structuralist Claude Bremond): (i) Potentiality (defining the objective; Ezra 1:1-4), (ii) Process of actualization (execution of objective; Ezra 1:5-Neh 7:72) and (iii), Success (objective is reached, community celebrates; Neh 8:1-13:31) (Eskenazi 1988, 38f.). The objective is clear: to rebuild the house of God. But the execution of the objective is complicated because it is presented as three “enchained movements” (back-to-back stories), each movement actualizing “a specific aspect of building the house of God by a group of people; it is thus embedded as a detail of the overall ‘process of actualization’” (Eskenazi 1988, 39). Of interest to my reading is the starting point of the movements: from over there (from the Diaspora), under the decree of nonIsraelites, reaching “completion” inside (as house of God).15

The first movement (Ezra 1:7-6:22) depicts the return of a large contingent of exiled Judahites from the Babylonian diaspora. Upon arrival, they built an altar and resumed proper worship (reestablishing the cult). The central task of the movement was the rebuilding of the house of God, which included, but not limited to, the altar (under Cyrus) and the temple (under Darius). By Ezra 6:14, the temple had been built, despite difficulties and delays, and the community celebrate its completion.

But the temple is not to be confused with the house of God: Ezra-Nehemiah “extends the concept of the house in this section to encompass the city as a whole” (Eskenazi 1988, 53). Because of a letter from king Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:7-24) which did not mention the temple (hykl), but ordered that the rebuilding of the city walls be ceased, Eskenazi argues for a necessary connection between house of God and the city wallstemple and city together compose the house of God (ibid., 57). By Ezra 6:14-21 the hykl has been built, but the house of God has not reached completion.

Moving the boundaries of the house of God back toward the city walls is a spatial expansion not peculiar to Israel’s traditions.16 What used to be confined by the curtains of the Holy of Holies (as in P.’s kabÙd theology) was extended in the first temple: the temple walls became the confining limits. With Ezra-Nehemiah, the “holy” space is pushed further back to the walls of the city. The talmudic traditions push the boundary even further back with the mishnaic literature functioning as a “movable-sanctuary” (note [1] that the temple had been destroyed at that time and [2], that prioritizing the “written” was already present in Ezra-Nehemiah).17

That boundaries shift is not my major focus here (see n.24). Here, I read for instances when boundaries are said to be (re)established, and space defined. In those instances, my question is whether boundaries confine or only signify points/gaps in space. How one regards boundaries of course depends on one’s eye/i-view: from a horizontal location, a raised-boundary is an erection but a dug-boundary is a hole/gap; from an aerial location (a god-eye view), both kinds are points in space; from “on-top” the boundary, one can see both sides but may miss the boundary.

The second movement (Ezra 7:1-10:44) is concerned with the “going up” of the people of God and the rebuilding of the community (under Artaxerxes). In a letter from Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:11-26), Ezra is said to have unlimited funds for completing the house of God and the cult. This concern for the community fills the space between the temple (completed in the first movement) and the city walls (completed in the third movement). This confirms that house of God is not limited to the hykl: “Ezra 7-10 implies that building the house of God is not limited to structures in stone but refers to the process of building the community itself” (Eskenazi 1988, 73). Eskenazi’s reading is supported by Ezra’s word choice: the verb for “return” (of exilees) and the noun for “found” (of new community) both have architectural connotations. The return of exilees and founding of the community are building projects parallel to the central Ezra-Nehemian project on the house of God: “One can say that one movement during the time of Artaxerxes focuses on the human component of the house of God in preparation for its completion, whereas the other (which follows) focuses on the physical component. Both dimensions are necessary and combine to complete the house of God” (ibid.). And since the builders of this project are members of the community, it is a self-building project.

The second movement demonstrates the centrality of the people, marked by a conflict over participation in the holy seed (Ezra 9:2) and concern “to study Yhwh’s law, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). The focus has shifted from the hero (e.g., the Patriarchs) to the community (a movement from the one to the many) and its purity, reached through observance of the law of Yhwh (making “teaching the law” valuable).18

In the third movement (Neh 1:1-7:5) the objective is reached with the dedication of the city walls (under Artaxerxes), marking the completion of the architectural components of the house of God. Nehemiah goes up to Jerusalem after hearing of the plight of his people and, in the face of oppositions, mobilizes the Judeans to complete the building project. The progress of the project is reported in stages. First, a list of workers and their responsibilities (Neh 3), then the building of the walls: finished, except for the gates, by Neh 6:1. The walls were completed by Neh 6:15, with the final touches narrated in Neh 7:1-3. The house of God is finally complete when the city walls are built as “an extension of building the temple” (Eskenazi 1988, 83). There are two essential elements in Eskenazi’s reading: (i) That the house of God reaches completion, (ii) that the altar-like sanctity formally limited to the confines of the temple is extended to every house within the walls of Jerusalem.19

The objective is reached, and the community celebrates (Neh 8:1-13:31): “The confluence of the movement leads to celebration of success by the united people. The objective has been reached. The community completed the house of God in full accordance with Yahweh’s command and the Persian edicts. All roads have led to this” (Eskenazi 1988, 95). This prose opened with a non-people returning from “out there,” and closed with “a people” celebrating the completion of the house of God according to the decrees of Cyrus, Darius, Artaxerxes, and God (Ezra 6:14).20 The celebration marked the accomplishment of the common purpose of non-Israelite kings from “out there” and one Israelite God, problematizing the suitability of speaking of “outsider versus insider” in terms of the (re)building project.

A ceremony of dedication ensues (Neh 12:27-13:3), in which a rite of purification was performed on the redefined space of the house of God and on the ornaments in it. This indicates that the city walls were religious edifices. The gates, as openings in the boundaries, were also purified thus hol(e)y. As “Mircea Eliade points out, gates are the threshold between two modes of being, the religious and the profane, as well as their meeting place; ‘hence their great religious importance, for they are symbols and at the same time vehicles of passage from the one space to the other.’ The wall in Ezra-Nehemiah now encloses a uniquely sacred realm, i.e., a holy city. The world beyond is of a different sort” (Eskenazi 1988, 120).

The wall in Eskenazi’s reading is “the real boundary of the house of God” (Eskenazi 1988, 121), it encloses “the community with a solid and secure boundaryboth physically and metaphorically” (Eskenazi 1992, 116); the wall marks the point of separation, keeping “inside” (sacred) away from “outside” (profane).

Eskenazi understands Ezra-Nehemiah’s city walls to play a similar role as the axis bar that separates the signifier from the signified in Saussure’s linguistic signs, which Lacan reduced to the following algorithm (BCC, 197):

For Eskenazi, the axis-bar (rebuilt wall) differentiates (sets apart) the sacred from the profane. Under this scheme the profane is defined by its difference from the sacred; the sacred is the standard. Mixing the profane with the sacred is irreligious, and not desired. This linear perspective encourages a binary view, to choose between inside (sacred, us, subjectivity) and outside (profane, them, other). This corresponds to Lacan’s understanding of the bar as barrier under which the s-signified slides (hence the italicization) when pressured by the S-signifier (BCC, 197f.), the signified is pressured but not crushed; the signified is always already breaking down into other signifiers, and the chain of signification is always moving away from the initial signifier.21 This perspective regards the Saussurian algorithm from a horizontal location: the signified is over the signified, with the bar(rier) inserted between them.

The Lacanian barrier (so Eskenazi’s wall) is difficult to uphold in Ezra-Nehemiah because the movement started from out there (initial signifier) and ends with separation from out there; the chain of signification does not lead away, but back to the initial signifier. It is a dual-cycle because the exilees are now returning home: moving away (from out there) is also moving back (to homeland). A different conceptualization of the Lacanian-Saussurian bar(rier) that will allow interaction between the sacred and the profane is thus demanded for Ezra-Nehemiah.

For our purpose, it is necessary to bore through the bar(rier) to allow movement in both directions, back and forth, between “out there” and “in here.” Toward that objective I propose that we regard the bar(rier) as a gap that separates the signifier from the signified yet, spatially, links them. To illustrate this notion, imagine the situation at the end of the Book of Deuteronomy: In front of them was a bar(rier) (Jordan) which separates them from their destination. This bar(rier), geographically, was a gap (a hole in the ground, filled with water); but by crossing the bar(rier) they discovered that it was really a link. To view the bar as a gap allows crossing, back and forth, the kind of movement in Ezra-Nehemiah.

Viewing the bar(rier) as a gap though does not amount to the rejection of the claim that a signified is always already a signifier. Rather, it reminds us that what we understand as the “initial signifier” is always already a signified; to assume a unilinear chain of signification is misleading. Intertwining multilinear chain-s of signification are in play and they cross each other. I imagine not a surface upon surface arrangement, but moving surfaces that give us a hol(e)ogram-view.

Also, to view bar(rier) as gap is to affirm the separation (otherness) that exists because of it. By adding that a bar(rier) also links, this view affirms the “rupture” created by the erection (insertion) of the bar(rier). This view regards the bar(rier) up close and discovers that a relation is ruptured in order for a bar(rier) to separate; and because a bar(rier) ruptures, it signifies a gap. The reward of getting “up close” to the bar(rier) then is coming to realize that a boundary does not close up space but is the gap through which “inside” and “outside” inter-flow/penetrate.

I will now take another look at Ezra-Nehemiah’s bar(rier). The location from which I read/write is outside the Jerusalem walls (as a nonIsraelite male, I am other to Eskenazi’s eye/i-view), looking at a bar(rier) supposed to limit the house of God.

 

I begin by reviewing the correspondences between Artaxerxes with Rehum and Shimshai (Ezra 4:7-24), which Eskenazi reads as indicating that house of God is not limited to the temple, because hykl is not mentioned in the letters, but includes the whole city. A letter arrives first from Rehum and Shimshai, informing Artaxerxes that the returnees “have reached Jerusalem and are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city; they are completing the walls and repairing the foundation” (4:12). They warned Artaxerxes that if the city is completed, its citizens may rebel against Babylon as in early times; this was the reason why the city was destroyed in the first place (4:13-16). Artaxerxes replied, confirming that rebellion and sedition have been rife in Jerusalem in early times, by ordering to halt the wall rebuilding project.

In this reading, Artaxerxes was concerned with the safety of his own kingdom (4:17-22). If the city walls are successfully restored, a city is formed. For Artaxerxes this signifies trouble, the walls signify the chance that rebellion might overflow from inside; the bar(rier) signifies the threat of profanity (rebellion) flowing outside, the threat that the outside may “lean precariously … under the excessive weight” of those inside (BCC, 197). Artaxerxes’ concern is thus political. Eskenazi’s interest on the other hand is theological, having to do with defining the limits of the house of God, thus also political. For Eskenazi, the bar(rier) prevents the profane from mixing with the sacred. Reading these concerns together indicates a gap between them, a gap that invites crossing.22

In my reading the bar(rier) not only signifies where sacred space ends (Eskenazi) but also, the fear that rebellion will overflow from this sacred space (Artaxerxes). Both chains of signification intersect at the bar(rier), each (s)peeking through it to the other side. They look upon the same bar(rier) , from opposite sides, and they identify as profane the other side of the bar(rier).

The above double voice helps us detect a tension in Eskenazi’s analysis. There are two modes of thought crossing each other: On the one hand is a drive to stabilize the limits of the house of God, a desire to fix the boundaries at the city walls. The longing for the completion of the walls indicates the importance of the walls and the need to stabilize identity: the house of God will not be complete without it. But there is also a destabilizing drive embodied in the shifting of the boundaries of the house of God from the temple to the city walls. Taking these modes of thought together gives us a multidimensional view of the bar(rier): it signifies both the limit and the fluidity of the limit. This stabilization/destabilization view is from the inside, indicating differences inside and not just outside versus inside (see n.19).

Our analysis has brought us closer to the walls. We began from “out there” with Artaxerxes, then moved to the two inside modes of thought, and now a closer view.

The rebuilding of the wall involves “filling up” the “breached parts” of the old wall (cf. Neh 4:1). This wall is not a new structure, but a restored one; because of the “filling up” task, the breached parts now exist under erasure. This process is similar to the restoration of a decaying tooth: the dentist prevents further deterioration, but can never fully restore that tooth to its original state; the dental filling calls attention to the cavity that lies behind it: with silver or gold fillings, the cavity is signified.23 The gap forever remains, only under cover. So it is with the restored city walls: they include covered up gaps, thus problematizing its completion. How are the walls complete if gaps exist under the erasure marks of the fillings?

Also included in the category of covered gaps are the gates, some of which were roofed but all had doors, locks, and bars (cf. Neh 3:3, 6, 14, 15). The gates are gaps in the walls and depending on point of view, they may be seen as movable walls or as stuffed gaps. Whereas gates were created so that they open the bar(rier), breached parts are filled to close up the walls. Two modes of thought are again in play, one seeking to stabilize while the other destabilizes just as a dental gold filling is for healing, beautification and indication of a flaw. The city walls exist with gaps, some obvious, others under erasure; all gaps are filled up, but none is removed. In the end, the walls of the city qua house of God are hol(e)y.

The presence of these gaps brings to question the boundaries of the house of God. Does house of God stop at the confines of the city walls? Or does it ooze out through the gaps that remain in the boundaries? One may argue, with favour, from a non-Israelite yet religious eye/i-view that the house of God extends outside. But with Artaxerxes, another may be concerned with the threats that the house of God pose for the outside. Consequently one has to re-think whether the possibility that the house of God extends beyond the city walls is beneficial or destructive.

This ideological review recognized and affirmed Eskenazi’s reading and revealed how she grabbed for the meanings of the text yet failed to capture them. Eskenazi reads from inside the wall, but textual gaps and fissures allow meanings to wander. Even the textual bar(rier) (black marks that make up “literary text”) is not able to confine meanings within its limits. I found tensions in the text and tried to be creative with them, not for the purpose of con-fining but in order to free them from the eye/i-s of another reading, and in the process I confined them. This reading illustrated the dynamic relation between the desire to stabilize and its destabilizing effect, inviting us to be multidimensional in our exegetical practices.

My alter-native reading is not without barriers and gaps. My hol(e)y wall reading entered the value systems of Ezra-Nehemiah and of Eskenazi, and found an allegory for the interpretive enterprise (which must also be viewed for its gaps and fissures):

Readings are always with bar(riers) and gaps, some are under erasure, through which our ideologies wander beyond our control. As readers and (re)builders of texts and meanings, our task is always not complete. When we think that we have marked the limits and complete our objectives, as in Eskenazi’s house of God, we discover gates within our readings. We may place a roof, lock, and a bar over these gates, but we can not remove the holes that the gates signify. And though we may try to fill up the breached parts in existing readings (structures), we will not remove the breachesthey exist under erasure. Bar(rier)s qua gaps will always remain in our readings, under cover. As Judahites re-stored the city’s walls, we as readers re-cover gaps. The completion of our task always already lies beyond our grabs: It is therefore apparently appropriate to close with Ezra-Nehemiah’s final plea:

O my God, remember it to my credit! (Neh 13:31)24

End Notes

1I have benefited from the help of many people. My adviser, Danna N. Fewell, convinced me of the significance of “second temple literature,” and conversations with Elaine Robinson led to the basic structure of this essay. Joerg Rieger read a longer version and identified gaps in both my theory and theology. Barriers and gaps nonetheless remain, for which I am responsible. I hope these friends will not be ashamed of being associated with this essay.

2I am re-graf(ph)ting Lyotard’s notion of metanarratives to apply to the dominant methods that have “ruled” biblical studies in the past with their claims of objectivity and determinacy. For a more thorough analysis see Jobling (1990).

3This “I” that reads/writes exists in many communities, this “I” is always already a “We.”

4To grab for something is not the same as to capture it. While texts and readers grab for each other, as expressions of desire, their otherness prevents them from capturing each other. The grabbing activities allow transformation, without each becoming completely tamed. Overall, readers are driven by “textual-envy” (cf. Fisher).

5Ideological criticism “entails the twin effort (1) to read the ancient biblical stories for their ideological content and mode of production and (2) to grasp the ideological character of contemporary reading strategies” (Bible & Culture Collective [hereafter BCC], 277).

6The distinction implied here is between irresponsible objective reading and responsible objective reading. Ideological criticism encourages the latter. To sanction objective reading is not to suggest that objective readers are autonomous. Rather, ideological criticism underlines the context-based/oriented nature of objective readers. This is an affirmation of the subjectivity of objective reading.

7A word under erasure is one printed with “crossed” lines through it hence it is both there and not there. The “eye/i” of the “objective observer” is still there, only under erasure. Also under erasure are ideas that one does not realize one holds (as in the Freudian unconsciousness).

8“For its part ideological criticism exposes three dimensions of the struggle present in the production of meaning: it reveals the tensive relation between the production of meaning and language; it highlights the multiple discourses operating within the text; and it lays bare the complex nature of power relations that produce texts, construct the institutional contexts of texts and their reception, and affect readers of those texts in their particular social locations” (BCC, 273).

9This sums up what Penchansky identifies as the four tendencies in postmodernism: contradictions, the absence of center (or “centers are everywhere;” Nishitani), view readings as political, and opposition to bifurcation (Penchansky 1995, 7ff.).

10I have presented the distinction in structuralist terms because I find that Lévi-Strauss had the same distinction in mind, though not in the realm of ideologies; I owe the distinction in the parentheses to my teacher Joerg Rieger.

11Since no close reading can be close enough (de Man), “to affirm” should not be confused with “to accept.” There is always already room for transformation.

12I do not claim that Eskenazi is only as I have characterized her. I have mentioned these characteristics to show how she is other, and space prevents my including other readings.

13It should be obvious that I present my reading in a reverse order according to traditional exegesis. I ideologically (r/l)ead backward toward the text!

14Eskenazi affirms Meir Sternberg’s definition of “intention” as “a short-hand for the structure of meaning and effect supported by the conventions that the text appeals to or devises: for the sense that the language makes in terms of the communicative context as a whole” (Eskenazi 1988, 5; Sternberg’s The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, 9). Since Eskenazi deals with authorial intention, I regard it as a “boundary” against which my reading moves because, as an exercise in ideological criticism, I value indeterminacy of meanings.

15Though Eskenazi finds each of the three “dominant themes” in each of the movements, my analysis will be limited to the second theme: rebuilding of the house of God and how its “walls” are moved to include the whole city. I will argue below that the city walls had holes, extending God’s house to the outside; an awe-ful argument because of the threats posed by this house.

16One may argue that this spatial expansion is religious imperialism: the “sacred” is trying to gain ground. As such the shifting of boundaries is an attempt to “normalize” what is “beyond the boundary.” See Lind and Jobling (1993) for reactions to a similar tendency: The theological movement toward globalization urged by the Association of Theological Schools.

17Boundary shifting is present in other stories of ancient Israel. For instance, the locus of Yhwh’s presence and activity confined in Gen. 2-3 to the garden, which was guarded by “the Cherubim and fiery ever-turning sword” (Gen. 3:24), is extended in Gen. 4 to “east of Eden” and the “field” where a murder took place. By passing judgment over Cain, Yhwh extends the “holy space” (sovereignty). I attempt an alternative reading of Gen. 4:1-16 in another essay, “To love Cain more than God: in other words, Nod-y Gen 4:1-16” (forthcoming in Semeia).

18The value of instruction and the rabbinic (versus priestly) function reach a new level with the Qumran communities (cf. The Community Rule [1QS]).

19That the house of God is limited to a city already indicates that it excludes those who are within the boundaries of Judah but outside of Jerusalem. The identity of an insider is thus complexified, being a Judahite is not enough!

20Note that while in the above quote Eskenazi lists “Yahweh’s command” (Yahweh as God’s personal name) before the “Persian edicts,” I have listed, inverting both the order and privilege of being named, the Persian kings (by name) before (the generic name) God. This is for the purpose of identifying ideologies in Eskenazi’s reading.

21By “chain of signification” I have in mind a continuum in which a signified signifies another signified, which signifies another signified … : the links between signifying signifieds make a “chain of signification.”

22Note the obvious: the two concerns come from opposite sides of the city walls. Eskenazi literally reads from the Jerusalem-side, where she now teaches, but Artaxerxes was concerned from “out there.” Between them is a gap, the city walls.

23I owe this interdisciplinary connection to a dentist friend who wished not to be named, indicating that my essay too has voices under erasure. This explanatory note calls attention to that repressed voice, the very premise of my argument.

24This essay underlines a gap noted in an earlier essay (n.15 of “the future stands between here and there: towards an is-land[ic] hermeneutics.” Pacific Journal of Theology Ser. II No. 13 [1995]: 61-68) by applying the theoretical proposal in that essay in a reading of a biblical text. This exercise in ideological criticism only scratched the surface of Ezra-Nehemiah and Eskenazi’s reading of it, if even that much. I only hope that this essay invites responsible and liberative reading and writing.

Bibliography:

Bible and Culture Collective. 1995. The Postmodern Bible. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Burnett, Fred W. 1990. Postmodern Biblical Exegesis: The Eve of Historical Criticism. Semeia 51: 51-80.

Eskenazi, Tamara Cohn. 1988. In an Age of Prose: A Literary Approach to Ezra-Nehemiah. SBL Monograph Series 36. Atlanta: Scholars Press.

__. 1992. Ezra-Nehemiah. In The Women’s Bible Commentary ed. Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press.

Fewell, Danna Nolan. 1987. Feminist Reading of the Hebrew Bible: Affirmation, Resistance and Transformation. JSOT 39: 77-87.

Fisher, David H. 1990. Self in Text, Text in Self. Semeia 51: 137-54.

Fulkerson, Mary McClintock. 1994. Changing the Subject. Women’s Discourses and Feminist Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Gunn, David M. 1987. New Directions in the Study of Biblical Hebrew Narrative. JSOT 39: 64-75.

Jameson, Fredric. 1991. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press.

Jobling, David. 1990. Writing the Wrongs of the World: The Deconstruction of the Biblical Text in the Context of Liberation Theologies. Semeia 51: 81-118.

. 1993. Globalization in Biblical Studies/Biblical Studies in Globalization. Biblical Interpretation 1: 96-110.

Lind, Christopher. 1995. Who Will Bless Globalization? A paper presented to the Ideological Criticism Group at the Annual Meeting of the SBL, Philadelphia.

Lyotard, Jean-François. 1984. The Postmodern Condition. Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Theory and History of Literature 10. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Patte, Daniel. 1995. Ethics of Biblical Interpretation. A Reevaluation. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Penchansky, David. 1992. Up For Grabs: A Tentative Proposal for Doing Ideological Criticism. Semeia 59: 35-41.

___. 1995. The Politics of Biblical Theology: A Postmodern Reading. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press.

Phillips, Gary A. 1990. Exegesis is Critical Praxis: Reclaiming History and Text from a Postmodern Perspective. Semeia 51: 7-49.

 

 

© Copyright 1997, Jione Havea
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