Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 14 (2014) - Review

Rom-Shiloni, Dalit, Exclusive Inclusivity: Identity Conflicts Between the Exiles and the People Who Remained (6th–5th Centuries BCE) (LHBOTS, 543; New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013). Pp. xix + 316. Hardcover. $ 140.00. £ 70.00 ISBN 978-0-56708-006-6.

In this stimulating volume, Dalit Rom-Shiloni examines the origin and rhetoric of community conflict between the Exiles/Repatriates and Those Who Remained in the Land. She demonstrates that a substantial portion of exilic and postexilic literature reflects an attempt to define the Exiles/Repatriates as the exclusive people of YHWH. Her corpus consists of Ezra-Nehemiah, Zech 1–8 and Haggai, Deutero-Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah (which she analyzes in this order).

In Chapter One, Rom-Shiloni reconstructs the two most significant moments of community polemic: the early Persian period and the neo-Babylonian period. It is now widely recognized that while some biblical texts contain the language of a total deportation (e.g., Jer 13:19), other texts betray the fact that not all Judeans were deported to Babylon in the 6th century b.c.e. (e.g., 2 Kgs 25:22; Ezek 33:24). Thus in the Persian period, the Repatriates who entered Yehud encountered Those Who Remained. But the exclusionary tendencies expressed in the community conflict over who would take part in “restoration” (cf. Ezra-Nehemiah) were not new; they can be traced back as early as 597–586 b.c.e. When the elites of Jerusalem were deported in 597 b.c.e., there were suddenly two Israelite communities, one in Jerusalem and the other in Babylon. This partial deportation was not anticipated in the preexilic Priestly and Deuteronomic traditions, which had proclaimed absolute destruction (scattering and death) for covenant violation (e.g., Lev 26:14–39; Deut 28:15–68). Understandably, a crisis arose: who now was “true Israel,” and in which community should hope be located? Each community attempted to answer these questions in their own favor, which necessitated the marginalization and delegitimization of the other community. These exclusionist strategies are already attested in the book of Ezekiel.

Rom-Shiloni employs a sophisticated model for analyzing group identity developed from specialists in social psychology and ethnic conflict. A community may define itself with respect to another group either through assimilation (which may involve either amalgamation or incorporation of the other group) or through dissimilation (which may involve either division or proliferation). She argues that the primary strategy used by Judean communities was division: “Self-legitimization, on the one hand, and delegitimization of the opposing group, on the other, constitute the main strategies of division used to establish the superiority and even exclusivity of one community over the other” (p. 27). Rom-Shiloni identifies three arguments (p. 28) by which Judean communities expressed exclusivist claims: continuity (which “… assert[s] that the current in-group is the only successor to the past national-religious history, and therefore the only present people of God”); entirety (which “…insist[s] that the in-group completely encompasses all heirs to the group's history”); and annexation (which appropriates national-historical traditions and institutions to marshal “the group's claims to exclusive status as the one and only legitimate community”). The “other” is thereby excluded from the community's past, present, and future through the creative use of traditional material.

In Chapter Two, Rom-Shiloni explores the rhetoric of exclusion in Ezra-Nehemiah. These texts depict the legitimization of the Repatriates, who are identified as “exiles” (Ezra 4:1; 6:19, 20; 8:35) or “those who came/returned/escaped from captivity” (Ezra 3:8; 6:21; Neh 1:2, 3; 8:17). She shows how they are legitimized through the argument of “continuity”: they are labeled “Israel” (Ezra 2:2; Neh 9:1) or “the people of Judah” (Ezra 4:4); they are called “the holy seed” (Ezra 9:2) or “seed of Israel” (Neh 9:2); and they are linked to the past through the use of genealogies (Ezra 2:36-58 [// Neh 7:39–60]; 7:1–6). We see the argument of “entirety” when the Repatriates are referred to as “all the people” (Neh 8:9, 13), or when the community is represented through lists (Ezra 1:5; 3:8, 12; Neh 2:16; 4:8, 13). Rom-Shiloni convincingly argues that these lists are not simply a stylistic feature, but an ideologically significant mechanism that depicts a closed community working together in unity to achieve its goals. We see the argument of “annexation” when the Repatriates are linked with earlier religious and historical traditions: they are depicted as those who rebuild the temple (Ezra 1–6) and city (Neh 3–4), who celebrate traditional festivals (Ezra 6:19–21; Neh 8:13–18), and who read from “the book of the law of Moses” (Neh 8:1–8, 13; 9:3; 13:1–3). The Repatriates distinguish themselves from members of an “out-group” that they refer to as “the people(s) of the land(s)” (Ezra 3:3; 4:4; 9:1–2; Neh 10:28), as “adversaries” (Ezra 4:1), and as “foreigners” (Ezra 10:2; Neh 9:2; 13:3). These are in fact Those Who Remained—though as Rom-Shiloni notes, they are never acknowledged as Israelite or Yahwistic. Instead, they are made to self-identify as descendants of Assyrian deportees (Ezra 4:2), and are linked to ancient Canaanite inhabitants of the land (Ezra 9:1–2). Thus the rhetorical strategies employed against Those Who Remained include the arguments of continuity (they are linked to ancient out-groups), entirety (all non-Repatriates are lumped together and labeled as “peoples of the lands”), and counter-annexation (the proper response is to separate from them—a response that according to Ezra 9 was not followed earlier, and for which the exile was a just punishment).

In Chapters Three and Four, Rom-Shiloni argues that Haggai and Zech 1–8 also represent exclusionist stances towards Those Who Remained, though in a different way than Ezra-Nehemiah. Zecheriah 1–8 is particularly significant because it uses the rhetoric of a complete deportation resulting in an empty land (Zech 7:14), one that is simply waiting for returning Exiles to claim it. No occupants are recognized, thus erasing Those Who Remained from existence. Chapter Four is devoted to a detailed analysis of group designations in these two books.

In Chapter Five, Rom-Shiloni analyzes the exilic community rhetoric of Deutero-Isaiah. Her compositional model makes a distinction between Isa 40–48; 49–55; 60–62 (composed by the same person, though chaps. 40–48 were produced in Babylon and the remaining chapters in Jerusalem), and later material (Isa 56–59, 63–66). She demonstrates how these passages contain arguments involving both continuity and annexation, and argues that the final chapters display two different perspectives toward out-groups: an inclusive perspective in the earlier layer (e.g., Isa 56:1–8), and an exclusivist perspective in the later layers (e.g., Isa 57:313a; 59:2–8 and 65:1–5, 11–15; 66:3–5). Rom-Shiloni follows N. Snaith in suggesting that Isa 65–66 reflects the conflict between the Repatriates and Those Who Remained.[1]

Chapter Six covers the book of Ezekiel, which bears witness to the exclusionist strategies of both the Jehoiachin group of Exiles and Those Who Remained in the Land. Here, Rom-Shiloni is particularly adept at showing how both groups creatively shaped earlier traditions in order to bolster their arguments. The voice of the Jerusalemites is quoted in Ezek 11:15 and 33:24; they are shown using arguments of continuity and annexation against the Jehoiachin Exiles, drawing on traditions about the land and patriarchs to argue that they alone are the true people of YHWH and sole possessors of the land. Ezekiel counters these arguments by claiming that YHWH is with his fellow exiles, that he will bring them back to the land, and that he will transform their hearts (Ezek 11:16–20). He then delegitimizes the Jerusalemites by proclaiming their complete destruction (Ezek 11:21; 33:25–29). Rom-Shiloni argues that Ezekiel also creates separate histories with separate futures for the two communities: in Ezek 16:1–43, he tells the story of Jerusalem, which ends in doom; in Ezek 20:1–38, he gives his own exilic community a parallel account of Israel's history, one which ends in covenant restoration. She shows how the prophet uses arguments of continuity to provide a Canaanite origin for the Jerusalemites (Ezek 16:3, underscoring their sinfulness and justifying their expulsion from the land) and uses traditional judgment language of devastation to argue for an emptied land (Ezek 33:28, thus readying it for the return of his fellow exiles). Even when it had become obvious that not all the Jerusalemites were destroyed at the city's fall, Ezekiel begrudgingly allows for their continued existence only as evidence that YHWH's punishment was just (Ezek 12:15–16; 14:21–23). Later editors of Ezekiel took a more inclusivist stance, arguing for the transformation of Jerusalem (Ezek 16:59–63) and the return of all exiled groups (Ezek 34–37).

In Chapter Seven, Rom-Shiloni identifies different editorial layers in Jeremiah—the Judean layers from Jeremiah and his editors, and the Babylonian layer from later editors—which display different perspectives on the Exiles and Those Who Remained. The former layer contains an outlook that views exile as worse than death (Jer 22:10–12), argues for submission to Babylon (21:8–10; 27:10–15; 37–38), and sees hope only for those who remain in the land (42:9–17; cf. 40:1–6). In contrast, the latter layer claims that hope lies with the Exiles alone, and excludes any other community using the arguments of continuity, entirety, and annexation (Jer 16:14–15; 24:1–10; 29:10–14, 16–20). Rom-Shiloni demonstrates that both layers are aware of earlier Deuteronomic traditions about destruction and exile, but utilize them in different ways. Moreover, the later layers interact in a complex fashion with the earlier ones: for example, she argues (pp. 227, 233) that the sign act in Jer 32:1–15 expresses hope for Those Who Remained, but that this has subsequently been edited and reworked to express hope for the Exiles (vv. 36–41, 42–44).

My criticisms of this book are few. In some cases it is difficult to assess Rom-Shiloni's reconstruction of community conflict because we lack the voice(s) of the community being excluded: e.g., did the non-Repatriate inhabitants of Yehud attempt to create an identity (or identities) for themselves? What did this look like, and what was their response to the rhetoric of the Repatriates? In other cases, the difficulty is textual: it seems to me that Haggai and Deutero-Isaiah cannot as easily be derived from a conflict between Repatriates and Those Who Remained as other texts can. While the language of Isa 40–48 is certainly written from an exilic perspective (and uses the rhetorical strategies of continuity and entirety), is this really in service of an attempt to “erase the out-group opposition” (p. 106)? As Rom-Shiloni admits (p. 121), these chapters do not reference the existence of any community other than the Babylonian exiles. I would interpret the author's rhetoric in these chapters not as exclusionist (is he even aware of another Judean community to exclude?), but as formative; the only “other” in view seems to be Babylon. And while there are clear signs of community conflict reflected in Isa 56–59, 65–66, to what extent is this the same conflict we see in Ezra-Nehemiah? Does Rom-Shiloni perhaps overly minimize (p. 135) the extent to which this Isaian conflict is religious in nature? Lastly, it should probably be noted that not every condemnation of Jerusalem by Ezekiel can be attributed to conflict between communities; many of these critiques are also critiques of his fellow exiles, the former Jerusalem elites and architects of the policies he attacks so sharply.

These few reservations do not detract from the book's significant accomplishments. This is a major contribution, and Rom-Shiloni is to be commended for her nuanced approach that gives attention to the individual strategies in the corpus under consideration. She employs a powerful and sophisticated model that is equal to the complexity of the texts she analyzes. Her project as a whole is both deeply textual (sensitive to literary minutiae, argument structure, and the creative use of earlier traditional material) and deeply historical (sensitive to the factors that shaped group identity in antiquity). This book is a superb study of the rhetoric of community identity formation and exclusion, and will repay careful reading.

Michael A. Lyons, Simpson University

[1] N. H. Snaith, “Isaiah 40–66. A Study of the Teaching of the Second Isaiah and its Consequences,” in H. Orlinsky and N. H. Snaith (eds.), Studies on the Second Part of the Book of Isaiah (VTSup, 14; Leiden: Brill, 1967), 135–264. reference