Not God

Book: Not God’s People: Insiders And Outsiders In The Biblical World
Author: Lawrence M. Wills * Table of Contents

Table of Contents

1 Introduction 1

2 The Beginning of Difference and the Origin of Others in the Hebrew Bible 21

3 The Redefinition of We and Other in Ezra-Nehemiah 53

4 Judaism and Hellenism in 1 and 2 Maccabees 87

5 “Scribes and Pharisees, Hypocrites!” in the Gospel of Matthew 101

6 The Jews in the Gospel of John 133

7 Jew and Gentile as Other in Paul 167

8 The Other in the Acts of the Apostles 195

9 Conclusion 211

Appendix Theorems for the Analysis of the Other 217

Select Bibliography 219

Index of Modern Authors 229

Index of Ancient Literature 235

Subject Index 253

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Not God

  1. Review

    In spite of its subtitle, Not God's People is as much a commentary on tensions in contemporary society as it is a review of inclusion and exclusion in the Biblical World. As I pondered the reports on the people in each era of biblical history attempting to establish their identity at the expense of others, parallels in our own time immediately came to mind. Lawrence Wills has made these implicit parallels clear and compelling in his brilliant conclusion to the book. People who think that they are too busy to read yet another book about the Bible could profit from spending time with the concluding chapter as if it were a stand-alone piece in a prestigious yet readable journal. Those who do so, however, put themselves at risk. Anyone who reads the conclusion may be tempted to drop all other pressing matters in order to read the whole book.

    The person who starts reading the book in the usual fashion-at the beginning- also may find it to be engrossing. In the introduction, Wills lays out nine theorems that he uses in the analysis of the biblical texts. These theorems are equally useful in analyzing present-day hostilities between groups of people: Theorem 1: From Other to We. The construction of the Other serves to construct the We.

    Theorem 2: From We to Other. Just as the construction of the Other serves to construct the We, so also the construction of the We serves to construct the Other.

    Theorem 3: Other Similar to We. The Other is often in reality very similar to the We. Theorem 4: Seductive power of Other. The Other has the ability to corrupt and infect the We, and the We is vulnerable.

    Theorem 5: Other distorted. The depiction of the Other is often unreal, distorted, monstrous, mythical, and taboo.

    Theorem 6: Internal Others. There are internal as well as external Others, and they are often seen as linked. Theorem 7: Ambiguous groups reassigned. Ambiguous groups are often reassigned as an Other or as a special case of an adopted We or internal Other. Theorem 8: Origins of practices reassigned. Ancient, native, or traditional practices may be redefined as new or foreign and associated with the Other, while an originally foreign practice may be redefined as ancient, native, and traditional, now associated with the We. Theorem 9: Eternal Other. The Other is viewed as having existed from time immemorial and continues to exist, and cannot be permanently extirpated.

    These theorems can help the reader understand the treatment of the Canaanites in Hebrew Scripture. They also illuminate the tensions between the returned exiles and the people who remained behind as these two distinct groups appear in Ezra and Nehemiah. The early followers of Jesus followed the same pattern as they described the Other as Pharisees or Jews.

    In reading Not God's People, I found myself wanting to believe that we progressive Christians are more enlightened than our predecessors in the faith. Surely we do not need to construct some Other for the sake of our identity and sense of well being. And yet, we seem to expend a great deal of energy insisting that we are not at all like Biblical literalists, fundamentalists, and conservative evangelical Christians (Theorems 1 and 2). Sometimes we feel embarrassed when we notice that objective observers might have difficulty telling us apart: we look alike, dress alike, and use the same symbols in our worship (3). We must constantly be on guard lest we slip and make statements that might support notions of creationism (4). We seize on reports of sexual promiscuity among their clergy, illegitimate births in their congregations, and their support for extreme right-wing political policies to show that the Other is morally corrupt and dangerous to society (5). In our more liberal denominations, those who express views similar to those espoused by the Other are dangerous and must be squelched or encouraged to withdraw (6). Gay and Lesbian people, once consigned to the margins, must now be embraced whole heartedly (7). We insist that the anti-abortion, anti-gay, and anti-science positions taken by the Other do not represent the core of our tradition but are serious distortions of what our people have always believed about love and justice (8). Finally, we recognize that the exclusive claims to being God's chosen have always been made by some misguided people; conservative Christians are simply the present manifestation of the eternal Other (9).

    So it appears to me that the identity we liberal and progressive Christians have established for ourselves depends on differentiating ourselves from the Other kinds of Christians. Does that mean that we are bad people? If we are, at least we are no worse than the ancient people of Israel, or Ezra and Nehemiah and their friends, or the early followers of Jesus. Rather than making comparisons to justify ourselves, however, we might ponder the insight Lawrence Wills offers: "Perhaps it is not even possible to forgo constructing the Other. It does not simply result from a failure of goodness or innocence. That is a dangerous romantic fallacy, perhaps the most dangerous there is. Constructing the Other is a fundamental part of what it means to be human." Acknowledging our construction of the Other, perhaps we can avoid the tragedies caused by groups whose constructions have led to hatred and violence.

or, use the form below to post a comment or a review!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>