A Biblical, Theology of Exile

Article excerpt

A Biblical Theology of Exile. By Daniel L. Smith-Christopher. Overtures to Biblical Theology Series. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002. xiv + 209 pp. $20.00 (paper).

In extremely accessible prose, Daniel L. Smith-Christopher (S-C) provides a very readable and applicable "biblical theology of exile." In a time when sundry so-called "practical theologians" have made so many diverse attempts to apply the concept of exile to our times, often in a very unsophisticated manner, this work is quite timely The book begins with Brueggemanns helpful editorial foreword, which provides the reader with an insightful roadmap to journey through the book.

In order to define a theology of exile, S-C stands on the shoulders of giants and builds his arguments from that starting point. He uses socioscientific methodology in order to explain some of the repercussions of exile and to bridge the 2,500-year gap between the contemporary reader and the biblical text. In chapter 2, he provides a good description of the Persian period and its implications for today, but strongly cautions the "modem" biblical reader to recall the biblical context of the exile before trying to establish a modem theology of exile today. Chapter 3 provides dynamic description of lament and urges that we hear the voice of Nebuchadnezzar the conqueror, as well as listen to the cries from Babylon. Chapter 4 focuses on how the social function of shame and penitential prayer in the post-exilic period has transformative power that roots the worshipers in the traditions of the Mosaic Torah so that they may avoid the sins of their ancestors. Chapter 5 shows that the nations also must undergo a humbling transformation and be penitent for their own sin. Israelite communities then become the tools of Cods transformative justice and mission. In chapter 6, S-C identifies the means by which the Jews of the diaspora gave evidence of purity. These Jews wished to show that they did not conform to the world in which they lived; this is an essential priority for a people wishing to survive in exile. In chapter 7, he focuses on how wisdom responds to the exile, and how wise humor, such as laughing at the stupidity of the state, provides a healthy response to violence; he shows that such wisdom does not believe in the myth of the state. S-C further develops this discussion of wisdom in his final chapter to set a mandate for the postcolonial church in exile.

Because the term "biblical theology" has been erroneously used over the past two hundred years to refer to the "pre-biblical" history that the modern scholar reconstructs behind the biblical text but not what has been called its "canonical form," this nomenclature raises red flags. In his opening chapter, however, S-C argues that earlier original pre-exilic traditions (for example, Syro-Ephraimite war, Assyrian crisis, Deuteronomistic history, and others) have been "reused" in the post-exilic period to provide a new description of exile. …