Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World

By Judith M. Lieu | Go to book overview
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4 Boundaries

If identity implies a sameness constituted by continuity—the 'remembering' just explored—it also demands difference, and between the two stands a boundary. Thus boundedness is integral to the idea of identity, for it is boundaries that both enclose those who share what is common and exclude those who belong outside, that both ensure continuity and coherence, and safeguard against contamination or invasion—or so it seems. It is part of the seduction of identity that the encircling boundary appears both given and immutable, when it is neither. Any interpretation of identity that prioritizes aspects of territory or kinship is prone to seeing boundaries as objective and even primordial; those that emphasize human organization, interaction, and construction will necessarily have a greater sense of the contingency of the boundaries even while acknowledging their indispensability. 1

The language of boundary is, of course, the language of metaphor, and it is important to remember this. Even in its literal application it arguably reflects the contemporary preoccupations of the modern nation-state, whereas an earlier age would be more concerned with frontiers; 2 frontiers, particularly in antiquity, did not represent fixed lines so much as zones of influence or areas of control. 3 Then, as now, they lay themselves open to mockery at

-98-

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