Ethnicity and the Bible

Ethnicity and the Bible

Ethnicity and the Bible

Ethnicity and the Bible


This international collection of twenty-one essays examines the construction of ethnic identities both within the Bible itself and in biblical interpretation. The major themes of the volumes are: ethnocentrism, indigeneity, ethics and the politics of identity. This publication has also been published in paperback, please click here for details.


Mark G. Brett

Contrary to the expectations of many social theorists writing in the 1950s and early 1960s, ethnic identity is still a pressing feature of contemporary politics the world over. It was often suggested that although the new, post-colonial states would need to grapple for some time with the politics of ethnicity, they would gradually absorb the civic ideas of Western modernity which had, apparently, succeeded in amalgamating diverse peoples within nation states. Communism, in a different way, attempted to construct a politics of homogeneity, often in an ironic alliance with nationalism. But whether communist or “democratic,” there are now many examples in Africa and Asia where the fragile political unities constructed by post-colonial nationalisms have broken down with bloody consequences. the Soviet Union and communist Europe have also been deconstructed, and in the process, ethnic identities have been violently re-asserted. Ethnic nationalisms have emerged as potent forces, whatever the governing ideologies of previous regimes. Also in the homelands of civic democracy—France, Britain, North America—the politics of immigration and indigeneity have generated ethnic revivals of various kinds. Even if ethnic nationalisms have not been asserted there with comparable violence, a major social question has arisen of whether civic nationalism can encompass the diversity of multiculturalism.

In most Western democracies, public life has been dominated by a discourse which tends to treat individuals primarily as equal citizens and economic actors—religion, culture and ethnicity therefore being regarded as private matters. in some contexts, such a discourse has been used with liberating consequences, such as in the American civil rights movement. the recent democratic reforms in South Africa

See E. Ben-Rafael and S. Sharot, Ethnicity, Religion and Class in Israeli Society (Cam
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 3.

See D.T. Goldberg (ed.), Multiculturalism: a Critical Reader (Oxford: Blackwell,
1994); for a fuller discussion of nationalism, see Mark G. Brett, “Nationalism and
the Hebrew Bible,” in J. Rogerson, M. Davies, M. Daniel Carroll R. (eds.), The
Bible in Ethics (Sheffield: jsot Press, 1995), pp. 136–63.

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