Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Who Constitutes Society? Yehud's Self-Understanding in the Late Persian Era as Reflected in the Books of Chronicles

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Who Constitutes Society? Yehud's Self-Understanding in the Late Persian Era as Reflected in the Books of Chronicles

Article excerpt

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I. LITERATURE AND SELF-UNDERSTANDING

Many studies have already been devoted to a description of Jewish society in the Persian province of Yehud. It has been righdy pointed out that one cannot merely use biblical records such as Chronicles to "read off" what this flesh-andblood society looked like. It has been emphasized equally, however, that historical books such as Chronicles reflect something of the self-understanding of this community. Although this self-understanding does not necessarily coincide with the flesh-and-blood society of that time, it nevertheless gives us a good impression of the processes of self- identification within the Yehudite community.

The presupposition of this study is, therefore, that a close relationship between literature and self-understanding could be envisaged. In anotiier article I have argued that the notion of "textual identities" (which is often used in social constructionism1) provides us with a theoretical underpinning for this presupposition.2 In my view, the turn toward "textual identities" in social psychology3 provides new avenues for the description of the processes of identity formation in Second Temple Yehud witnessed in, for example, the books of Chronicles. The following insights flow from this notion:

1. The notion "textual identities" emphasizes the fluid, dynamic, and discursive nature of processes of identity formation.

2. It emphasizes the close interrelationship between the social environment within which a group exists, the textual resources that are available in the given culture, and the role that renewed textual construction plays in the process of identity formation.

3. It cautions us not only to take into account multiple motivational factors that could have contributed to the self-categorization of the Yehudite community in the late Persian period but also to view those motivational factors within a discursive framework.

The aim of this article is to illustrate how these methodological insights from social psychology can assist us in the reading of Second Temple literature, such as Chronicles.4 Against the background of the presupposition that literature is closely related to self-understanding, I will provide an Ulustration of how certain textual features can help us to a description of the self- understanding processes that were prevalent in the late Persian province of Yehud.5 1 will investigate the textual reflections of this self-understanding in the books of Chronicles (focusing mainly on 2 Chronicles 10-36). The emphasis will be on the person constellations included in the Chronicler's narrative, especially those that are absent from the Deuteronomistic Vorlage. In order to make this study manageable I have chosen to concentrate on me direct speech in these chapters. This focus can be motivated from at least two methodological perspectives:

1. In narratological studies, the role of direct speech in biblical narrative is normally emphasized.6 Bar-Efrat even calls this the most important and most comprehensive ingrethent of biblical narratives.7 Direct speech gives a dramatic character to narratives in the sense that this technique makes the characters in the story present, so to speak, to the minds of the authence. However, the presentation of direct speech in narratives is much more a reflection of the narrator's intention than of the characters' thoughts. Direct speech in narratives remains reported direct speech. The narrator deliberately chooses to give voice to certain characters at certain times and decides what these characters will say. Equally, the narrator chooses which characters remain sUent. By analyzing the direct-speech person constellations, that is, who addresses whom, as well as the content of the direct speech, that is, the information that is conveyed in the direct speech, one could get a glimpse of what the narrator wanted to achieve with the narrative. …

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