Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Making of Gershom's Story: A Cameroonian Postwar Hermeneutics Reading of Exodus 2

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Making of Gershom's Story: A Cameroonian Postwar Hermeneutics Reading of Exodus 2

Article excerpt

My analyses proceed on two basic assumptions. First, the exodus story's interregional and intergenerational identity, as well as its ethics and cultural values, are significantly shaped by war and violence-real or anticipated-and by communal responses to such violence.1 Second, consistent with canonical practice in African biblical hermeneutics of using cultural history as a resource and context for interpretation,2 analyses of postwar history and geography are vital to biblical interpretation in the African nation-state. My focus is on the intersection of war, violence, and biblical interpretation in colonized and independent Cameroon. On the basis of these assumptions, I will read Exodus 2 as a postwar narrative.

Central to postwar hermeneutics is prioritized attention to forms of power that facilitate access to and control of individual, communal, and cosmic life-what the Bafut of Cameroon call nchuwi-nt? (literally, "life force").3 The cradle of this hermeneutic, much like the "cradle of the nation"-to evoke Julius Wellhausen's popular phrase-is not just the "war camp" but also the "birth stool," 4 both of which evoke two primary impulses in individual and collective identity formation, survival, and memory: (1) trauma from cognitive and material alienation and threat of extinction, which Jacob Wright calls "the fear of defeat and defeat itself "5 and (2) communal drive for survival, restoration, and integration, which Desmond Tutu calls the "African Weltsanschauung" constructed around concepts of lifeaffirming hospitality and compassion: ubuntu in Nguni languages6 or akwaaba in Twi languages. The use of historical, cultural, contextual, and religious perspectives in African biblical hermeneutics7 connects human bodies, communities, and geographies; it combines ecologies, ideologies, and economies of life. Thus, postwar hermeneutics engages what Patrick Manning calls "history through culture ... expressed in verbal and nonverbal media, at the level of whole societies and individuals."8 For Cameroon and the biblical story, war and violence (re)define communal identity around gender, ethnicity, politics, religion, and region, and therefore impact narrative ethics and cultural values. These identity markers and their associative values are deployed here not as a menu of hermeneutical options but as interpretive clusters that illumine postwar hermeneutics in Exodus 2-the deployment of compassion, resistance to exploitation, and hospitality as tropes for regenerative transformation of dislocated identity into trauma-promise.

I. Gershom: An Intergenerational and Interregional Story

In his first articulation of self-definition-though not his first identity-forming moment-in Exodus, Moses describes himself in genealogical and geographical terms: "I have become a sojourner in a foreign land" (Exod 2:22). The bearer of that identity and memory, however, is not Moses but Gershom; that is, the ideas "sojourner" and "foreignness" function less as person-specific and boundaryspecific tropes than as intergenerational and interregional presences. In this interpretive episteme where geography, sociology, and genealogy are integral to narrative and existential meaning, paradox emerges: although narrative nomenclature designates his spatial location as "foreign," Midian is not foreign land to Gershom. Moses's intergenerational and interregional interpretive act creates a narrative and embodied character-Gershom-whose "inherited" story illustrates an exodus motif of dislocated identity reclaimed as trauma-promise. But how and why does Gershom happen? What processes, events, and places provide structure, meaning, and purpose to his narrative genealogy and its interpretive relevance? What virtues shape social interaction and discourse about communal identity, ethics, and governance? What memories infuse and galvanize this story?

Exodus begins as a story of profound shifts in communal identities-political, gendered, ethnic, religious, and regional-centrally linked to a new pharaoh's hypothetical, but deeply impactful, wartime policies and ideologies (1:8-22). …

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