Belonging in Genesis: Biblical Israel and the Construction of Communal Identity

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Davis, Ellen F

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Genesis is central to both hegemonic and counterhegemonic conceptions of communal identity. Read one way, the book undergirds contemporary assumptions about the nature of communality and the categories through which it is constructed. Read another way, however, it undermines them. This project considers these two readings of Genesis, their asymmetrical approaches to the book, and the intersection between them.

Using family storytelling as an approach to biblical interpretation allows this study to hold together the constitution of the reading community and the interpretation of the biblical text. In a Eurocentric reading of Genesis, the constitution of the reading community governs engagement of the biblical text. Conversely, in the YHWH-centric reading advocated here, the biblical text governs the constitution of the reading community. This study reopens the question of what it means to be an "us" rather than leaving participation in an "us" as an (often unacknowledged) a priori condition of all interpretation. In doing so it does not deny the existence or the significance of such preexisting commitments, but rather it refuses to regard those commitments as fixed and final.

From an exegetical standpoint, this study challenges Eurocentrism by finding in Genesis a vision of communality that, in emphasizing the importance of living out the relatedness of all humans to one another and to God, holds the potential for more fruitful relationships between communities. From a methodological standpoint, it offers a reading of Genesis that incorporates features of the text that have been neglected by colonizing readings and avoids the difficulties and internal inconsistencies from which they suffer. Making use of Benedict Anderson's account of the relationship between the imagined community of the nation and religiously imagined communities, as well as Jonathan Sheehan's account of the Enlightenment Bible, this study argues that certain ways of reading the Bible arose to help the West articulate its sense of itself and its others. Drawing attention to the text's reception and the way in which Eurocentric approaches displace Jews and marginalize (the West's) others, this project considers alternative ways of conceptualizing the relationship between the Bible and those who call it their own.



Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Religion




Mbuvi, Amanda (2008). Belonging in Genesis: Biblical Israel and the Construction of Communal Identity. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from

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