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The Social World of Biblical Antiquity, First Series
The Social World of Biblical Antiquity, Second Series
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xv + 213 pp.

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Holy Land as Homeland?
Models for Constructing the Historic Landscapes of Jesus
Edited by Keith W. Whitelam

The quest for the historical Jesus has invariably tried to make sense of his world by constructing what it considers to be the historic landscapes that he inhabited. These essays explore how we do not create an actual past or rediscover an actual landscape with its towns and villages but ‘imaginary homelands’ that allow us to inhabit and possess the past.

The papers in this volume explore the ways in which constructions of the Holy Land as homeland have been mediated through history textbooks, geographies and maps, and continue to exert an influence on contemporary scholarship. The complex interrelationships between scholarship and its national settings is a constant thread throughout the papers: the work of many of the iconic figures of nineteenth- and twentieth-century European biblical scholarship (Moxnes); the roots of European constructions of homeland from the Enlightenment onwards (Birch); American biblical scholarship in the twentieth century (Long); cartography and the construction of homeland (Whitelam); the constructions of a Galilaean homeland for Jesus (Baergen and Vaage); a contemporary imagined homeland in British politics (Crossley). The final essay takes up the themes of ‘home’, ‘homeland’ and ‘homelessness’ to reflect on the methods and models that underpin contemporary scholarship (Penner and Lopez).

These essays show how the scholarly task is a continuing questioning—and self-questioning—of the models and methods with which we are most at home.

The papers collected in this volume were presented in Oslo as one of the events organized by the ‘Jesus in Cultural Complexity: Interpretation, Memory and Identification’ project directed by Halvor Moxnes at the University of Oslo and funded by the Norwegian Research Council.

Keith W. Whitelam is Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies in the University of Sheffield.

Series: The Social World of Biblical Antiquity, Second Series, 7
978-1-907534-32-4 hardback
Publication October 2011

Viewed altogether, several of the papers in this book (Moxnes, Long, Whitelam, Baergen) point toward a direction that, I think, needs to be further explored and developed in biblical studies, what could be called a cultural and intellectual geography of Palestine: the study of the construction of cultural and symbolic landscapes through time, in close connection to historical contexts and processes. These papers make us think about the Western intellectual and religious appropriation of Palestine since early Christianity to modern times. In fact, the book offers us but a glimpse, from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries, of what can be achieved through a critical address of the polysemic concept of Holy Land in relation to the modern territories of Israel/Palestine as a religious homeland, as a national homeland, and so on. The intellectual construction of the Holy Land can certainly be traced back to the church fathers and before that to the biblical notions of eretz yisrael as well, but always with heterogeneous meanings, each of which is attached to religious and cultural conceptions of the land (see Sand 2012).

This anthology is therefore a most welcome addition to the stream of scholarship within biblical studies that seeks to deconstruct the social, cultural, and political contexts in which the modern interpretation of biblical stories and the writing of ancient Palestine’s past take place. Actually, this deconstructive task is an unavoidable condition for those studying biblical matters in a truly scholarly manner, which clearly establishes that there is no historical analysis that is innocent or isolated from ideological and historiographical considerations, and such considerations cannot be properly addressed without epistemological and methodological reflection. This book, in its varieties of approaches and discussions, fosters such critical biblical scholarship.
Emanuel Pfoh, Review of Biblical Literature.