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The Holy Seed Has Been Defiled
The Interethnic Marriage Dilemma in Ezra 9–10
Willa M. Johnson
In the Book of Ezra–Nehemiah, Ezra commands Yehudite men to put away their foreign wives to avoid further defiling the ‘holy seed’. What is the meaning of this warning? Are Ezra’s words to be understood as a concern about race-mixing or is it emblematic of some more complex set of problems prevalent in the fledgling postexilic community? Ezra’s words, with their seemingly racialized thinking, have been influential in much political, religious and popular culture in the USA. It has been a backdrop for constructing racial reality for centuries, melding seemingly biblical ideologies with accepted European Enlightenment-era ideas about racial superiority and inferiority.
Willa Johnson combines archaeological data with social-scientific theory to argue for a new interpretation. In this anthropological and narratological analysis, Johnson views Ezra’s edict in the light of ancient Yehudite concerns over ethnicity, gender, sexuality and social class following the return from exile. In this context, she argues, the warning against intermarriage appears to be an effort to reconstitute identity in the aftermath of the cataclysmic political dominance by first the Babylonian and then the Persian empires.
This book represents a postmodern interdisciplinary approach to understanding an ancient biblical socio-political situation. As such, it offers fresh perspectives on ways that interpretations of the Bible continue to reflect the ideologies of its interpreters.
Willa M. Johnson is Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi.
Biblical Text through (An)Other’s Eyes 7
Identity and Analysis: Some Important Considerations 9
2 EXILE, TRAUMA, ETHNICITY AND PURITY: KEYS TO INTERMARRIAGE 15
Exile and Trauma 16
Trauma and its Aftermath 18
Ethnicity: A Vehicle for Economic Development 20
Purity amidst Postexilic Conditions 21
Economic Ramifications of Marriage in Persian Yehud 24
3 THE POSTEXILIC SOCIOPOLITICAL AND ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENTS
IN PERSIAN YEHUD 27
Experiences of Exile 30
Responses to the Exile 35
Yehud under the Achaemenid Empire’s Economy 37
Yehud in the ‘Beyond the River’ Province: Political
Autonomy, Economic Power, and Achaemenid Ruling Strategies 41
Autonomy and the Economy 41
Achaemenid Ruling Strategies and Yehudite Autonomy 47
Particularities of the ‘fathers’ houses’
father’s houses’ 48
Reconstructing the Social Structure 49
Landownership and the ‘fathers’ houses’ 50
4 MARRIAGE CUSTOMS IN THE HEBREW BIBLE AND ARAMAIC PAPYRI 56
Marriage Customs in Biblical Narratives 57
Economics and Gender in Hebrew Bible Marriage 57
Evidence from the Elephantine Marriage Documents 74
5 AN OTHER’S READINGS OF EZRA 9.1–10.18
An Anthropological Reading 79
The Ideological Reading 80
6 ETHNICITY IN PERSIAN YEHUD AND MISINFORMED AMERICAN CULTURE
The work is a pleasure to read. It really does make a significant contribution to scholarship on Ezra 9–10 and Persian Yehud, especially in providing alternative insights on the marriage issue. Johnson also rightly points out the social impact of biblical interpretation such as the use of the Bible to justify discrimination in contemporary American society. As a Pacific islander who favors reading the Bible other-wise, I appreciate Johnson’s courage to shift and depart from traditional interpretive paradigm and for acknowledging the fact that every interpretation is situated. The employment of sociological, anthropological, and critical frameworks for interpretation is a positive step forward. Nasili Vaka’uta, Review of Biblical Literature.