Social identity in Nahum : a theological-ethical enquiry

Bosman, Jan Petrus (2005-03)

Thesis (DTh (Old and New Testament))--University of Stellenbosch, 2005.


In this study the very relevant theological-ethical question of social identity and intergroup conflict is looked at. This is done by reading the Book of Nahum multidimensionally as an “Oracles Concerning the Nations” text, and as part of the Book of the Twelve. The multidimensional methodology includes a combination of synchronic and diachronic reading strategies, the implementation of social identity theory and self-categorization theory, the focus on ideological-critical aspects and theological-ethical questioning. In the process of research the underlying dynamic of social identity construction of ancient Israel is uncovered and theological-ethically appropriated. In the first two chapters the problem of the global rise of extreme nationalism, racism and zenophobia is noted. The very diverse post-apartheid society of South Africa, as well as the post-nazi and post-unification German society is mentioned. The Book of Nahum, an Oracle “Concerning the Nations” text, is chosen as avenue for studying the dynamic underlying the construction of social identity in ancient Israel. It is suggested that while a one-dimensional reading strategy may lead to an exclusivist intepretation of Nahum that fosters a theological ethic of intolerance and hate, a multidimensional reading strategy leads to a theological ethic of liberation, responsibility and peace. Chapters 3 and 4 give a research overview of the study of ancient Israel’s identity as well as how the Book of Nahum is to be understood with regards to its dating, unity, stucture and historical situation. The research overview shows how incorporating social identity theory and self-categorization theory provides a better and more integrated perspective on social identity than what has been done up to now. The social psychology theories are summarized into five working premises. The background study of Nahum comes to the conclusion that Nahum should be read synchronically in its diachronical development from the pre-exilic Assyrian crisis with its polarized political inter-group conflicts to the exilic/post-exilic situation with its unique search for a new beginning, identity and hope. Chapters 5 and 6 contain the exegetical explication of the Book of Nahum. Nahum 1:9- 14;2:2-3:19 is interpreted as a pre-exilic construction of social identity. Nahum 1:2-8;2:1 is read as an exilic/post-exilic text. The inter-group dynamic between the Yahweh-Alone movement and the pro-Assyria party (pre-exilic) as well as the Deutero-Isaiah group with its theological opponents (exilic/post-exilic) are interpreted in terms of the five social identity premises. Although social identity construction in Nahum does follow the main premises of discrimination and prototypical ingroup favouring a surprising ambiguous undercurrent of self-criticism as apposed to ethnocentrism is discovered in both historical situations. Apart from the social identity, a strong movement towards liberation from oppression is present in the Book of Nahum. This underlying ambiguous dynamic of social identity construction and the liberatory rhetoric of Nahum is appropriated theolgical-ethically in Chapter 7. A theological-ethical model, which combines the role of identity in ethics, the concept of “natural law”, the responsibility ethics of Levinas and a focus on liberation, is suggested as a useful instrument for interpreting the theological-ethically uncomfortable Oracles Concerning the Nations texts. Chapter 8 summarizes the study and points out the research’s contribution towards Old Testament methodology (exegetical and ethical), Nahum studies as well as providing a possible theological-ethical solution to intergroup conflicts (religious, cultural, political etc.) from an Old Testament perspective.

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