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ANG 160 Fall 2005

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Othering in Scripture

(by Catherine Baril)

Indian-Anna  Jones

For my short paper in Intercultural Studies (ANG 160, fall of 2005), I have chosen to combine previous studies (a degree in theology from the UofS) and to ask myself if ‘Othering’, as the concept is presented in our course with Roxanne, is a practice that occurs in the collection of ancient writings known in Christian religious tradition as the “Old Testament” .  

My ‘exegesis’ being a bit rusty, I began by stopping by the ‘Faculté de Philo, théo et éthique  in the building east of the one where our ANG-160 lectures are held .  

 Exegesis’ is a fancy word that means ‘critical interpretation of text’ and an ‘exegete’ of the Old Testament is a person who can read ancient Hebrew and Greek .   Since until recently most exegetes were priests, exegetes also read Latin and Italian as well as their first language .   An exegete knows several centuries of history as well as we might know what we have done with the last two years of our own lives .    For today’s movie-going culture, think of the character of the father (aka Dr. Jones, played by Sean Connery) in the Indiana Jones movies (played by Harrison Ford) .  

In one hallway of the ‘A-7’ section of our campus’ labyrinth of buildings, within a time-frame of about ninety seconds, I crossed paths with an exegete who knows Greek and Hebrew, Latin and French (J-M. M.), a theologian who speaks Russian, Ukranian, French, English, German (and probably a couple of other languages I am not aware of) (A.V.), and M.G, who was on her way to hear a doctoral student defend her thesis.  

M.G. knows her Old and New Testaments (in French) inside out, upside down and back to front again, and I asked her to help me de-rust my brain and help me start my short list of words for my word-search to illustrate ‘Othering’ as a cultural practice of old .    

M.G. looked at me as if to say “Silly you !”, don’t you remember that the word “Holy” (actually, she said the French word “Saint”) means “set apart”.   Ah yes, ‘separate’ I thought to myself, as it was all coming back to me slowly .   My first word-search in the online Bible was therefore ‘Holy.    I invite you to read the word ‘holy’ as ‘separate’ :

  Genesis 2:3And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy .     Exodus 3:5God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground."     Exodus 19:23Moses said to the LORD, "The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, 'Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.' "     Exodus 20:8Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.   

I thought of some other words to searched for, such as “chosen”, “other Gods”, “abandoned”, “pagan”, which gave the following results :  

Deuteronomy 7:6For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession .   Exodus 20:3 "You shall have no other gods before me .   Deuteronomy 8:19If you other gods and worship and bow down to them, you will surely be destroyed .   2 Samuel 5:21The Philistines abandoned their idols there, and David and his men carried them off .   Isaiah 2:6 They are full of superstitions from the East and clasp hands with pagans .  

In 1980 I crawled around on my hands and knees in archaeological dig sites in Egypt and the mountains of Jordan examining various layers of dirt left by centuries of generations of those who lived in the Middle East over two millennia ago .   I was struck then, as I still am today, at how amazing it is that such ancient texts have survived to this day .   Some may have seen the movie “The Body”, in which Madrid-born actor Antonio Banderas plays a credible Latin-American Jesuit liberation theologian .   In one scene, his character goes up against a Jewish high-priest and there is heated “discussion” about the interpretation of a verse in the Talmud, the primary source of Jewish religious law . [1]    I would like to give the reason why I like this scene .  

Some of us struggle with coming to grips with the chronology of events of the last 70 years or so .   Some of us know that the 1st world war happened around 1915, that the 2nd world war, around 1942; nuclear war almost became reality while Kennedy and Khrushchev were in power in the 60s; a Polish priest was Pope when eastern and western Europe began to come to grips with differing economic policies .   And most of us are aware of more recent pittings (in the 90s) of Muslim and Christian ideologies .  

Some spend decades learning ancient languages, learning unending details of centuries of history .   In Trois-Rivières in 85 an international conference on the North-African archaeological site of Carthage brought together specialists .   A specialist presented a period of history that has been over for a 1500 years; he spent decades studying those 300 years of history, learning dead languages, reading manuscripts, studying artefacts, using the results of the scientific findings of physicists on the age of a jar, a piece of cloth, a skull .  

When, in the movie “The Body”, Antonio Bandaras’ character goes up against the character of the Jewish high priest and he says that the Talmud is an instrument for the use by men, the high priest says that he is correct .   The verses cited above are evidence of a people’s struggle to conserve identity .   Collisions between national identities are inevitable today .   One such collision is occurring between the Christian and the Muslims identities .   Last week, the compact disk of the movie “Kingdom of Heaven” arrived in video stores .[2]   This footnote’s links take you to web pages on the Christian crusades; the CD’s special features explain that events depicted are historical .  

“Othering” is a fact of ancient writings, regardless of the religion one chooses to focus upon .   These millennial writings constitute the wisdom and historical records of past world civilisations .   The 10 commandments contain only 4 or 5 ‘religious’ laws, but contain 5 or 6 “social” laws traceable back in time to a much older Mesopotamian civilisation that forbade stealing and cheating .   Jewish scripture might contain what we, in ANG-160 consider as “Othering”; exegetes and historians show how it is also the record of personal journey to growth and maturity .   It is useful to know o

[1]       The movie “The Body” : http://www.spiritualityhealth.com/newsh/items/moviereview/item_3120.html

[2]         http://www.cbn.com/special/kingdomofheaven/;

        An Overview of the Crusades The trigger for the First Crusade was Emperor Alexius I's appeal to Pope Urban II for mercenaries to help him resist Muslim advances into territory of the Byzantine Empire. The response was much larger, and less helpful, than Alexius I desired, as the Pope called for a large invasion force to not merely defend the Byzantine Empire but also retake Jerusalem.    

          Christian Jihad: Killing in Jesus' Name   A discussion of the Crusades from the perspective of an ex-Muslim, Dr. Ergun Caner, author of 'Christian Jihad'. "I guess 'Christian Jihad' was born out of the fact that if they ever had a point -- even though it is a distant point, even though it is not a particularly on-target point -- there was a time in Christian history where we did as bad as Osama bin Ladin has done."   

          Thoughts on 'The Kingdom of Heaven': A Discussion with Dr. Ted Baehr   The problem with this movie -- and the problem with most of the approaches toward this topic -- is that it tends to think that Christianity and Islam are the same.  

          1,400 Years of Christian/Islamic Struggle: An Analysis Did Christianity and Islam meet with the first Crusade? What happened between the Christians and the Muslims prior to the Crusades? Learn the history behind 1,400 years of struggle.