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Belonging in Genesis
Biblical Israel and the Politics of Identity Formation
Genesis calls its readers into a vision of human community unconstrained by the categories that dominate modern thinking about identity. Genesis situates humanity within a network of nurture that encompasses the entire cosmos—only then introducing Israel not as a people, but as a promise. Genesis prioritizes a human identity that originates in the divine word and depends on ongoing relationship with God. Those called into this new mode of belonging must forsake the social definition that had structured their former life, trading it for an alternative that will only gradually take shape. In contrast to the rigidity that typifies modern notions, Genesis depicts identity as fundamentally fluid. Encounter with God leads to a new social self, not a “spiritual” self that operates only within parameters established in the body at birth.
In Belonging in Genesis, Amanda Mbuvi highlights the ways narrative and the act of storytelling function to define and create a community. Building on the emphasis on family in Genesis, she focuses on the way family storytelling is a means of holding together the interpretation of the text and the constitution of the reading community. Explicitly engaging the way in which readers regard the biblical text as a point of reference for their own (collective) identities leads to an understanding of Genesis as inviting its readers into a radically transformative vision of their place in the world.
"Belonging in Genesis is a provocative and rigorous challenge to social hierarchies influenced by the Westernization of the Bible. The book is a must read for anyone interested in Jewish studies, biblical criticism, critical race theory, postcolonialism, and religious studies."
—Santiago Slabodsky, Florence and Robert Kaufman chair in Jewish Studies, Hofstra University
"Mbuvi has produced an engaging and challenging exploration of Genesis, one that focuses on often neglected aspects of Genesis (such as genealogies), while also challenging deeply embedded assumptions of Western readers. Though relatively brief, the study covers much ground, probing notions of identity in light of race, gender, ethnicity, and colonialism."
—Bradford Anderson, Reading Religion
"Amanda Mbuvi's provocative new book critiques the oft repeated claim that the Bible's genealogies, along with its recurring affirmation that the descendants of Abraham are God's chosen people, demonstrate ancient Israel's ethnocentrism and inevitably result in religious strife against all outsiders. Belonging in Genesis seeks to recover the Bible's novel and iconoclastic understanding of identity formation and human interrelationship, thus providing a theological vision for transforming our fractured world."
—Joel S. Kaminsky, Morningstar Family Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor of Bible, Smith College
"Academically rigorous and coherent"
—Ryan T. O’Leary, Christian Century
"This book is a fascinating literary reading of Genesis that is informed by scholarship on identity formation, oral cultures, and social anthropology and is recommended for scholars, preachers, teachers, and students of Genesis."
—Benjamin D. Giffone, Review of Biblical Literature
Amanda Beckenstein Mbuvi is Assistant Professor of Religion at High Point University.