Trauma and Migration Studies, The Book of Job, and Babylon

Exploring Babylon Chapter 20.2

Chapter 20.1 focused on monsters and storytelling, touching on the intersection of migration experiences and trauma. In follow up (with apologies for the delay), a few notes about the academic fields of migration and trauma studies and their relevance to #ExploringBabylon.

To begin, David W. Stowe discusses the application of trauma and migration theories to biblical studies* and, in particular, to his exploration of Psalm 137.

Migration and Trauma

On trauma theory and bible, Stowe writes:

Certainly the Bible provides voices that resonate with pain caused by the experience of the Exile in Babylon….

Reading the biblical literature through the lens of trauma theory suggests an agonizing experience during the Golah [Babylonian Exile]. Recent work in trauma theory and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) shows that symptoms associated with psychosis and other mental illness are symptoms of the human psyche struggling against an overload of anguish. Distortions in verbal and written communication [which Stowe and many others identify in the Book of Ezekiel, for example], even a failure to communicate at all — to become mute — reflect strategies of self-defense….
— Stowe, Song of Exile, p.8-9

Stowe looks at migration theory in the same context:

Because we learn so much about Moses’ long attempts to win freedom from bondage for his compatriots, we assume that Egyptian slavery must have been harsher [than that of Judean exiles in Babylon]….

To flesh out this monochromatic picture of the Golah experience, scholars have brought to bear analytic tools from the social sciences, in particular the recent field of migration studies….An important contribution in the recent scholarship lies in drawing distinctions between different categories of people who formerly might have been simply labeled “exiles” or “refugees.” These blanket terms obscure a host of subtle variations: between migrants, exiles, refugees, and members of a diaspora; between voluntary and involuntary migrations; between internal migration and migration that crosses political boundaries.
— Stowe, Song of Exile, p.10

Stowe’s specific discussion of Psalm 137 awaits another day and another post. Meanwhile, though, his remarks above link back to Junot Díaz’s Islandborn: how differing immigration experiences lead to different recollections and relationships around the country departed — including, in many cases, a silence hard that can make it difficult for younger generations to learn their family’s past.

Stowe’s remarks also relate to a very different style of biblical study.

The Book of Job

The Book of Job offers linguistic, literary, and theological challenges when it comes to assigning authorship or even declaring the century in which it was committed to writing, in whatever form. See, for example, these authorship pieces by Columbia’s Brennan Breed and Elon Gilad of Haaretz. Moses Sokolow explores Talmudic ideas about authorship and elaborates on those with another suggestion.

Sokolow first argues, in Tanakh: An Owner’s Manual (full citation below), that three or four of the seven Talmudic suggestions for Job’s authorship overlap chronologically so as to suggest a consensus around authorship in the time of the Chaldeans (Babylonians). He then goes on to present a hypothesis:

Since Ezekiel lived during the era of the Chaldeans and was the only biblical author acquainted with Job, it is not a priori unreasonable to ascribe the Book of Job to him, particularly if we now take note of the one Talmudic opinion [of seven] we have thus far omitted: “Iyyov lo’ hayah ve-lo nivra’” – “Job never existed”; his story is only a parable (Bava Batra 15a).

The usual understanding of the Book of Job is that it addresses the question of theodicy….

But what if Job were the personification of the Jewish people? What if the destruction of his home, the loss of his wealth, and the death of his sons were parables for the destruction of the Temple, the forcible exile, and the many concomitant deaths and privations suffered by the Jewish nation? Ezekiel’s prophetic mission was devoted to reassuring the exiles that God’s presence was among them even in Babylonia, and that there would be a return to Zion and a restoration of the Temple. Could the Book of Job, then, not be Ezekiel’s own “Holocaust theology,” offering the conventional explanation for suffering (sin), rejecting it, and replacing it with the reassurance that there was a divine plan for history as there was for nature, and that our inability to perceive the former is in no way different from our like inability to comprehend the latter?
— Sokolow, p.43

Sokolow’s suggestion is presented in a different framework from biblical studies working from predominantly Christian sources. Both methodologies lead, however, to further discussion of trauma and migration in relation to biblical stories.


on this 27th day of the omer, making three weeks and six days

NOTES:

Here are two fairly recent relevant collections on migration, trauma and other theories of exile:

Interpreting Exile: Displacement and Deportation in Biblical and Modern Contexts. Ranier Albertz, ed. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011.

By the Irrigation Canals of Babylon: Approaches to the Study of Exile. John J. Ahn and Jill Middlemas eds. NY: T & T Clark International (Continuum), 2012.

Note, please, that Stowe, like many other scholars in the field called “biblical studies,” cites predominantly Christian sources. Moreover, some remarks in Song of Exile suggest his exposure to Jews is limited (see Song of Exile page) — which is not uncommon in Christian biblical studies. For more on this topic generally, see also “Babylon and Adventures in Bibleland” as well as “Babylon Basics.”
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Tanakh: An Owner’s Manual: Authorship, Canonization, Masoretic Text, Exegesis, Modern Scholarship, and Pedagogy. Moshe Sokolow. NY: Ktav, 2015.
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