Herald Press continues to grace me with a steady supply of their new and excellent books. The most recent one is the third volume in the incredibly good Polyglossia: Radical Reformation Theologies series. States of Exile: Visions of Diaspora, Witness, and Return by Alain Epp Weaver is a potent analysis of the nature of exile, both in the Bible and the contemporary world, and its theological implications. One of the things that Epp Weaver shows very well is that diaspora and return should not be held in binary opposition to each other. Rather there are ways of being “at home” in exile and ways of retaining and “out of control” consciousness when living in the stability of place.
The book is anchored in Epp Weaver’s experience of spending more than a decade living among the disenfranchised Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza strip. The reality of Israeli-Palestinian relations serves as a potent example of the reality of exile in our world. However, Epp Weaver’s concerns are not simply to provide pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli polemics. Rather, his discussion of the exilic state of the Palestinians is couched in the broader context of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, and the implications of the shape of all three religions for how we understand exile, both theologically and politically.
Following Yoder’s account of the “Jewish-Christian schism”, Epp Weaver offers some great critiques of contemporary theological ways of narrating the relationship between Jews and Christians. Theologies in which the church replaces Israel and theologies where Israel and the church represent different communities on parallel paths to God are both equally problematic in that they both represent a distinctly non-exilic theological mode. In other words, Christian theologies of Israel that either supersede Judaism or grant it autonomous validity both alike are attempts to maintain control of the theological encounter between Judaism and Christianity, thereby eliminating the possibility of experiencing “disruptive difference” between the two traditions whereby Jews, as Jews may teach Christians how to be Christians in new and vital ways.
A full review will be forthcoming, but I wanted to make sure to recommend the book as soon as possible. This book embodies the best form of theological politics, being intimately atuned both to the empirical realities of our world of exile, and the interruptive narrative of Scripture which offers possibilities for new life in “seeking the peace of the city.” For communities seeking to recover a theologically appropriate exilic vision this book will doubtless be quite challenging and helpful.