SYMBOLS OF EXILE* The deportation of a small but articulate group of the citizens of Judah to Babylon during the early years of the sixth century BCE may be regarded as an essential element in the birth of Judaism, in distinction from the ethnic religion of previous generations, for the traditional parameters of religious experience were suddenly removed. The state cult of Yahweh found itself bereft of those institutional supports of which it was itself the legitimization. Indeed, the destruction of the state might itself have been regarded as precisely evidence that the real condition of the nation was no longer legitimate, as was recognized by at least one redactional strand within the Deuteronomistic History. The power of Yahweh was not in question: what was open to doubt was his continued interest in his people. This is how the situation might be assessed from a theological perspective. From an anthropological one, both propositions might be regarded as true, since the effect was that the deportees must have undergone an identity crisis, the national deity being the natural focus of the society’s symbolic structures of national and individual identity. R.W. Klein observed that ‘almost all the old symbol systems had been rendered useless (by the exile). Almost all the old institutions no longer functioned’ (Klein 1979: 5). The point Klein is making here is worth elaborating, as it provides an explanation of some of the innovations or transformations in ritual and social behaviour in the exilic age. If we begin with a characterization of the status quo ante under the monarchy we may without too great an over-simpliﬁcation think of the ideological structuring of society in these terms: the king, as son of God, mediated divine reality to his people. That is, he was believed to actualize for the nation the cosmic symbolism which was contained in the language of royal ideology, with its mythical and theological allusions to royal divinity, the idealism of the Primal Man as cosmocrator and so on. Such language was a projection into the divine realm of human concerns and aspirations, and indeed at a more fundamental level of his biological needs as a species. These have been deﬁned by ethologists as reproductive and
territorial (e.g. Ardrey 1969), while H. Mol has emphasized that both are subsumed under the over-arching need for a sense of identity (Mol 1976: 1-15). We can see the applicability of sociological and ethological analysis to royal ideology, with its emphasis precisely on the two issues of fecundity and territoriality. It may come as a surprise to consider these aspects as extensions of the prior need for identity (in Mol’s sense), but this does lend considerable support to the view that the motif of the Primal Man is the locus of just such an intuition within the context of royal ideology: that is, demonstrating that the Adam ﬁgure (or his counterparts elsewhere, Anthropos, Purusa, and so forth) really does belong within this pattern of thought, despite views expressed to the contrary. If we put these matters into a theoretical form which can be useful in the analysis of some exilic phenomena, we may say that the themes of fecundity and territoriality are essential as biological and social facts in the well-being of a society, that as well as being needs in their own right they can serve as metaphors for the more fundamental need for identity, and that such imagery was focused in ancient Judah in the person of the king. We can now imagine the scale or the trauma experienced by the deportees to Babylon who lost everything of signiﬁcance, material and emotional, at a stroke. The entire framework of life in terms of the metaphysical structures which gave legitimacy and meaning to it was destroyed. In such circumstances we might expect a variety of responses, and no doubt these occurred. Some less resilient personalities would no doubt go into severe depression and pine away, life no longer having any meaning or purpose. Others would ask the age-old question which arises in moments of distress: ‘Why me?’ And this response gave rise to the self-justifying proverb about the sour grapes criticized by Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Indeed the overall response of the exilic Deuteronomist was hardly more adequate (or perhaps its relative adequacy lay precisely in its echoing of a widespread prejudice), even if it was dressed up in more seemingly profound theological platitudes: he still effectively exonerated his own generation by blaming all the royal ﬁgures of the past, the most egregious case being that of Manasseh, who is made to bear the whole burden of the nation’s sin since even Josiah’s piety could not deﬂect the divine wrath incurred by his predecessor’s iniquities, real or imagined. Others still would acknowledge an overwhelming sense of guilt and would take upon themselves the blame for all the nation’s sins past and present: such a response may be seen in the suffering servant ﬁgure; although his sense of guilt is of course speciﬁcally denied in the image of vicarious suffering, this may be a rationalizing of the poet’s own sense of guilt. And guilt certainly comes to shape the entire priestly theory of sacriﬁce (Davies 1977).