Notes from WTS 2010: Part Three

Notes from my presentation at the Ethnic Studies session.

Ezekiel and Empire Studies: Imperialism, Idolatry, and the Imago Dei from a Black Postcolonial Perspective

1. Currently in biblical and theological studies, there is a tendency for scholars to study the New Testament in light of the authors’ context within the Roman Empire.[1] However, the role of empire and imperialism, as viewed through empire studies and postcolonial interpretation, has been largely ignored in the Hebrew Bible.

2. The story of Ezekiel informed enslaved Africans not only could they have hope because the divine Spirit resided with them, but also because God could keep promises even in the worst of times. In Ezekiel chapter 1, verse 26 and 27, Katheryn Pfisterer Darr interprets the “likeness of humanity” or demut kemarah adam and hasmal (or glowing amber) as a person who is made in the image of God, reminiscent of the texts found in Genesis 1:26-27 and 9:12-17.[2] The concept of human beings made in the image of God means that every human life is infinitely valuable to God; the enthroned figure in Ezekiel’s visions reminds us of the sacredness of human life and dignity.  In addition, the radiance “in a cloud on a rainy day,” as Darr understands verse 28, is much like the rainbow God shows to Noah in God’s promise to never again destroy the world by flood again.  If God can remember God’s promise to Noah, and God’s promise to God’s covenant people, the Israelites, then God can also remember the enslaved African Christians suffering from brutality when they cry out to God.  God’s presence and God’s faithfulness serve as the foundation of hope for the oppressed.

3.  Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was said to have carried a copy of Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited on his many journeys[3] His work, first published in 1946, it has been considered a vital resource for liberating spirituality especially in Black church circles.  Thurman preferred the religion of Jesus over Christianity; the religion of Jesus was for those who were not considered to be full citizens in society.  Jesus provided a vision where there would “be room for all, and no man would be a threat to his brother.”[4]

In Thurman’s chapter “Deception,” Ezekiel’s story makes an appearance. Thurman remarks,

“When the children of Israel were in captivity in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel could not give the words of comfort and guidance by direct and overt statement.  If he had, he would not have lasted very long, and the result would have been a great loss to his people He would have been executed as a revolutionary in short order and all religious freedom would have been curtailed.  What did the prophet do? He resorted to a form of deception.  He put words in the mouth of an old king of Tyre that did not come from him at all, but Nebuchadnezzar.  It was Nebuchadnezzar who had said, ‘I am God.’ “[5]

Thurman goes on to argue that lying destroys the soul; if the disinherited continue to tell falsehoods, they will eventually become false themselves.[6]

Howard Thurman’s account of Ezekiel’s oracle against the king of Tyre is found lacking if we agree with Frantz Fanon’s rendering of the truth.  Fanon says, “In answer to the lie of the colonial situation, the colonized subject responds with a lie. […] Truth is what hastens the dislocation of the colonial regime, what fosters the emergence of the nation. […] In the colonial context there is no truthful behavior.”[7] Howard Thurman would require the colonized to tell the truth at all times and at all places in the name of sincerity and absolute truth, but in colonial situations, truth is never absolute because colonies are built upon dishonesty.  Thurman does not even address the lies told by imperialists; their falsehoods remain one of his oversights in his usage of Ezekiel.

[1] For example, see: Dube Shomanah, Musa W. Postcolonial Feminist Interpretation of the Bible. St. Louis, Mo: Chalice Press, 2000; Moore, Stephen D. Empire and Apocalypse: Postcolonialism and the New Testament. Bible in the modern world, 12. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2006; Segovia, Fernando F. Interpreting Beyond Borders. The Bible and postcolonialism, 3. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.

[2] Katheryn Pfisterer Darr. “The Book of Ezekiel: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.” Pages 1116-1117 in The New Interpreter’s Bible. Volume VI.  Editted by David L. Petersen.  Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999.

[3] Thurman. See Foreword.

[4] Thurman, 35.

[5] Ibid, 60.

[6] Ibid, 65.

[7] Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, 14.

0 thoughts on “Notes from WTS 2010: Part Three

  1. irishanglican

    I hope readers know that postcolonialism and theory is a post-modern intellectual discourse! As is or was Derrida. Derrida was born Jewish BTW, but has been classified with obscurantism, by many..see Noam Chomsky, etc.

  2. irishanglican

    Rod, your blog and your theological ideas. I’m just showing where some of it comes from, ideas..etc. Again, we all must make choices in the search for truth. But, as you know I am critical of Derrida’s methods. And this is not a personal attack at all toward you.


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