Monday, July 28, 2008

Jesus and Land

I am reading Karen J. Wenell's published dissertation Jesus and Land. There is much more I could say about this book but I find one comment curious and I would like to counterpose a quotation from Robert Wilken's book The Land Called Holy


Even so [speaking about the twelve tribes evokes twelve territories], we should be careful not to limit the spatial implications of the twelve tribes/twelve territories to some particular physical location. When looking at biblical texts relating to the tribes, entering the discussion is not predicated by an ability to place locations on a map, or to identify a particular territory (p. 106, emphasis added). 


For the ancient Israelites land always referred to an actual land. Eretz Israel was not a symbol of a higher reality. It was a distinct geographical entity, a territory with assumed if not always precise boundaries . . . For ancient Hebrews, idyllic descriptions of the land are always subservient to a territorial realism. The land is a geographical region that can be marked on a map, a place with memories as well as hopes, with a past as well as a future . . . The blessings associated with the land are this-worldly . . . No matter who utopian the language, the promised land was always real, not an ideal, country. Hence there could be no genuine fulfillment of the promise that was not historical, which is to say, political (pp. 8-9). 


There is just no doubt in my mind that Wilken is right. I found in reading Wenell's book that her use of anthological models of sacred space somewhat distracting and difficult to penetrate. Her approach, at least for me,  created a fog that was difficult to cut through to see what she was really saying. I am still uncertain for example what she thinks about the kingdom of God and the Land outside of crypt descriptions such as this: "the kingdom functions as an orienting mythical space with practical implications for followers in their daily life and conduct” (p. 17). Furthermore, she states "It is not necessary to decide whether the mathematical statement 'kingdom equal's land' is true or false; but it is important [sic] establish that the message of the kingdom evokes the promises to Abraham and defines a new sacred space with its own symbolic associations and practical implications" (p. 139).


Bill said...

Can they both be right? I don't know Wenell or Wilken, but if God can make sons of Abraham out of the rocks in the ground, can't God make a promised land out of - well, anything he wants? Like some random burning bush for example? ;)

Brant Pitre said...

Hey Joel!

I just happen to have recently been reading the same book!

I had the same response reading portions of Wenell's work; it is very vague and unsatisfying at points--although I must confess I need to sit down and go through the whole thing front to back. Particularly troubling for me is that, for a dissertation which was inspired by reading Davies' the Gospel and the Land, she does not appear to have taken seriously what Davies calls "the transcendentalization" of the land.

By the way, if you're looking for an interesting take on Abraham's promise of the land and the New Creation, check out Irenaeus' Against Heresies, book 5, chapter 30ff, and let me know what you think.

Hope the kids are doing well!

Joel Willitts said...


Good to hear from you on this. I can't say I remember Davies' "transcendetalization" of the land. I'll have to look that back up in Davies, although I was severely dissatisfied with his treatment of Land in the New Testament. I have really enjoyed Wilken's book. Have you read it?

I'll look up that reference in Ireneaus.

Our family is doing really well! I trust yours is as well. Karla and I are celebrating our 15th anniversary this week. Crazy how fast the years go.