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  • [750774(1997)95-116]

    NATIONAL ALLEGORY IN THE HEBREW BIBLE

    Roland Boer United Theological College, 16 Masons Drive,

    North Parramatta, NSW 2151, Australia

    The existence of two discourses with much in common yet no point of intersectionlike parallel linesis a fortunate situation for anyone interested in the twin disciplines of literary and biblical studies. I refer in particular to the discourse on political allegorythe suggestion that allegorical material has a political focusin the Hebrew Bible and to the debate on national allegory in literary and cultural criticism. By 'national allegory' I mean a genre in which characters play out com-plex relationships that interpret and highlight what are felt to be the significant features of the national situation in past and present and pro-ject possibilities for the future; thus, national allegory connects public and private, society and individual, where public and society are consti-tuted by a 'nation'.

    I would like to approach my topic from two different trajectories. From the biblical side I begin with the work of Joel Rosenberg, who has introduced the phrase 'political allegory' into the study of the Hebrew Bible. Subsequently the work of Regina Schwartz and Mieke Bal has pushed this issue further. From another direction comes the debate between Fredric Jameson, Aijaz Ahmad and Michael Sprinker on the possibility, nature and configuration of national allegory in con-temporary, particularly 'third world', literature. Such a situation two similar discussions in different but related disciplineslends itself to a dialectical play in which the two may intersect. Thus, the work of the biblical critics needs to be enhanced and strengthened by that of Jameson and company, yet the biblical material places certain demands of its own on the whole idea of national allegory, not least of which is

  • 96 Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 74 (1997) the problem of applying a category used for contemporary literature to that of the Hebrew Bible.

    Political Allegory In a rather wide-ranging discussion Joel Rosenberg (1986) has made the useful dual proposal that allegory is an element of the Hebrew Bible and that its nature is very often, if not predominantly, political. Allegory is understood by Rosenbergdespite the presentation of a range of theories of allegoryin its most basic sense as a narrative that plays in some way on the intersection between personal and supra-personal domains. In other words, the personal or individual element refers in various ways to that which is beyond itself, often touching on the realms of cosmic and mythic history. By 'political' Rosenberg refers to that which pertains to the state, specifically the Israelite state.

    In his account Rosenberg provides an apologetic for the return of allegory in critical discussion by means of a narrative of the progress of allegory, a narrative that begins with Philo, runs through Maimonides and allegory's decline in the eighteenth century, and closes with its return in twentieth-century modernism. In this account there are some interesting moves, most of which hinge, I would suggest, on the desire to remove the infamy and sheer illegitimacy that still hang heavily around the idea and practice of allegory. Two of the moves in this quest are crucial: Rosenberg removes all the negative dimensions from 'allegory' and assigns them to what he calls 'allegoresis'; he then seeks to associate, indeed identify, allegory with parable or mashal, both terms commanding much greater respect in contemporary literary (particularly biblical) criticism than does allegory.1 The distinction between allegory and allegoresis attracts to itself another opposition now quite troubled in itselfbetween text and interpretation, the allegorical text being more legitimate than the allegorizing criticism (allegoresis) that seeks to allegorize a not necessarily allegorical text (e.g. with Homer's texts or the fourfold exegesis of Jewish and Christian biblical scholars). Into the allegory-allegoresis opposition

    1. Although obvious, it is worth pointing out that this argument is circular: a definition of allegory is established on the basis of a selective use of the material, a definition that is then used to decide which of the available data counts as allegory and which is unwelcome or undesirable. That which is included is then used to refine the definition.

  • BOER National Allegory in the Hebrew Bible 97

    are drawn a number of others, besides text and interpretation: vertical and horizontal; semiotics and deconstruction; canny and uncanny; hieratic priesthood and ecstatic prophecy.

    According to Rosenberg, an allegorical narrative is characterized by allusiveness, referring or alluding in an indirect manner to frames of reference on the borders of the text. It is, then, a narrative that inverts or destabilizes the illusion of temporal continuity and succes-sion that the allegorical narrative establishes. This is achieved by means of clues that suggest that something else is going on with the text, that a larger realm lies just beyond reach; while often minimal clues, they first generate doubt and then flip the whole narrative over into another frame of reference: 'One can see that this process involves a crossing of semantic frames, a juxtaposition of literary or cultural codes, a revisionary upheaval of the meaning of words used earlier in the text' (Rosenberg 1986: 18).

    In a different terminologythat of semioticsallegory for Rosenberg may be understood as 'a process of signification' (1986: 12). In this sense the less desirable types of allegory (allegoresis) are those that work with a direct correspondence (to echo Kant) between allegorical signifier and signified. The more dynamic type of allegory is one where the relationship is not so direct, the signifier having a range of possible signifieds and the signified itself generating and con-necting with a host of signifiers. Biblical scholars dislike allegory because they have confused it with allegoresis: 'The allegorical corres-pondences are generally understood [by biblical scholars] as a one-for-one homologyrather than as a dynamic system of syllogistic and dialectical transformation, in which words and figures change meaning across time' (Rosenberg 1986: 21). There is, however, a further step: allegory draws attention not so much to the signified as to the signifier, having therefore an auto-referential function in pointing not to external referents or signifieds but to the process of signification itself.

    But modern biblical scholars have come to expect texts to refer to their own meaning production, and so for this study the more inter-esting and ultimately useful material is found at the points where Rosenberg makes the connection between politics and allegory. One of the assumptions in such a connection, drawn from the biblical text, is that the makers of biblical literature 'were deeply preoccupied with the nature of Israel's political community and were interested in the premises of political existence, addressing themselves to readers who

  • 98 Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 74 (1997) thought about such things as leadership, authority, social cohesiveness, political order, rebellion, crime, justice, institutional evolution, and the relation of rich and poor' (Rosenberg, 1986: x). Because the indi-vidual was connected to the state through household and tribe, biblical allegory resists the split into individual and collective/political, using 'the conflicts of the household, the tribe, and the intertribal order as a means of anatomizing the strengths and weaknesses of state and empire' (1986: 21). It is here that the more explicitly political con-siderations return to Rosenberg's basic definition of allegory as that which mediates between the individual and that which lies beyond. If we acquiesce in Rosenberg's argumentand I propose to do so in part herethen it is possible to conclude, provisionally at least, that allegory, particularly its political variety, has a legitimate presence in biblical studies and in the biblical text.

    2. National Allegory

    Fredric Jameson is the originator of the idea that 'national allegory' may be identified as a device in contemporary literature. For Jameson national allegory is concerned with the nexus between the individual and the national situation: the individual story functions, in different and sometimes contradictory ways, as the source of a range of allego-ries of the nation in question. Jameson's theory is developed within the context of capitalism, which is of course the context of modern biblical scholarship but not of the biblical texts in their production and earlier reception. I will return to this issue later.

    The possibility of national allegory begins with the notion that national problems are resolvable while international ones are not, a conception that explains the lack of vitality of the literature of a first world much more closely enmeshed in a global capitalist system (Jameson 1990: 129-30; see also 1987a: 49-50; 1968: 24-25). Due to a general postmodern breakdown in national boundaries and the process of cultural and economic homogenization, there is a concomitant diminishing of raw materials for national allegory. Jameson therefore searches for national allegory in third-world literature and culture (Jameson 1986; 1992: 114-57) and, to a lesser extent, in second-world texts (Jameson 1994: 73-128). In these areas it is felt that some viabi-lity still attaches to the nation. Indeed, as the surprised traveller and intellectual from the superstate to the margins, Jameson finds his own

  • BOER National Allegory in the Hebrew Bible 99

    blindness overcome through 'their preoccupation with the national character and the national situation, the p

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