Johnny Miles, Constructing the Other…

A version of this book review was published last year in Theological Books Review. Johnny Miles’ book contains some reflection on modern reception of the Bible, but not as much as I expected from the Reception genre. Instead it attempts to draw parallels between Israelite attitudes to foreign peoples, and some Americans’ views of particular types of foreigners over the last century or so.

MILES, JOHNNY, Constructing the Other in Ancient Israel and the USA (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2011), pp. xxvii, 374. This monograph brings together postcolonial theory, the Deuteronomic History, and nineteenth century white-American attitudes to native Americans, Mexicans, Chinese, and Africans. Miles is concerned with the politics of re-presentation. He draws parallels between ancient and modern stereotyping of subaltern others.

Chapter 1 reviews previous work taking a postcolonial approach to biblical texts and their afterlife. Chapter 2 presents Persian Yehud as the context of the Deuteronomic History. The remaining four chapters treat stereotypes: savage, stupid, deceitful, and rebellious.

Chapter 3 pairs Edomites and native Americans. Chapter 4 pairs Moabites and Mexicans (a shorter version appears in Miles’ 2008 article ‘‟Who are you calling ‘stupid’”? Ethnocentric humour and identity construct in the colonial discourse of Judges 3.12-30’. The Bible and Critical Theory 4.1: 1–16). Chapter 5 pairs Ammonites and Chinese. Chapter 6 pairs Samaritans and Africans. One aim of the book is to bring ‘a postcolonial optic to the consumption (including effects)’ of DH in two colonial contexts: fifth century BCE Yehud, and nineteenth century USA (p. xix).

Accordingly each chapter contains two sections. The first considers how scriptures, especially from Judges and 1 Kings, served Yehud. The second section of each chapter is on the USA. These are mostly historical surveys and they work better in some chapters than others. Chapter 3 provides evidence of Anglo-American use of biblical texts, including a comparison with Edom (p.110); and chapter 6 discusses African-American use of scripture. Chapters 4 and 5 however offer little evidence of biblical appropriation concerning Mexicans or Chinese, so the link between ‘The Bible and the Modern World’ depends on coincident stereotypes.

Overall this timely book suggests that constructions of the ‘other’ shaped the Deuteronomic History and remain influential today.

John P. McKeown

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