In Walking on the Pages of the Word of God Aron Engberg explores the religious language and identities of evangelical volunteer workers in contemporary Jerusalem. The volunteers are connected to Christian organizations which consider their work a natural consequence of the biblical promises to Israel and their responsibility to “bless the Jewish people”.
Relying on ethnographic data of the discursive practices of the volunteers, the book explores a central puzzle of Zionist Christianity: the narrative production of Israel’s religious significance and its relationship to broader Christian language traditions. By focusing on the volunteers’ stories about themselves, the land and the Bible, Aron Engberg offers a convincing account about how the State of Israel is finding its way into evangelical identities.
Abstract: In this work I analyse the ethnographic case study of the icon of Our Lady of the Wall as establishing a unique ritual landscape among the cement slabs of the Israeli-Palestinian Wall separating Jerusalem from Bethlehem. Although the Wall has been widely described as a technology of occupation on one side and as a device to ensure security on the other, through Latour’s concept of assemblages I unearth its agency in developing a Christian shrine. Through a decade of weekly recitations of the Rosary along the Wall near Checkpoint 300, the Elizabethan nuns of the Caritas Baby Hospital have been invoking Mary’s help to dismantle the Wall. This weekly ritual represents both political dissent against the bordering action enacted by the Wall, as well as giving visibility to the plea of the Palestinian Christian right to live in this territory in the face of their status as an ethnoreligious minority.
Excerpt: During the last 30 years, the Evangelical relationship with the State of Israel has drawn much academic and popular attention, particularly from historical, theological, and political perspectives. This dissertation engages with this literature but also complements it with an ethnographic account of the discursive practices of Evangelical Zionists through which, it is suggested, much of the religious significance of the contemporary state is being produced. The study is based on ethnographic fieldwork among Evangelical volunteer workers in Jerusalem, focusing on their stories about themselves, the land, and the biblical text.
Abstract: Many scholars have debated the potential results of pilgrimage, but few have tracked how pre-trip goals actually relate to post-trip outcomes. Based on research with US evangelicals, this article argues that, despite being confronted with the possibility of disrupted meaning, nearly every pilgrim comes to see the trip as a success. To understand why, I draw on studies that frame Christian rituals as processes that are partial and in flux. Firstly, I explore how gendered notions of relationality affect perceptions of efficacy and lead to multiple goal-setting. Secondly, I show how the journey is couched within broader epistemologies that define a Christian life as incremental improvements, where one ‘grows’ with God. Thus the meaning making associated with pilgrimage is never fully complete, but is compelled into a future where further interpretations and presumed successes are inchoate. Ultimately, the belief in future meaning is as important—perhaps more so—than immediate ritual success.
Publisher’s description: For many Evangelical Christians, a trip to the Holy Land is an integral part of practicing their faith. Arriving in groups, most of these pilgrims are guided by Jewish Israeli tour guides. For more than three decades, Jackie Feldman—born into an Orthodox Jewish family in New York, now an Israeli citizen, scholar, and licensed guide—has been leading tours, interpreting Biblical landscapes, and fielding questions about religion and current politics. In this book, he draws on pilgrimage and tourism studies, his own experiences, and interviews with other guides, Palestinian drivers and travel agents, and Christian pastors to examine the complex interactions through which guides and tourists “co-produce” the Bible Land. He uncovers the implicit politics of travel brochures and religious souvenirs. Feldman asks what it means when Jewish-Israeli guides get caught up in their own performances or participate in Christian rituals, and reflects on how his interactions with Christian tourists have changed his understanding of himself and his views of religion.
Abstract: For Ethiopian Jews and (formerly Jewish) Pentecostals in Israel, coffee (buna) is more than just a stimulant, a cultural symbol, or even a social lubricant. It is a material medium for disputes about the limitations of moral agency, the experience of kin relations that have been broken or restructured, and the eruption of dangerous—but also healing—potencies in the social world. Buna consumption has become a focal point for at least three different forms of moral compulsion (physical addiction; zar, or spirit, affliction; and kinship obligations) that are experienced as isomorphic with “culture” and from which freedom is sought. The decision to drink or to refrain from drinking buna has therefore emerged as a fulcrum of moral experience around which different Ethiopian groups in Israel negotiate the limits of “culture” and the quest for an elusive moral freedom.
Abstract: Papua New Guinean imaginings of Israel as a potential development partner draw on Christian renderings of the Bible, but they also reflect an understanding of Israel as a modern, technologically advanced nation. As middle-class Papua New Guineans reflect on the failures of national development since gaining independence from Australia, they express ambivalence about the appropriateness of Western models of development for the Papua New Guinean context. However, the influx of Asian investment is also seen as lacking, or even threatening; therefore, Asian models of development also fail to offer an appealing hope for the future. In this paper, I argue that these racialised understandings of modernity represent a ‘post-colonial racial triangle’, a discursive field within which the moral implications of development are understood and debated. Within this triangle, Melanesians are thought to have ‘culture’ and (Christian) ‘morality’ but lack ‘development’. Australians or ‘whitemen’ are thought to have ‘development’ and ‘morality’ but to lack ‘culture’. ‘Asians’ are thought to have ‘development’ and ‘culture’ but to lack (Christian) morality. Taking this moral framing of race into account, Israel emerges as a possible aid donor with the credentials to reconcile these three positions as it is seen to be the possessor of ‘development’, ‘culture’, and ‘morality’.
Abstract: The suggestion that the iTaukei (indigenous Fijians) are a lost tribe of Israel has gained currency among Methodists in the interior of Viti Levu, coexisting with a firm and widely held belief in the ancestors’ emergence from the mystical Nakauvadra hills. For the people of Nabobuco, the Hebrew Bible’s depiction of the relationship between Jehovah and the Israelites also contains powerful analogies with contemporary Christian experiences of collective sin and redemption. This paper discusses local genealogies and the use of the Old Testament to posit Nabobuco and Israel’s moral equivalence within the Kingdom of God.
Abstract: Amid a variety of ideas of Israelite genealogies for To’abaita speakers in North Malaita, Solomon Islands, ‘Holy Land’ features as a utopian fantasy of a just nation, not in Israel but grounded in the ancestral soil of the island. I analyse this mimetic gesture as part of attempts to reconcile kastom (custom) with Christianity and as evoking a sense of an essentialised group identity. In particular for followers of the All People’s Prayer Assembly (APPA), the idea of an essentialised group of To’abaita as a nation in the canonical ‘Table of Nations’ in Genesis 10 is quite prominent. This dialectic between ‘religion’ and ‘nation’ explains the ways in which people claim to have found authentic To’abaita foundations for a nation unifying distinct lineage groups, with a religious form at the centre, namely: Jerusalem. In this article I will show that APPA’s theology weakens the claim of the ‘secular’ state while strengthening the force of religious imagination and ideas about local sovereignty and a related notion of nation.
Abstract: Due to deep-seated political tensions and intermittent violence between various streams of the city’s three major religions, Jerusalem’s sacred landscape is in the midst of significant change. One of the most salient expressions of this phenomenon is the renaissance of female saint shrines, most notably the Tomb of Mary and the proximate Tomb of Rachel the Matriarch. At these sites, female symbols, imagery rituals, and materiality have become powerful tools for asserting political claims that pertain to land and belonging. I will take stock of this phenomenon through the lens of different ethno-religious groups in Israel/Palestine that are availing themselves of female symbols (such as fertility, suffering, and maternal care) to advance various objectives. I find that these symbols have charged valences within minority communities. For members of the country’s hegemonic denominations, Rachel is the Jewish people’s “eternal mother” as well as a national symbol of the “return of the exiles” to their homeland. At the same time, local Catholic and Orthodox Christians view Mary to be “the mother of minorities” who suffered on behalf of and continues to provide succor for the weak. As a minority, Christians in Israel/Palestine employ this image of the Virgin as part of their effort to struggle with their weakening grip over the territories. Viewing the Virgin as a protector of minority groups is a departure from the vast majority of the Christian world, where Mary constitutes a national symbol that reinforces social belonging. In sum, I show how, amid the ongoing religious struggle, both female icons and their respective sacred venues are mobilized by different groups for the sake of challenging the political order and reshaping the landscape.