Vii

We may conclude with two sorts of observations. First, it is possible to draw up a grid that suggests that certain kinds of literature perform certain political functions for this community, with its acute self-consciousness as the people of YHWH mandated to live its public vision of faith in a world of real power.

The Torah (the five books from Genesis to Deuteronomy) provides the founda-tional account of faith in history, an account that is to be understood primarily as paradigm and not as "history" (Voegelin 1956; Neusner 1997). This paradigmatic account pivots on the Sinai tradition as the alternative public vision embraced by Israel (Crusemann 1996: 57). This account accents the distinctiveness of Israel as a theological community grounded in the defining reality of the holy God who is creator of heaven and earth and lord of all the nations. Thus Israel's political vision and self-consciousness are rooted in a theological passion that in the first instant does not make great accommodations to political reality, paradigmatic as the account is.

The prophetic literature - including the "Former Prophets" (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) - maintains the life and speech of Israel as it seeks to enact its paradigmatic vision in the real world of "haves" and "have-nots," of imperial pressure and centralized authority. The preferred way of acting and telling in this rendering is confrontational; it is to be noticed, however, that this account of faith enacted in the real world of political economy is not romantic. It recognizes the inevitably mixed reality of public power on the ground, such that the culminating event of the entire process of Israel's testimony in the Old Testament is the destruction of Jerusalem and the seeming forfeiture of life with YHWH in the world. Thus the paradigm of Torah has a hard way in the "real world," where the paradigm of absolutism is uncritically taken as "reality." The

Book of Job is the quintessential expression of the "hard way" of this faith in the world (Gutiérrez 1987).

Second, in this traditioning process Israel of course knows full well about this dissonance between faith affirmed and life in the world (Carroll 1979). It is for this reason that we must recognize that politics in ancient Israel is essentially a rhetorical, interpretive process, deeply passionate and open-ended, which, by preference, seeks to legitimate an alternative way in the world in the face of the absolutizing rhetoric of Pharaoh (see Ezek. 28: 3). It is by its rhetoric that Israel keeps the invisible, often silent, YHWH at the center of its political imagination. It is by its rhetoric that Israel insists upon some political realities - the holiness of God and the significance of the neighbor - that have little credence in the imagination of the world. It is by rhetoric that Israel manages to keep the processes of power open when all of "the silencers," in an imagined absolutism, want to stop these poets and storytellers who claim to be uttering a word beyond their own word (Brueggemann 2001: 22-33). Rhetoric of this peculiar kind creates an alternative world of justice, mercy, peace, hope, and fidelity, all so unwelcome in every totalizing project. This "other world" is not privatized, it is not "spiritualized," and it is not magical.

In the end, moreover, these strange constitutive words are not about another world, even if we speak of an "alternative" world. They are rather about this same, already known world - uttered anew. In its daring utterances that reconstitute the world, Israel hopes and waits, obeys and dissents, always defiantly at the edge of the fiery furnaces of totalism, confident, and even when not confident, nonetheless defiant:

O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up. (Dan. 3: 16-18)

Israel knows that Nebuchadnezzar (the latter-day counterpart to Pharaoh), in whatever guise, is penultimate.

As the contemporary church ponders and is led by these texts, its own vocation in the world becomes more clear and more radical. These texts empower the church to imagine an alternative political economy of covenant, to practice that alternative in its own life, and to testify to that alternative in the life of the world. Such a church that imagines, practices, and testifies alternatively may be a saving contradiction to the claims so powerful in the world.

References

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