All this is not to say that maps are inherently destructive or
malevolent. But it is to suggest that maps are more than just neutral tools; they
carry worldviews attached to them, and as such, they have import as to how we view and
treat spaces. What, then, might a biblical understanding of the land have to say, even by
analogy, to the practice of mapping postcolonial spaces and places?
Walter Brueggemann in his important 1977 socio-critical study, The Land,
looked at how place is central to the biblical faith of Israel, and by extension, to the
Christian Church. Brueggemann uses the terms "space" and "place"
in a similar but not entirely synonymous way to how I have used them above. Space, for
Brueggemann is not only an undesignated geographical locale, it is also "an arena of
freedom, without coercion or accountability, free of pressures and void of authority,
" while place "has historical meanings [. . .] which provide continuity and
identity across generations." In the Jewish experience, the promised land is always
the receptacle of shalom:
The land for which Israel yearns and which it remembers is never
unclaimed space but is always a place with Yahweh, a place well filled with
memories of life with him and promise from him and vows to him. It is land that provides
the central assurance to Israel of its historicality, that it will be and always must be
concerned with actual rootage in a place which is a repository for commitment and
therefore identity. (5-6)
The land becomes the physical, social, and symbolic conduit for
identity, responsibility, and blessing. The Old Testament, in one sense, may be understood
as Israel's memory of both her states of landlessness and landedness. Israel's experience
of landlessness includes:
- The Abrahamic sojourn (Gen 12, 15), a time when God's people learn
faith by stepping out into landlessness on the promise of a new land. Sojourning has a
direction to it; one is on the way to somewhere.
- The Wilderness wanderings (Ex 16-18), a period when Israel must learn
that not just any land will do (Egypt), that God is their true source and provider of
- The Exile (II Kings 24:14-15, Ps 137, Lamentations), a time of
judgment, a time of separation from the place they love that they might be eventually
restored and renewed (Jer 24).
Likewise, Israel's landedness may be seen in three periods:
- The Conquest and Period of the Judges, where Israel receives the gift
of the bountiful land by God's power and where the people experience the temptation the
land also offers--that of the illusion of self-sufficiency.
- The Monarchy, where Israel experiences a fuller measure of the
blessing, but also the corruption of monarchial control and land grabbing, as well as
eventual division and rupture (I Kings 12, 21, Amos 4:1-3, 6:1-6).
- The Second Temple community (Neh 9, Ezra 9), where Israel renews the
covenant of land and city, yet also struggles with how to be a separate people before God.
The New Testament Christian church has a kind of continuity with
Israel's memory, for in one sense, the church is an entity engrafted into Israel (Rom
11:11-24, Eph 2:11-13), while in another sense the church is Israel, the people
of God (Gal 6:14-16, Eph 2:14-22). The church, like Israel, experiences both sojourn (Heb
13:11-13) and the hope of a land (Heb 12:14-24, Rev 21), and the larger New Testament
vision is one that expands the landedness of Israel to the whole creation (Rom 8:18-25,
Eph 1:18-23). Of course, this is not to say that the Old Testament ignores God's rule of
all creation (Gen 1-2, Ps 96, Is 40:21-32). Nonetheless, there is a renewed sense with
Jesus that the expectation of shalom is now a global one (Col 1:15-20, II Pet 3, Rev 21).
God will judge, then condemn or restore all things.
As we can see, the experience of Israel was both a land-bound and a
land-free one, always embodied and local, yet also faith enacting and God-dependent.
Israel's memory "maps," if you will, the geographic space they reside in
or wish to come/return to. This experience reminds us that a space becomes a place for
good and for evil reasons. As we have been suggesting this semester, the creational
principle of interdependence, the diversity and hybridity of church, scripture, and faith,
and the biblical models of personhood and shalom all remind us that local embodiments of a
people are both changing over time and also very valuable. (Each in a sense always
continues to exist before the perception of God.) Mapping may be used for good if its telos
is shalom and carries with it the ends of responsible stewardship and respect for human
rights as an expression of the imago dei. Yet mapping may also result in
violations of shalom, denials of human dignity, and worldviews that offer corrupt notions
I don't believe we can extend the particular experience of
landlessness of Israel to other similar experiences of postcolonial peoples, yet we can
offer as Christians to all peoples the resulting hope for a blessed land, faith as
dependence upon God's provision, and love of the good gifts of God. In that sense,
Israel's struggle with living in the land is the struggle of every ethnoi in
learning to practice justice and acknowledge its rightful standing before the Creator.
Likewise, to borrow Volf's terminology again, the catholic and evangelical personalities
of Christians should call them to hold two maps in their lives--a local map and a
universal one. As Christians of every people participate in the life of that people,
they are to stand with yet apart, receiving the other, yet calling the locale to
repentance. What would, I wonder, a shalom map of a place pay attention to?
Brueggemann, Walter. The Land: Place as Gift, Promise,
and Challenge in Biblical Faith. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977.