Ezra Redefines ‘All Israel’ as Judah

Mary Douglas

in Jacob's Tears

Published in print November 2004 | ISBN: 9780199265237
Published online January 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780191602054 | DOI:
Ezra Redefines ‘All Israel’ as Judah

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The central argument of this chapter is that is that the priestly editors of Leviticus and Numbers (writing primarily for the guidance of fellow priests) were compiling the law of Moses to confound government opponents – specifically, the exclusionary and separatist policies of Ezra, who, supported by the returnees from exile, defined ‘All Israel’ as Judah. However, since their opinions were dangerous both for themselves and for the faithful, they wrapped their offerings in elegant literary conventions. They also had only a limited objective: they were not trying to cover all aspects of religious law, but to offer simple and direct teaching about confession and reconciliation, being obliged to omit sensitive matters such as marriage, or matters that did not relate specifically to the agenda concerned. In addition, they aimed to emasculate the concept of impurity as support for exclusionary policies. The different sections of the chapter address: the exclusionist debate; the tensions resulting from the homecoming of exiles; Ezra's myth of Israel, concept of foreigners, and use of the law of Moses as justification for his separatist claims; the variance of the laws of purity expounded in Leviticus and Numbers to those in other antique religions, where impurity has an important social function; the social context of marriage to ‘foreign’ wives by returning the exiles, and Ezra's edict forbidding such marriages; and the subversive position of the priestly editors and their consequent responses, including an insistence of protected status for the foreigner.

Keywords: exclusionism; Ezra; Ezra's myth of Israel; foreigners; impurity; intermarriage; law of Moses; Leviticus; marriage; Numbers; priestly editors; purity; reconciliation; return from exile; separatism

Chapter.  10675 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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