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Roland Boer
United Theological College, 16 Masons Drive,
North Parramatta, NSW 2151, Australia

The existence of two discourses with much in common yet no point of

intersectionlike parallel linesis a fortunate situation for anyone
interested in the twin disciplines of literary and biblical studies. I refer
in particular to the discourse on political allegorythe suggestion that
allegorical material has a political focusin the Hebrew Bible and to
the debate on national allegory in literary and cultural criticism. By
'national allegory' I mean a genre in which characters play out complex relationships that interpret and highlight what are felt to be the
significant features of the national situation in past and present and project possibilities for the future; thus, national allegory connects public
and private, society and individual, where public and society are constituted by a 'nation'.
I would like to approach my topic from two different trajectories.
From the biblical side I begin with the work of Joel Rosenberg, who
has introduced the phrase 'political allegory' into the study of the
Hebrew Bible. Subsequently the work of Regina Schwartz and Mieke
Bal has pushed this issue further. From another direction comes the
debate between Fredric Jameson, Aijaz Ahmad and Michael Sprinker
on the possibility, nature and configuration of national allegory in contemporary, particularly 'third world', literature. Such a situation
two similar discussions in different but related disciplineslends itself
to a dialectical play in which the two may intersect. Thus, the work of
the biblical critics needs to be enhanced and strengthened by that of
Jameson and company, yet the biblical material places certain demands
of its own on the whole idea of national allegory, not least of which is


Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 74 (1997)

the problem of applying a category used for contemporary literature

to that of the Hebrew Bible.
Political Allegory
In a rather wide-ranging discussion Joel Rosenberg (1986) has made
the useful dual proposal that allegory is an element of the Hebrew
Bible and that its nature is very often, if not predominantly, political.
Allegory is understood by Rosenbergdespite the presentation of a
range of theories of allegoryin its most basic sense as a narrative
that plays in some way on the intersection between personal and suprapersonal domains. In other words, the personal or individual element
refers in various ways to that which is beyond itself, often touching on
the realms of cosmic and mythic history. By 'political' Rosenberg
refers to that which pertains to the state, specifically the Israelite state.
In his account Rosenberg provides an apologetic for the return of
allegory in critical discussion by means of a narrative of the progress of
allegory, a narrative that begins with Philo, runs through Maimonides
and allegory's decline in the eighteenth century, and closes with its
return in twentieth-century modernism. In this account there are some
interesting moves, most of which hinge, I would suggest, on the desire
to remove the infamy and sheer illegitimacy that still hang heavily
around the idea and practice of allegory. Two of the moves in this quest
are crucial: Rosenberg removes all the negative dimensions from
'allegory' and assigns them to what he calls 'allegoresis'; he then seeks
to associate, indeed identify, allegory with parable or mashal, both
terms commanding much greater respect in contemporary literary
(particularly biblical) criticism than does allegory.1 The distinction
between allegory and allegoresis attracts to itself another opposition
now quite troubled in itselfbetween text and interpretation, the
allegorical text being more legitimate than the allegorizing criticism
(allegoresis) that seeks to allegorize a not necessarily allegorical text
(e.g. with Homer's texts or the fourfold exegesis of Jewish and
Christian biblical scholars). Into the allegory-allegoresis opposition
1. Although obvious, it is worth pointing out that this argument is circular: a
definition of allegory is established on the basis of a selective use of the material, a
definition that is then used to decide which of the available data counts as allegory
and which is unwelcome or undesirable. That which is included is then used to refine
the definition.

BOER National Allegory in the Hebrew Bible


are drawn a number of others, besides text and interpretation: vertical

and horizontal; semiotics and deconstruction; canny and uncanny;
hieratic priesthood and ecstatic prophecy.
According to Rosenberg, an allegorical narrative is characterized
by allusiveness, referring or alluding in an indirect manner to frames
of reference on the borders of the text. It is, then, a narrative that
inverts or destabilizes the illusion of temporal continuity and succession that the allegorical narrative establishes. This is achieved by means
of clues that suggest that something else is going on with the text, that
a larger realm lies just beyond reach; while often minimal clues, they
first generate doubt and then flip the whole narrative over into another
frame of reference: 'One can see that this process involves a crossing
of semantic frames, a juxtaposition of literary or cultural codes, a
revisionary upheaval of the meaning of words used earlier in the text'
(Rosenberg 1986: 18).
In a different terminologythat of semioticsallegory for
Rosenberg may be understood as 'a process of signification' (1986:
12). In this sense the less desirable types of allegory (allegoresis) are
those that work with a direct correspondence (to echo Kant) between
allegorical signifier and signified. The more dynamic type of allegory
is one where the relationship is not so direct, the signifier having a
range of possible signifieds and the signified itself generating and connecting with a host of signifiers. Biblical scholars dislike allegory
because they have confused it with allegoresis: 'The allegorical correspondences are generally understood [by biblical scholars] as a one-forone homologyrather than as a dynamic system of syllogistic and
dialectical transformation, in which words andfigureschange meaning
across time' (Rosenberg 1986: 21). There is, however, a further step:
allegory draws attention not so much to the signified as to the signifier,
having therefore an auto-referential function in pointing not to external
referents or signifieds but to the process of signification itself.
But modern biblical scholars have come to expect texts to refer to
their own meaning production, and so for this study the more interesting and ultimately useful material is found at the points where
Rosenberg makes the connection between politics and allegory. One of
the assumptions in such a connection, drawn from the biblical text, is
that the makers of biblical literature 'were deeply preoccupied with
the nature of Israel's political community and were interested in the
premises of political existence, addressing themselves to readers who


Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 74 (1997)

thought about such things as leadership, authority, social cohesiveness,

political order, rebellion, crime, justice, institutional evolution, and
the relation of rich and poor' (Rosenberg, 1986: x). Because the individual was connected to the state through household and tribe, biblical
allegory resists the split into individual and collective/political, using
'the conflicts of the household, the tribe, and the intertribal order as a
means of anatomizing the strengths and weaknesses of state and
empire' (1986: 21). It is here that the more explicitly political considerations return to Rosenberg's basic definition of allegory as that
which mediates between the individual and that which lies beyond. If
we acquiesce in Rosenberg's argumentand I propose to do so in part
herethen it is possible to conclude, provisionally at least, that
allegory, particularly its political variety, has a legitimate presence in
biblical studies and in the biblical text.
2. National Allegory
Fredric Jameson is the originator of the idea that 'national allegory'
may be identified as a device in contemporary literature. For Jameson
national allegory is concerned with the nexus between the individual
and the national situation: the individual story functions, in different
and sometimes contradictory ways, as the source of a range of allegories of the nation in question. Jameson's theory is developed within the
context of capitalism, which is of course the context of modern
biblical scholarship but not of the biblical texts in their production and
earlier reception. I will return to this issue later.
The possibility of national allegory begins with the notion that
national problems are resolvable while international ones are not, a
conception that explains the lack of vitality of the literature of a first
world much more closely enmeshed in a global capitalist system
(Jameson 1990: 129-30; see also 1987a: 49-50; 1968: 24-25). Due to a
general postmodern breakdown in national boundaries and the process
of cultural and economic homogenization, there is a concomitant
diminishing of raw materials for national allegory. Jameson therefore
searches for national allegory in third-world literature and culture
(Jameson 1986; 1992: 114-57) and, to a lesser extent, in second-world
texts (Jameson 1994: 73-128). In these areas it is felt that some viability still attaches to the nation. Indeed, as the surprised traveller and
intellectual from the superstate to the margins, Jameson finds his own

BOER National Allegory in the Hebrew Bible


blindness overcome through 'their preoccupation with the national

character and the national situation, the permanent and allegorical vocation of their intellectuals to denounce the national miseries' (Jameson
1993: xx).
In contrast to the historical forces that distinguish the first world
the transition from feudalism to capitalism and now late capitalism, as
in the West and Japanthe clash between capitalist imperialism and
other social formations (tribal society in Africa, the bureaucratic
imperial systems of the Asiatic mode of production in China and India,
and a now collapsed socialism in Eastern Europe) is for Jameson a
more promising matrix for the production of national allegory, since
it represents the struggle of different social systems with capitalism.
National allegory is, however, fundamentally dialectical: it attempts to
deal with the questions that emerge concerning individual and national
existence in the face of a much larger imperial or colonial force. The
question of national survival becomes problematic only when such
belligerent forces make their presence felt.
One would expect then that national allegory is more prone to
appear in situations of conflict and tension between imperial states and
subject peoples. For example, Jameson locates national allegory in
Wyndham Lewis's Tarr (1979: 87-95)2 at a timewhich he will later
describe as the middle phase of capitalismin the West when similar
contradictions between national and international set the aesthetic
agenda. The advent of late capitalism and postmodernism closes down
the enabling conditions for such a literary solution to the contradictions; but new avenues open up in postmodernism, whose constitutive features include the increasing international presence of thirdworld material. It is these materials from areas such as Africa, China
and India that are of particular interest since they provide the texts that
in turn suggest the possibility of national allegory in the biblical text.
Thus, for instance, from China there are the stories of Lu Xun (the
leading cultural figure of China's revolution; see Jameson 1986: 6977), especially 'The True Story of Ah Q' and 'Diary of a Madman'. In
2. The idea of national allegory is first elaborated in Fables of Aggression
(1979). It works here but not in the sense elaborated in the later pieces. Wyndham
Lewis's Tarr is more of a pan-European allegory than a national allegory, and, more
importantly, the allegorical structure functions as a 'libidinal apparatus' which is
filled with the different charge of the fragmented psyche: rather than connecting the
realms of politics and the individual, the allegorical structure breaks them apart.


Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 74 (1997)

the latter story the 'alimentary transgression' of concealed cannibalism

suspected by the mad person is not so much psychological as a 'figure'
or symptom of profound social trauma. In the former story, China is
depicted not only in the ill-fated life of the village derelict or coolie,
Ah Q, who feels superior through his self-belittlement, but also through
those who torment, beat and eventually execute him. Yet Lu Xun
himself, as rebel intellectual in the first half of the twentieth century,
may be seen as the embodiment of the revolutionary forces that eventually brought into effect the new China he was never to enjoy. But
China is also those who hunt him: here the complexities and discontinuitiesthe 'floating or transferable structure of allegorical reference'
(Jameson 1986:78)so characteristic of national allegory (and allegory
as Rosenberg has described it) make their presence known.3
Jameson's proposal has not, however, been accepted without question. The focus of debate has been his essay, 'Third World Literature
in the Era of Multinational Capitalism' (Jameson 1986), which itself
has reignited an old debate within Marxism concerning 'the national
question', over which Rosa Luxemburg, Otto Bauer, Karl Kautsky,
Stalin and Lenin argued (see Sprinker 1993). Some have endorsed
national allegory as a tool of analysis for third-world texts (e.g.
Zhang 1990 on the Chinese film, Red Sorghum).4 But a spirited debate
has begun with the response of Aijaz Ahmad (Ahmad 1987; 1992: 95122) attacking the designation 'third world' as lacking the appropriate
rigor, questioning the idea of national allegory insofar as that concept
is based on the binary opposition between the so-called first and third
worlds, and pointing out that representative 'third-world' texts present
a skewed picture of non-metropolitan literature. Ahmad effectively
3. Other examples of national allegory include: Ousmane Sembne's Xala
(Jameson 1986); Hubert Aquin's novels in Qubec (1983); Andr Platonov's national
allegory of the new Soviet Union in Chevengur (1994: 73-128); and the Taiwanese
film Terrorizer (1992: 114-57).
4. A more curious situation pertains to Santiago Colas's study (1994) of postmodernity and Latin America. Theoutcome of a PhD completed partly under Jameson's
supervision, Colas raises some useful questions about Jameson's use of the third
world yet does not discuss national allegory. At the same time his reading of key
Argentine texts in conjunction with Argentine history has all the marks of a sophisticated national allegorical reading. Krupat (1989:212-17), on the other hand, responds
to Jameson by arguing that a national literature' comprises local, indigenous and
dominant literatures within itself and is part of an international/world/cosmopolitan

BOER National Allegory in the Hebrew Bible


focused subsequent debate on the third/first world opposition and on

the role of nationalism in such a context. Thus other participants and
commentators continue in the same path: Sprinker notes the way
Jameson makes use of the idea of a 'political unconscious' by attributing national allegory to the unconscious of first-world texts but to
the conscious realm of third-world texts (Sprinker 1993: 5-6; see
further Schwartz 1989 and Prasad 1992).5
In my opinion it is necessary to make a distinction between national
allegory and nationalism (Jameson 1987b: 27; see 1979: 94) so as to
loosen the connection between national allegory and the emergence of
nation-states (this is in contrast to the close connection between
nationalism and the nation-state). Rosenberg's characterization of political allegory as that which mediates between individual and state
through household and clan provides an alternative situation for
national allegory to function. However, it is important to focus on the
question of contradiction and conflict, for the vitality of national
allegory in our time is due in part to the deadly struggle between third
and second world nations and the rampant multi-nationalism of the
first world: 'the story of the private individual destiny is always an
allegory of the embattled situation of the public third-world culture
and society' (Jameson 1986: 69). Now, there would seem to be a comparable situation, although on a smaller scale, with much of the Hebrew
Bible, where a large number of smaller political and social units
such as Israel and the small surrounding statescome under the sway
of vast empires, among whom Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia and Persia
may be numbered. Without pursuing the necessary detail, it is worth
bearing in mind the question of modes of production, for the strong
differences between these (from the Asiatic to capitalism) have a
distinct effect on the way something like national allegory may be
understood or even transferred between them. National allegory may
thus be found not only in third-world literature, but also in biblical
literature, although it might be best to revert to Rosenberg's terminology of political rather than national allegory.

5. In an earlier intervention on the debate Sprinker is more judicious, attempting

to mediate between Jameson's drive to totalization and Ahmad's particularism
(Sprinker 1989).


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3. Allegorical Texts
In assessing some biblical texts as national/political allegory, I would
like to move from an obvious case of political allegory to one that is
not so obvious, with the help of Mieke Bal, Regina Schwartz and David
Jobling. My argument will be that the political allegorical impulse is
basically the same in the more obvious 2 Samuel 12 as in the less
obvious 1 Kings 13.
My first exhibit of political allegory, Nathan's allegory delivered to
David regarding Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12.1-12), 'is a key text for understanding the nature of allegory in the Bible, for it allows us to see one
character allegorizing for another' (Rosenberg 1986: 43). In other
words, the story of the rich man who takes the only ewe of a poor man
to feed a guest is situated within a framework that makes its allegorical
function explicit. Following the story (12.1-4), itself close on the heels
of Yahweh's displeasure, there is both the king's explosive response to
the story (12.5-6) and then the prophet's application of the story to the
king ('You are the man', and so on [12.7-12]).6 Rosenberg's point here
is that this framework, or 'transfer/detransference mechanism', is more
often absent from biblical allegories/parables, although its existence in
2 Sam. 12.1-12 projects the possibility of its presence elsewhere.
Rosenberg's contribution is to toy with the relation between king and
reader who are thus both addressed with 'you are the man' (neglecting
for a moment the gender affiliations assumed by such a relationship).
On the other hand, the reader may refuse the allegorical trap ('Yes,
he's the one, all right!'). If I may rephrase this, then it will be possible
to extend the point: in giving out its own instructions as to how to
read, the text allows certain possibilities while closing off others. In one
sense I too wish to follow the text's guidelines for interpretation
'this is how to read for allegories'but I also want to move into the
zones forbidden by Nathan's interpretive act. A place to begin would
be in the difficulties created by Nathan's explicit allegorical reading:
why, for instance, does it need to be stated so clearly? Further, the
schema of allegorical reference does not seem to measure up: there is
6. Rosenberg omits the further response of David*I have sinned against the
Lord' (12.13)and the subsequent mitigation of punishment in which the child, not
David, will die (12.13-14), although this has the further problem that David's death
is not explicitly mentioned in Nathan's application (12.7-12).

BOER National Allegory in the Hebrew Bible


a transferrai of death from Uriah to the lamb (who, it seems, is meant

to signify Bathsheba) and thus of life from Bathsheba to the poor man
in the story (although such a representational mismatch may well turn
out to be a feature of allegories in the Hebrew Bible). And then there
is the comparison of Bathsheba to an animal in the possession of a
human male.
However, I would like to return to the question of frameworks and
focus more closely on why this story might be described as political
allegory. Some process seems to be required in order to make the
connection from parable to king/woman to politics (there are then at
least three layers in this process). How this takes place does not seem
to require great mental effort, but why it should be necessary in the
first place raises the question of a suspension or temporary repression
of the political in the story. In fact, such a suppression is released only
after the story is closed, which means that the story itself is not overtly
political. I would tentatively suggest that the repression of the political
in political allegory is a signal feature of political allegory itself.
A much stronger way of reading for allegories comes out of the
work of Regina Schwartz and Mieke Bal (I owe the initial conjunction
of these two to David Jobling [1991: 247-50; 1993: 28-29]). Opting
for a disjunctive, rather than synthetic reading, Regina Schwartz (1991)
focuses on the breaks, tears and ruptures of the text, specifically
through the bodies of women. Schwartz constricts her analysis to the
interaction between David and three of the wives who were previously
married to anotherAbigail, Michal and Bathsheba. Not only do the
former husbands sufferNabal drops dead, Paltiel grieves, and Uriah's
death is arrangedbut there are consequent alterations in political
power. The seizures of Abigail and Michal signal David's inexorable
progression on his way to absolute power, while the episode with
Bathsheba and the closely tied sequel between Amnon and Tamar raise
questions about monarchy as such.
However, what is most interesting from my perspective here is the
way Schwartz sees the political transitionsfiguredin the sexual transitions: the move of a woman from one man to another signals the move
of political power to that other (which happens in each case to be
David). Jobling points out that this makes use of Lvi-Strauss's theory
of exchange systems in which political power is determined by sexual
power over women, in particular their reproductive capability (thus
the chief in many tribes has more than one wife, even to the extent of


Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 74 (1997)

causing a gender imbalance in the rest of the tribe); the corollary of

this is that sexual rights over women in a narrative may give expression to or provide a figure for political power. All of this provides
what might be termed a libidinal dimension to national or political
allegory, for the women in Schwartz's analysis, rather than the men
who seem to be at the centre of the action, may be understood as
allegorical markers for the state of Israel: in their bodies is the story
of Israel inscribed. Not only do the exchanges of women between men
signal the exchanges of political power, but the violation of women's
bodiesespecially Bathsheba and Tamarprefigures the violation and
rupture of the body of Israel. It is not for nothing that the story of the
decline of David's monarchy should begin with the abduction of
Bathsheba, particularly when there is no longer any need for the
acquiring of political power by David.
If we follow Jobling's lead a step further, then a connection needs to
be made with the work of Mieke Bal on Judges, in particular Death
and Dissymmetry. There are a number of things happening in this
bookmethodological piracy, narratology, feminism, a challenge to
male interests of biblical studies as a wholeyet what interests me
most is her notion of figuration: the idea that certain elements in texts
preferably the marginal and neglected onesprovide complex connections with a reality out of which they arise and in which they are
active players. Bal is concerned to emphasize the very obliqueness of
the relation between the text and reality, being neither direct nor nonexistent.7 But figuration seems to have another, less articulate, task in
Bal's work, which is to provide the necessary resources for developing
a 'countercoherence', an alternative coherence to the strong and overt
political coherence that is assumed in the interaction between contemporary reader and the text, an interaction that signals its own political
dimensions. Yet this second function of figuration connects with the
first in that the countercoherence will turn out to be a reality that is
also figured by the text and that Bal still hopes to identify.
In the case of Judges the countercoherence Bal is after is marked in
7. * Rather than seeing the text as a transparent, immaterial medium, a window
through which we can get a glimpse of reality, I see it as afigurationof the reality
that brought it forth and to which it responded. And rather than seeing the text as
literary in the esthetic sense, as a fiction that has no connection to reality, I will try to
show how the literary and linguistic choices made in the text represent a reality that
they both hide and display' (Bal 1988: 3).

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the material through 'gender-bound' violence, that is to say, the violence perpetrated against (unnamed) women in the context of marriage.
The argument is that such violence is a figure for a social revolution
in the realm of male-female relations, sexuality, procreation and
kinship (thus filling out Schwartz's Foucauldian focus on power). In
emphasizing a social-domestic revolution, over against the political
chaos and transition into statehood and kingship represented in Judges,
Bal is making a first move from the political to the social/domestic,
although the two overlap in numerous ways.
Bal makes a shift in the way marriage and kinship arrangements
have been understood: more conventional anthropology has generated
its terms from the perspective of the child, speaking thus of matrilocal
and patrilocal marriage systems depending on whether children grew
up in their mother's family home or in their father's family home. Bal
wishes to change the focus from children to women: matrilocal now
becomes patrilocal since the woman stays in her father's home and her
husband joins her; patrilocal becomes virilocal (Latin: v/r, man) since
in this system the woman leaves her father's house and goes to the
home of her husband. The shift in terminology also removes the false
impression that in one system (matrilocal) the women had the upper
hand in controlling lineage: rather, the woman is always under control
of a male, whether father or husband. Further, in a patrilocal system
(Bal argues) the women had relatively greater options, since in such a
situation the husband was under her father's jurisdiction and it was
possible to play off husband and father. Bal's argument regarding the
book of Judges is then that the violence against women acts as a figure
for the transition from a patrilocal to a virilocal system: the chaos of
this process shows its face in the conflicts over possession of the women.
This is the countercoherent narrative that connects firmly with reality
at the same time and allows us to make sense of the literary response
of Judges to this situation. (There remains for me a nagging question:
Bal still assumes that the material in Judges deals with the social transformations taking place in the same time period that Judges ostensibly
sets out to recount. In other words, while reading for a countercoherence, Bal's analysis still falls into a larger coherent narrative,
namely that Judges predates the kingship of Israel and sets up the
conditions for it.)
Apart from this reservation, it seems to me that this is a move beyond
Regina Schwartz, since it allows us to see the violence against and


Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 74 (1997)

possession of women not only as a signifier of David's increasing and

declining power but also as afigurefor a more profound social revolution as such. I do, however, want to follow Jobling further still and
argue that this social transition sets up the necessary social conditions
for a monarchy in Israel: the king must be able to bring his wives to
his home, rather than going to live in the house of his wife's father
(which also restricts the possibility of developing a harem). Yet even
this point is not quite enough, for the move to kingship entails not only
a change in marriage/kinship arrangements or the construction of a
political unit such as Judah/Israel, but more importantly entails a basic
shift in the mode of production (thus far I have been speaking of the
relations of production, or social relations). Via the change in marriage/
kinship arrangements the violence against the women of Judges may
be understood to act as a marker of the transition in mode of production from one of neolithic agriculture (with its social unit of the
gens or hierarchical kinship structures) to the Asiatic mode of production (Oriental despotism' or Gottwald's tributary mode of production).8
In the light of this suggestion the nature of political/national allegory
gains some significant interpretive power, since the unnamed women
of Bal's study of Judges may be described as political allegorical
figures for the social revolution from patrilocal to virilocal marriage,
for the political transition to monarchy, and for the socio-economic
change in modes of production.
4. Divided Allegories
My final and major textual example (1 Kings 13) comes from the midst
of the story of the breakup of the kingdom of Israel after Solomon.9 It
also signals a turn from the critical allegorical function of women in
Judges and Samuel to that of the men in the division, although I want
to pick up not the major players in that narrative but some unnamed
8. This terminology is deliberately more rigorous than Gottwald's
'communitarian' (which seems to collapse primitive communism or tribal society into
neolithic agriculture) and 'tributaran' modes of production, since Gottwald's terminology makes for a certain looseness of analysis.
9. See my Jameson and Jeroboam, especially chapter 2.1 am not interested here
in battles over the dating, provenance and contours of a postulated pre-Deuteronomistic
form of 1 Kgs 13 (for this see Eynikel 1990; Lemke 1976: 301-304; Dozeman 1982;
Gross 1979: 100-107; Wrthwein 1973). For another reading see Simon 1976.

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and parochial religiousfigures:a man of God and an old prophet.

1 Kings 13 comes as the breakup of the kingdom is complete; yet the
text contains little that suggests a major political crisis. The chapter is
framed by more overt political references, although these are more
properly religious by nature (13.1-2, 33-34), yet the bulk of the chapter
has no such political reference (a feature of political allegory I
suggested earlier). The initial indicator that something like a political
allegory10 is indeed happening relies upon the immediately preceding
1 Kings 12, where an opposition is set up between Rehoboam, the new
king of Judah in the south, and Jeroboam, king of the newly seceded
Israel in the north. In 1 Kings 13 there is a slippage in which the
conflict between Jeroboam and Rehoboam is replaced by that between
Jeroboam and the man of God from Judah (vv. 1-10); and then a
further slippage replaces Jeroboam with the old prophet from Bethel
(vv. 11-13), giving us the opposition: man of God/Rehoboam/Judah
versus old prophet/Jeroboam/Israel.11
The first episode (13.1-10) presents a systematic degrading and
rejection of Jeroboam through a series of violent oppositions between
him and God/man of God. After a series of orders that backfire
Jeroboam is reduced to begging for assistance for his withered hand.
10. The chapter has variously been designated a 'parable' (Rof 1988: 173; Van
Winkle 1989), 'legend' (Dozeman 1982; Eynikel 1990: 227-28; Plein 1966: 17),
'midrash' or 'ancient tale* (Wellhausen 1963: 277; Kittel 1900: 112; Lemke 1976:
303-304; Robinson 1972: 161), and 'prophetic authorization narrative' (DeVries
1985: 169).
11. There are some further connections with the old men whose advice Rehoboam
refuses in 1 Kgs 12 and the young men whose advice he follows. Also, Shemaiah is
the 'man of God' (12.22) who deals with Judah, while Ahijan is the 'prophet' ( 11.29)
who deals with Jeroboam.



old men


young men





old prophet

< ^-

man of God




Karl Barth (1946/1957) makes a related though distinct series of theological

connections: the dialectical interplay between old prophet and man of God, Israel and
Judah, Jeroboam and (strangely) Josiah, grace and sin, election and rejection means
that 1 Kgs 13 is an example of the unterscheidende Whlen (differentiating election)
of God.


Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 1A (1997)

This request is granted but it is the other request that is of greater

interest. In inviting the man of God for a meal, Jeroboam uncovers, as
it were, one of the most neglected elements in analyses of 1 Kings 13;
namely the prohibition against eating, drinking and travel on the same
road.12 But what seems to be peripheral or marginalat least to interpreters if not in the story itselfis the sort of thing that provides precious and crucial hints, since these odd items suggest that other things
are happening in these texts, usually conflicting with the more obvious
narrative action.13 It is precisely this prohibition against eating,
drinking and travellingan ideological unit or 'ideologeme' relying
on and informing the psychological, social, political, economic and
spatial dimensions of hospitalitythat provides the means of identifying the workings of political allegory in this text. It does so through
a series of repetitions (11 in various forms) whose cumulative effect is
to undermine the overt favouring of Judah by means of a slow separation of the unity between the man of God and Yahweh (indicated also
by a shift from miraculous to mundane and from violent to verbal
conflict) and the subsequent condemnation of the former, providing
thereby a much-desired legitimation of the north.
I have detailed elsewhere (Boer 1996) the nature of the prohibition,
its arrangement into threefold clusters (13.7-9, 15-17, 22-23), its
variationsinvitation, refusal, prohibition, transgression, (false) divine
command, temporal clauseand its sourcesJeroboam, man of God,
old prophet, God (by relay) and even the narrator. What interests me
here is not only the rich area of repression and refusal for which
Freudian thought is perhaps the most useful, but also the question of
legitimation and its crises: in the first verses of ch. 13 any legitimacy
claimed by the north is sledge-hammered out of existence, and the
prohibition would seem to set the seal of divine rejection. The funda12. Of all the commentators only DeVries (1985: 171-74), Nelson (1987: 84),
Reis (1994) and Rof (1988: 170-82) have identified the prohibition as crucial. For
DeVries its function is to test the authenticity and radical obedience of the man of
God, his punishment serving to authenticate the message he delivered as divinely
inspired; for Nelson it is subservient to the central theme of the condemnation of
Bethel; for Reis it is part of the bargaining procedure whereby the man of God
attempts to disobey God and stay in Israel; and for Rof it is part of the evidence for
understanding the man of God as a (human) angel of the Lord.
13. This overt narrative is often interpreted as prophetic conflict or the question of
prophetic legitimacy or truth (Dozeman 1982; Van Winkle 1989; but see Deboys

BOER National Allegory in the Hebrew Bible


mentally social activities of eating, drinking and regular travel on the

same road between Jerusalem and Bethel, some 18 km (11 miles) apart,
would deny or provide the basic legitimation required. The man of
God's refusal to stay, on divine orders, enforces the denial, but also
sets the scene for the breaking of the prohibition and all that comes
with it. (Now, I would want to suggest that such a legitimation crisis
has less to do with Israel in the north than with the place of Judah in
the Babylonian and Persian empires, but more on that later.)14
Up until this point, however, the opposition has been between
Jeroboam and the man of God: it is only in the next episode, beginning
in v. 11, that the final allegorical opposition of man of God and an old
prophet (who replaces Jeroboam and succeeds where he failed, namely
in enticing the man of God into his home) takes place. Not only does
the continuity in narrative action between the old prophet and Jeroboam
override the strong narrative closure of v. 1, but the virtual repetition
of 13.7-9 in 13.15-1715 reinforces such an allegorical connection. It
would seem that the primary motivation of the old prophet was to
ensure that the man of God accepted the offer of hospitality by what
ever means possible: indeed, the seventh appearance of the return-eatdrink sequence (v. 18) comes in the form of a lie, whether by the old
prophet or by the messenger of Yahweh (the subject of is either
the same as that of ' or is the "JK^Q of the old prophet's reported
speech).16 The lie and rapid submission by the man of God are followed
by the announcement of punishment for the now transgressed prohi
bition,17 an announcement that comes in the form of a final triplet
14. The prohibition may also function as an allegorical counterpart to the
'covenant' with the kings, in particular the blessing/curse opposition in relation to
15. In both there are: invitation (old prophet); refusal (man of God); prohibition
(God). Apart from the offer of a gift, the sequence is parallel to the point of word for
word likeness: come with me, eat food (v. 15); cannot come to eat bread and drink
water 'in this place' (v. 16); for God forbade the eating of bread, drinking of water
and returning by the same road (v. 17).
16. This of course has repercussions for the status of the word of Yahweh in
Kings as such.
17. Culley (1992: 87-89) identifies 1 Kgs 13 as primarily a punishment sequence
set within a larger announcement sequence. It also contains two embedded sequences,
prohibition/transgressed and announcement/happened.
The imminent breach of the prohibition is foreshadowed by the use of verbs of
motion as well. Out of 40 verbs of motion in this chapter, 2 refer to Jeroboam's


Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 74 (1997)

turning on the prohibition (13.22-23). The triplet marks a resolution

of some sort, which I would suggest is the final breakage of identity
between the man of God and God and the end of the opposition between
the man of God and the prophet. This in turn leads to the gradual
identification of the second pair which culminates in the anticipated
burial of the northern prophet beside the bones of the man of God
(the final dimension of the ideological unit of hospitality).
To sum up: the allegorical function of the prohibition and its transgression is to provide Bethel, and thus northern Israel, with the legitimacy sought in the preceding ch. 12. The activities of eating, drinking
and travelling on the same road provide fundamental social and economic recognition of the north; a narrative line that runs somewhat at
tension with the other line, namely, the rejection of the north and
Jeroboam's own impending punishment and doom (a narrative line to
be picked up in the closing verses of this chapter). 1 Kings 13 may
then be described as an imaginary resolution to the contradictory
situation of a North and South in the people of Israel.
Now, as suggested earlier, one of the features of allegory is that the
allegorical references have a somewhat slippery or evasive quality,
continually being displaced into other referential schemes. So also here:
the initial intimation that something is amiss comes with the death of the
man of God from Judah; for a national or political allegory one would
expect the representative from Judah to outlive the other, since Judah
itself lasted well beyond Israel (although in the more immediate narrative context Jeroboam outlives Rehoboam). This referential slippage
echoes the life-death switch that I noted in Nathan's parable of
2 Samuel 12. The second indicator is the tying up of the destinies of
both protagonists, while the third comes from an entirely different
quarterthat of nature. For in this second episode (i.e. the one with
the old prophet and the man of God in 1 Kgs 13.11-32) there appear
2 donkeys (oneriddentwice by the old prophet and the other borrowed
by the man of God), a lion, an oak or a terebinth under which the man
of God sat, and food and water. The slide within the political allegory
religious apostasy in v. 33, and 4 refer to the fortunes of Jeroboam's hand, which
leaves 34 verbs describing the motion of complete human unit: of these, 23 concern
motion towards Bethel while 11 indicate movement in the other direction to Judah.
The frequency above all of the verb 2W, 'to return' (15), is particularly important
given that the prohibition concerned returning by the same road. The very repetition
of the verb itself signifies the breaking of the prohibition.

BOER National Allegory in the Hebrew Bible


begins with this second episode that concerns the destruction of the
man of God, and that slide is marked by the presence of nature, which
was virtually absent in the first episode, and which increases in
proportion to the growing identity of man of God and old prophet.
Nature, more particularly the animals, function in this text as a
figuration of a larger entity, an absent totalityto use Jameson's
termsnever concretely realized in an explicit form, yet detectable in
its deformation of the episodes of this chapter and their national allegorical function like the gravitational pull of a hidden planet or moon on
the tides and other terrestrial phenomena. In order to fix on what this
larger entity might be I refer to an interpretation by David Jobling of
the royal Psalm 72 (1992). Among other things Jobling argues for the
integral role of nature in the imperial ideology of the ancient Near
East, although he uses the terminology of 'plenty', with its associations
of fertility, produce, agricultural labor and imperial wealth. In the
'perpetual motion machine' of royal legitimation in Ps. 72.1-7 Jobling
sees a parallel between the idea of royal justice leading to shalom
among the people with the theme of rain producing natural shalom for
the earth. In this proposed ideological construct the king's activity and
existence are part of the natural order; the king or despot, in other
words, and all that the despot stands for is 'natural', or rather, is
ordained by the gods in the appropriate mythologies. But this works
the other way as well, since the despots through their symbiosis with
nature also have an influence over nature through their own activities.18
Nature then would seem to be integral to the ideological framework
of ancient Near Eastern rulers and government, and it is for this
reason that it is possible to take the following steps.
Apart from the class resonances that animals generatethey do all
the work (carrying, killing and guard duty)I would suggest a double
allegorical reference: the lion, as agent of divine punishment, is the
allegorical manifestation of God in this passage, but then simultaneously of the Babylonian (or Persian) empire itself, or rather emperor.
If we entertain this possibility for a moment, then it is to be noted that
the man of God from Judah (the figure of Judah itself) is cut down by
the lion, just as the Babylonians did to Jerusalem in 587, and that the
donkey and the lion stand guard over the body of the man of God, one
on either side like a pair of sentries of a bodyguard or soldiers of an
18. This moves the model over to the one in Ps. 72.8-17 in which the king's
righteousness is the motor for the system as a whole.


Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 1A (1997)

occupying army. By not eating the body of the man of God (v. 28; in
contrast to that person's breaking of the prohibition against eating)
nor attacking the donkeys or the prophet, the lion exercises control by
restraint; for at any moment the lion could attack and eat, in the same
way that imperial control is exercised by the restraint of force. Yet it
is not merely the lion who makes this signification possible, for the
increasing presence of nature may be understood as something like the
Sartrean Other to the characters and action of this chapter, and the
Other for Judah when this material was put together was the Babylonian
or Persian empire.
A couple of final steps remain:first,the connections I have made are
enhanced when it is recalled that political or national allegory comes
into play when a political identity is questioned or threatened by a
larger reality such as empire. Further, I introduced the term 'despot'
a little earlier for the specific reason that there is a need to identify the
nature of the imperial Other a little more closely, which may be done
by mentioning Oriental despotism', or more properly the Asiatic mode
of production for which the boundaries between the imperial ruler
and the deity were often very blurred. The intrusion of nature into
this passageif thefigurationof empire is at least plausibleassists in
accounting for the slippage in the same section of text of the allegorical opposition between Israel and Judah. It is of course still a political
allegory, but one which has a multiple referential pattern.
5. Conclusion
I have tried to expand and enhance Rosenberg's proposal for political
allegory in the Hebrew Bible by means of Fredric Jameson's notion of
national allegory, particularly the suggestion that national allegory
takes place in the intersection and conflict between socio-economic
systems. In order for this contribution to be transposed to the biblical
text I found, following a lead from David Jobling, the work of Regina
Schwartz and Mieke Bal very useful in tracing the way women and
their bodies act as markers or figures for the political and social transitions out of which these texts arose and to which they respond. Yet it
was necessary to include the basic category of the socio-economic
(mode of production) to see the full extent of political allegory. The
final step was to push an allegory from the literary text of 1 Kings 13
via its more immediate political referents to a broader socio-economic

BOER National Allegory in the Hebrew Bible


situation where the tension between an empire and its various subject
peoples, in the particular context of an Asiatic mode of production,
may be said to give rise to national or political allegory.
All the while this analysis has been apparently more objectified than
I would have likedalthough there will of course be all sorts of
traces of my own ideological constructs in their myriad inclusions and
exclusionsbut it will suffice to point out that 'national allegory' may
do double duty and act as a cipher for my own standpoint, or the ' of
this discourse (to avail myself of a slightly different linguistic usage),
contradictory and conflictual that it is. I too find myself in a marginal
country which is both enmeshed within an increasingly globalized
capitalism (to whose reproduction it contributes vast amounts of raw
materials) and yet finds itself in the impossible situation of having
only nationalist discourses at handdesperately asserting the necessity
of a national identity, republican independence, Australian ownership
of products and ideas, and a national culture of theology and biblical
studiesto counter such overwhelming international socio-economic
dominance. The impossibility of the situation lies in the fact that such
efforts at independence from the world system are always already
absorbed. This essay may then be said to be a national or political
allegory of its own production.

Ahmad, A.
Bal, M.,
Barth, .,

Boer, R.,
Colas, S.

'Jameson's Rhetoric of Otherness and the "National Allegory" ', Social

Text 6.2 (Fall): 3-25.
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Death and Dissymmetry: The Politics of Coherence in the Book of Judges
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
Die kirkliche Dogmatik. II.2. Die Lehre von Gott (Zrich: Evangelischer
Verlag): 434-53; repr. as Exegese von 1. Knige 13 (Biblische Studien, 10;
Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag).
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Clark): 393-409.
Jameson and Jeroboam (Semeia Studies; Atlanta: Scholars Press).
Postmodernism in Latin America: The Argentine Paradigm (PostContemporary Interventions: Durham, NC: Duke University Press).


Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 74 (1997)

Culley, R.C.

Themes and Variations: A Study of Action in Biblical Narrative (Semeia

Studies; Atlanta: Scholars Press).

Deboys, D.G.
Kings xiiiA "New Criterion" Reconsidered', VT41.2 (April): 210-12.
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The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System

BOER National Allegory in the Hebrew Bible


Jobling, D.

Lemke, W.E.

Nelson, R.D.
Plein, I.
Prasad, M.
Reis, P.T.
Robinson, J.
Rof, A.

Rosenberg, J.
Schwartz, H.
Schwartz, R.


(Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press and British Film

'Foreword: In the Mirror of Alternate Modernities', to K. Kojin, The
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California, Irvine; New York: Columbia University Press).
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Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 74 (1997)

Narrative (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991): 192-210;
rev. as 'Adultery in the House of David: "Nation" in the Bible and Biblical
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Godan\ Social Text 8.2 (Fall-Winter): 59-82.
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Testaments (Berlin: de Gruyter, 4th edn).
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1 Kn 13', in H. Gese and H.P. Rger (eds.), Wort und Geschichte:
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Zhang, Y.
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and Third Cinema', East-West Film Journal 4.2 (June): 38-53.

In order to develop the idea of national allegory in the Hebrew Bible I engage the
work of Joel Rosenberg on 'political allegory' and Fredric Jameson on 'national
allegory'the notion that narratives about individuals function as allegories of the
national situation. Moving from the straightforward example of Nathan's allegory in
2 Sam. 12.1-12,1 find that national allegory also operates in the work of Regina
Schwartz and Mieke Bal, specifically in the way women and their bodies act as allegorical markers for political and social transitions. Finally, I argue that the old prophet
and the man of God in 1 Kings 13 are allegorical figures for Israel and Judah, only to
be disrupted by external imperial forces, represented here as nature. In this final
section mode of production turns out to be a crucial category.

^ s
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