Article Response to
Uriah Y. Kim, “Where Is the Home for the Man of Luz?” Interpretation 65 (3):250-262 (2011).
As I am an international student from Korea, which is the same place the author Uriah Y. Kim is from, I sympathize with his question about identity in the article “Where Is the Home for the Man of Luz?” This article, with its interesting question of “Where is the home for immigrants who live in the United States?,” includes Kim’s biblical analysis of the Book of Judges 1:22–26 in which he compares the story of Rahab with that of Ruth and Orpah. I was, however, aware that the author was struggling with a sensitive matter, which is the idea that immigrants should not speak out with their own views and criticize the Bible. In this review, I will analyze how he developed his article and I will throw in some personal reflections on our shared context.
First, the author describes how he struggled with his sense of identity when he was staying in Korea and then also when he landed at an airport in the United States. His two anecdotes would help many Asian Americans rethink their double identity related to a large number of issues, so the author invites the reader to delve into the issue of how Asian Americans and White Americans coexist without any sense of dichotomy and how Asian Americans consider their dual identity as in-between space.
Second, he describes the issue of home and identity using the narrative of the man of Luz (Ishluz) in Judges 1:22–26. The author explores the narrative by asking several questions: Is it a willful violation of God’s “ban” for the Israelites to coexist in the land with the people of Canaan? Who are the “other” for the Israelites and for us? Why does the man of Luz help the spies? Does Ishluz (the man of Luz) have the option of staying in his homeland? Is the word Ishluz related to the verb “to depart or turn aside,” so the fate of the man of Luz is sealed in the name of the city of Luz (“to depart from his homeland”)? After Ishluz sets out for a new city, does he conquer an existing city or build a new city from scratch? Why does he give his new home the same name as that of his old home? Is it because he is homesick? Why does the writer of Judges not mention the name of the new city created after Ishluz and his clan conquered an existing city, like Luz Beth-El (1:25, 18:29)? Is it because Ishluz and his people were not part of Israel’s history? Readers can join in these gaps and ambiguities of the text where the narrative opens to aware readers.
Third, Kim explores the narrative of Ishluz and Rahab to understand the issues of identity and loyalty. He explains that even though Ishluz showed his loyalty to Israel, he was rejected by Israel. However, Rahab was involved in the community of Israel by showing her hesed to Israel. As the author puts it, “Ishluz and Rahab are connected by acts of hesed to Israel, but they represent opposite poles in Israel’s identity. Ishluz remains an Other while Rahab is accepted as Israel’s own” (256). Having the view of a hesed-relationship, however, the author poses a critical question: Was Rahab fully accepted by Israel? His analysis of how Rahab was placed outside the camp of Israel is that “Rahab the prostitute cannot be a real Israelite. Rahab is therefore literally reminded of where her home really is” (258).
Kim’s analysis resonates with how Asian Americans have been regarded in the United States. He applies the story to the modern context, saying, “Ishluz and Rahab are examples of what can happen to those who are situated in the in-between space. . . . when America needs Asian Americans’ productivity, good citizenship, and ability to inform about Asia, then we are wanted and desirable and are called a ‘model minority.’ When America is in a crisis (a bad economy, for example), then we are unwanted and are called ‘foreigners’ who cannot be totally assimilated into the American melting pot and are under suspicion of being disloyal to America” (258).
Fourth, Kim argues that the narrative of Ruth and Orpah is an example of the jeong side of hesed because it reflects the concept of “real” home. He develops his argument by stating that whereas Ruth shows the jeong side of hesed by refusing to go back to her mother’s house and is resolved to follow her mother-in-law Naomi (259), Orpah is a model of courage and self-affirmation for those who refuse to relinquish their cultural identity for the sake of constructing one coherent national identity (260). I am interested in his perspective because I never imagined that Ruth was trying to erase her Moabite identity in her new home and that Ruth the Moabite remained a threat to Israel’s purity (259), nor did I view Orpah as worthy in that she offers some small hope to the native reader because she is the one who does not reject her traditions or her sacred ancestors (260).
In this section, Kim tries to invite the reader to rethink where home is and what the meaning of citizenship is in Israel (the United States, in the contemporary context). As he writes, “Rahab and Ruth are ‘one of us’ even though one is a Canaanite and the other a Moabite, but their otherness threatens Israel’s purity and they therefore can only be ‘not quite like us’” (261); it is hard for Asian Americans to live in the strange land of the United States. Then, how should we find our home in this country as Asian Americans? Kim argues that “home is where hesed is practiced for the sake of human solidarity and for God’s kingdom” (262).
Let me offer some reflections on this. First, this article has a unique perspective on analyzing the issue of the identity of Asian Americans. The article supplies insights for comparison with other narratives. Even though the author explains the situation of Asian Americans as a “double identity,” a “betwixt” and “in-between identity” of being stuck in the middle, how can we regard ourselves as being “beyond identity”? We have immigrated from our geographical hometown and are being shaped for a new meaningful existence for God’s mission, like Abraham who left Ur to complete his mission in Canaan, or like Ezra who set out for Persia on his mission to set up the new Israel. In order to overcome our double identity or betwixt and in-between identity, we need to have a “beyond identity,” similar to that of Abraham and Ezra.
Second, the author offers a clue to solving the tension related to how people who are already in a good position in their country might live with others by practicing hesed. This resonates with how Jesus shows his heart not only in his common life but also on the cross in order to reconcile the relationship between God and human being. This approach requires people who have already established themselves in the United States to accept minorities because they themselves they were a minority only a couple of generation ago! Many of us White Americans all too often forget or ignore this that and their country was also set up with hesed. Therefore, the phenomenon of Donald Trump is a sign of the gap between the majority and minority, and the minority is telling the majority that it should be more concerned about the minority.
Finally, I can relate to the question, “Where is my home?” During the nine years I have been studying in the United States as a full-time international student, I have not participated in any protest or demonstration in my country, South Korea, against Park’s government due to her failure to rule South Korea well, including critical corruption such as concealing the cause of the ferry disaster on April 16, 2016, her relationship with an unqualified person (Sunsil Choi) in deciding on government issues, her manipulation of the department of prosecution, the Central Election, the main public broadcasting stations (KBS, MBC, and SBS), etc. Hearing the news about what Park’s government has been doing badly, I have realized that I have not done anything, while most people in Korea have been struggling with the corruption. I remember that Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in Union Seminary in New York that he would not join in the joyfulness when his country was freed from Nazism if he had not shared in his country’s suffering. Where is my home? Is it the place where my body is located or the place that my heart is concerned about? Even though we may be aware of the Word of God (“They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one,” Hebrews 11:15a), it is hard to define our “real home” between the heavenly one and the “physical home,” whether the latter is the one our heart or our body is concerned with. However, as Kim argues, “home is where hesed is practiced” (262), so our physical home is found where we share hesed and jeong with others.
Kyoung-Hee Lee, PhD
Graduate Theological Union
Categories: (B) Book Review