Cover image for The biography of ancient Israel : national narratives in the Bible
The biography of ancient Israel : national narratives in the Bible
Pardes, Ilana.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xi, 211 pages ; 22 cm.
Reading Level:
1340 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BS1225.5 .P37 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The nation--particularly in Exodus and Numbers--is not an abstract concept but rather a grand character whose history is fleshed out with remarkable literary power. In her innovative exploration of national imagination in the Bible, Pardes highlights the textual manifestations of the metaphor, the many anthropomorphisms by which a collective character named "Israel" springs to life. She explores the representation of communal motives, hidden desires, collective anxieties, the drama and suspense embedded in each phase of the nation's life: from birth in exile, to suckling in the wilderness, to a long process of maturation that has no definite end. In the Bible, Pardes suggests, history and literature go hand in hand more explicitly than in modern historiography, which is why the Bible serves as a paradigmatic case for examining the narrative base of national constructions.

Pardes calls for a consideration of the Bible's penetrating renditions of national ambivalence. She reads the rebellious conduct of the nation against the grain, probing the murmurings of the people, foregrounding their critique of the official line. The Bible does not provide a homogeneous account of nation formation, according to Pardes, but rather reveals points of tension between different perceptions of the nation's history and destiny.

This fresh and beautifully rendered portrayal of the history of ancient Israel will be of vital interest to anyone interested in the Bible, in the interrelations of literature and history, in nationhood, in feminist thought, and in psychoanalysis.

Author Notes

Ilana Pardes is an Professor of Comparative Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is the author of Countertraditions in the Bible: A Feminist Approach (1992).

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Pardes (comparative literature, Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) explores the personification of the nation "Israel" from Exodus through Deuteronomy in order to read the narrative as a biography. This perspective allows insights from psychoanalytic and ritual theory to supplement a literary reading of the Torah. A creative reading of the text emerges that helps explain its continual power to shape individual and communal identities far beyond its historical and geographic origins. Pardes moves from Israel's "birth" in the Exodus through its "weaning" in the wilderness, a narrative full of conflicts and countermemories. The nation strains through its initiation into adulthood at Sinai; yet the struggle is not over. The Numbers narrative relates the ambiguity of the land of Canaan in comparison to the maternal home of Egypt. The imagery of Israel as a full-fledged character ends on Mount Nebo, where Moses sees the power and limits of his dreams. Throughout, the texts--both the biblical and Pardes's--weave together a collective biography of the nation Israel that "touches on the personal while fashioning the collective." A wonderfully written book, accessible to a general audience while insightful for graduate students and specialists. J. W. Wright; Point Loma Nazarene University

Table of Contents

1 Introduction: Split Conception
2 Imagining the Birth of a Nation
3 Suckling in the Wilderness: The Absent Mother
4 At the Foot of Mount Sinai: National Rites of Initiation
5 The Spies in the Land of the Giants: Restless Youth
6 Crossing the Threshold: In the Plains of Moab
7 Epilogue: Mount Nebo