Who are the Exiles Today?

The Bible tells us about ancient Israelite expericences. One of the most prominent experiences of the ancient Israel would be the experience of exile. But how would you define the exile? In what sense the Bible accounts for the exilic experience?

The exile may refer to any people forced or voluntary to leave their tranditional homelands, so that the exile could be deportee, diaspora, refugee, alien, and immigrant. The Bible, indeed, is full of the exilic experience either by forced or by voluntary: the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (forced); Abraham and his family chose to leave their own land by the divine command (voluntary); Jacob’s fled from his own territory (forced? or voluntary?); Joseph was deported from his land (forced); Moses fled into the desert after his murder of an Egyptian (forced? or voluntary?); the Exodus from Egypt (voluntary); David’s deportation from his land (forced); deportation of Northern tribes by the Assyrians (forced); and the Babylonian Exile (forced).

The exilic experience is not just the experience of ancient Israel but the experience of modern people. Who, then, are the exiles today? They could be Mexicans in the U.S., North Koreans in China, Tibetans in India, and so on.

Peter Stalker introduces a survey conducted by the United Nations:

80 million people now live in “foreign” lands. One million people emigrate permamently each year, and another million seek political asylum. There were 18 million refugees from natural disaster or war (Stalker 1994, 3).

It is very important to respond to this reality. As a theological response, Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, who is a diasporic or exilic theologian, argues as follows:

Ancient Israelite responses to exile and diaspora, as reflected in the biblical texts, can provide the building blocks for rethinking the role of the Hebrew Bible in informing the modern Christians theological enterpreise (Smith-Christopher 2002, 6).

elvira-arellano.jpgSojourners magazine (September-October, 2007) introduces a movement so-called “the New Sanctuary Movement” that churches are the first to offer refuge to a person facing deportation. In the article “Living in God’s House” in this magazine, Celeste Kennel-Shank introduces an interview with an undocumented immigrant. Her name is Elvira Arellano who has taken sactuary in Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago since Auguest 15, 2006.

Kennel-Shank said,

Elvira Arellanno, 32, wants to be able to pick her son up from school and take him out for ice cream on hot days. But she cant’ leave her church, where she has taken sanctuary. . . after immigration officials told her she would be deported. she fears she will be separated from her son, Saul, who is 8 years old and a United States citizen.

The case of Elvira Arellanno is an example of exilic Mexicans in the U.S. But there are so many exiles in the world today. Smith-Christopher insists that exile is the daily reality for millions of human beings at the opening of the twentieth-first century. How would you respond to this reality?

Reference List

Smith-Christopher, Daniel. A Biblical Theology of Exile. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002. 

Stalker, Peter. The Work of Strangers: A Survey of International Labour Migration. Geneva: International Labour Office, 1994.


5 Responses

  1. […] Who are the modern exiles? (OT Story): Ancient Israelite responses to exile and diaspora, as reflected in the biblical texts, can provide the building blocks for rethinking the role of the Hebrew Bible in informing the modern Christians theological enterpreise (Smith-Christopher 2002, 6). […]

  2. I enjoyed this section on exile. As a Jew living in a small town Iowa I feel very isolated at times. Perhaps some day I will return to the land of my fathers. An interesting contemperory fact is how much Jews in Israel want the return of other Jews scattered around the world. This summer I’m being taken on a free 10 day tour to Israel….I may just say there haha. See you around wartburg, again interesting page,

  3. Dear Ben,
    Thank you for your response to my essay.
    Yes, in a sense, we all are exile.
    Have a nice trip.
    That would be a very special experience for you.

  4. Adam and Eve were “deported” (forced) because they BROKE THE LAW OF GOD. Abraham “left” because God told him to go after he made the covenant with him. Joseph was SOLD into slavery. How many ILLEGAL Imigrants who come to this country are sold into slavery, forced to come here because of war (as in the northern tribes), or are coming here to end 400 years of slavery (as in the case of the Isrealites exodus from Egypt)?

  5. how can we know the real exile

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