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Not God's People: Insiders and Outsiders in the Biblical World (Religion in the Modern World) Paperback – May 16, 2008

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Product Details

  • Series: Religion in the Modern World (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 268 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (May 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0742562506
  • ISBN-13: 978-0742562509
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,779,791 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Meticulous in its reconstruction of competing and shifting ideologies of self and other through time and space, up-to-date and wide-ranging, theoretically sophisticated, clear and concise, and a pleasure to read, Not God's People will prove to be a valuable book for both students and specialists. (Saul M. Olyan)

At the beginning of the 21st century it becomes increasingly difficult to read the Bible exclusively in terms of the covenantal insiders to whom it is addressed. In this book, Lawrence Wills has provided an important means of approaching the question of those regarded as outside of the covenant--those whom the biblical authors construct as the Other. Through nuanced research and insightful prose, Not God's People is an invaluable resource to students, scholars, and anyone interested in the Bible's continuing influence in shaping perceptions of the Other in Western culture. (Shelly Matthews)

How should religious adherents deal with those who do not share their faith? No topic could be more topical in today's globalized environment, or more important. Larry Wills' incisive, well-informed, and fluidly-written book provides essential background by tracing the attitudes of the biblical writers to those outside the fold, the 'others' against whom they define themselves. One of Wills' most important conclusions can be summed up in the immortal words of Walt Kelly's Pogo: 'We have met the enemy and he is us.' (Joel Marcus)

In this intriguing study Lawrence Wills explores how biblical writers constructed national identity by formulating images of others. Grounded in the latest scholarship in biblical studies, cultural studies, and the social sciences, Wills' readings bring a fresh and comparative perspective to texts we thought we understood. (Robert Cohn)

Successfully balancing between accessibility and erudition, Not God's People is not only excellent for upper-division classroom and seminary use, but is a potentially important resource for those interested in interfaith discussion, offering insight into the origins of religious prejudice and the formation of Jewish and Christian identity. Not God's People will not minimize the differences between religious communities today, but its historical and literary analyses will certainly help readers better understand why there can be no sense of religious community without those differences. (Steven Weitzman)

Not God's People, spanning both Hebrew Bible and New Testament, combines solid historical scholarship, sophisticated theoretical reflection and contemporary relevance. An impressive achievement! (John J. Collins)

This provocative volume is an enlightening study of the interpenetration of religious ideology and social identity, and an unnerving reminder of the destructive potential of some kinds of religiously grounded creativity. As such, it provides a valuable resource for individuals and groups, within and outside the communities of faith, who are concerned about the polarizing constructions of 'the other' that often permeate contemporary religion, politics, and social and international relations. (George W. E. Nickelsburg)

In this clearly written, well-organized, and articulately argued monograph, Wills offers a theoretical introductory chapter, a wide-ranging reflection on the Hebrew Bible's construction of the Other, some brief concluding remarks, and studies of the following biblical texts: Ezra-Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Matthew, John, the Pauline corpus, and Acts. W. combines acute textual skills with a set of nine social-scientific theorems to elucidate hwo groups, both ancient and modern, construct the Other and in turn conceive of their own identity in relation to the Other. . . . There is no doubt that W. has produced an important book on a timely topic. (The Catholic Biblical Quarterly)

This very interesting book traces the development of Israel's national identity. . . . Methods from historical criticism, the social sciences, and culture studies are employed in this carefully researched study. The book throws necessary light on ways that those who adhere to one religious tradition view those who adhere to another. (Bible Today)

Not God's People shows that in different times and different cultural settings the essence of the Other is always different, but the construction of the Other always uses the same patterns . . . A worthy contribution to the series Religion in the Modern World . . . A very accessible book . . . Not God's People deals with texts that often raise more questions than answers, such as the order to completely extinguish other people or the condemnation of the Jews in the New Testament. Wills shows in a convincing way that those texts are often more complex and nuanced than we assume. (Review Of Biblical Literature)

This important book can help us to understand the complex role that the construction of the Other can play in identity formation.... This well-written and engaging book will be of interest to scholars and general readers alike. It is not only an excellent study in biblical exegesis and thought, but also has implications for the ongoing relationship between identity and the Other in our own times. (Interpretation)

Wills writes from a theoretically informed position that specialists will find provocative and engaging, yet his clear prose ensures that his book will also be a useful resource for advanced undergraduates. (Religious Studies Review)

About the Author

Lawrence M. Wills is professor of Biblical studies at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. Among his books are Jewish Novels: An Anthology and The Quest of the Historical Gospel: Mark, John, and the Origins of the Gospel Genre.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By James R. Adams on September 20, 2009
Format: Paperback
In spite of its subtitle, Not God's People is as much a commentary on tensions in contemporary society as it is a review of inclusion and exclusion in the Biblical World. As I pondered the reports on the people in each era of biblical history attempting to establish their identity at the expense of others, parallels in our own time immediately came to mind. Lawrence Wills has made these implicit parallels clear and compelling in his brilliant conclusion to the book. People who think that they are too busy to read yet another book about the Bible could profit from spending time with the concluding chapter as if it were a stand-alone piece in a prestigious yet readable journal. Those who do so, however, put themselves at risk. Anyone who reads the conclusion may be tempted to drop all other pressing matters in order to read the whole book.
The person who starts reading the book in the usual fashion--at the beginning-- also may find it to be engrossing. In the introduction, Wills lays out nine theorems that he uses in the analysis of the biblical texts. These theorems are equally useful in analyzing present-day hostilities between groups of people.
It appears to me that the identity we liberal and progressive Christians have established for ourselves depends on differentiating ourselves from the Other kinds of Christians. Does that mean that we are bad people? If we are, at least we are no worse than the ancient people of Israel, or Ezra and Nehemiah and their friends, or the early followers of Jesus. Rather than making comparisons to justify ourselves, however, we might ponder the insight Lawrence Wills offers: "Perhaps it is not even possible to forgo constructing the Other. It does not simply result from a failure of goodness or innocence.
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