Biblical Representations of Moab

A Kenyan Postcolonial Reading

by R.S. Wafula (Author)
©2014 Monographs XIV, 246 Pages
Series: Bible and Theology in Africa, Volume 19


Biblical Representations of Moab: A Kenyan Postcolonial Reading employs critical theories on colonial, anticolonial, and postcolonial ethnicity and African cultural hermeneutics to examine the overlap of politics, ethnicity, nationality, economics, and religion in contemporary Kenya and to utilize those critical tools to illuminate the Hebrew Bible narratives concerning the Moabites.
This book can be used by teachers and students of contemporary methods in Hebrew Bible studies, postcolonial studies, Africana studies, African biblical hermeneutics, political science, gender studies, history, philosophy, international studies, religion and peace studies, African affairs, and ethnic/racial conflict and resolution studies. It would also be of immense value to clergy and lay leaders engaged in interfaith or interethnic/racial dialogue.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Postcolonial (Postexilic) Context of Israelite-Moabite Representations
  • Questions Pertinent to This Study
  • Selected Texts and Their Historical Contexts
  • Genesis through 2 Kings
  • Isaiah 15–16
  • Jeremiah 48
  • Ezekiel 25
  • The Moabite Inscription
  • Israelite-Moabite and Kikuyu-Luo Ethnic Representations: A Comparison
  • Israelite Subjection to the Babylonian (Colonial) Exile and the Formation of Israelite Ethnicization Narratives
  • Israelite Subjection to the Persian (Postcolonial) Postexilic Conditions and the Continuation of the Formation of Israelite Ethnicization Narratives
  • The Kikuyu Subjection to British Colonial Rule and the Formation of Kikuyu Ethnicization Narratives
  • The Kikuyu Ethnicization Narratives in Postcolonial Kenya
  • Summary and Conclusions
  • Chapter 2. Methodological Concerns
  • Contextualizing Postcolonial Subjectivity
  • Said on the “Oriental” Subject
  • Spivak on the Complexity of the Postcolonial Subject
  • Bhabha on the Subjectivity of the Colonized
  • Synthesis of Postcolonial Concepts
  • Postcolonialism and Race/Ethnicity: Interrelationships
  • Ethnicity Studies and the Development of Ethnic Sentiments
  • The Question of Ethnicity Revisited
  • African Biblical Hermeneutics
  • Mosala: On the Materiality of Biblical Texts
  • Post-Mosalan ABH
  • Chapter 3. Israelite-Moabite Ethnic Representations in the Hebrew Bible
  • Sociocultural Representations of Moabite Origins in Genesis 11:27–19:38
  • Representations of Lot in Genesis 11:27–12:6
  • Representations of Lot in Genesis 13
  • Representations of Lot in Genesis 14
  • Representations of Lot in Genesis 18:16–33
  • Representations of Lot in Genesis 19:30–38
  • Abraham-Lot Narratives and the Complexity of Their Reappropriations
  • The Violence of Exclusion
  • The Abraham-Lot Narratives: Summary and Conclusions
  • Representations of Moabite Land in Numbers 21–24
  • Representations of Moabite Land in Numbers 21
  • Representations of Moabite Land in Numbers 22–24
  • Representations of Moabite Land: Summary and Conclusions
  • Representations of Moabite Political Leaders
  • Representations of Balak in Num 22–24
  • Representations of Eglon in Judges 3:12–30
  • Representations of King Mesha in 2 Kings 3:4–27
  • Representations of Moabite Leadership: Summary and Conclusions
  • Representations of the Moabites in Prophetic Literature
  • Oracles against the Nations: General Comments
  • Representations of the Moabites in Isaiah 15–16
  • Representations of the Moabites in Jeremiah 48:1–47
  • Representations of the Moabites in Ezekiel 25:8–11
  • Representations of the Moabites in Prophetic Literature: Summary and Conclusions
  • Representations of the Moabites in the Moabite Inscription: A Push Back against Israelite Ethnicization Narratives
  • Israelite-Moabite Ethnic Representations in the Hebrew Bible: Summary and Conclusions
  • Chapter 4. Kikuyu-Luo Ethnic Representations in Postcolonial Kenya
  • Lesa Belle Morrison on the Question of Kikuyu-Luo Representations
  • Kikuyu-Luo Representations at the Dawn of Kenya’s Independence
  • Kikuyu-Luo Representations at the Dawn of Kenya’s Independence: Summary and Conclusions
  • Kikuyu-Luo Representations in Jomo Kenyatta’s Kenya
  • The Tom Mboya Factor in the Kikuyu-Luo Representations
  • The Kikuyu “Dissidents” Factor in the Kikuyu-Luo Representations in Kenyatta’s Kenya
  • Kikuyu-Luo Representations in Daniel arap Moi’s Kenya
  • Kikuyu-Luo Representations in the Aftermath of Robert Ouko’s Murder
  • Kikuyu-Luo Representations in Mwai Kibaki’s Kenya
  • The Role of Christian Churches in Kikuyu-Luo Representations
  • Kikuyu-Luo Representations between 2007 and 2013
  • Kikuyu-Luo Ethnic Representations: Summary and Conclusions
  • Chapter 5. Israelite-Moabite Representations: Recasting the Story
  • Milton Yinger on the Question of a Peaceful Interethnic Coexistence
  • Kikuyu-Luo Ethnic Representations in Postcolonial Kenya: Recasting the Story
  • The Complexity of Ethnicity (Understood as Genealogy or Biological Ties) in Kikuyu-Luo Ethnic Representations
  • The Complexity of Land Issues in Kikuyu-Luo Ethnic Representations
  • The Complexity of Religious Claims in Kikuyu-Luo Ethnic Representations
  • Israelite-Moabite Identities in the Postcolony: Ethnicity in the Book of Ruth
  • Ruth 1 on Genealogy (Biological Ties), Land, and Religion
  • Ruth 2 on Genealogy (Biological Ties), Land, and Religion
  • Ruth 3 on Genealogy (Biological Ties), Land, and Religion
  • Ruth 4 on Genealogy (Biological Ties), Land, and Religion
  • Chapter 6. General Concluding Remarks
  • Bibliography
  • Series Index

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This book is a thorough revision of my doctoral dissertation. I will be forever grateful to my late grandmother, Nakhumicha, who, when I was a teenager, sat me down and said, “Young man, choices have either positive or negative consequences, and there is no positive consequence in giving up.” Her words have kept me going through life and particularly through the long graduate school years to this final product.

While doing my doctoral work, I was really blessed to have a wonderful dissertation committee. Professors Kenneth Ngwa, Danna Nolan Fewell, and Stephen Moore provided insightful comments on my drafts that kept me on track. Prof. Ngwa, who was the chair of the committee, meticulously read my numerous drafts with unparalleled patience and provided guidance that salvaged the work from being “all over the place.” I benefited greatly also from my other graduate school professors. Prof. Herbert Huffmon guided me through the issues of Israelite identity formation and the history and culture of ancient Near Eastern empires. Prof. Virginia Burrus and Prof. Melanie Johnson-Debaufre offered a seminar entitled “Empire, Race, and Place.” I would like to thank Dr. Ernest Rubinstein, the Drew University theological librarian, who helped me to quickly build up a bibliography for my research and constantly pointed out new resources as they became available. Outside of my graduate ← xiii | xiv → school, I would like to thank Prof. Hugh Page, who read parts of my work and provided useful comments that have made the work so much better.

I would like to thank Dr. Linda Dietch, who reviewed my drafts, corrected grammatical errors, and ensured consistency in style. Other friends helped along the way in so many ways they all cannot be enumerated. Let it suffice for me to mention just a few. Dr. Levi Obonyo, a longtime friend, listened to my original research idea and took part in the initial conversations that gave birth to my thesis. Dr. Lynne Darden, Dr. Sharon Jacob, Dr. Donna Laird, Dr. Jill Krebs, Amy Jones, and Malebogo Kgalemang were graduate school friends at Drew University with whom I shared my research plans and who encouraged me along. I would like to specifically thank Mr. Jonai Wabwire, who was my research assistant. He faithfully assembled the latest material on my subject, which saved me plenty of time.

I would not have been able to finance my doctoral studies had it not been for the generous scholarships I received. I am grateful to Drew University for awarding me the International Scholars Award in the Hebrew Bible. I also received the Drew University Priscilla Patten Benham Prize in Biblical Studies. I am also indebted to the Forum for Theological Exploration, which enabled me to purchase research books.

Finally, it would have been impossible for me to finish this work without the support of my family. I would like to thank our children, Wekesa, Simiyu, and Nasimiyu, for tolerating their father’s absences at the dinner table, play dates, and bedtime stories. But more than anyone else, I would like to thank my wife, Jane, for devoting her time to care for the children, leaving me with no care but my studies. She has proved to be a valuable wife, partner, and friend. To her, my children, and grandmother Nakhumicha, I dedicate this book.

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Ancient Israel faced imperializing forces from Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian powers. As a result of this, biblical texts narrate stories of a people dealing with the trauma of colonization. However, the narratival language that helps a people break free from imperial control can also reinscribe the imperial philosophies under which they had suffered, causing colonized victims to turn into colonizing victimizers.1 My monograph, using Israelite-Moabite ethnic constructions, examines this language. On the one hand, I explore how stories about Moab and the Moabites reinscribe narrative violence against the Moabites; on the other hand, I explore how counter-stories (particularly in the book of Ruth) begin deconstructing that violence by telling a positive story of the Moabites. I then compare the Israelite-Moabite representations with the Kikuyu-Luo ethnic representations in Kenya, which shows how narrative violence can extend into actual violence against the Other. This accents Sara Cobb’s idea that attending to the nature and development of narratives that foster exclusion or inclusion provides us with a framework for better conflict analysis and resolution hence enabling lasting interethnic peaceful coexistence. Indeed, as she notes, ethnic-based violence or peace is directly related to stories that are told, retold, foretold, and passed on from generation to generation.2

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In chapter 1 I outline the Israelite imperial context that becomes crucial for Judean elites’ imperializing metanarratives. I also explain that my work is a comparative study of Israelite-Moabite ethnic representations with a similar phenomenon in contemporary Kikuyu-Luo ethnic representations in postcolonial Kenya. I argue that contemporary Kikuyu-Luo representations can help us to reimagine Israelite-Moabite representations. I point out that there is actually a link between the politics of contemporary Kenya and the ancient Israelite context—that Kikuyu-Luo representations build upon the inherited phenomenon of British colonial representations of Kenyan people, which in turn are built upon biblical representations of the “Other.” Whereas we cannot quantify the effects of Judean ruling elites’ imperializing metanarratives, I suggest that a comparative study with contemporary Kikuyu-Luo ethnic representations brings us face-to-face with both the quality and quantity of the effects of imperializing metanarratives, thus helping us to reread the Hebrew narratives with some sensitivity to the effects on the Israelite-Moabite interethnic relationships in the Persian Empire.

In chapter 2 I describe my methodology, which draws upon and continues the work of postcolonialism. I note that it has been thirty-five years since Edward Said’s Orientalism, twenty-five years since Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” and nineteen years since Homi K. Bhabha’s The Location of Culture.3 Over the years there have been calls for an extension of their theories into praxis in a way that devotes attention to the specific sociopolitical and economic realities of the postcolonial subject. My monograph, along with others, answers this call. By devoting attention to the historical conditions of postcolonial subjects, I reframe the “what” and “who” questions concerning Israelite-Moabite representations in terms of sociopolitical, economic, and material conditions. I point out that a sustained focus on postcolonial politics and the concept of ethnicity, together with the contribution of African biblical hermeneutics, provides an entry point into the discussion of the specific material conditions of the postcolonial subjects in their specific postcolonial locales. This specificity accords one a better opportunity to appreciate the functions of the Hebrew Bible’s Israelite-Moabite representations.

I follow up on the above by examining, in chapter 3, Israelite-Moabite representations in the Hebrew Bible and the Moabite Inscription. In the chapter I interact with the work of Sarah Diamant4 and Paul Tonson.5 Diamant has performed an extensive study of Israelite-Moabite relationships using a psychoanalytical methodology. She sets out to prove that ← 2 | 3 → Israelite-Moabite relationships were marked by ambivalence—that Israel’s wars of victory and conflict against the Moabites were curtailed by their relational axis with the Moabites, to the extent that there was no real outright antagonism or victory against the Moabites. Tonson arrives at a similar conclusion. He maintains that Israel and Moab did not have any serious conflict. For him, conflict in the Hebrew Bible shows the normal working out of kin relationships in the land.

Whereas I generally agree with Diamant’s thesis, I argue that if we interrogate the texts from a postcolonial perspective, we begin seeing the ambivalence scale tipping towards the Israel elite’s sustained imperialistic urge to control others in the land. While Tonson’s reading stresses affinities between Abraham and Lot more than their differences, my monograph does the opposite; hence we reach different conclusions. However, our general goals are probably very similar. I agree with the general thrust of his argument, being that since human beings are closer to each other than they really think they are, they need to live amicably together. But I maintain that one cannot collapse differences (take an assimilative approach to ethnicity) as the avenue for peaceful interethnic coexistence. Rather, I believe that one should confront the complexities of differences and their implications in order to forge a ground upon which multiethnic (multiracial) communities can form healthy relationships.

As a result of this, my findings in chapter 3 include the idea that the Moabites are represented largely negatively in the Hebrew Bible. Using the themes of genealogy, land, and religion, the Judean ruling elite offer Moabite representations that are geared towards positioning the Judean ruling elite in the postexilic period above the Moabites (and other ethnic groups in the land) in order to monopolize sociopolitical and economic processes. This desire for monopoly was, however, contested from within the Israelite community and from without. Underlying the contestations is the desire for peaceful coexistence with the Moabites. As a result of this, my book calls for an investigation, interrogation, and engagement of the language of power inherent in the representations of the Moabites in the Hebrew Bible, in the hope that this process can lead one to envision alternative forms of representations that can empower diverse ethnic communities to coexist and share God-given resources peacefully.

In chapter 4 I describe how the Kikuyu ruling elite represented the Luo negatively, with the goal of monopolizing sociopolitical and economic processes in postcolonial Kenya. These representations create unease and ← 3 | 4 → volatile Kikuyu-Luo interethnic relations. The Luo, together with what I call the “Kikuyu dissidents,” contest not only the Kikuyu ruling elites’ representations, but actively seek involvement in the sociopolitical processes with the hope of undermining, destabilizing, and overturning Kikuyu narratives. They seek to reimagine a context where the different ethnic groups can forge an inclusive identity that captures the hopes and interests of diverse ethnic groups in Kenya. This reading is instrumental in understanding the functions of Israelite-Moabite representations.

In chapter 5 I read the book of Ruth as a story of subgroups within the Persian Empire that begins to reimagine interethnic coexistence differently. It is a story that begins to retell relational events differently from the way other stories discussed in this book do. Rather than tell the story of the Moabite Other as an enemy, the book begins telling the story of the Moabite Other as a friend who is complimentary to the life and well being of Israel. Viewed this way, the ethnic dynamics between the Israelites and the Moabites create a complex picture of both positive and negative representations as the subgroups align themselves with the sociopolitical and economic demands of life in a multiethnic Persian postexilic context. I then compare that reading with the postcolonial Kenyan context. This comparison helps us to understand what is at stake in either sustaining exclusive ethnic identity or forging an inclusive interethnic peaceful coexistence. Thus the book of Ruth is a case study for peaceful interethnic coexistence between the Israelites and the Moabites. Its focal point is that whereas ethnic differences will always remain a reality for multiethnic communities, these differences do not necessarily need to lead to animosity, hatred, and violence against the Other. The book proposes ways through which multiethnic communities can harness their differences into a peaceful interethnic coexistence.

In chapter 6 I offer a reflection on the implications of my work. I argue that interethnic relationships have their complications, but that a peaceful interethnic coexistence is possible if entities involved can commit themselves to work towards achieving it by telling their stories of the Other more positively.


1. The idea of colonized victims becoming colonizing victimizers is the running theme of Mahmood Mamdani in his book, When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

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2. Sara Cobb, Speaking of Violence: The Politics and Poetics of Narrative in Conflict Resolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 3, 21.

3. Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1978); Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (ed. Cary Nelson and Larry Grossberg; Urban: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 271–313; and Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 1994).


XIV, 246
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (September)
hermeneutics economics religion ethnicity
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 246 pp.

Biographical notes

R.S. Wafula (Author)

R. S. Wafula (PhD, Hebrew Bible, Drew University) completed his bachelor of divinity degree at St. Paul’s University in Limuru, Kenya. He earned his master’s degrees in theology in Hebrew Bible and Old Testament studies at Edinburgh University in Scotland; theological studies, Old Testament at the Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri; theology, Hebrew Bible at the Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pennsylvania; and philosophy, Hebrew Bible, at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. Dr. Wafula is the author of «I Am What You Are Not: A Critical Postcolonial Reading of the Africa Bible Commentary’s Abraham-Lot Stories in Genesis», which was featured in the edited volume Postcolonial Perspectives in African Biblical Interpretations.


Title: Biblical Representations of Moab
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263 pages