Confronting the Legacies of Esau and Amalek: Historical Criticism, Jewish Extremist Violence, and Decolonial Judaism Restricted; Files Only

Strater, Adam Thomas (Spring 2022)

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The figures or tropes of Esau, Edom, and Amalek have been a violent presence in the Jewish psyche for millennia. This dissertation shows how writers have used Esau, Edom, and Amalek throughout the majority of Jewish literary history as “othering” mechanisms to justify violence, real or symbolic, toward perceived “others.” Judahites in the Late Iron Age II period, then Judeans in the Second Temple period, and finally Jews from the rabbinic period to the present, created violent representations of their particular others by depicting them as Esau, Edom, and/or Amalek. By outlining the trajectory of how writers have depicted Esau, Edom, and Amalek, the dissertation highlights the ubiquity of these representations and confronts the inherent violence of associating these biblical characters with living people and communities. Lastly, by confronting the violence associated with Esau, Edom, and Amalek, the dissertation models another tactic for Jewish peacebuilders to use in their efforts to promote peace.

The method for this dissertation is highly interdisciplinary as it draws from both Hebrew Bible scholarship and Ethics. The project can be split conceptually into two halves. The first half consists of chapters one and two, in which the focus is on historical criticism of biblical, pseudepigraphic, and rabbinic texts and their depictions of Esau, Edom, and Amalek. The second half consists of chapters three and four, which are focused on how the subfields of Jewish Ethics and Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding (RCP) can be used to analyze contemporary Jewish uses of Esau, Edom, and Amalek. The dissertation ends by proposing a new “decolonial” reading of Esau, Edom, and Amalek influenced by Jewish Ethics and RCP that promotes Jewish self-reflection rather than violent othering. What unites the two halves is that they both explore the concept of the “other” by using Esau, Edom, and Amalek as litmus tests to show how one's political status, one’s sense of religious identity, and one’s construction of the other change in relation to one another.

Table of Contents




Introduction­ – 1


           Outline and Structure of the Dissertation – 3

An Introductory Note on Violence – 6


Chapter 1 – Esau, Edom, and Amalek as Cyphers for the Edomites and Idumeans in

Iron Age Judah and Second Temple Judea – 9


           Esau and Edom in Ancient History and in the Hebrew Bible – 11

           Esau and Edom in Second Temple History and Literature – 36

           Amalek in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Literature – 55

           Conclusion: The Esau, Edom, and Amalek Motifs as Markers of Identity in the

Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Literature – 72


Chapter 2 ­– Israel Against Empire: Esau, Edom, and Amalek as Cyphers for Rome in

Rabbinic Literature – 75


     The Succession of Gentile Occupation in the Levant – 78

     Esau-Edom and Amalek and the De-Escalation of Direct Violence in Rabbinic

Literature – 109

           Conclusion – 136


Chapter 3 – Esau and Amalek in Contemporary Orthodox Jewish Ideology and

Extremist Discourse – 138


     Esau-Edom and Amalek in Contemporary Orthodox Judaism – 139

     Esau and Amalek in Kahanist Nationalism – 149

     Summary and Conclusions: Esau-Edom and Amalek and their Legacies in Kahanist

Violence – 177


Chapter 4 – Confronting the Violent Legacies of Esau-Edom and Amalek: Jewish

Cultural Violence and forming Multidirectional Memory – 179


     Analysis: Jewish Historiography and Cultural Violence – 180

     Response: Multidirectional Memory and Jewish Critical Caretaking – 187

     Conclusion – 214


Conclusion – 217


Bibliography – 222

About this Dissertation

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