Part 2: Inspecting the Wall
Toward A Recapitulation of Faith and Faithfulness Amongst Black Students in Racialized American Society.
Empire and Exile: The Effect of Exile on Expressions of Faithfulness
The Babylonian Exile is the period of Jewish history in which the people of Judea were forced to leave their historic homeland and relocated to other parts of the Babylonian Empire. Historians place the beginning of the Babylonian Exile between 588 and 586 B.C. Like most ancient Middle Eastern people, the Jews' religious identity was tied to their homeland. The exile brought about a number of significant changes to the way Judaism was practiced. Many of these changes are practiced in modern Judaism today.
When comparing the Ezra-Nehemiah narrative and the story of the struggle to reach Black students. The people of Israel's social location and experience in exile are similar in many ways to that of Black America. It was amid exile that many scholars believe Judaism as we know it today was articulated. In the same way, the invisible institution of the Black church was formed amid oppression and colonial trauma. Thus, Nehemiah's narrative of rebuilding the wall in Jerusalem provides a chronological blueprint for rebuilding the ruins of the proverbial wall, responsible for the emergence of alternative spirituality, religious refugees, and evangelical exiles characteristic of Black youth and young adults.
The experience of exile can have profound implications for religious development. Displacement and oppression give rise to the need for clarification, a deepening of religious faith commitments, and redefining truth. According to Professor George Barton, PH.D. in the Old Testament, the influence of the Babylonian exile is discernible in three great realms of the religious life of Israel1:
In the apprehension of religious truth
In the outward organization of the religious life
In the standards of public morals.
These influences are equally salient in the Black community’s struggle for religious significance. Black people exiled, exiled from their native land, and forced to navigate a new culture and way of life were likewise compelled to make sense of their world. In many ways, this is still ongoing.
Before the Babylonian exile, Jewish religious life revolved around the Temple in Jerusalem. When the Babylonians expelled the Jews from Judea, they completely destroyed the Temple. Since the Jews lacking both a temple and the ability to go to Jerusalem were forced to adjust to retain their cultural and religious identity.
The result was the rise of the synagogue among Jews dispersed throughout the Babylonian Empire. As religious leadership shifted from priest to rabbi, the focal point of worship was relocated from the temple to the Torah, and worship itself went from silent reverence to impassioned rhetoric. Early rabbis compiled the
Talmud, a series of writings that further explained the Torah. The biblical books of Daniel and Esther were written during the Babylonian captivity. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah detailed the end of the exile. They describe the overthrow of the Babylonian Empire by the Persian Empire, the subsequent return of many Jews to Judea, and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.
When the Babylonians expelled the Jews from Judea, they completely destroyed the Temple. It was Nehemiah’s job to salvage the remains and incorporate them into a new structure that looked nothing like that which preceded it.
The poor and downcast had been left behind in a desolate wasteland with the temple in ruins. What once stood as a strong and fortified presence, religious foundation in many ways, was now utterly desolate. It was not strong enough to withstand the armies of Nebuchadnezzar. The highest and richest among the people had been taken away to a strange land and had to learn faithfulness without a temple, a priesthood, nor a leader—faithfulness as they knew it, as they had always known it, was no more. In the wake of its demise, and for a people called by the name of the one whose dwelling lies in ruins, recapitulation was imperative.
Similarly, those seeking to reach this young adult generation in the Black community face a similar condition and challenge. What should be kept? What should be forgotten? What can be repurposed while living in the racialization that is always inherent to and a mechanism for Empire?
Up until the late 80’s, the Black Church was necessary for survival, community, maturation, and insight during the Great Migration and Civil Rights Era. Even the Black Power Movement, though a little further removed from being solely anchored in the Black Church, still felt a nostalgic tethering to the institution that birthed it. However, that is not the case today. The intuition of youth today is functionally pluralistic, not static. Young adults have more anchoring in Hip Hop culture than the Black Church, and it must be reckoned with. Nehemiah’s story gives us a framework showing that there is still hope for faith and faithfulness in the rubble and the remains of a forgone institution.
 Barton, George A. “Influence of the Babylonian Exile on the Religion of Israel.” The Biblical World 37, no. 6 (1911): 369–78. https://doi.org/10.1086/474455.