GOD'S PEOPLES by Donald Harman Akenson


Covenant and Land in South Africa, Israel, and Ulster
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 Bold, often brilliant, but perhaps strained attempt by Akenson (History/Queen's Univ.) to trace how ancient Hebrew scriptures have ``formed the fundamental pattern of mind of the three societies'' of South Africa, Israel, and Northern Ireland. Akenson begins by analyzing the Old Testament: ``The Bible is sulphurous in spots, not nice,'' he says, with Yahweh, a ``jealous God,'' purging 120,000 men of the House of Judah on one occasion, making a bargain with Jephthah to kill his own daughter on another. Akenson believes that the Old Testament laid great emphasis on social law, vengeance, a warlike deity, the value of particular lands, the significance of the Exodus, and group purity--each of which he finds reflected in the three societies he examines. The most obvious case is South Africa, where the belief in a chosen people, in the significance of an exodus into an untamed country, and in biological and cultural purity is particularly clear. Akenson's most strained analogy is that of Ulster, where he sees rigid thinking, sharp dichotomies, a prophetic mode of utterance, and territorial segregation at work. And his most controversial analysis is likely to be of Israel: ``The Israelis systematically deprived the Palestinian Arabs of their lands, segregated their places of residence, and developed a dual economy and severe restrictions on the civil liberties and civil rights of the indigenous population.'' Eight-six percent of Palestinian villages, he says, have disappeared within the past 20 years; military government has been used for ``security'' reasons to deny civil rights; and there are strict ``pass'' and travel restrictions. It's debatable whether Akenson's concept of resurgent Old Testament behavior is more theory than reality--his idea that Israel will move ever closer to the covenanting pattern seems confounded by the recent elections--but the author's sweep and grasp are impressive.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-8014-2755-X
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Cornell Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1992


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