In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Otherness in the Hebrew Bible

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Foreign Nations and Powers
  • Other Gods
  • Nonhuman Others

Biblical Studies Otherness in the Hebrew Bible
Ki-Eun Jang
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0332


As a philosophical idea, otherness is perceived in relation to sameness, just as the Other exists in relation to the Self in both human and nonhuman realms. Understanding otherness, therefore, presupposes the presence of the Other as a subject or object of study, and it could also involve the process of Othering. Ever since Edward Said’s critique on the notion of a “constitutive otherness,” which assumes a natural correlation between essential characteristics and the othered person(s), thereby functioning as an operating logic of Orientalism, studies on otherness have engaged in critical examinations of the idea’s origins and receptions. As a sociological concept, the scope of otherness spans differentiated social categories such as gendered otherness, racial/ethnic otherness, foreignness, illegal otherness, and nonhuman otherness, among others. Likewise, the sociological approaches to the concept have been developed in conversation with the fields of gender/sexuality studies, ethnic studies, postcolonial studies, animal studies, and migration studies, which have emerged and grown to a great extent since the mid-twentieth century, especially in North America. In response, a more focused engagement with the idea of otherness as a heuristic lens and an interpretive methodology in biblical scholarship was noted at the turn of the twenty-first century. Furthermore, discourses on other gods and goddesses in the Hebrew Bible broaden the scope of otherness to encompass divinity. This article primarily focuses on studies that examine differing ideas and representations of Other and Othering within the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

General Overviews

Bultmann 1992 represents an early book-length study on the meanings of the ancient Hebrew terms gēr and nokrî in the legal contexts, and Ramírez Kidd 1999 and Pitkänen 2017 further advance the discussion, respectively, with a theological consideration and by applying the settler-colonialism framework. The three edited volumes supply comparative contexts to examine the notion of otherness across the Second Temple period (Harlow, et al. 2011; Ben Zvi and Edelman 2014) and the prophetic literature (Timmer and Davidson 2021). Baker 2016 and Irudayaraj 2017 are cases that explicitly deploy the theme of otherness in analyzing theological messages in the book of Judges and the Edomite identity in Third Isaiah, respectively. Wills 2018 and Matskevich 2019 similarly use the category of otherness in their respective analysis of gendered Others, while Olyan 2000 probes a dyadic discourse of “self” and “other” in the cultic contexts.

  • Baker, Robin. Hollow Men, Strange Women: Riddles, Codes, and Otherness in the Book of Judges. Biblical Interpretation Series 143. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004322677

    Examines the themes of otherness among other literary techniques, such as riddles and parables in the book of Judges to elucidate the author’s theology located in Yahwism of Judah in the eighth and seventh centuries BCE. Chapter 3 treats different conceptual boundaries of otherness, including geography and other gods.

  • Ben Zvi, Ehud, and Diana V. Edelman, eds. Imagining the Other and Constructing Israelite Identity in the Early Second Temple Period. Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 456. London: T&T Clark, 2014.

    A collection of sixteen essays that examines a range of Othering processes observed in the portions of the Hebrew Bible from the Persian or early Hellenic period, as well as in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Ben Sira, and 1 Maccabees. Informed by interdisciplinary methods, the essays address topics in ethnified otherness, sociological otherness in postcolonial studies, Othering as social memories, and the woman as Other, among other issues.

  • Bultmann, Christoph. Der Fremde im antike Juda: Eine Untersuchung zum sozialen Typenbegriff “ger” und seinem Bedeutungswandel in der alttestamentlichen Gesetzgebung. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1992.

    DOI: 10.13109/9783666538346

    Using a source-critical approach, Bultmann analyzes the semantics of the Hebrew noun gēr and its transforming social typology, focusing on the legal texts in the book of Deuteronomy and the priestly sources. Distinguishes the social status of the gēr from that of the nokrî in that the former assumes a lawful membership to a rural community albeit without a land of their own.

  • Irudayaraj, Dominic S. Violence, Otherness, and Identity in Isaiah 63:16: The Trampling One Coming from Edom. Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 633. London: T&T Clark, 2017.

    Uses the category of proximate “other” in analyzing the social identity of Edomites/Edom in Third Isaiah. Special attention is given to how the Edomite identity exhibits both proximate and hostile relationships to postexilic Judah.

  • Harlow, Daniel C., Karina Martin Hogan, Matthew Goff, and Joel S. Kaminsky, eds. The “Other” in Second Temple Judaism: Essays in Honor of John J. Collins. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011.

    A collection of twenty-seven essays that explores the ideas of otherness from the Hebrew Bible and its reception in the post-biblical literature to the representation of Other in the Second Temple wisdom and apocalyptic texts, as well as in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Greco-Roman context. The contributions in the Hebrew Bible include topics in God’s Other, the Canaanites, Israel’s election, and otherness in the book of Ruth.

  • Matskevich, Karalina. Construction of Gender and Identity in Genesis: The Subject and the Other. Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 647. London: T&T Clark, 2019.

    DOI: 10.5040/9780567673787

    Probes the construction of subjectivity and alterity underlying the garden narrative in Genesis 2–3 and the narrative cycle of the patriarchs and the matriarchs in Genesis 12–36. Demonstrates the ways in which the gendered and national subjects (i.e., hā’ādām and Israel) in each narrative unit are projected onto the respective others (i.e., women and foreign nations).

  • Olyan, Saul M. Rites and Rank: Hierarchy in Biblical Representations of Cult. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400823567

    Chapter 3 examines self/other as one of the binary modes of discourse in the cultic contexts of the Hebrew Bible, represented in the polarity distinctions between circumcised and uncircumcised, Israelite and alien (ger), and “exile” community and the people of the land(s).

  • Pitkänen, Pekka. “Ancient Israelite Population Economy: Ger, Toshav, Nakhri and Karat as Settler Colonial Categories.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 42.2 (2017): 139–153.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309089216677665

    Reexamines the major categories for foreigners and aliens found in the Pentateuchal law codes in light of the settler-colonialism framework developed in social science. Considers the three categories of ger, toshav, and nakhri as “exogenous others” and analyzes the karat punishment as “undesirable and abject others.”

  • Ramírez Kidd, José E. Alterity and Identity in Israel: The גר in the Old Testament. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 283. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1999.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110802221

    Advances the studies on the גר, focusing not only on its individual dimension with a certain legal status but also on its semantic development as a theological concept. Also discusses the semantic transformation of the Hebrew noun in the Greek translation of the Bible by which a new meaning of the גר had emerged among the early Christian and Jewish communities.

  • Timmer, Daniel, and Steed Vernyl Davidson, eds. Prophetic Otherness: Construction of Otherness in Prophetic Literature. Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 687. London: T&T Clark, 2021.

    A collection of eight essays that tackles questions about the construction of differences and the demarcation of the Self and the Other in prophetic literature. The introductory essay offers a critical engagement with theories of otherness developed in the Western intellectual tradition and its inheritance in biblical studies. Davidson’s chapter 2 elaborates on the theoretical critiques of the conception of otherness from the postcolonial perspective.

  • Wills, Lawrence M. “Challenged Boundaries: Gender and the Other in Periods of Crisis.” In Women and Exilic Identity in the Hebrew Bible. Edited by Katherine E. Southwood and Martien A. Halvorson-Taylor, 41–51. London: T&T Clark, 2018.

    Considers varying aspects of the Other such as the “external ethnic Other” and internal gendered/disabled Others living within the same ethnic community in a transhistorical context during the exilic and postexilic periods, including in Ezra-Nehemiah. Argues that the constructions of the Other and the We are necessarily complementary to each other.

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