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Abstract

Much of the literary data we study from ancient West Asian and ancient Mediterranean authors features social, political, ritual, and/or theological competition. These sorts of competition are frequently intertwined. Or rather, we scholars distinguish such categories as we aim to appreciate the threads of our data. This essay focuses on one rhetorical tool frequently utilized within competitive discourse: the label “foreign.” For example, some biblical authors utilize the label “foreign” to categorize phenomena that they reject. Nonetheless, passages feature Judeans doing “foreign” practices as genuinely Judean activities. While critical scholarship has effectively recognized this tension within primary sources, some interpreters of the text reproduce ancient authors’ vested stances, mistaking polemical portrayals to be accurate. Thus, such interpretations overlook the rhetorical work accomplished through the categories “foreign”, Canaanite, and “other gods.” I term strategic use of the label “foreign” in primary texts “foreignization,” a specific subtype of Othering. I critique scholarly misunderstanding of foreignization and misguided use of the category or label “foreign” when reckoning difference among cultic preferences as “mis-foreignization.” I advocate revising problematic category-based explanations that hinder comparative analysis, distance ancient literary voices from their fellow ancient interlocutors, and further the biblical text’s conceptual world from its ancient cultural milieu. Attentiveness to foreignization improves reconstructions of ancient socio-religious dynamics, especially competition between interested authors and characters.

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