Original Research - Special Collection: Biblical Spirituality

The concept of chosen people in the construction and maintenance of Jewish identity

brimadevi van Niekerk
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 74, No 3 | a4947 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v74i3.4947 | © 2018 Brimadevi van Niekerk | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 February 2018 | Published: 04 October 2018

About the author(s)

brimadevi van Niekerk, Department of Christian Spirituality, Church History, and Missiology, University of South Africa, South Africa


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Abstract

Jews, as a group, are able to withstand the disintegrative forces of modernity by upholding certain notions of self-identification which are rooted in their ancestral and religious history. One such notion around which Jews have formed their identity is the concept of chosen people which lends credence to their sense of belonging. However, the concept of chosenness may be offensive to those who are not Jews. The aim of this article, therefore, is to examine what may be considered objectionable about the concept, to explain its persistence in the world and to explore the foundations on which Jews, a minority group of people, have formed their identity. Although many researchers now understand the concept of chosen people from the perspective of history, nations and nationalisms, ethnicities and myth, there has been little sustained critique in the religious dimension of identity. This article attempts to make a contribution to the work on religious identity of Jews in South Africa by drawing on literature in history, sociology and religion. The article concludes that chosenness, because it can be as onerous to Jews as it is beneficial, need not necessarily imply superiority and that claims to being chosen are rhetorical and not verifiable outside the discourse in which such claims are made.

Keywords

religion; chosen people; religious identity; Jews

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