Centre for Bible, Ethics and Theology

Forced Migration, Political Power and the Book of Jeremiah

Thinking Theologically with the Bible

Saturday 13 May 2017

Humanities A22, University Park Campus

9am - 5.30pm

This workshop was designed to facilitate a constructive theological dialogue about forced migration and the intersections of political power, drawing on the book of Jeremiah as a foundational text.

The format reflected CBET’s particular commitment to collaborative work between theologians and biblical scholars, featuring sustained reflections and ample time for discussion.

Speakers included two Hebrew Bible scholars, a New Testament scholar, and two systematic theologians, whose recent work focused on forced migration in the ancient and contemporary world.



An interdisciplinary workshop for researchers and students, led by the Centre for Bible, Ethics and Theology at the University of Nottingham.



The book of Jeremiah has its roots in the devastation wrought by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar on the city of Jerusalem. In the aftermath of the city’s destruction, its king and many of its inhabitants were deported to Babylonia. Some were held as hostages in the Babylonian court; others were re-settled in rural areas of the country as part of sprawling Babylonian development projects.

Still others were left behind in the land, forced to reckon with an imperial overlord intent on extracting submission and resources from its subject territories. Many of these were uprooted from their homes within Judah; still others sought refuge in neighbouring countries, fleeing their homes in hope of a safer life elsewhere.

The book’s complex attempts to wrestle with the realities of imperial power, the devastation of war, and the challenges of multiple forms of involuntary migration render it a powerful resource for constructive reflection on current events.


9.00 – Arrival, tea and coffee

9.30-10.45 – Casey Strine (University of Sheffield) 
Jeremiah against Neo-Nationalism

10.45-11.00 – Tea and coffee 

11.00–12.15 – Steed Davidson (McCormick Theological Seminary) 
The Imperial End: How Empire Overtakes the Refugees at the End of Jeremiah

12.15–12.45 – Claire Carroll (Trinity College, Dublin)
Wine, Summer Fruit and Olive Oil: Dynamics of Power in Judean Communities under Babylonian Control

12.45-13.30 - Lunch 

13.30–14.45 – Michelle Fletcher (University of Kent/KCL) 
Come Out of Her My People! Revelation 18's Imitative Negotiations with Empire, Past and Present

14.45–16.00 – Susanna Snyder (University of Roehampton) 
The Art of Hope: Forced Migration, Prophecy and Aesthethics

16.00–16.15 – Tea and coffee 

16.15–17.30 – Anna Rowlands (Durham University) 
Prophecy and Judgement: Jeremiah, Arendt and Asylum Seeking

Workshop abstracts

The Imperial End: How Empire Overtakes the Refugees at the End of Jeremiah 

Steed Davidson (McCormick Theological Seminary)

To the extent that the book of Jeremiah represents the experience of a displaced nation struggling to rebuild its way from imperial devastations the book speaks through the voice of imperial power rather than that of a displaced and marginalized people. The final chapters of the Hebrew version of the book, currently used in most English Bibles, demonstrate this turn in the oracles against the nations. In these chapters readers are called to participate in an imperial theology that images a powerful deity with the capacity to produce a new world order built upon the elimination of military enemies, neutralizing of nations, violent destruction of nations and their heads, suppression of religions, environmental decay, and a hardened ethnocentrism. These chapters offer an example of how the experience of forced migration can evolve into a program of exclusion, nativism, and even imperialism under the guise of eliminating evil in the world. This presentation explores the various theologies expressed and implicit in the oracles against the nations given that Yhwh is the central actor that recreates the world to conform to a single national interest.

Jeremiah against Neo-Nationalism 

Casey Strine (University of Sheffield) 

The Book of Jeremiah is in thrall to involuntary migration. Indeed, one can justifiably say Jeremiah is indelibly shaped by the external and internal involuntary migrations caused by the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 587 BCE. Among the range of responses to involuntary migration in the book, there is an array of texts advocating a form of pragmatic identity that supports an open, engaging approach to outsiders. These texts support a level of flexibility with tradition that enables one to draw identity boundaries in varying, advantageous places. This position is far from the consensus of the Hebrew Bible: Ezekiel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and parts of Deuteronomy recommend a sectarian, even ethnocentric, ideology. An attitude of extreme exclusivity comprises the larger stream of tradition in the Hebrew Bible. Though much history indicates that Jeremiah’s cosmopolitan outlook was marginal, it remains the case that both Judaism, with its diasporic bonds, and Christianity, with its supranational communal boundaries, embraced the open ethos of Jeremiah. First, then, this paper traces aspects of this process from the conquest of Jerusalem in 587 BCE through the New Testament and even into the enshrinement of Christianity as the official religion of Rome. Now, as Neo-nationalism experiences renewed popularity and reasserts its influence, it is necessary to recall how the response to external threats, internal divisions, and the trauma of social upheaval that shaped crucial texts from Jeremiah to the New Testament provides a foundation for both Jewish and Christian support for supranational identities. In its second part, then, this paper advances a constructive argument that outlines how the ethos of Jeremiah supports resisting neo-nationalism, especially in times of conflict and upheaval.

Wine, Summer Fruit, and Olive Oil: Dynamics of Power in Judean Communities under Babylonian Control

Claire Carroll (Trinity College, Dublin)

Any construction of a plausible model for the compositional context of the book of Jeremiah demands attention to the scale and demographic makeup of the deportations of populations from Judah in 597, 587, and 582 BCE. Does the book of Jeremiah offer any insights into Babylonian deportation and resettlement policies? Did Babylonian policies differ from or mimic the earlier patterns of Assyrian domination? What was the legal status of Judean deportees in Babylon? Were they, as John Ahn has suggested ‘internally displaced persons,’ forcibly relocated to work on Babylon’s ambitious irrigation programmes? This paper focuses on two Babylon-sanctioned Judean enclaves; Mizpeh, as presented in Jeremiah 40-41, and Al-Yahudu, via a reading of cuneiform documents believed to have originated there. It explores the possibility that Mizpeh may bear traces of the Babylonian concept of a civic polity, kiddinutu, and considers the predominantly economic documents from Al-Yahudu as a window into a related but by no means entirely congruous image of Judean life under Babylonian suzerainty.

Come Out of Her My People! Revelation 18's Imitative Negotiations with Empire, Past and Present

Michelle Fletcher (University of Kent/King’s College, London)

Scholarship on Revelation 18 tends to focus on two key issues. The first is that it is awash with Hebrew Bible resonances. From the declaration of her fall to the summons to flee, from the moving in of unclean beasts to the casting down of stones, it is difficult to not hear Jeremiah in particular. Many studies accordingly examine the impact of this textual reuse. At the same time, the passage’s portrayal of the fall of the powerful and seemingly invincible Babylon (a cipher for the Roman Empire) has attracted readings which examine the economies and injustices of empire. These have drawn particular attention to the slaves and human souls, who direct our gaze to the brutality of the ancient world, and to the history of western wealth. This paper interweaves these two scholarly trajectories, exploring the work of scholars such as Alan Boesak, Erin Runions, Clarice Martin, Néstor Míguez , Shanell T. Smith and Richard Bauckham to question the place of the reader as participant and to ask how the reuse of prophetic texts informs negotiations with empire and what kind of separation the text might provoke. Ultimately, the essay interrogates the role past texts play in the torrid present.

Prophecy and Judgement: Jeremiah, Arendt and Asylum Seeking

Anna Rowlands (Durham University)

This paper will explore the tentative and heuristic connections that might be made between Jeremiah, Hannah Arendt and Augustine in the context of debates about forced migration. Drawing on Jeremiah 7, Jeremiah 29, the later work of Arendt on responsibility and judgement and St Augustine’s vision of the nature of good, this paper seeks to explore the-political themes of misrecognition of the good, exile and captivity, and migrant-host relations in the context of UK immigration policy and practice.

The Art of Hope: Forced Migration, Prophecy and Aesth/ethics

Susanna Snyder (University of Roehampton) 

This paper will draw on the book of Jeremiah to explore contemporary arts-based responses to the current refugee crisis. Recognising that the artistic—and in the case of Jeremiah, more specifically, the poetic—is an important arena for and means of resistance for those experiencing exile and responding to injustice, this paper will delineate two key ways in which visual arts, music and theatre are playing a prophetic role in relation to migration today. First, the arts are generating prophetic revelation—or helping people to see more clearly and truthfully the pain and suffering experienced by underprivileged migrants—and second, the arts can enliven prophetic imagination, helping us to creatively visualise how a world-in-migration could be at its best by offering glimpses of oneness and hope. Revelation and imagination are key prophetic tasks, as Brueggemann has argued in his study of Jeremiah, as both can prompt action for social justice and a more hopeful, divinely-willed future. The paper will explore 5-6 current arts-based projects as case studies to illustrate this argument.



Steed Davidson is Associate Professor of Old Testament at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of Empire and Exile: Postcolonial Readings of Selected Texts of the Book of Jeremiah and numerous essays exploring the Hebrew Bible from postcolonial and gendered perspectives and is co-editor of the forthcoming Islands, Islanders and the Bible: RumiNations. 

Michelle Fletcher is Associate Lecturer at the University of Kent and Research Assistant at King’s College, London on The Visual Commentary of Scripture. Her thesis on the book of Revelation is being published with Bloomsbury in the forthcoming monograph Reading Revelation as Pastiche: Imitating the Past.

Susanna Snyder is Assistant Director, Catherine of Siena College, at the University of Roehampton and a Research Associate of the Oxford Centre for Christianity and Culture, Regent’s Park College, Oxford. She has published widely in the area of migration, refugees, Christian ethics and theology, and her books include Asylum-Seeking, Migration and Church (Ashgate, 2012) and Intersections of Religion and Migration: Issues at the Global Crossroads (co-editor, Palgrave 2016). 

Casey Strine is Lecturer in Ancient Near Eastern History and Literature at the University of Sheffield. Strine is especially interested in how involuntary migration—people fleeing environmental disasters, war, or persecution in various forms—influences the ways groups construct their history, tell those stories, and respond to the other cultures they meet in their movements.

Anna Rowlands is Lecturer in Contemporary Catholic Studies and Deputy Director of the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University. She is the founding chair of a national network organisation for academics and practitioners working in Catholic social thought. She works mainly in the areas of Political Theology and Catholic and Anglican social thought. Her current AHRC/ERSC/Global Challenges collaborative research project looks at the relationship between conflict displaced Syrians and local 'hosts' and NGO's in three countries in the Middle East.

Claire Carroll is a postgraduate research student at Trinity College, Dublin and the recipient of the CBET Postgraduate Research Bursary. Her doctoral research concerns the question of distinct event-centred narrative portions of the book of Jeremiah, with a view to discerning possible ideological standpoints and their putative relationship with contexts of composition, transmission and preservation. 


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Centre for Bible, Ethics and Theology

The University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5854