Uriah – An Outsider Welcomed When It Was Useful


In contrast to David, Uriah abides by the Torah and observes the wartime soldier's ban against conjugal relations. Despite this, the scribes did not claim Uriah as one of them, but as a "Hittite," an outsider, Kim writes.
Uriah the Hittite, husband of Bathsheba, was an officer of the Israelite army, a native of Jerusalem and a faithful Yahwist. Uriah is a Yahwistic name meaning "Yahweh is my light/fire."

Four other Uriahs named in the Old Testament are either prophets or priests of YHWH (2 Kings 16.10-16; Jeremiah 26.20-23; Nehemiah 3.21; 8.4). Uriah the Hittite is named in the list of the 30 (2 Samuel 23.24-39), which may have been David's elite officers' corps formed during his flight from Saul.

In accordance with David's plan to possess Bathsheba, Uriah was killed while fighting for Israel.

In contrast to David, Uriah abides by the Torah and observes the wartime soldier's ban against conjugal relations. Despite this, the scribes did not claim Uriah as one of them, but as a "Hittite," an outsider.

Hittites were a people whose capital in central Anatolia was the center of a significant empire in the second millennium B.C. The Hittite empire eventually collapsed at the end of the Late Bronze Age, at which time they populated Canaan along with a territory to the north of Palestine.

Because of Uriah's hybrid identity, the "author" of the text gave Bathsheba a double identity, "daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite," confirming her Israelite heritage.

Uriah's story is a (con)text of struggle for identity that is all too familiar to immigrants struggling for identity.

Is it possible that the Hittites, a community displaced by the Israelites, practiced ethnic "disidentification," the act of distancing one's group from another group so as not to be mistaken and suffer the blame for the presumed misdeeds of that group?

This is a strategy of survival for colonized and diasporic people and was used frequently by Asian Americans in the U.S. before the 1960s.

Immigrants often find themselves negotiating a complex maze of identity-formation described as (1) "hybridity," a doubleness that brings together, but also maintains separation through multi-identities of members of diasporas and (2) liminality, the state of "in-betweenness" resulting from hybridity.

Hybridity allows one to move about freely in two or more cultures and highlights the "positive" side of liminality. For example, as long as Uriah was "useful" to Israel, he was considered its own.

Hybridity facilitates exploration of interculturation in the postcolonial world as it lifts the veil on the lie that we are pure, pristine and singular and allows the complex mixtures of different cultures, ethnicities and religious identities to be clearly evident.

From the tension of hybridity comes new opportunities for discourse through altering the conceptualization of identity so that it no longer functions as a stable reference point.

It then combines with other ideas, concepts and beliefs, resulting in new and different understandings of self, of context and of the world.

Uriah's story reminds us that we live in mixed, interrelated, dynamic cultures in which hybridity and interculturation are constantly occurring.

Hybridity can be a useful aid in identity-formation of oppressed peoples and an inspiration for change in society enabling different ethnicities to learn to accept, live and embrace one another.

Grace Ji-Sun Kim is associate professor of doctrinal theology at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Penn. A version of this column first appeared on her website and is used with permission.

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