A noted biblical scholar explores how the claim of divine choice has been used from ancient times to the present to justify territorial expansion and prejudice.
The Bible describes many individuals and groups as specially chosen by God. But does God choose at all? Michael Coogan explains the temporally layered and allusive storytelling of biblical texts and describes the world of the ancient Near East from which it emerged, laying bare the power struggles, the acts of vengeance, and persecutions made sacred by claims of chosenness.
Jumping forward to more modern contexts, Coogan reminds us how the self-designation of the Puritan colonizers of New England as God’s new Israel eventually morphed, in the US, into the self-justifying doctrines of manifest destiny and American exceptionalism. In contemporary Israel, both fundamentalist Zionists and their evangelical American partners cite the Jews’ status as God’s chosen people as justification for taking land - for very different ends. Appropriated uncritically, the Bible has thus been used to reinforce exclusivity and superiority, with new myths based on old myths.
Finally, in place of the pernicious idea of chosenness, Coogan suggests we might instead focus on another key biblical concept: taking care of the immigrant and the refugee, reminding the listener of the unusual focus on the vulnerable in both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament.
“Coogan’s rigorous work deserves a wide audience.” (Publishers Weekly)
“What does it mean to be chosen by God? The biblical promise of the covenant has become the basis for remarkable political movements, both of liberation and xenophobia, freedom, and oppression. Tracing the history of this key concept from the Bible to the present day, Michael Coogan brilliantly brings to life the extraordinary journey of this complex religious idea.” (Susannah Heschel, Eli Black professor of Jewish studies, Dartmouth College, and author of The Aryan Jesus)
“God’s Favorites traces the negative effects of the idea of the divine chosenness of a particular people. Starting with an overview of ideas about divine chosenness in the Bible, the book shows the concrete, violent, and oppressive ways this idea of chosenness has been used. It has shaped exclusive ideas of American exceptionalism, undergirded the beliefs of fundamentalist Zionists, and inflamed debates about immigration up to the present day. A timely and important book.” (David M. Carr, author of Holy Resilience: The Bible’s Traumatic Origins)