Hebrew poetry relies on conceptual rather than auditory rhymes, with line pairs expressing similar ideas. To pick an example at random: “Save me O God, by your name, / and vindicate me by your might” (Psalm 54:1). While I was correcting proofs for The Prince of This World — a preorderable book, incidentally — I was particularly struck by several of my quotes from the Hebrew prophets that refer to the Babylonians in the first half of a line pair, then the Chaldeans in the second. On some level, this pairing is probably just a poetic convenience. They talk about the Babylonians a lot, and the demands of Hebrew poetry require them to have a synonym for the second line. Yet there’s another context where the Chaldeans come up — namely, Ur of the Chaldeans, the hometown of Abraham.
What does it mean that the ancestor of the Israelites is a Babylonian? Or more specifically, that he is someone who breaks with the Babylonians, in the first story of the Book of Genesis that is not in some sense a reworking or parody of Babylonian mythology? Empire is always already there as a rival who inspires mimesis and rejection all at once, and the Israelites, who will spend most of their history in exile within Empire, are here figured as primordially exiles from Empire.
By the end of Genesis, they have been thoroughly reincorporated into Empire, due to the exceptional political success of Joseph in Egypt, but their very success proves to be the greatest danger, exposing them to slavery and attempted genocide. And so they must go into exile from Empire again, and they are led by a man who is by all appearances a child of Empire — Moses the Egyptian. A strange cycle of theme and variations.
(Idle thoughts, probably not saying anything new.)