Conversation Guide #6: Otherness and Exile – by Henk Bakker

According to leading Jewish scholars, Jesus should basically be understood within the conservative Palestinian settings in which he was raised. Jesus was more of a marginal Jew, without any particular status, wealth or higher education, than an opinion leader. For other scholars, however, it cannot be denied that this Galilean prophet and holy man was also identified as the embodiment of the Name of God, as the Son of God, albeit in an indirect and interpretive way.

His Own Path

Despite the common ground as to Jesus’s social-cultural background and the process of sense-making involved, there is no real consensus as to how disapproving or disqualifying Jesus was, and to whom his criticisms were exactly addressed. In any case, part and parcel of any halachic attitude and discourse in Jesus’s day was the practice of social distancing, which was fairly normal. Social distancing was an approved means by which to discipline offenders of religious law, and, if necessary, to ban them from exerting their faith. The stance Jesus took in most cases of law-related social nuisance was noticeably controversial, as I will show by looking mainly at his parables.

Playful Confrontations

Parables have the advantage of providing playful confrontations. The listeners are taken by the hand by story, and in a way experience the message by imagination. The confrontation is acted out safely as an inner moral dialogue that makes the listener decide on the spot: either they surrender to the moral imperative demonstrated in the parable, or evade it.

Identity in Hybridity

It is evident from the parables that Jesus proclaimed a very critical message. Without any doubt, the parable of the evil tenants (Matt 21:33–46; Mark 12:1–12; Luke 20:9–19) represents an exemplary specimen of Jesus’s criticism of the temple aristocracy in his day, particularly the Markan version. Here Jesus defines himself as the final prophet in a long line of messengers from God, whose fate it is to die for the cause of God’s property.

Unfortunately, the extended version of Matthew has often been taken as a punishment of the Jewish people as a nation, but this is not the case. So who are these ‘others’? Exegetically it seems tenable to argue for an inclusive and exclusive interpretation simultaneously.

Judean hierarchy tended to think in temple-centered terms. In order to maintain a monopoly, its monotheism was rather restrictive, not conversant with foreign people, nations and religious systems. Galileans however, which is Jesus’s background, were regularly exposed to the widening outlook of (later) Isaiah, (later) Zachariah, and late Malachi. Their belief system can be typified as inclusive monotheism: throughout the world and the nations, yes, even in the darkest places and provinces, the light of God will start to shine.

Even though Jesus’s intentions were inclusive, they were not all-inclusive. The parable of the wicked tenants demonstrates that, for Jesus, new identity is found in hybridity because the ‘others’ are being included, whosoever they may be.

In other words: for Jesus the realm of ‘otherness’ (alterity) is constitutive of hybridized identity, and envisages another type of leadership and new communal identity. Nonetheless, Jesus’s notion of ‘hybridity’ was not just a matter of mixed identity but of convictions crossing social borders, and in particular of conversion. Otherness means either completion or exile, and in Jesus’s parables the hearers are invited to enter a narrative in which their imagination, by heart and intuition, will eventually predispose them to one or to the other.

Culture of Excuses

The parable of the great supper heads in the same direction with quite another narrative (Matt 22:2–10 NIV; Luke 14:16–24 NIV). The ramifications mentioned in this parable come close to the measures to be taken with regard to apostasy (Deuteronomy 17:1–7).

Jesus’s message in sharing this parable is, again, to emphasize how often God has reached out to his people, in particular people in charge (tenants or listed guests), and how often his message (and messengers) has been rejected. The ‘otherness’ here is manifested in the surprising new list of guests, namely ‘anyone’: that is the bad and the good, the poor and the disabled, and all others who were compelled to come in. Those who suffer most from the diaspora and current Roman oppression will be restored and healed in God’s Kingdom, but those who look for excuses to remain where they are, seeking compromises in their luxurious and privileged positions, will finally be judged and  brought into deeper exile, which is the fate of the apostate. So, Israelites who hide behind sheer excuses may end up becoming total strangers to God. Quite astoundingly, they become the ‘others’, whereas outsiders are invited to enter the banquet hall. Replacement is the fate of the apostate.

Into Exile

Jesus is lenient and patient in facilitating conversion, repentance, and forgiveness, but he sends people back to exile if they are hypocrites whose ambition it is to thrive in God’s mercy and do not treat others in the same merciful way. Both forces are at work in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke), and in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew).

So, exclusion, which is roughly equivalent to banishment (literally and/or spiritually), does not equal capital punishment on account of mortal sin. The sanction of banishment/exile was widely administered, while it was almost impossible to sentence someone to death in rabbinic courts. The gravity of the banishment was that the person not only was exiled, but that he was also banished from the presence of God.


Taking all this into account, Jesus’s attitude towards apostates, or outsiders, can be epitomized with the binary of otherness and exile. In his teaching and attitude, in particular in the parables, Jesus exhibits a typical Galilean orientation, which he deepens through unfolding his own halachic path. His criticism is mainly directed towards hypocrisy, in particular towards those whom he accuses of taking advantage of the system, of God’s patience and grace, and at the expense of poor and vulnerable people. In the coming age, which is imminent, and as a matter of fact present in Jesus’s words and deeds (e.g., healings and exorcisms), positions and dispositions will be turned upside down. The ‘others’ outside the system, such as strangers and outcasts and misfits, will be invited to come in, and ‘wicked’ insiders will be banished to exile. Consequently, otherness and hybridity are constitutive to Christian identity, according to Jesus, whereas exile denominates a type of otherness that seems to be beyond redemption, and irreversibly demarcates sound from toxic (infectious) alterity.



  1. Social distancing was an approved means to discipline offenders of religious law, and, if necessary, to ban them from exerting their faith. The stance Jesus took in most cases of law-related social nuisance was rather controversial – as is shown (among other situations) in the parables he told. Can you imagine the disruptive nature of exclusion in Jesus’s day and Jesus’s way of reacting against unloving practices? Explain what you are picturing or thinking.
  2. Parables have the advantage of providing playful confrontations. These confrontations are acted out safely as an inner moral dialogue that makes the listener decide to surrender to the moral imperative demonstrated in the parable or evade it. With regard to church services, can you think of creative ways to implement the power of playful confrontations?
  3. For Jesus, new identity is found in hybridity, because the ‘others’ are being included, whosoever they may be. It is not just a matter of mixed identity, but of convictions crossing social orders, and in particular of conversion. What is your idea (ideologically) about this hybridity within faith communities nowadays, and what do you see as the main hindrances to realizing that?
  4. What culture of excuses do you see within faith communities nowadays (starting with your own); can you think of ways to overcome this?
  5. Within the time of Jesus, the gravity of banishment implies banishment from the presence of God. So the social consequences include religious consequences. How do the social and the religious interact nowadays in your opinion?



This summary belongs to a more extensive article of Henk Bakker, which can be found here: Otherness and Exile: Jesus’s Attitude towards Apostates and Outsiders.

Last year, we published the book Religious Exclusivism and Social Inclusion? A Religious Response, which is available Open Access (for free). People asked for an additional discussion guide to bring the outcomes of this research to a wider audience. We agreed to that, and are happy to present a discussion guide which offers you summaries of all contributions, accompanied by questions for discussion. We hope this stimulates people, in all different contexts, to discuss these matters thoroughly and make them actual and relevant for their own situations. Every week we publish another summary of a chapter of the book, and questions for discussion.  If you want to use the whole conversation guide at once, it can be downloaded here: Conversation guide.