Theology and Biblical Exegesis:

The Exodus Typology and the Curse of Cain

The assessment of human mobility in medieval and early modern theology is a particularly complex issue. Biblical scripture contains several narratives that were considered exemplary and paradigmatic in different pre-modern debates on migration issues: Exodus is the prototype of a tribal migration; its character as a divinely sanctioned event justified a positive interpretation of other historical migrations. The genealogy of the Noachids as well as the confusion of languages and the dispersal of tribes at the Tower of Babel (Genesis X and XI) provided additional reference on the settlement and migration of larger ethnic entities. The tale of Cain (Genesis IV), on the other hand, was utilisable in debates on lower-class vagrancy, since it seems to confirm the sinful nature of a mobile life: The archetype of a murderer becomes the archetype of the eternal vagabond. Later commentators also ascribed a certain penchant for a vagrant existence to other unsavoury characters in the bible, like Noah’s impious son Cham, or used Cain as a blueprint for legendary figures such as Ahasver, the Wandering Jew.

However, theological perspectives on migration and mobility were not restricted to biblical exegesis. The merits, but also the abuses of pilgrimage – as one of the primary forms of religiously motivated mobility – were already debated in the Middle Ages, and the topic became particularly controversial in the wake of the Reformation. Likewise, the conflicting ideals of medieval monastic life – Benedictine stabilitas loci vis-à-vis itinerant mendicants – have to be taken into consideration. In the early modern era, in particular, the question of religious exile and the forced migration of religious minorities gained the attention of European intellectuals.

Selected Literature:

Jonathan Boyarin: Reading Exodus into History. New Literary History 23 (1992), pp. 523–54.

Henning P. Jürgens and Thomas Weller (eds.): Religion und Mobilität. Zum Verhältnis von raumbezogener Mobilität und religiöser Identitätsbildung im frühneuzeitlichen Europa. Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Europäische Geschichte Mainz, Beihefte 81 (Göttingen 2010).

Scott M. Langston: Exodus Through the Centuries (Malden 2006).

Tillmann Lohse: Pious Men in Foreign Lands: Global-Historical Perspectives on the Migrations of Medieval Ascetics, Missionaries, and Pilgrims. Viator 44/2 (2013), pp. 123–36.

Klaus Schreiner: „Peregrinatio laudabilis“ und „peregrinatio vituperabilis“. Zur religiösen Ambivalenz des Wallens und Laufens in der Frömmigkeitstheologie des späten Mittelalters. In: Wallfahrt und Alltag in Mittelalter und Früher Neuzeit. Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der Frühen Neuzeit 14, ed. Gerhard Jaritz and Barbara Schuh (Vienna 1992), pp. 133–63.

Alexander Schunka: Glaubensflucht als Migrationsoption. Konfessionell motivierte Migrationen in der Frühen Neuzeit. Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht 56 (2005), pp. 547–64.