Biblical rhetoric of separatism and universalism and its intolerant consequences

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4 Scopus citations


The long history of the Jewish and Christian use of separatist rhetoric and universal ideals reveals their negative consequences. The Hebrew Bible’s rhetoric about Israel as a people separated from the Egyptians and Canaanites is connected to Israel’s purity practices in Leviticus 18 and 20. Later communities wielding greater political power, however, employed this same anti-Canaanite pollution rhetoric in their efforts to colonize many different parts of the world. Separatist rhetoric was used to protect small Jewish communities in the early Second Temple period. The Christian New Testament rejected many of these purity practices in order to makes its mission more inclusive and universal. However, its denigration of concerns for purification as typically “Jewish” fueled intolerance of Jews in the form of Christian anti-Semitism. The violent history of both separatist and universalist rhetoric provides a cautionary tale about the consequences of using cultural and religious comparisons for community formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number176
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2020


  • Anti-semitism
  • Colonialism
  • Intolerance
  • Leviticus
  • Particularism
  • Purity
  • Universalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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