Foreigners upon the Earth: Marginality, Movement, and Migration in the Letter to the Hebrews

Displacement due to war and ecological disaster has become increasingly common in the past few decades, currently reaching alarming levels, especially as Syrian refugees flee Daesh (ISIS) and fan across Europe and North America. This paper seeks to juxtapose this modern forced displacement with an ancient one reflected in a reading of the Letter to the Hebrews. Relying upon spatial theory from Henri Lefebvre and Edward Soja as well as studies in migration and refugees, this paper will investigate place, place-less-ness, movement, and marginality in Hebrews to argue that the author calls his audience to earthly marginality – to be foreigners upon the earth – and migrant status to achieve heavenly centrality. Especially in chapter 11 onward, but elsewhere as well, the author recasts such biblical heroes as Abraham and Moses to reflect the audience’s own marginal, disrupted, and displaced status along the fringes of the Roman imperial system in the general context of Jewish-Roman hostilities: here they have no lasting city, whether Jerusalem or Rome. They wander toward a new homeland. The audience is called to a life of wandering and marginality here and now for the reward of god’s throne and tabernacle later. Earthly marginality in fringe places of deserts, caves, and holes in the ground leads to the heavenly city and homeland. It is a message of future hope in the midst of an ongoing struggle.