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“You will be named after your ancestors”: Replicating Israelite Tribal Names in Judean Hebrew Inscriptions as Indexes of Refugee Identity Alignment and Community Cohesion


Following the Assyrian invasion in 733-722 BCE, the Northern Kingdom of Israel underwent a series of political-economic crises and a demographic decline that led to the displacement of thousands from the tribes of Israel and their resettlement in southern Judah. Within this fluid context of social change, war, statelessness, and displacement, there emerged a discourse concerning refugee tribal heritage.

This dissertation explores the forced migration of Israelite refugees into Judah during the late 8th century BCE and examines refugee language ideologies pertaining to their pre-displaced past as expressed by the replication of iconic tribal names. Tribalism is explored as a semiotic cognatic alliance in ancient Israel, and theories of linguistic anthropology are used to analyze naming variation between tribes and clans in Israel and Judah. Emphasis is placed on how naming, as ritual practice, was embedded in cultural ideologies and values. The main contribution of this study is its revelation of how Israelite refugee name-giving practices were aligned with tribal history prior to the Israelite exile, and how this was one of the many social movements against assimilating to Judean identity and the threat of cultural erasure. Refugee heritage-naming practices indexed a reinforcement of group solidarity and embodied resilience in maintaining family and religious identity in Judean space. The performance of replicating tribal names by migrant families also indexed a certain nostalgia discourse about their tribal homeland and the hope of a restored segmentary tribal state. Israelite refugee naming practices also indexed the creation of a new symbolic Diaspora community in Judah that was not based upon territoriality or political regime, but instead on family kinship ties and community cohesion. At the same time, Israelite migrations brought in new social influences that reshaped the Judean cultural environment, such as creating hybrid forms of religious culture associated with Omri and Ahab, leading to negative social stigmas about those of minority status occupying the same social space, as evident in the Hebrew Bible. These stereotypes aside, the incorporation of refugee elites into the administration of Judah acted as a catalyst for social networks across the territorial boundaries of Israel and for King Hezekiah’s expansionist ideologies and nostalgia aspirations for the reunification of Israel and Judah under one symbolic segmentary tribal state.

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