Sacred And Undesirable: Examining The Theological Import Of Hiding Places In Exodus And Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl -- By: Francine L. Allen

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 29:3 (Summer 2015)
Article: Sacred And Undesirable: Examining The Theological Import Of Hiding Places In Exodus And Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl
Author: Francine L. Allen


Sacred And Undesirable: Examining The Theological Import Of Hiding Places In Exodus And Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl

Francine L. Allen

Francine Allen is assistant professor of English at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. She has an MA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a PhD from Georgia State University. Her research focuses, in part, on how narratives of scripture can be seen as archetypes for exploring the way modern narratives revise ancient narratives. Her blog and other information can be viewed at www.drfran.org. She is a member of Atlanta’s Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.

For enslaved members of the African diaspora in America, the biblical story of Exodus provided a way of understanding and framing discussions about slavery. Enslaved people would eventually use the Exodus story to shape their arguments for the abolition of slavery. If enslaved people found comparisons between their situation and that of the children of Israel, might not contemporary literary scholarship turn to the Moses narrative to understand and frame discussions, especially theological ones, about the enslaved experience as recounted in slave narratives, whether narratives of the African diaspora in America, of modern- day sex trafficking, or other instances of slavery?

Answering this question affirmatively requires identifying points of connection between the Moses story and slave narratives. One prominent connection emerges between the Exodus text and Harriet Jacobs’s 1861 slave narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.1 In both Exodus and Incidents, there exists what might be called the hiding place, that place or collection of places between slavery and full freedom where enslaved individuals hide away until they are able to acquire, if not complete freedom or civil liberties, at least a measure of freedom. Long before Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, he spent time hidden from those intent on killing him, in part because he represented a marginalized, oppressed group. Harriet Jacobs spent seven years hidden in an attic crawlspace in order to escape the sexual harassment of a plantation owner and eventually acquire freedom in the North for herself and her children. For Moses in Exodus and Jacobs in Incidents, their hiding places become necessary but temporary habitations that strengthen their sense of personal identity and that allow them, even as they live in hiddenness, to experience God’s protection and comforting presence. These divine encounters reveal the complexity of hiding places, both their sacredness and their undesirability, and point to a richer understanding of the omnipresence of God.

Ancient Hebr...
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