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EXILE . Often prompted by historical conditions, the concept of exile appears in various religious traditions as a symbol of separation, alienation, and that which is unredeemed.

In Judaism

With the Babylonian invasion of Judah and the subsequent destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 587/6 bce, the concept of exile (Heb., golah or galut ) came to reflect both a historical reality and a communal perception. Forced into exile in Babylonia, members of the upper classes found themselves uprooted from their national and spiritual homeland. Literally, then, the term exile came to describe the forced dispersion of the Jewish people and their subjugation under alien rule. Although according to Jewish tradition (Jer 29:10) the Babylonian exile was only seventy years in duration, the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 ce and the triumph of Rome caused a national uprootedness that lasted for almost two thousand years. Historically, one can thus maintain that the exile of the Jewish people from the land of Israel began in the sixth century bce and came to an end in 1948 with the establishment of the state of Israel and the restoration of Jewish political independence.

Metaphorically, however, the term exile was and is still used as a symbol of alienation, reflecting the Jews' separation from the land of Israel, from the Torah by which God commanded them to live, from God, and from the non-Jew and the non-Jewish world in general.

To the biblical prophets, exile was a symbol of divine retribution. As Isaiah makes clear (44:920), in worshiping other deities, the people of Israel revealed a lack of fidelity to their God and to the covenant that God had established with them. Their punishment, then, was the destruction of their spiritual center, Jerusalem, as well as of the Temple in which sacrifices were offered, and the forced removal of many from the land that had been promised to them. At the same time, however, exile became a symbol of judgment. Those who remained religiously faithful, becoming, in Isaiah's words, God's "suffering servants" (43:10), would reap the rewards of righteousness and ultimately be redeemed.

According to the prophet Ezekiel (14:3ff., 21:31ff.), exile was a trial through which God tested Israel's faithfulness to God and God's teachings. It was also a symbol of Israel's election, with the Babylonians, and later the Romans and all those under whose rule the Jewish people were subjugated, acting as instruments of a divine schema through which, as Isaiah writes, God's "faithful remnant" (27:31ff.) would be redeemed. Exile thus became a metaphor of separation not only from God but also from righteousness. As such, it was associated with a pre-messianic, pre-redemptive era. In exile, as John Bright maintains, one was to purge oneself of sin in order to prepare for the future, to "return," that is, to remember that God, the Creator of the world, chose Israel to be God's people. Obeying the divine commandments given to them was therefore a way out of exile both historically and spiritually. On a historical level, the Jewish people would be led back to the Land of Israel, with the Temple rebuilt and political independence restored, while on a spiritual level, as Isaiah writes (51:6), the righteous would attain eternal salvation.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the concept of exile gave theological significance to the continued political, social, and economic oppression of the Jewish people. The tenth-century philosopher Saʾadyah Gaon, in his Book of Beliefs and Opinions, emphasized the importance of exile as a trial and as a means of purification, while according to an anonymous contemporary, exile, as a divine gift and a "blessing of Abraham," served as a mark of Israel's election. According to this view, exile was not a punishment for sin but an opportunity given by God to bring God's teachings to all of humanity. After fifteen hundred years of Jewish settlement in Spain, characterized by a social, economic, and political integration unknown elsewhere in the medieval world, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella's edict of expulsion in 1492, left generations of Spanish Jewry feeling doubly exiled. As Jane Gerber notes, the exiles and their descendents viewed Spain as a second Jerusalem. Their expulsion, therefore, "was as keenly lamented as was exile from the Holy Land," leading to "both a new dynamism and a heightened sense of despair."

To many medieval Jewish mystics, exile took on additional significance as a metaphor describing on the divine level what historically had befallen the Jewish people. One finds in the thirteenth-century Zohar, for example, the claim that with the destruction of the Second Temple both the Jewish people and the tenth emanation of God, identified as shekhinah (God's visible presence in the world), went into exile. Thus, the separation of the Jewish people from the Land of Israel became mirrored in the alienation of God from a part of Godself. This idea is reiterated and broadened in the writings of the sixteenth-century mystic Isaac Luria (15341572), in which the exile of the shekhinah is said to reflect the exile or "fall" of humanity as a whole into the domination of demonic powers.

Finally, on a psychological level, the concept of exile served to reinforce the national self-consciousness among a people who no longer shared a common culture, language, or land. Exclusion from non-Jewish society, coupled with a Jewish liturgy and calendar that reinforced the notion of the Land of Israel as home, underscored the alien nature of the Jew in the non-Jewish world. After the seventeenth century, however, as European emancipation came to afford growing numbers of Jews the opportunity to participate more fully in non-Jewish society, many began to feel that the Diaspora did not necessarily have to be equated with exile. One sees this most clearly in the writings of nineteenth-century religious reformers who, insisting that Jews were members of a religious community but not of a specific nation, maintained that it was possible for Jews to view any country as home.

Since 1948, it is debatable whether Jews choosing to live outside the state of Israel historically are still in exile. Yet one can argue, as does Arthur Hertzberg in Being Jewish in America, that on a psychological level the concept of exile remains a compelling symbol. Hertzberg maintains that even in the United States, where Jews have gained great acceptance and freedom, the Jew continues to be an alien. As an externally and internally imposed sense of self-identification, exile thus reflects the conviction of many Jews that the Diaspora can never truly be seen as "home."

In Christianity

The metaphor of exile appears in Christianity in two separate ways: first, as that reflecting the historical and spiritual conditions under which the Jewish people have lived since the fall of the Second Temple, and second, as descriptive of life in this world as opposed to life in the kingdom of heaven.

Like their Jewish contemporaries, the Fathers of the early church attached theological significance to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 ce. They maintained, however, that its destruction was not caused by sinfulness in general but by one particular sin, namely the rejection by most of the Jewish community in Palestine of Jesus as the Messiah for whom they had been waiting. Thus, the historical exile of the Jewish people was seen to mirror the spiritual exileor alienationof the Jews from God. To "return" in the Christian sense came to imply not only repentance but also acknowledgement of Jesus as savior.

In the New Testament Gospel of John, one sees that which is usually identified as a more Gnostic understanding of exile. Jesus here identifies himself as one who is "not of the world." Those who are "of the world," he says (Jn. 17:16), are those who have not acknowledged that he is the Christ (Messiah), sent by his father, the one true God, in order to redeem his people. To be "not of the world," he continues, is to be with God in the Divine spiritual kingdom, possible even before death. Exile thus functions here as an individual rather than a collective metaphor of alienation or separation from God. Not surprisingly, John's understanding of "return," rooted in an individual declaration of faith, is also personal in nature.

In Gnosticism

The concept of exile comes to play a central role in a number of early Gnostic texts. Set within a dualistic framework of spirit versus matter, light versus darkness, goodness versus evil, exile again functions as a symbol of alienation. Here, however, it is not a particular people that are said to be in exile or the nonbeliever per se but the human soul. Belonging to the spiritual realm of light but trapped in the world of matter or darkness, it depends upon the "saving knowledge" of the Gnostic to begin its journey home.

The Apocryphon of John, written probably in the late second century ce, the third-century Gospel of Thomas, and the fourth-century Pistis Sophia are among several Gnostic Christian texts that depict Jesus as having been sent down to earth to impart this saving knowledge to others. Reminding his listeners of their heavenly origin, he tells them that the soul can be set free only through this insight, or gnōsis. To be in exile is to be unredeemed, ignorant of one's origins and of the nature of the human soul. In these and other texts, knowledge thus becomes the necessary key to salvation.

Yet having attained this knowledge, the Gnostic cannot help but experience life in this world as "alien." Hans Jonas maintains that this experience serves as the primary symbol not just of Christian Gnosticism but of other forms of gnosticism as well. Life in this world is depicted as a descent into darkness and captivity, a life of exile for which, as the Mandaeans claimed, the only "day of escape" is death. As a metaphor, then, exile takes on personal rather than communal significance, reflecting the experience of the Gnostic who, alienated from and in revolt against the cosmos, longs to return home.

Among the Ismaʾiliyah, an Islamic movement of radical Shiʾah founded in the late third century ah (ninth century ce), one again finds the concept of exile serving as a central symbol of alienation. Here, it is the imam who leads the gnostic away from the world of darkness. Possessing the esoteric knowledge of the soul's true spiritual birth, the imam offers this knowledge to his disciple as a "salvatory revelation." Having attained this revelation, the disciple is freed from exile and reborn as a "being of light."

The IshrĀqĪyah

Revealing the influences of Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, Persian mysticism, and Neoplatonism, the illuminative philosophy of the twelfth-century thinker Shihāb al-Dīn Yayá Suhrawardī (Shihāb al-Dīn Yayá ibn abash ibn Amīrak Abū al-Futū Suhrawardī; ah 549587/11701208 ce) uses exile as a symbol of ignorance of one's true spiritual nature and of reality in general. "Home," in the Ishrāqī school, is metaphorically identified with the world of light, while exile is described as entrapment within the realm of darkness. In order to journey homeward, the Ishrāqīyun need to move beyond rational inquiry to the imaginal world and illumination (ishrāq). Only then can the souls of the Ishrāqīyah attain mystical union with the inner divine presence, experiencing an ecstatic separation from the physical body and an anticipation of death. Thus to journey out of exile is to overcome the separation of the soul from the divine and to become inflamed by what Henry Corbin labels the "divine fire."

Suhrawardī's understanding of exile is developed most fully in his Recital of the Western Exile, a spiritual autobiography that describes the struggles of the "man of light" to free himself from darkness. Associating ignorance with the West and illumination with the East, Suhrawardī begins his tale with the exile of the soul to the western city of Kairouan. Forgetting his origins and eventually taken captive, the man of light slowly comes to an awareness of his true identity and sets out on the long journey home. Thought at first he is forced to return to the West, he is finally set free. Stripped of the "fetters of matter," his soul becomes possessed by an angel who helps it return to its celestial condition. Thus beginning its heavenly ascent, it leaves the world of exile forever.

In Contemporary Tibetan Buddhism

Forced to live in exile since 1959, the XIV Dalai Lama, religious and secular head of Tibet, along with well over 100,000 Tibetan refugees, have sought refuge in India, in the Himalayan town of Dharamsala. With the Chinese military annexation of Tibet, the systematic attempt to destroy Tibet's religion, and the massive influx of ethnic Chinese, Tibetan Buddhists have lost their land, temples, monasteries, and most of their religious leaders. Consequently, they also risk losing their identity.

Recognizing the difficulty of returning to Tibet as a free people, the Dalai Lama has created in Dharamsala a Tibetan Government in Exile. In an effort to rebuild the refugees' shattered lives, it features new governmental departments of Education, Rehabilitation, Information, and Security, as well as new Offices of Religious and Economic Affairs. It also features a monastery built in 1968 and a temple built in 1970, leading to what the Dalai Lama has described as a "thriving monastic community of over six thousand strong." The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives opened in Dharamsala in the late 1960s. Housing over forty thousand original Tibetan volumes and involved in published English language and Tibetan books, it has become a world-wide center of Buddhist research and study.

In an effort to preserve the religion and culture of the six million Tibetan Buddhists that he represents, while promoting world peace through nonviolence, the Dalai Lama has devoted himself to building a strong Tibetan community in exile. He also has engaged in dialogue with political and religious leaders throughout the world.

Among them has been a group of rabbis and Jewish scholars first invited to meet with the Dalai Lama in 1989, the same year that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. According to Rodger Kamenetz, "in the Dalai Lama's eyes, and to many of the Tibetans, Jews are survival experts. The idea that Jewish history, with all its traumas, is relevant to another exiled people was inspiring." So was the Jewish observance of home rituals; the preservation and renewal of religious culture and tradition; and most importantly, the Jewish emphasis on remembrance, including the memory of exile.

For over four decades, Tibetan Buddhists have experienced exile as a political and geographical reality. Yet despite the longing of exiled Tibetan Buddhists to return to their home, holy spaces are primarily symbolic in the Buddhist imagination. Since ultimately, they come from an individual's inner spiritual power, they can be transported. Thus Tibet in-and-of-itself is not as central to Tibetan Buddhism as Jerusalem is to Judaism. Nor, for that matter, is the concept of physical exile. Nonetheless, ongoing attempts by the Dalai Lama to free Tibet from Chinese control and to keep Tibetan Buddhism alive, even in exile, have helped differentiate Tibetan Buddhism from other forms of Buddhist belief and practice. So have the efforts by hundreds of resident scholars and monks at the Tibetan Library in Dharamsala to preserve and help translate original Tibetan manuscripts, including rare ones smuggled out of Tibet over the past forty years.

See Also

Buddhism, article on Buddhism in Tibet; Buddhism, Schools of, article on Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism; Dalai Lama; Gnosticism; Ishraqiyah; Shekhinah; Soul.


Excellent summaries of the early historical development of the concept of exile in Judaism can be found in John Bright's A History of Israel, 3d ed., (Philadelphia, 1981), and William F. Albright's essay on "The Biblical Period" in The Jews, vol. 1, edited by Louis Finkelstein (Philadelphia, 1949), pp. 369. For insight into why Spanish Jewry came to feel a sense of being doubly exiled, see Jane Gerber's The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience (New York, 1992). For a discussion of the significance of exile in medieval Jewish mysticism, see Gershom Scholem's Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941; New York, 1961), especially lectures two, six, and seven. Michael A. Meyer's The Origins of the Modern Jew (Detroit, 1967), provides insight into the relationship between European emancipation and the later Jewish reevaluation of exile as a meaningful theological symbol. Finally, Arthur Hertzberg reflects at length on the concept of exile in the American Jewish imagination in his Being Jewish in America: The Modern Experience (New York, 1979), and more recently, in his autobiographical A Jew in America: My Life and a People's Struggle for Identity (San Francisco, 2002).

The best study of exile as metaphor in Christian and Hellenistic Gnosticism remains Hans Jonas's second revised edition of The Gnostic Religion (Boston, 1963). For a comparison between these ideas and those found in the New Testament Gospel of John, see James M. Robinson's "Gnosticism and the New Testament," in Gnosis: Festschrift fur Hans Jonas, edited by Barbara Aland (Göttingen, West Germany, 1978), pp. 125157. Bernard Lewis's The Origins of Ismailism (1940; New York, 1975) provides a good overview of this concept among the Ismaʾiliyah, while Henry Corbin's En Islam iranien: Aspects spirituals et philosophiques, vol. 2, (Paris, 1971) and Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth (Princeton, 1977) offer cogent accounts of exile as metaphor in Suhrawardī's theosophy of light.

For a lengthy discussion of exile as symbol and reality in contemporary Tibetan Buddhism, see Bstan dzin rgya mtsho, Dalai Lama XIV, Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama (New York, 1990). Detailed descriptions of meetings between the Dalai Lama and Jewish leaders can be found in Rodger Kamenetz's The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India (San Francisco, 1994).

Ellen M. Umansky (1987 and 2005)

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Exile, one of the longest-running bands in popular music, successfully making the switch from pop to country. Formed in 1963 in Lexington, Ky. MEMBER-SHIP: The band has had over 25 members over the last 35 years, but the core band is J.P. (James Preston) Pennington, gtr., voc. (b. Berea, Ky, Jan. 22, 1949); Les Taylor, gtr., voc. (b. Oneida, Ky, Dec. 27, 1948); Buzz Cornelison, kybd; Jimmy Stokely, voc. (b. c. 1944, d. Aug. 12, 1985); Steve Goetzman, drm. (b. Louisville, Ky, Sept. 1, 1950); Sonny Lemaire, bs. (b. Fort Lee, Va., Sept. 16, 1946).

Formed while Stokely, Pennington, and Cornelison were in high school, by 1965, the Exiles (as they were then known) were touring with Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars, backing artists such as Tommy Roe. They lost the “s” in their name, and cut several records in the 1960s and early 1970s, although nothing caught fire. In the late 1970s, one of their demos fell into the hands of producer Mike Chapman, who had a string of successful English hits with Suzy Quatro and Gary Glitter. He produced two albums with the band, the second of which, Mixed Emotions, produced the monster hit “Kiss You All Over,” The middle-of-the-road song with light funk underpinnings and a borderline dirty lyric stormed to #1, going gold in the U.S. and selling over five million copies worldwide. When they couldn’t follow it up with anything nearly as successful from either Mixed Emotions (which hit #14 and went gold as well) or the follow-up albums, the group went back to Ky. to regroup.

Although Chapman and his partner Nicky Chirm wrote the hit, several of the band’s own compositions were covered by country stars Alabama, Jane Fricke, Dave and Sugar, and Kenny Rogers. With that in mind, the band started playing every night in the lounge at a bowling alley near their homes in Lexington, taking home $200 a week each. Stokely couldn’t handle this and left the band. After about a year of perfecting their country sound, they came back as a country band in the mold of Alabama. Over the course of the next decade, the band put together a string of 10 country charttoppers. By 1989, Pennington decided that 26 years on the road was enough and left the group. Taylor followed in favor of a solo career. The band came back again in the early 1990s, earning some country Top Tens, but the thrill was gone and they called it quits in 1994. By 1997, Pennington and Taylor were back on the road using the Exile name, with Goetzman as their manager.


Mixed Emotions (1978), All There Is (1979), Stage Pass (1979), Don’t Leave Me This Way (1980), Heart & Soul (1981), Kentucky Hearts (1984), Hang On to Your Heart (1985), Shelter from the Night (1987), I Love Country (1988), Keeping It Country (1990), Still Standing (1990), Justice (1991), Latest & Greatest (1995).

—Hank Bordowitz

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ex·ile / ˈegˌzīl; ˈekˌsīl/ • n. the state of being barred from one's native country, typically for political or punitive reasons: he knew now that he would die in exile. ∎  a person who lives away from their native country, either from choice or compulsion: the return of political exiles. • v. [tr.] (usu. be exiled) expel and bar (someone) from their native country, typically for political or punitive reasons: he was exiled to Tasmania in 1849.

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exile1 enforced removal or absence from one's country. XIII. — (O)F. exil, latinized refash. of earlier essil — L. exilium, f. exul exiled person, f. EX-1 + *-ul-, as in ambulāre walk (see AMBLE).
So exile2 exiled person. XIV. prob. — (O)F. exilé, pp. of exiler, with muting of the final syll. as in ASSIGN2, etc., infl. by L. exul. exile3 vb. make an exile of. XIV. — (O)F. exil(i)er, refash. of essilier — late L. exiliāre, f. exilium.

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