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This article is taken from PN Review 245, Volume 45 Number 3, January - February 2019.

Exile, I: Origins André Naffis-Sahely
CIVILISATION BEGETS EXILE; in fact, being banished from one’s home lies at the root of our earliest stories, whether human or divine. As the Abrahamic traditions tell us, if disobeying God was our original sin, then exile was our original punishment. In Genesis, Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit, their return forever barred by a flaming sword and a host of Cherubim. Tragedy, of course, repeats itself when Cain murders his brother Abel and is exiled east of Eden. Genesis also tells us of The Tower of Babel, an edifice tall enough to reach the heavens itself, a monument to human hubris, whose destruction scattered its people across the earth and ‘confounded’ our original language, thus making us unintelligible to one another for the first time since creation. The Tanakh, in fact, is rife with exile: Abraham sends Hagar and Ibrahim into the wilderness of the Desert of Paran, while the young Moses voluntarily heads into exile after murdering an Egyptian. Genesis and Exodus tell of the captivity of the Israelites in Egypt and their subsequent escape to Sinai, while the Book of Ezra records the end of the Babylonian captivity – the inspiration behind Psalm 137’s immortal lines, ‘by the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept / when we remembered Zion’ – and the eventual return of the Jews to Israel.

Nevertheless, our religious texts tell us that exile wasn’t a fate exclusive to lowly humans. In the Ramayana, the ancient Indian epic, ...

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