Third Year Brittain Fellow Josh Cohen Publishes Book

Cohen Book Cover

Posted March 31, 2021

Dr. Josh Cohen's monograph, Excavating Exodus, is now available from Clemson University Press.

Publisher's book description: Excavating Exodus analyzes adaptations of Exodus in novels, newspapers, and speeches form the antebellum period to the Civil Rights era. Although Exodus has perennially served to mobilize resistance to oppression, Black writers have radically reinterpreted its meaning over the past two centuries. Changing interpretations of Moses's story reflect evolving conceptions of racial identity, religious authority, gender norms, political activism, and literary form. Black writers transformed Moses from a paragon of race loyalty into an avatar of authoritarianism. Excavating Exodus identifies a rhetorical tradition inititated by David Walker and carried on by Martin Delany and Frances Harper that treats Moses's loyalty to his fellow Hebrews as his defining characteristic. By the twentieth century, however, a more skeptical group of writers, including Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and William Melvin Kelley, associated Moses with overbearing charismatic authority. This book traces the transition from Walker, who treated Moses as the epitome of self-sacrifice, to Kelley, who considered Moses a flawed model of leadership and a threat to individual self-reliance. By asking how Moses became a touchstone for notions of racial belonging, Excavating Exodus illuminates how Black intellectuals reinvented the Mosaic model of charismatic male leadership.

You can view the book on the publisher's website here, and view purchasing information here.


J. Laurence Cohen is a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research explores the religious dimensions of African American literature. He is the author of Excavating Exodus: Biblical Typology and Racial Solidarity in African American Literature published by Clemson University Press. His work has also been published in ESQ: A Journal of Nineteenth-Century American Literature and the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies. He earned his PhD in English from Emory University.