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Social Theory and the Study of Israelite Religion

Social Theory and the Study of Israelite Religion

Edited by Saul M. Olyan
  • Book Info
    Social Theory and the Study of Israelite Religion
    Book Description:

    This volume assesses past, theoretically engaged work on Israelite religion and presents new approaches to particular problems and larger interpretive and methodological questions. It gathers previously unpublished research by senior and mid-career scholars well known for their contributions in the area of social theory and the study of Israelite religion and by junior scholars whose writing is just beginning to have a serious impact on the field. The volume begins with a critical introduction by the editor. Topics of interest to the contributors include gender, violence, social change, the festivals, the dynamics of shame and honor, and the relationship of text to ritual. The contributors engage theory from social and cultural anthropology, sociology, postcolonial studies, and ritual studies. Theoretical models are evaluated in light of the primary data, and some authors modify or adapt theory to increase its utility for biblical studies. The contributors are Susan Ackerman, Stephen L. Cook, Ronald Hendel, T. M. Lemos, Nathaniel B. Levtow, Carol Meyers, Saul M. Olyan, Rüdiger Schmitt, Robert R. Wilson, and David P. Wright.

    eISBN: 978-1-58983-689-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  2. Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)
    Saul M. Olyan

    Social theory and the study of Israelite religion have had a long and fruitful relationship. Classics such as Paul D. Hanson’sDawn of Apocalyptic(1979), Norman K. Gottwald’sTribes of Yahweh(1979), Robert R. Wilson’sProphecy and Society in Ancient Israel(1980), and Carol Meyers’sDiscovering Eve(1988) utilized social theory extensively, setting the stage for more recent work making use of classical and contemporary theory.¹ This volume, which grows out of a symposium at Brown University during the winter of 2010, is intended both to assess past, theoretically engaged work on Israelite religion, and to provide a forum for...

  4. Social Theory and the Study of Israelite Religion: A Retrospective on the Past Forty Years of Research
    (pp. 7-18)
    Robert R. Wilson

    In a volume devoted to the topic of social theory and the study of ancient Israelite religion, it is appropriate to sketch briefly how the use of social theory in biblical studies has changed over the last forty years or so, roughly the length of time I have been engaged in the study of the Hebrew Bible and its social world. During that time much has happened in the sociological study of Israel’s religion, and although I have followed scholarly trends closely, I cannot claim to have looked at everything that has been published. Even if I had, the field...

  5. Cult Centralization, the Erosion of Kin-Based Communities, and the Implications for Women’s Religious Practices
    (pp. 19-40)
    Susan Ackerman

    It was one of the greatest among social theory’s’ĕlōhîm—the sociologist Max Weber—who in his now classic studyAncient Judaismoriginally posited a causal relationship between the first two issues that I evoke in this essay’s title: one, the program of cult centralization mandated in the book of Deuteronomy; and, two, the erosion of kin-based communities. In particular, Weber focused on the erosion of kin-basedreligiouscommunities that, in his view, Deuteronomy’s program of cult centralization brought about and that it even sought to effect. To be sure, Weber acknowledged that centralization was to some extent a de...

  6. The Levites and Sociocultural Change in Ancient Judah: Insights from Gerhard Lenski’s Social Theory
    (pp. 41-58)
    Stephen L. Cook

    In recent decades, the works of the American sociologist Gerhard E. Lenski (b. 1924) have attracted the interest of biblical scholars, who have found them illuminating of the social dynamics of ancient Israelite history. As Robert R. Wilson states in his contribution to the present volume, Lenski’s work has played a notable role in the “second wave” of biblical scholarship incorporating social-scientific theories and methods in the study of the Hebrew Scriptures.¹ From about 1980 on, Lenski’s work has impacted this subfield within the biblical guild. Among its many possible applications in shedding light on the social world of ancient...

  7. Away from Ritual: The Prophetic Critique
    (pp. 59-80)
    Ronald Hendel

    A prophetic oracle in Amos 5:21–24 conveys a judgment against the contemporary ritual practices of ancient Israel.¹ The poetry of the oracle is terse and emphatic:

    This famous poem—whose last lines are among the most quoted from the Hebrew Bible—is an example of the poetry of prophetic critique, in which ordinary practices are exposed to withering rejection. I will explore the nuances of this and related texts, and will attempt to situate them in their social contexts in order better to understand their practical, institutional, and conceptual claims. The theory of Mary Douglas on the social relations...

  8. “They Have Become Women”: Judean Diaspora and Postcolonial Theories of Gender and Migration
    (pp. 81-110)
    T. M. Lemos

    Postcolonial studies is, one might say, distinctly a product of our contemporary period of empires in decline and fallen, of decolonization, migration, and globalization. At the same time, postcolonial studies, with its revival of interests historical and diachronic, transcends the contemporary moment, attending to a wide set of interests, problems, and cultural settings. Postcolonial studies, for roughly three decades now, has been so popular in certain academic disciplines as to seem at times faddish; it perhaps even approaches the status ofpassé. Despite this, it is really only since the mid-1990s that biblical scholars have begun to utilize ideas put...

  9. Text Production and Destruction in Ancient Israel: Ritual and Political Dimensions
    (pp. 111-140)
    Nathaniel B. Levtow

    The past decade has witnessed increased attention to the development of writing and literacy in ancient Israel.¹ This turn to the social world of Israelite scribes seeks new answers to old questions concerning the history of the biblical text and the nature of Israelite authorship. Recent scholarship on Israelite scribal culture moves helpfully beyond traditional boundaries of biblical study by engaging broader methods and debates in social anthropology and by appealing to better-attested scribal traditions of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece. As a result, the obscure social contours of Israelite scribal activity are coming into sharper relief through a focus...

  10. The Function of Feasts: An Anthropological Perspective on Israelite Religious Festivals
    (pp. 141-168)
    Carol Meyers

    Periodic gatherings for the consumption of food and drink characterize human societies everywhere. From prehistoric times to the present, around the globe, people have assembled to partake of special meals marking a variety of occasions. The ubiquity of shared repasts across cultures and the concomitant availability of social-science analysis of those events provide an opportunity to examine the festive occasions of ancient Israel.¹ Doing so can illuminate aspects of Israelite society not otherwise visible.

    Let me begin with a note about terminology, specifically, about the relationship of the wordsfestivalsandfeastsin the title of this paper. Both come...

  11. Theorizing Violence in Biblical Ritual Contexts: The Case of Mourning Rites
    (pp. 169-180)
    Saul M. Olyan

    In this paper I present some thoughts on how we might understand the place of violence in biblical ritual settings, specifically violence in relationship to mourning rites, a subject that I did not explore in my bookBiblical Mourning.¹ I have become increasingly interested in what social anthropologists have had to say of late about violence as I have sought to understand the ritual dynamics of several biblical texts that describe violent acts in mourning contexts or violence in nonmourning ritual settings (e.g., contexts of legal conflict) apparently intended to result in the victim’s transition to the ritual stance of...

  12. Theories Regarding Witchcraft Accusations and the Hebrew Bible
    (pp. 181-194)
    Rüdiger Schmitt

    In his famous studyWitchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande, first published in 1937, Edward E. Evans-Pritchard noticed that witchcraft accusations were raised against persons who did not conform or align with the values and the demands of society. In the case of the Azande, witchcraft accusations were not used in situations of struggle for social status: neither wealth nor poverty played a role in such accusations. Instead, they were used to stigmatize individuals of the same status group who were not behaving according to the codes and values of society, for example, women who were engaged in a...

  13. Ritual Theory, Ritual Texts, and the Priestly-Holiness Writings of the Pentateuch
    (pp. 195-216)
    David P. Wright

    Biblical studies thrives on the application of models and methods developed outside the discipline, especially those from the social sciences. This is particularly true in the study of ritual. The application of socio-theoretical approaches and perspectives has enhanced our understanding of this phenomenon or feature in biblical texts and will no doubt continue to do so.¹ Nevertheless, certain problems stand in the way of a straightforward application of socio-theoretical approaches to biblical texts that manifest ritual concerns and especially theculticritual material in the Priestly-Holiness corpus (PH) of the Pentateuch, the body of biblical literature to which scholars gravitate...

  14. Contributors
    (pp. 217-220)