Sacred Writings

Ritual and Rhetoric in Leviticus: From Sacrifice to by James W. Watts

By James W. Watts

Ritual and Rhetoric in Leviticus makes use of rhetorical research to reveal the reasons at the back of the writing of the primary publication of the Torah/Pentateuch and its persuasive functionality in historical Judaism. Rhetorical research of Leviticus has implications not just for the shape and contents of that ebook, but in addition for knowing the later background of the rhetoric of priesthood, of sacrifice, and particularly of scripture.

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There are still communities that read the Pentateuch’s instructions for offerings as mandating ritual practices: in addition to the well-known example of the Samaritans, some Christian traditions in Africa practice ritual slaughter with conscious reference to Leviticus (see the summary and literature cited by Bergen, Reading Ritual, 53–7). 30 P1: SBT 052187193Xc01a CUNY775/Watts 0 521 87193 X May 13, 2007 21:24 The Difference Between Texts and Rituals have served. ”87 Even if that was the case for Israelite offerings, however, there is no a priori reason to think that a ritual’s persuasive purpose would match the rhetorical intentions of authors who write about that ritual.

To grant precedence to one author (ancient or modern) or authority or tradition of interpretation is to accede to one party’s claims in a many-sided contest of interpretations (see Buc). , Fritz Staal, J. Z. Smith). ”88 We should take seriously the possibility that rituals are not primarily or necessarily means for communicating symbols, unlike texts. Rhetoric and Ritual Interpretation How then should rituals be interpreted? Nancy Jay helpfully distinguished action from interpretation in her comparative analysis of sacrifice: The meaning of any action not only varies with the way in which it is interpreted, it is the way in which it is interpreted.

92 And the dominant traditions maintained their position more by the force of custom and tradition than by intellectual apologetics. That remains true even in modernity, despite the emphasis in rabbinic/scholastic/academic traditions on the rationales behind the rituals: within congregations, custom and tradition often trump intellectual rationales in determining normative practice. It may be that once the Torah’s ritual legislation became the normative temple law of Jerusalem, its status was secured by the prestige of the Temple and its traditions.

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