Emotional Regimes, Ritual Practice, and the Shaping of Sectarian Identity

The Experience of Ablutions in the Dead Sea Scrolls

In: Biblical Interpretation
Ari Mermelstein Yeshiva University, USA

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In this article, I explore the role that the purification rites attested in some of the sectarian Dead Sea Scrolls played in identity construction. Ritual ablutions communicated “canonical” messages to initiates about some of the group’s foundational beliefs, including the worthlessness of humanity, the gift of divine election, and the sharp boundary between insiders and outsiders. These messages were channeled through the emotions that the sect associated with ritual ablutions: shame, disgust, and grief with the ritual actor’s former state of impurity, joy and honor upon receiving the undeserved divine gift of purity, love for other pure insiders, and hate for all impure outsiders. By evoking emotions – “embodied thoughts” – that reflect core sectarian values, the embodied ritual became a vehicle through which the sectarian “emotional regime” transformed the ritual actor into the embodiment of the sectarian worldview.

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