What Makes a Thing Abominable?

Observations on the Language of Boundaries and Identity Formation from a Social Scientific Perspective

in Vetus Testamentum
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Previous attempts to synthesise biblical texts’ usage of twʿbh have associated the language with cultic concerns in Deuteronomy and Ezekiel or with ethical concerns in Proverbs. The reconciliation of these interests, especially in conjunction with a number of additional outlier texts, has proved problematic. This investigation suggests that the texts which use twʿbh and tʿb exhibit a persistent focus on issues of identity, on the transgression of boundaries and on perceptions of the compatibility and incompatibility of fundamental social, theological and ideological categories. This understanding goes some way towards providing an explanation of the diverse appearances of these terms across the biblical texts.

What Makes a Thing Abominable?

Observations on the Language of Boundaries and Identity Formation from a Social Scientific Perspective

in Vetus Testamentum




Gerstenberger‘תעב’ p. 1431; cf. L’Hour ‘Les interdits toʿeba’ p. 503.


S. Olyan‘ “And with a Male You Shall Note Lie the Lying Down of a Woman”: On the Meaning and Significance of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13’Journal of the History of Sexuality 5 (1994) p. 180n. 3.


MillerDisgust p. 160.


NussbaumHiding From Humanity p. 83; cf. W.I. Miller The Anatomy of Disgust (Cambridge Mass. 1997).


MillerDisgust pp. 153-154.


L’Hour‘Les interdits toʿeba’ p. 486.


See G. Emberling‘Ethnicity in Complex Societies: Archaeological Perspectives’Journal of Archaeological Research 5 (1997) p. 318; in the biblical context also P. Altmann Festive Meals in Ancient Israel: Deuteronomy’s Identity Politics in Their Ancient Near Eastern Context (bzaw 424; Berlin 2011) pp. 42-66 with further references.


See KellyYuck! p. 119.


MilgromLeviticus 17-22 p. 1520; cf. P.J. Budd Leviticus (ncb; Grand Rapids Mich. 1996) pp. 260-263; cf. E. Gerstenberger Leviticus: A Commentary (otl; Louisville Ky. 1996) pp. 255-257. On the particularly frequent appearance of sexual norms in the delineation of ethnic identities see Kelly Yuck! p. 119.


MillerDisgust pp. 160-161.


Barth‘Introduction’14. On the practical difficulty of identifying group boundary markers see Emberling and Yoffee ‘Thinking about Ethnicity’; G. Emberling ‘Ethnicity in Complex Societies: Archaeological Perspectives’ Journal of Archaeological Research 5 (1997) pp. 294-344; M. Hegmon ‘Technology Style and Social Practices: Archaeological Approaches’ The Archaeology of Social Boundaries (ed. M.T. Stark; London Smithsonian Institute 1998) pp. 264-279; K.A. Kamp and N. Yoffee ‘Ethnicity in Ancient Western Asia: Archaeological Assessments and Ethnoarchaeological Prospectives’ basor 237 (1980) pp. 85-104; I. Hodder Symbols in Action: Ethnoarchaeological Studies of Material Culture (New Studies in Archaeology; Cambridge 1982) p. 187; Keyes ‘The Dialectics of Ethnic Change’.


SouthwoodEthnicity and the Mixed Marriage Crisis pp. 137-138.


L’Hour‘Les interdits toʿeba’ p. 503; O. Bächli Israel und die Völker: Eine Studie zum Deuteronomium (atant 41; Zürich 1962) pp. 53-55; Humbert ‘Le substantif toʿēbā’ pp. 222-226.


See among many others Hallo‘Biblical Abominations’ pp. 37-38; J.B. Miller The Ethics of Deuteronomy: An Exegetical and Theological Study of the Book of Deuteronomy (D.Phil. diss. University of Oxford 1995); M. Varšo ‘Abomination in the Legal Code of Deuteronomy: Can an Abomination Motivate?’ zabr 13 (2007) pp. 249-260; and the numerous commentary remarks on these passages. In light of recent scholarship on the relationship of Israelites to the land and its inhabitants this clearly requires more nuanced reconsideration; for a more extensive discussion of each of these texts see Crouch The Making of Israel pp. 146-164 174-176.


BächliIsrael und die Völker p. 53; cf. Gerstenberger ‘תעב’ p. 1430.


EichrodtEzekiel p. 123.


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