Social Theory and the Study of Israelite Religion

Essays in Retrospect and Prospect


Editor: Saul M. Olyan
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 It gathers previously unpublished research by senior and mid-career scholars well known for their contributions in the area of social theory and the study of Israelite religion and by junior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, post-colonial 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.
Biographical Note
Saul M. Olyan is Samuel Ungerleider Jr. Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies at Brown University. He is the author most recently of Social Inequality in the World of the Text: The Significance of Ritual and Social Distinctions in the Hebrew Bible (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht), Disability in the Hebrew Bible: Interpreting Mental and Physical Differences (Cambridge University Press), and Biblical Mourning: Ritual and Social Dimensions (Oxford University Press).
Review Quotes
“This collection of essays offers a fresh, constructive engagement between social science theory and ancient Israelite religion. At the heart of the issues addressed in this volume is social conflict and negotiation, whether in the realm of the priesthood, prophecy, ritual, cult, or magic. The authors, all first-rate scholars, explore the application of social science research to a wide variety of issues in Israelite religion: different aspects of religious struggle; the impact of diaspora on traditional forms of identity and authority; the social function of communal meals; the significance of textual destruction; and the social purposes of violence and witchcraft accusations. Most usefully, the essays pose fundamental questions about the use of social science theory for biblical research. They also offer constructive criticisms and suggestions about what has been lacking in social science theorizing for the subjects that they undertake. The result is a very thoughtful work, one that builds a firmer foundation for future research for Israelite religion. With this achievement, Saul Olyan has once again done the field of biblical studies a great service. Every serious student of Israelite religion should have this book.”—Mark S. Smith, Skirball Professor of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, New York University
Table of contents
Abbreviations Introduction Saul M. Olyan Social Th eory and the Study of Israelite Religion: A Retrospective on the Past Forty Years of Research Robert R. Wilson Cult Centralization, the Erosion of Kin-Based Communities, and the Implications for Women’s Religious Practice Susan Ackerman The Levites and Sociocultural Change in Ancient Judah: Insights from Gerhard Lenski’s Social Th eory Stephen L. Cook Away from Ritual: Th e Prophetic Critique Ronald Hendel “They Have Become Women”: Judean Diaspora and Postcolonial Th eories of Gender and Migration T. M. Lemos Text Production and Destruction in Ancient Israel: Ritual and Political Dimensions Nathaniel B. Levtow The Function of Feasts: An Anthropological Perspective on Israelite Religious Festivals Carol Meyers Theorizing Violence in Biblical Ritual Contexts: The Case of Mourning Rites Saul M. Olyan Th eories Regarding Witchcraft Accusations and the Hebrew Bible Rüdiger Schmitt Ritual Th eory, Ritual Texts, and the Priestly-Holiness Writings of the Pentateuch David P. Wright Contributors
Index Card