Jonathan D. Lawrence
This chapter explores the biblical ideas of purity and the related concepts of cleanness and holiness. It discusses some of the terminology used for these concepts in the Bible and related literature and how these terms are used in different texts and various periods. It examines the relationship between purity and holiness, particularly in terms of the Temple in Jerusalem, and discusses some of the possible reasons that certain materials were designated as unclean or impure. It also outlines the development of purification practices, particularly in terms of miqva’ot, Jewish ritual baths which were introduced in the Second Temple period.
Daniel K. Falk
Prayer as a service to God by the people is one of the most far reaching of religious practices, forming a central part of the religious practice of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; yet there is still much uncertainty about how this developed within Judaism and why. Scrolls from Qumran provide the most important corpus of evidence to shed light on the critical period during the days of the Second Temple. This article presents a case study for prayer in ancient Judaism. It is organized around the types of questions being asked: questions of definition and classification, textual questions, historical questions, questions concerning context, and questions of ideology and theology. There is a good deal of overlap between these categories, but they are be treated separately for heuristic purposes.
Brian B. Schmidt
This chapter surveys what is known about ancient Israel’s beliefs and practices relating to the end of life, the experience of death, and one’s transformation into the life thereafter. The results were gleaned from the integration of material cultural data, epigraphic sources, and the critical assessment of biblical texts. Ancient Israelites placed significant emphasis on living the good life and experiencing the good death. In addition to the conventional mourning and burial rites performed on behalf of the deceased, both medium-range and long-term rituals were also observed. These comprised such rites as the care and feeding of the dead, who apparently possessed a post-mortem sentience and also a ghostly existence in the netherworld (see the references in 1 Sam 28 to the ʾôb “ghost” and ʾereṣ “earth”—a synonym of Sheol). These rites also included the commemoration of the dead in which the legacy and exemplary lives the dead had formerly led were ritually remembered, recalled, and passed forward. As such, these commemorative rituals also constituted a form of immortality of the dead; one that was perpetuated cross-generationally in the minds of family and community survivors.
The topic of divine presence and absence is embedded in the theological debate about the communication between human beings and their gods. Intact communication and divine presence belong together, as well as disturbed communication and divine absence. The interpretation and construction of their own history (of the individual, as well as of the collective) as result of the interplay between divine presence/blessing or divine absence/punishment was a basic pattern. Different literary traditions in the Old Testament attest how the theology of the presence of YHWH was in pre-exilic times a local kind of play of traditional ancient Near Eastern conceptions and mainly connected to Zion. However, after the fall of Jerusalem (perhaps already Samaria), the theology of YHWH’s presence underwent various processes of mobilization, spiritualization, and abstraction. The rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem was a new impulse for the discussion about the mode(s) of divine presence. Several concepts found their way into the canon which are sketched in this contribution.
In addressing the problem of the “economics of worship” in ancient societies it is advisable first to ascertain on what area of “worship” we should focus our investigation. And while one could indeed attempt to explore the economics of, say, the practices of family religion in ancient Israel and Judah, this does not seem to contribute much to deepening our understanding of the economics of worship generally—not because family religion was not representative of the overall practice of religion in that part of the world, but because, due to its very nature, it did not produce hubs of economic activity and therefore gives us no decisive insights into the correlation between economic and religious practices. By contrast, temples are indeed such hubs; this is true today and was no less true of ancient Israel and Judah. In fact, it was probably more obvious then than it is now that temples hosted economic transactions of various kinds and that some of them were veritable economic hubs of huge significance for the whole of the social formation that had brought them forth. Biblical and other ancient Near Eastern texts do not obfuscate the central significance of the economic basis and the economic consequences of cultic activity; on the contrary, they address them without any qualms.
The chapter examines the relation between ethics and worship in ancient Israel. It focusses on the way in which the cult was instrumental in instructing the people of Israel and Judah in the basic tenets of the moral life by drawing clear distinctions between the ways of the good and those of the wicked. It was in the context of worship that the people were reminded of the moral aspects of the character of God, and some psalms suggest that his character should be imitated in the lives of the pious. The chapter discusses the prophetic critique of Israel’s worship, especially their focus on the disconnect between the conspicuous displays of piety and the lack of ethical behavior on the part of the people. Some aspects of Israel’s worship are highly problematic from the ethical point of view, and the chapter discusses the so-called “imprecatory psalms,” which reflect a tone of resentment and a hunger for retaliation on the part of the worshipper.
The chapter gives a working definition of the concepts of God/gods in ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean cultures and describes the character of the Israelite god YHWH against this background as a participant in the temple cult on the basis of Biblical texts. As a deity that was above all imagined as a king, YHWH received ritual gifts, which he reciprocated through the effects of his salvific presence for Israel. The sacrificial practice in the temple cella (“food offering” on a table) and in the courtyard (burnt offering on the altar) signaled the acceptance by God while it preserved his transcendence. For the imagination of the human participants, the gracious reception by the king YHWH must have been as real as other social facts. The “anthropomorphism” of the worldview expressed by biblical texts should be specified as “sociomorphism,” since the ritual encounter with the divine followed primarily social (courtly) rules.
For the ancient Greeks, ritual was communication with the gods, aimed at achieving a communality between gods and humans, principally in the service of a community’s welfare, cohesion, and stability, and at the very least, configuring social relations between individuals. This chapter provides a brief methodological survey of how society, predominantly the ancient Greek city-state (polis), has been the main reference for the study of Greek ritual. Rituals derived their authority from tradition but were flexible actions in constant dialogue with the past, endowed with agency in all areas of Greek life: society, politics, economics, culture, and religion itself. After explaining the relationship of myth to ritual, the chapter examines how the Greeks developed strategies working up towards a ritual moment of temporary intimacy with the divine in sacrificial ritual, choral performance, festivals, processions, and dedications. The essay concludes with a section on how the individual relates to the community through ritual.
Lester L. Grabbe
This chapter discusses (1) the general discipline of the History of Religions; then, in line with the focus of the volume as a whole, (2) it moves to developments in the study of the History of Ancient Israel; finally, (3) it gives a short overview of the History of Ancient Israelite Religion. The History of Religions movement is traced through the 19th and 20th centuries, especially as it influenced study on the History of Ancient Israelite Religion. The changing methods and results of the History of Israelite Religion in different periods of study are noted, culminating in the general approach of the present generation. Some of the main writers, works, and influences are mentioned and their contributions (whether positive or negative) are briefly summarized. The contribution of the social sciences is brought in.
In the universe of the Hittites, humans had but a single duty—to serve their deities by providing them with sustenance, praise, and entertainment. This responsibility was organized by the king (T/Labarna), who functioned as both the overseer of his subjects and their representative before their divine masters. On the one hand, in return for their loyal support, the men and women of Hatti received from their gods the boons of agricultural and pastoral plenty, victory in battle, and long years and good health. On the other hand, negligence in regard to the pantheon could result in chastisement in the form of drought, plague, barrenness, military defeat, etc. The cuneiform archives recovered from the Hittite capital and increasingly from provincial cities were compiled precisely to facilitate the supervision by the monarch and his entourage of the performance of the duties of the human community. Most numerous among these texts are programs for the ceremonies of the regular state cult, whose contents provide a detailed picture of the attention required by and accorded to the gods and goddesses of the Hittites.
Paul F. Bradshaw
This chapter traces the various ways in which the cultic language and imagery of the Hebrew Scriptures influenced and shaped the liturgical thought and ritual practices of early Christianity, from the first to the fourth century
Samuel E. Balentine
The conceit in the title of this volume is that ritual, however expansively it may be defined, is ineluctably tethered to religion and worship. It has a primal connection to the idea that a transcendent order—numinous and mysterious, supranatural and elusive, divine and wholly other—gives meaning and purpose to life. The construction of rites and rituals enables humans to conceive and apprehend this transcendent order, to symbolize it and interact with it, to postulate its truths in the face of contradicting realities and to repair them when they have been breached or diminished. The focus of this Handbook is on ritual and worship from the perspective of biblical studies, particularly on the Hebrew Bible and its ancient Near Eastern antecedents. Within this context, attention will be given to the development of ideas in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thinking, but only insofar as they connect with or extend the trajectory of biblical precedents. The volume reflects a wide range of analytical approaches to ancient texts, inscriptions, iconography, and ritual artifacts. It examines the social history and cultural knowledge encoded in rituals and explores the way rituals shape and are shaped by politics, economics, ethical imperatives, and religion itself. Toward this end, the volume is organized into six major sections: Historical Contexts, Interpretive Approaches, Ritual Elements (participants, places, times, objects, practices), Cultural and Theological Perspectives, History of Interpretation, Social-Cultural Functions, and Theology and Theological Heritage.
This chapter begins by introducing readers to the five “pillars of Islam” (arkan al-Islam), as well as to other essential aspects of Islamic ritual (section 1). By so doing, it recognizes the enduring power of these rituals, in particular, to provide all Muslims—despite their differences in historical, socio-cultural and political realities—with a shared sense of religious identity. The following section (2) nuances this presentation of Islamic ritual as intrinsically a cohesive force, which necessarily relies heavily on canonical Sunni legal sources and authorities, by exploring five alternative strategies to ritual: Shi’i, esoteric, folk, rationalist, and reformist. Thereafter, it briefly discusses the potential of Islamic ritual in a variety of sources and contexts to both reflect and generate social hierarchies (section 3). It concludes by reflecting on Western scholarly approaches to Islamic ritual and by suggesting future directions for its study (section 4).
Alyssa M. Gray
This chapter discusses a Jewish ethics of speech under the following headings: (1) Jewish legal and ethical norms pertaining to bad language and speech about other people; (2) holy speech; and (3) speech that is beneficial to society or other people. Throughout, special attention is given to the different voices within Jewish sacred literature, including voices that express ethical considerations bound to very particular historical contexts.
This chapter discusses music in Jewish contexts from the Bible until the present day. Music in Jewish religious life historically and at present includes cantillation of the Bible, the chanting of prayers, and synagogue song. Various forms of liturgical music developed among Ashkenazic Jews (Jews who lived in Europe) with nusach, modal chanting of prayers that was led by the chazzan. The artistically embellished prayer known as chazzanut is a unique musical and liturgical development. Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews (Jews whose heritage is in the Mediterranean and Middle East) adopted a range of musical styles from their surroundings. The adaptation of a known song in this region to religious poetry is known as piyyutim, a well established practice for hundreds of years. Comments on modern trends on a variety of issues conclude this chapter.
This chapter presents the background situation that gave rise to Mesopotamian religious concepts, as well as the forms of the gods and their service in the classical theology of Mesopotamia. The chapter examines both the temple cult, that is, the public dimension of the religion, and the cult of the individual. It studies several supernatural beings, some active in the state pantheon, others in the sphere of family life, and discusses several literary works of religious significance. The chapter concludes its reflections on Mesopotamian religion with a short piece about the Epic of Gilgamesh, a profound Mesopotamian reflection on the meaning of life and death.
Rodney A. Werline
Current liturgies performed in Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and mainline Protestant worship services preserve a remnant of basic practices, personnel, and key ideas and themes found in passages related to Hebrew Bible worship and ritual. These features, of course, have long histories of reinterpretation and reapplication within Christian tradition. The theological understandings of several of these elements of Hebrew Bible worship have a place in the theological disagreements between the various branches of Christianity, and the current language in the liturgies manifests these differences, as do the discussions about them within the various traditions. This essay especially focuses on the way in which current liturgies continue to manifest different appropriations of Hebrew Bible worship and ritual. Further, the essay draws on ritual theories to reflect on the way in which liturgies establish a sense of timelessness, transcendence, and invariance for worshipers, even though liturgies have changed over the centuries and greatly differ from their Hebrew Bible roots.
William S. Morrow
Cases of politically oriented rituals used to maintain the kingdom of Judah and its successor societies are surveyed from the beginning of the Davidic monarchy through to the Hasmonaean era. Preference is given to the concept of “national religion” instead of “official” or “state religion” to describe attempts to centralize worship on Jerusalem during this period. Challenges were posed to these efforts by Judah’s internal religious pluralism. Social configurations at the family and local levels were maintained by forms of worship not always amenable to subordination to centralized authority. After a general discussion of the concept of political rituals, interactions between the impulse towards a national religion and forms of family and local cultic practices are described. The ideology of kingship (especially in the royal psalms), and the politics of sacrifice in the post-exilic era receive particular attention.
Stefan C. Reif
In the second Temple period, Jewish ritual and worship, following the example of the Hebrew Bible, centered on the cult of the Jerusalem Temple and on the more democratic institution of individual prayer, but the two elements had drawn closer to each other by the axial age. In their campaign to establish formal communal prayer as a theological priority, leading rabbis of the first two centuries were inspired not only by those two precedents but also by biblical formulas, the example set at Qumran, the notion of the berakhah, and by the development of the synagogue, which added prayer to its earlier interest in study, social activity, and the hosting of visitors. The shema’, ‘amidah, and birkat ha-mazon, as well as qiddush, havdalah, hallel, and the Passover Haggadah, were early components of rabbinic liturgy, and these gradually moved from the domestic and individual contexts to the synagogue and community. Towards the end of the talmudic period, liturgical poetry and mysticism, especially from the Jewish homeland, were incorporated into standard rabbinic prayers, but not until the ninth and tenth centuries did rabbinic leaders in Babylonia succeed in transforming the oral prayers into the written prayer-book. Although use was limited of the Hebrew Bible and lists of sacrifices from the earliest rabbinic liturgy, such scriptural readings acquired a more important, structured role in the late talmudic, post-talmudic, and early medieval periods. Although the temple service and priesthood figured in the liturgical poems, they had lost much of their status as spiritual intermediaries.
Roy E. Gane
Ancient near eastern (ANE) rituals and other religious practices fostered relationships with superhuman members of the interactive cosmic community, especially deities, who affected human life. These practices were believed to establish, maintain, restore, or utilize such relationships. The present chapter explores the functions and worldview implications of ANE including biblical Israelite religious practices within the following categories: prayer, sacrificial rituals, non-sacrificial ritual activities including divination and magic, and ritual gestures. Similarities and differences between these and interhuman interactions reflect ANE perspectives regarding the nature of superhumans as personal beings and how to interact with them. The biblical Israelite religious system was more intensely relational than elsewhere in the ANE because the deity YHWH established a covenant with his people and personally resided among them so that they could interact with him more intimately, rather than through idols or other material symbols.