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Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice$

Jennifer Wright Knust and Zsuzsanna Varhelyi

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199738960

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199738960.001.0001

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Symbol, Function, Theology, and Morality in the Study of Priestly Ritual

Symbol, Function, Theology, and Morality in the Study of Priestly Ritual

Chapter:
(p.106) 5 Symbol, Function, Theology, and Morality in the Study of Priestly Ritual
Source:
Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice
Author(s):

Jonathan Klawans

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199738960.003.0005

Abstract and Keywords

Arguing for diverse, contextual, understandings of ancient religions, Jonathan Klawans argues that Israelites themselves put forward symbolic rationales for their practices. Therefore, symbolic interpretations should preside over functional understandings of Israelite ritual. Klawans then notes the importance of prophetic symbolic action: these explicitly figurative performances further demonstrate that symbolic behavior could be understood broadly within ancient Israel and not only by literate specialists. Taking a cue from Roy Rappaport, Klawans suggests that the primary, intended purpose of many Israelite rituals was to serve as communicative “signs”—public reinforcements of communal messages and memories. Israelite rituals will best be understood when scholars draw on both ritual and prophetic texts, recognizing that Israelite culture exhibited a distinctive proclivity for symbolic communication.

Keywords:   Israelite religion, symbolism, functionalism, prophecy, Israelite sacrifice

The pairing of symbol with function is rather commonplace in the study of ritual, and a good number of well-regarded theorists—Edmund Leach, Mary Douglas, and Victor Turner among them—modeled ways of balancing symbolic meanings with social functions.1 With regard to the study of ancient Israelite ritual in particular, some scholars seem more inclined to favor symbol over function, while other writers argue against what they perceive to be an undue emphasis on symbolism.2 This chapter will revisit the relative values of symbol and function for an understanding of ancient Israelite ritual, and it will argue that, with regard to the rituals of ancient Israel, the emphasis indeed ought to be on symbol over function.

It will also emerge that greater clarity is needed with regard to what scholars mean when speaking of functions; with that goal in mind, some clarifications will be offered below. Moreover, it will be emphasized that function should not be overlooked, downplayed, or denied. Indeed—and notably—scholars working on ancient Israelite ritual rarely deny the rituals’ functionality outright. Curiously, while symbolism is denied by some of those who are interested in functions, the reverse does not appear to pertain. Symbolism is what scholars tend to deny; if symbolic interpreters put the emphasis on symbol over function, the reason may be more to counter this denial than to assert that ritual has no function. Be that as it may, the present argument that symbol ought to preside over function—with regard to ancient Israel—will proceed in conversation with theoretical and comparative arguments, but will be grounded primarily, as it must, in evidence drawn from biblical texts themselves.

Symbol and Theology

For heuristic purposes, three very general approaches to the question of symbolism in Israelite ritual can be identified: ubiquitous symbolism, selective symbolism, and antisymbolic (the denial of symbolism).3 “Ubiquitous symbolism” refers to those (p.107) approaches inspired by the theoretical works of Mary Douglas4 and Victor Turner5 that are inclined to find symbolism in many if not all rituals. “Selective symbolism” refers to works such as Jacob Milgrom’s in the present day6 and William Robertson Smith’s a century ago,7 which set out to study some rituals symbolically, while viewing others as fossilized vestiges. “Antisymbolic” refers to writers such as Ithamar Gruenwald who vociferously deny that biblical rituals can be understood symbolically at all. Before presenting arguments in defense of the first of these options, I would like to consider the other two approaches briefly.

The problem with the second option, selective symbolism, is that all too often the singling out of certain disliked rituals (purity in the Victorian era, sacrifice in our own) as nonsymbolic fossilized vestiges aligns too easily with identifiable contemporary cultural or religious priorities.8 Equally problematic is the common tendency to find symbolism in some (usually favored) cultural contexts (e.g., ancient Israel) while denying its place in others (e.g., Babylon).9 And although this argument has not yet been developed fully with regard to ancient Israel, I would also deem problematic the newer tendency (evident in some essays in this volume) to confine symbolism to literate elites, asserting that illiterate nonelites were engaged primarily in rites that were literal, personal, and practical, as if the poor have no religious yearnings beyond their personal material needs and no communal commitments beyond what can be exchanged for their personal benefit. Ubiquitous symbolism is therefore a safer route—methodological consistency may well be an antidote to the selective application of disparate methods that characterizes much of the recent work on ancient Israelite ritual systems.10

We must admit, however, that the need for methodological consistency could also be met by approaches that deny symbolism while advocating a consistently unsympathetic approach. Why not take a consistently unsympathetic view?11 Granted, if a consistently unsympathetic reading could prove valuable for understanding ancient Israel, then that too would be methodologically valid. But unsympathetic treatments of biblical ritual—such as that of René Girard—have proven more detrimental than beneficial to the field.12 The present atmosphere, alas, calls for both consistency and sympathy.

We must also admit that there is nothing inherently wrong with a selective approach to symbolism: why, after all, should symbolism be found everywhere? Perhaps, as Robertson Smith maintained with regard to “taboos,” some rituals survive as vestiges bereft of their earlier symbolic meanings. And perhaps—as some contributors of the present volume maintain—symbolism is to be limited to certain skilled, advantaged groups or classes. The famed Sabbath practices of Crypto-Jews may be an example of the former, and perhaps Greek sacrifice is an example of the latter. The problem with selective symbolism—as applied to ancient Israel—is twofold. In the first instance, some scholars deny symbolism to disliked rituals, such as purity (in the case of Robertson Smith) or sacrifice (in the case of Girard and Milgrom, albeit in vastly different ways). In the second instance, scholars deny symbolism to underprivileged groups, perhaps thinking that the disadvantaged (p.108) would remain focused exclusively on what is to their personal advantage. In either case, the lack of symbolic value to ritual is not positively demonstrated; it is simply asserted. If selective symbolism is to emerge as a viable approach, criteria must be established for determining which rituals are symbolic and for whom. Ideally, these criteria would emerge from analysis of evidence in context(s), not aligned simply with presuppositions about which rituals are valuable or which classes are symbolically skilled.

The third approach to biblical rituals denies altogether that biblical rituals are symbolic. This type of approach has been taken most recently by Ithamar Gruenwald in Rituals and Ritual Theory in Ancient Israel (2003), who defends his view in part by noting that advocates of ubiquitous symbolism may be engaged in an apologetic activity.13 In his view, symbolic approaches to symbolism are theological ones. Gruenwald may be correct in his diagnosis here. Mary Douglas’s passionate efforts at countering Protestant antiritualist biases can be (and has been) accused of aligning all too neatly with her own Catholic background and sympathies.14 Moreover, Gruenwald has allies in the field of religious studies, such as Jonathan Z. Smith (who asserts the arbitrary nature of Israelite cultic practices in particular)15 and Frits Staal (who speaks of the “meaninglessness of ritual” in general).16

Douglas’s arguments in Purity and Danger (1966) were addressed, of course, against a very specific target: the long history of Protestant antiritualism, as evidenced especially (but not exclusively) in the works of James Frazer and William Robertson Smith.17 The Protestant biases of these and other classic works on religion in general and biblical ritual in particular have been sufficiently established (not only by Douglas, but notably also by Jonathan Z. Smith18) that we need not argue her case against the late-nineteenth-century giants once again. But it must be said that Purity and Danger is not an unaligned critique. It is an apologetic defense of ritual systems, one that is explicitly sympathetic with Jewish, Catholic, and Hindu ritual practices.19 Indeed, as far as the broader field of ritual studies is concerned, the jury is still out on Douglas’s ubiquitous symbolism. Her critics’ arsenal includes the charges of inadequate evidence20 and (as mentioned above) her predisposition toward a Catholic (that is, pro-ritual) viewpoint.21 Clifford Geertz’s symbolic anthropology is similarly criticized in the field as being both apologetic and insufficiently analytic.22 Anyone who has ever used the third chapter of Purity and Danger in an undergraduate Hebrew Bible class in the service of defending the meaning of biblical dietary laws would have to admit that the charge of pro-ritualist apology is one that cannot be dismissed lightly.

The problem for Gruenwald’s position is that denying that ritual is symbolic can also be a theologically aligned move. Indeed, all our problems here result from the fact that there is not a theological or religious approach to symbolism. For centuries—indeed, for millennia—the question of whether one can take a symbolic (or allegorical) approach to ritual has been questioned by some and defended by (p.109) others. Figures like Philo, Josephus, and Pseudo-Aristeas defended ritual practices against various calumnies by asserting their symbolic significance.23 But others have feared that symbolic understandings would lead to the abandonment of the letter in favor of the spirit. That is why later religious figures such as Moses Maimonides and Moses Mendelssohn—with certain rabbinic traditions behind them—argued in favor of the arbitrary nature of practices such as the dietary laws.24 Denying symbolism can be as much of a theological move as asserting it. For this reason, we scholars may be well served to step aside from the binary debate about symbol and meaning. Symbolic explanations are neither inherently nor uniquely tied to theology in such a way as to render them invalid ipso facto. Nor ought we to side with the theological rejection of symbolism, to the effect that such explanations pose a threat to the practice or meaning of ritual.25 Finally, we ought not restrict our discussions of symbolism to those sources (e.g., Philo) that explicitly offer symbolic explanations. Perhaps Sigmund Freud’s single, lasting contribution to the field of ritual studies is precisely this point: that symbols (and not just phallic ones) can operate subconsciously.26 This may well be the case irrespective of whether the symbolism in question is discussed publicly or written up in educated, elite treatises.

Another problem here is that the general conversation is just that: all too general. Staal’s examples come primarily (if not exclusively) from the rituals of India. Assuming for a moment that we accept Staal’s interpretation of Hindu rites, does that mean that biblical rites are necessarily similar in their essential nonsymbolic nature? The case for the symbolic or nonsymbolic nature of rituals needs to be made on a case-by-case basis. After all, if what Catherine Bell calls “ritual density” can vary from culture to culture, shouldn’t we assume that what we could call “symbolic density” would similarly vary from culture to culture?27 Moreover, the claim that rituals are nonsymbolic in essence is a claim pertaining to origins—it cannot be denied that, at the very least, some rituals are infused with symbolic meanings in certain religious traditions, at least according to some religious authorities (e.g., Philo). Even if some cultures’ rituals remain free of symbolic explanation, that fact does not eliminate the possibility that symbolism looms large in others. Even if it could be established that rituals were originally arbitrary, that does not preclude the possibility that developed ritual systems infuse rituals with symbolism. Since we are interested here in a developed ritual system, it matters little that symbolism may be secondary; it matters even less that symbolism may be absent elsewhere.

We can begin to find a better way out of this impasse if we put the general questions of origins and comparison aside and try to determine what we can with regard to the role of symbolism in ancient Israelite culture.28 Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of the symbolic nature of ancient Israel’s cultic rituals comes from a rather unlikely place: the biblical prophets.29 Progress on the question of the symbolic nature of ancient Israel’s cult requires that we recognize the problematic and biased nature of some of the scholarly terminology (p.110) frequently used with reference to our themes. Of course, many thematic discussions of prophecy in biblical Israel point out that the prophets were wont to perform “symbolic acts” in order to dramatize and illustrate their message to the Israelite people.30 It suffices for our concerns to note only a few of the more famous actions: Hosea’s marrying a prostitute to symbolize Israel’s infidelity (Hos 1:2); Isaiah’s walking barefoot and naked to symbolize Egypt’s impending doom (Isa 20:1–6); and Jeremiah’s wearing a yoke to symbolize God’s desire for the nations to submit to Babylon (Jer 27:1–15). What is seldom appreciated in the context of the present theme is that the very existence of this performative phenomenon proves that the prophets were aware of and sympathetic to symbolic behavior. By referring to the prophets’ behavior as “symbolic action,” while dryly describing cultic behavior as “ritual,” scholars force a divide between—and prevent a comparison of—two phenomena that are not altogether different and ought in truth to be mutually informative.

But surely, Max Weber might object, there is a difference between a passionate, spontaneous, individual, symbolic act and a communal, cultic ritual.31 To that argument one must remember not only that Hosea married a prostitute (Hos 1:2)—and possibly two (Hos 3:1–3)—but that he remained so married for some time. Isaiah, it is said, walked naked and barefoot for three years (Isa 20:3). Jeremiah must have worn that yoke for some time as well (Jer 27:1–2; 28:1, 10). The historicity of such claims is not our concern; we simply call attention to the fact that one can safely wonder whether all prophetic “symbolic actions” were conceived as fully spontaneous or free of regulation.32 A repeated, patterned, symbolic action is hardly all that different from a ritual.

The suggestion—still made in some quarters33—that the prophets opposed sacrifice because they denied the value of ritual really makes them out to be the hypocrites that the priests are commonly assumed to have been: how could the prophets believe in the communicative value of their own symbolic behavior but deny such to ritual? Indeed, the phenomenon of prophetic symbolic action demonstrates the fact that symbolic behavior was part of the culture of ancient Israel. This, perhaps, is the most compelling argument that various aspects of the priestly cult (sacrifice included) ought to be understood as symbolic. Indeed, if biblical and ritual studies emerged in a non-Protestant context, I highly doubt we would even have two different terms here at all. We would, rather, be accustomed to speaking of either the symbolic actions of Israel’s priests or the ritual actions of Israel’s prophets.

The more recent suggestion—offered by some contributors to this volume—that symbolism ought to be limited to certain literate elites can also now be questioned more directly, at least with regard to ancient Israel. It is not just the priests who were interested in symbolism, but the prophets as well. And both were interested not only in communicating symbolically, but also in explicitly unpacking that symbolism from time to time (see the following section for explicit symbolism in the priestly tradition). Of course, this still will not tell us what the (p.111) masses were interested in. But two lines of evidence converge to suggest that we ought not assert that the Israelite masses lived symbolically impoverished lives. First, the fact that the prophets and priests both produced competing literatures engaged in symbolic interpretations of ritualized behavior suggests that their audience—namely, nonelite Israelites—were receptive to such things. A second line of argument comes from archaeology: what little we know about the religious lives of regular Israelites suggests that they too engaged in symbolic behavior, albeit of a non-Yahwistic sort.34

Symbols and Functions

A successful argument in defense of the prioritization of symbol over function in ancient Israel must not only argue in favor of the value of symbolism, but must in some respects argue against the relative merit of functional arguments. Of course, there are diverse kinds of functionalist arguments; therefore, different kinds of critiques can be offered. The classic Durkheimian “society-maintenance” arguments are largely (but not entirely) out of fashion and for good reason: it is indeed very difficult to believe any more that religion, on the general level, successfully creates or even maintains social orders.35 And as far as ancient Israel is concerned, there’s very little evidence that any particular social order was successfully maintained, by any mechanism, for any significant length of time.

As for other arguments in defense of the pragmatic accomplishments of ritual, Geertz’s classic critique of Bronislaw Malinowski’s work on religion and ritual comes to mind:

[T]here is little doubt that a thoroughgoing instrumentalist view of such phenomena reduces them to caricatures of themselves by leaving out of account that which most sets them apart as distinctive forms of life. When Malinowski concludes that religion has an immense biological value because it enhances “practical mental attitudes” because it reveals to man “truth in the wider, pragmatic sense of the word,” one doesn’t, remembering Aztec human sacrifices or the self-immolation of Indian widows, know whether to laugh or to cry.36

Forty years later—in the age of suicide bombers who ritually purify themselves before engaging in slaughter37—perhaps we should be more inclined to cry than laugh.

Of course these arguments are general ones, and therefore by our own standards they do no more than just set the stage. The question of symbol versus function in ancient Israel must be played out with reference to evidence from ancient Israel. Perhaps we do well, then, to look again at recent efforts to explain Israelite ritual from such a perspective. With regard to ritual in general and sacrifice in particular, Gruenwald maintains in Rituals and Ritual Theory that

(p.112) rituals create, or establish, their own meaning in the very act of doing and in the logic that constitutes the processual manner in which they are done…. Let me repeat that, to say that there is meaning in rituals is not tantamount—as many scholars think—to saying they are symbolic expressions of ideas. The meaning is contained in the performed essence of the rituals.38

Put more briefly, Gruenwald states elsewhere in the same book that rituals “should be understood by what they aim to accomplish, rather than by what they stand for.”39 In the course of his study, Gruenwald defends his approach in reference to particular rituals from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.

While Gruenwald’s approach has an empirical aura about it—enhanced in part by overstated attacks on the symbolic approach—the fact is that it is very difficult to establish empirically that ancient Israelite rituals accomplish very much at all. Let us take, for example, the scapegoat ritual (Lev 16:1–28) that figures prominently in Gruenwald’s own analysis. The assorted purifications and expiations serve, in Gruenwald’s analysis, to help the Israelites avert dangers.40 In a sense, of course, this is correct: ancient Israelites did believe that dangers awaited those who failed to purify or atone, and they worried that the community would suffer if unexpiated sin or unexpurgated defilements accumulated in their midst. But of what use is it for scholars to assert that sacrifices served these purposes and achieved these goals? These are not measurable goals, for these are not empirical problems. Neither sin nor defilement exists as such in any empirical, measurable way. Purification and atonement are not therefore real accomplishments of Israelite ritual at all. They are perceived accomplishments: the rituals in question are mechanisms of pretense for dealing with problems that exist only in the realm of ideas. An important recent collaborative work suggests, quite provocatively, that ritual creates and operates in a “subjunctive,” or “as-if” universe.41 In light of this suggestion, one needs to ask: do rituals really do what practitioners perceive or believe them to do?

It is not clear to me that ritual studies has yet developed an adequate vocabulary to express this distinction, and therefore confusions persist in the works of biblical scholars struggling with the matter. Robert Merton’s classic distinction between “latent” and “manifest” functions42—used recently by William Gilders43—will not do, because “manifest functions” is a strange way to refer to stated motivations for behavior that have no empirically measurable correlation with reality.44 The literal-metaphor distinction is not going to help here either.45 In his important discussion of the matter, Roy Rappaport distinguishes the “physical” from the “formal,” the “actual” from the “putative,” and the “patent” from the “occult.”46 And, indeed, his focus is clearly on the latter of each of these pairs; the former—what he also calls “material efficacy”—may not always be absent, but is certainly not necessarily present either.47 Whether rituals in general accomplish “physical,” “patent,” or “actual” goals—especially ones where the there is some intrinsic connection between the means and the ends48—will continue to be asserted by some and denied by others. Moreover, this binary opposition—the importance of which should be (p.113) more broadly recognized—does not exhaust the possibilities, for ritual also has communicative roles, above and beyond what believers claim it achieves and alongside whatever it may or may not measurably accomplish.49

At the risk of reaching too far—and fearful that I have overlooked some better attempt to clarify the matter—I wish to suggest that we characterize the assorted functions of ritual in light of the following distinctions:

  1. 1. Putative versus actual. By “actual” functions we mean material effects of ritual that are empirically measurable (e.g., the killing of an animal, the manipulation of blood, the transfer of property). By “putative” we mean the ritual practitioners’ own goals (such as purification and atonement), effects that are not apparently or intrinsically related to the actual effects that can be measured.

  2. 2. Practical versus communicative. This distinction recognizes that while many rituals do things on the practical level (either putatively or actually) other rituals serve more to communicate messages.

These two distinctions, as many readers can infer, are based closely on the work of Roy Rappaport.50 To these distinctions I propose adding the following:
  1. 3. Stated versus unstated. These terms allow us to distinguish between those goals that are explicitly stated in ritual texts or by ritual practitioners, and those goals that are inferred by the interpreter.

  2. 4. Primary versus secondary. These terms allow us to distinguish between effects that are intended as main goals, and those effects (whether stated or unstated, practical or communicative, putative or actual) that are either secondary or merely side effects of the ritual performance in question.

Let us see if these terms help clarify some of the questions we face, and perhaps even allow us to express more clearly the roles that symbols play in biblical rituals.

If ancient Israelite rituals do accomplish things, they do so primarily in a “putative” sense: the rituals act out Israelite hopes, performing actions that imitate, emulate, symbolize, and otherwise represent the immeasurable goals they wish to accomplish.51 Of course, various actions performed along the way have measurable and “actual” consequences (bodies are bathed, animals are killed, blood is manipulated, fires are fed, and smoke is produced). But there is no intrinsic relationship between these actions and the primary goals—atonement from sin, purification from defilement, attracting the divine presence—that ancient Israelites wished for. To be sure, various secondary goals are also achieved: pilgrimages may well help bring the community together; periodic festivals mark off the passage of time; and, as in virtually all cultic rituals, social hierarchies are acted out.52 But again, these are not necessarily the primary or stated goals of the rituals in question.

Importantly, there is one explicitly stated, primary goal of ancient Israelite ritual that can be understood as a goal that was likely an achieved one as well. A number (p.114) of Israelite rituals were explicitly intended to function in a communicative way, to act as public reinforcements of communal memory: the Passover ritual recalls the Exodus (Exod 12:27, 13:3–8), the Sukkot festival recalls the wandering in the wilderness (Lev 23:43), and the Sabbath recalls both the slavery in Egypt (Deut 5:15) and the creation of the world (Exod 20:11). Sending messages in order to reinforce memory is also the stated function of the fringes on Israelite garments (Num 15:37–41), the phylacteries on their arms and head (Exod 13:9, 16; Deut 6:8, 11:18),53 and the lazuli stones bearing the names of the tribes on the priestly Ephod (Exod 28:12, 29). And if etymological evidence is allowed, remembrance may well be the purpose of the “token portion” (azkarata) of the meal offering (Lev 2:2, 9, 16, etc.). It is in these passages that we may find the clearest evidence of the symbolic nature of many Israelite rituals.

We could, of course, quibble about whether the English term symbol should be used here. While there is value in this discussion, there is also a limit to its significance: If one defines symbol so narrowly as to exclude it, one has not necessarily convincingly denied the role or place of symbolism; one has simply redefined it out of existence. And if one turns to semiotics in order to displace the term symbol with index,54 one has not really countered the views of those who use symbol in its more common, inclusive sense.

If we take our cues from the biblical texts themselves, we easily see that a number of rituals that are meant to foster memory are also explicitly described by the biblical writers themselves as “signs” (otot): This is true of circumcision (Gen 17:11), the Sabbath (Exod 31:17; Ezek 20:12, 20), the phylacteries (Exod 13:9, 16),55 and the twelve uncut stones of Joshua’s altar by the Jordan (Josh 4:1–9)—and these are just the rituals that are explicitly termed “signs.” If a good number of rituals have clearly stated, primary, communicative functions—some of which are then explicitly identified as “signs”—are we really on safe ground to downplay the role that symbol plays in the communicative dimension of ancient Israelite ritual?

As we have seen, many of the primary, stated, practical purposes of Israelite ritual—to purify, to atone, to please God, and so on—can be understood as “putative” or “perceived” functions (or goals): there is nothing empirically measurable that is achieved, nothing tangible that is exchanged, and there is no intrinsic connection between the means and the ends. Thus studying these rituals by means of what they do, without clearer qualification, will prove to be of limited use. One primary, stated function of Israelite ritual is not putative at all, and that is the communicative function, which Israelites themselves may well have understood to operate symbolically, with visible signs serving as reminders and representations of past events and present obligations.

The explicit evidence that ancient Israelites’ communicative behavior included ritual signs goes hand-in-hand with the evidence mentioned above concerning prophetic “signs” (Isa 20:3), adding further weight to the general argument being presented here: that symbolic action was an undeniably central feature of ancient Israelite culture.

(p.115) Function and Morality

Having introduced distinctions between perceived and empirical results of ritual, there is benefit in taking a fresh look, one last time, at Israel’s prophets. The prophetic critique of Israel’s cult is often understood as denying, at least at some level, the efficacy of sacrifice, particularly sacrificial atonement (cf. Heb 10:4, 11). I have argued elsewhere, however, that a fuller understanding of the prophetic critique requires that we recognize not so much what sacrifice fails to do, but what turns out to be its all-too-frequent unintended practical consequence—the misappropriation of property, or even theft.56 We can see this by looking first at David’s startling assertion that he can sacrifice only what he properly owns (2 Sam 24:24). We then contrast that with Saul’s faulty assertion that he meant to sacrifice to God the Amalekite goods he should never have taken to begin with (1 Sam 15:15). When we then turn to reread Amos’s critique of Israelite sacrifice, we better understand that the prophet views Israelite sacrifice as problematic precisely because the offerings of the wealthy are inherently—we could say, functionally—tainted by the mistreatment of the poor:

  • They lay themselves down beside every altar
  • on garments taken in pledge
  • and in the house of their God they drink
  • wine bought with fines they imposed. (Am 2:8)
The power of the image conjured by Amos is the irony of the wealthy Israelites worshiping God with goods stolen from the poor. The objection to sacrifice rests on the assumption that God detests not what sacrifice represents or what Israelites hope it will achieve, but rather, the facts of the situation at hand. One who has taken unjustly from the poor cannot properly give anything; therefore, the “sacrifice” offered by such a person is anathema.

The significance of Amos’s critique for our concerns is this: what we have here is, in a sense, a functionalist critique of sacrifice, one that can be better understood when we distinguish between “putative” and “actual” functions, and between “primary” and “secondary” effects, all the while recognizing that the communicative level operates independently of these. The prophets, as we have already seen, fully understand the communicative value of symbolic behavior, so their critique unlikely operates on that level. Moreover, the prophets very likely believed that proper sacrifice would produce the perceived (“putative”) results that Israelites in general believed—that is why the prophets almost unanimously imagine Israelites sacrificing once again in the temple in the future (e.g. Isa 2:1–4; Mic 4:1–5; Jer 17:26, 33:17–18). The problem with sacrifice for the prophets, rather, rests on its actual (but secondary) results, especially when performed by wealthy Israelites who themselves have (in the prophets’ minds) misappropriated property from the poor. That is why the prophets contrast sacrifice with obedience, justice, and mercy: for the putative, primary benefits of sacrifice to occur—which the prophets also (p.116) hoped would come about—the actual, practical (and secondary) moral injustices in Israel’s economic life had to be corrected. But that can only come about by means of practical behaviors, aimed at achieving empirical results.

Conclusion

A number of reflections have been presented here, all pointing toward the goal of justifying the prioritization of symbol over function, for the purpose of understanding ancient Israelite ritual. Ancient Israel’s awareness of and fondness for symbols can be documented in both prophetic symbolic acts as well as the various ritual practices explicitly referred to as “signs.” Those who deny that rituals had symbolic meaning need to address head-on the prophetic symbolic acts and the priestly ritual signs and explain better how ostensibly nonsymbolic rituals interfaced with these other documented examples of meaningful and representative patterned behavior in Israelite society. Theoretical and definitional concerns—as important as these may be—cannot on their own justify the claim that Israelite rituals were nonsymbolic.

That said, theoretical and definitional concerns are hardly to be shunted aside. Indeed, we need more clarity here, not less. We need to do a better job of selecting among the available theoretical models and methods, choosing to apply those theories that we can demonstrate hold promise for illuminating the evidence before us. We also need to seek those terminological clarifications that will work well to solve our particular problems. This includes, as suggested above, distinguishing carefully between ancient Israelite aspirations for their behavior and our own understandings of its achievements. In the final analysis, it is extremely difficult to maintain that there is any calculable or causal connection between the empirical consequences of Israelite ritual behavior and the seemingly practical goals (such as atonement, purification, and attracting the divine presence) that Israelites hoped would be the ultimate ramifications of their ritual behavior. We can and should continue to speak of the functions of ancient Israelite rituals, but we must do a better job of distinguishing empirical functions from perceived ones and primary stated goals from secondary, less consciously intended achievements. We must also be willing to recognize that some functions of Israelite ritual—especially as they pertain to fostering memory and transmitting messages—are functions entirely interwoven into the rituals’ symbolism. Indeed, a very good case can be made that entire realms of ritual behavior were understood by ancient Israelites in just that way, as “eternal signs” (Exod 31:17) recalling salvations past (Exod 13:16) and pointing toward covenantal obligations pertaining in the present and future (Num 15:39).

This is not to say that symbolism will be discovered in every detail of biblical ritual or that varied symbolisms will necessarily all operate together as some single symbolic system.57 Surely many details of biblical ritual simply serve, as J. Z. Smith (p.117) claimed many years ago, to signify sheer difference.58 And even complex, interrelated structures—such as defilement in ancient Israel—may well operate in overlapping, confusing, but still disparate ways.59 So we ought not insist on symbolic unity or systemic consistency, and we must recognize that the rituals we study, just like the texts we now have, changed and developed over time, incorporating newer elements in older structures. And perhaps some elements or groups in ancient Israel would have been less inclined toward symbolism than others. Still, as argued above, symbolism was a prominent element of ancient Israelite culture—something Israelite prophets and priests, despite their differences, were consciously aware of. Precisely because Israelite culture exhibited “symbolic density,” we must remain open to the possibility that there are layers of symbolism beyond those prophetic acts and ritual signs that have explicitly been identified as such or explained for us in our texts. If some ritual texts appear to focus exclusively on rules and procedures, that may well tell us more about the genre of such texts than it does about the meaning of rituals for the societies that produced and preserved them.

Finally, we also need to be more deliberate in the ways we make use of the evidence beyond ritual texts, especially from the prophets. Far from only indicating examples of what was wrong with ancient Israelite ritual, the prophets illustrate both the degree to which symbolic activity was part and parcel of ancient Israelite life and the importance of differentiating between actual results and the ideological ambitions of ancient Israelite ritual. To be sure, some writers believe we need to restrict ourselves to ritual texts—or, more narrowly, to P—in order to understand the meaning of Israelite rituals.60 But those who set out to study biblical rituals in light of ritual studies should remember that the anthropological tools at the heart of ritual studies are intended, in the final analysis, not to analyze texts or rituals, but societies. One way to ensure that the analysis is focused on ancient Israelite society as a whole is to expand the scope beyond Leviticus and its priests to include Amos, Hosea, and the prophetic narratives of the Deuteronomistic history. When we clarify our terms, put evidence in front of theory, and consider not only the priests but the prophets as well, the prioritization of symbol over function for the understanding of ancient Israelite ritual emerges, if not as a settled matter, at least as a very safe bet.

Notes

Although this chapter was not presented as a paper at the Boston University conference, it was germinated there and developed in its wake. I am grateful to the editors for their willingness to include it here. This essay was delivered in Helsinki, August 2009, at the Workshop on Ritual in Early Judaism and Early Christianity, organized and sponsored by the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies and the Network for the Study of Early Christianity in Its Greco-Roman Context. I am grateful to the organizers and participants of that conference for the stimulating conversation and helpful responses. I also thank Adam B. Seligman for helpful advice and encouragement when I began to write this essay.

(p.118) (1) . See, for example, Edmund Leach, Culture and Communication: The Logic by Which Symbols Are Connected; An Introduction to the Use of Structuralist Analysis in Social Anthropology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976); Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966); and Victor Turner, The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967).

(2) . For an example of the former, see Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice and the Temple: Symbolism and Supersessionism in the Study of Ancient Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); for a counter-voice, see William K. Gilders, review of Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, in Catholic Biblical Quarterly 69 (2007): 784–85.

(3) . The following paragraphs summarize points more fully developed in Klawans, “Methodology and Ideology in the Study of Priestly Ritual,” in Perspectives on Purity and Purification in the Bible, edited by Baruch J. Schwartz, David P. Wright, Jeffrey Stackert, and Naphtali S. Meshel (London: T. & T. Clark International, 2008), 84–95.

(4) . Douglas, Purity and Danger, 29–57 (chaps. 2–3), 114–28 (chap. 7); cf., more recently, the broad thrust of Leviticus as Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). On these works, see Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, esp. 17–20, 45–46, and also Klawans, “Rethinking Leviticus and Rereading Purity and Danger: A Review Essay,” AJS Review 27 (2003): 89–101.

(5) . See, for example, Turner, The Forest of Symbols, and Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1974).

(6) . In Milgrom’s case, a sympathetic and symbolic interpretation of rituals concerning purity and diet is balanced by a rather dismissive approach to matters sacrificial, one that sees various integral aspects of priestly practice (including the shew bread and the sacrificial act itself) as fossilized vestiges. See Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible 3 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), esp. 440, 1003; see also Milgrom, Leviticus 23–27: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible 3b (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 2091–93. Compare the comments of Menahem Haran, Temples and Temple-Service in Ancient Israel: An Inquiry into Biblical Cult Phenomena and the Historical Setting of the Priestly School (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1985), 17, 221–25, and Roland de Vaux, Studies in Old Testament Sacrifice (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1964), 38–42. Hyam Maccoby also speaks of various sacrificial practices (including the red-cow and scapegoat rituals) as vestiges throughout his Ritual and Morality: The Ritual Purity System and Its Place in Judaism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), esp. ix, 93, 102, 114, 123, 125, 139–40. For a fuller discussion and critique, see Klawans, “Ritual Purity, Moral Purity, and Sacrifice in Jacob Milgrom’s Leviticus,” Religious Studies Review 29 (2003): 19–28, and Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 27–32. Milgrom has recently reiterated his view that various elements of Israel’s cult are indeed vestiges; see “Systemic Differences in the Priestly Corpus: A Response to Jonathan Klawans,” Revue Biblique 112.3 (2005): 321–29, esp. 322–24.

(7) . In Robertson Smith’s case, by contrast with Milgrom, the disdain was directed toward purity rites (“taboos” in his parlance), which were seen as meaningless survivals from primitive times. At the same time, Robertson Smith respected sacrifice: for him it was social, symbolic, and appropriate; it even possessed a “sacramental efficacy.” See Robertson Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites: The Fundamental Institutions, 3rd ed., with an introduction and additional notes by Stanley A. Cook (New York: Macmillan, 1927), esp. (p.119) 269 and 312; for his very different take on purity (taboos), see 446–54. For a fuller discussion of Robertson Smith’s selective approach, see Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 18–19, 32–34.

(8) . Robertson Smith’s conservative Protestantism combines with Victorian prudery and yields a disdain for taboo and a valorization of sacrifice. Milgrom’s work is sympathetic to practices concerning diet and purity that are still maintained by traditional and modern Jews; it is less sympathetic—but by no means hostile—to those aspects of the cult that are seemingly unethical or outdated, such as animal sacrifice. See Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, esp. 28–34.

(9) . See Frank Gorman, “Pagans and Priests: Critical Reflections on Method,” in Schwartz et al., Perspectives on Purification, 96–110, esp. 98–99, where Gorman takes Milgrom to task for this kind of selectivity.

(10) . See Klawans, “Ritual Purity, Moral Purity, and Sacrifice.”

(11) . See T. M. Lemos, “The Universal and the Particular: Mary Douglas and the Politics of Impurity,” Journal of Religion 89.2 (2009): 236–51 (esp. 249–50).

(12) . On Girard, see Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 17–48, and “Religion, Violence, and the Bible,” in Religion and Violence: The Biblical Heritage, edited by David A. Bernat and Jonathan Klawans (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2007), 1–15.

(13) . Ithamar Gruenwald, Rituals and Ritual Theory in Ancient Israel (Leiden: Brill, 2003), esp. 1, 5–6, 34–35, 200–201. See also my review of this book in AJS Review 29 (2005): 163–65.

(14) . See, for example, Edmund Leach, “Mythical Inequalities,” review of Mary Douglas, Natural Symbols, in New York Review of Books, January 28, 1971, 44–45. For a fuller discussion of Mary Douglas’s life and work—including the impact of her Catholic upbringing—see Richard Fardon, Mary Douglas: An Intellectual Biography (London: Routledge, 1999), esp. 75–101 (on Purity and Danger) and 102–24 (on Natural Symbols).

(15) . Jonathan Z. Smith, To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 83–86, 96–117.

(16) . Frits Staal, “The Meaninglessness of Ritual,” Numen 26.1 (1979): 2–22; Gruenwald rightly steps back from Staal’s extreme position in this regard (Rituals and Ritual Theory, 198). For a general discussion on ritual and symbolism, see Catherine Bell, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 61–89.

(17) . See, for example, Douglas, Purity and Danger, 7–28 (chap. 1), 58–72 (chap. 4), and esp. 18–19, 62–63; see also Douglas, Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology, Routledge Classics edition, with a new introduction (London: Routledge, 2003), esp. 1–38 (chaps. 1–2) and 152–67 (chap. 9).

(18) . Jonathan Z. Smith, Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christians and the Religions of Late Antiquity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 1–34.

(19) . See, for example, Douglas’s comments regarding the ritual observances of M. N. Srinivas and Franz Steiner in the acknowledgments (vii) to Purity and Danger.

(20) . See, for example, Melford E. Spiro, review of Purity and Danger, in American Anthropologist, New Series 70 (1968): 391–93.

(21) . For a discussion of anti- and pro-ritual biases in modern scholarship, see Bell, Ritual, esp. 3–22, 253–67.

(22) . Nancy K. Frankenberry and Hans H. Penner, “Clifford Geertz’s Long-Lasting Moods, Motivations, and Metaphysical Conceptions,” Journal of Religion 79 (1999): 617–40.

(p.120) (23) . On symbolic approaches to cultic rituals among Second Temple–era Jews, see Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 111–44.

(24) . Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, translated with an introduction and notes by Shlomo Pines, 2 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), 2:502–10, 612–13 (= Guide III:25–26, 49); Mendelssohn, Jerusalem: Or On Religious Power and Judaism, translated by Alan Arkush, with introduction and commentary by Alexander Altmann (Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 1983), 117–18, 133–34. See discussion on rabbinic sources in Ephraim E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs, translated by Israel Abrahams (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), 365–99. One rather famous tradition attributes to the late-first-century sage Yohanan Ben Zakkai the view that the red heifer ritual of Numbers 19 has no known symbolic or rational basis (Pesikta de Rav Kahana, Parah 7). On the latter source, see Bernard Mandelbaum, ed., Pesikta de Rav Kahana: According to an Oxford Manuscript, with Variants from All Known Manuscripts and Genizoth Fragments and Parallel Passages, with Commentary and Introduction, 2 vols. (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1987), 1:74.

(25) . See, for example, Gorman, “Pagans and Priests,” 100–101, who expresses such a concern.

(26) . See Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900).

(27) . On “ritual density” and its social or cultural variables, see Bell, Ritual, 173–209.

(28) . In this regard, compare the first item in Bell’s list of methodological advice in Ritual, 81–82.

(29) . For a fuller treatment of the relationship between priests and prophets (as well as ritual and ethics), see Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 75–100.

(30) . For example, Joseph Blenkinsopp, A History of Prophecy in Israel, rev. and enlarged ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 146, 157, 167; J. Lindblom, Prophecy in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Blackwell, 1962), 165–73; Helmer Ringgren, Israelite Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966), 214–15, 256–57, and 284; Alexander Rofé, Introduction to the Prophetic Literature, translated by Judith H. Seeligmann (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 71–73; Marvin A. Sweeney, Isaiah 1–39: With an Introduction to Prophetic Literature, vol. 16, The Forms of Old Testament Literature (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1996), 19–20.

(31) . For the classic articulation of Max Weber’s contrasting “ideal types” of the priest and prophet, see his The Sociology of Religion, translated by Ephraim Fischoff (Boston: Beacon, 1963), 20–31, 46–59.

(32) . For a recent assertion of the difference between symbolic acts and rituals, see Ronald S. Hendel, “Prophets, Priests, and the Efficacy of Ritual,” in Pomegranates and Golden Bells: Studies in Biblical, Jewish, and Near Eastern Ritual, Law, and Literature in Honor of Jacob Milgrom, edited by David P. Wright, David Noel Freedman, and Avi Hurvitz (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1995), 185–98, esp. 188–89.

(33) . For example, Hendel, “Prophets, Priests.”

(34) . For a nontechnical review of this evidence (especially cult figurines) and recent scholarship on it, see William G. Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids: William B. Eedrmans, 2005), esp. 176–208.

(35) . For a general critique, see Hans H. Penner, “The Poverty of Functionalism,” History of Religions 11.1 (1971): 91–97.

(36) . Clifford Geertz, Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), 92–93.

(p.121) (37) . See Bruce Lincoln, Holy Terrors: Thinking about Religion after September 11, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), esp. 1–18, 97–102, where Lincoln discusses and reproduces the Mohamed Atta’s final instructions to the 9/11 hijackers.

(38) . Gruenwald, Rituals and Ritual Theory, 198–99.

(39) . Gruenwald, Rituals and Ritual Theory, 69.

(40) . Gruenwald, Rituals and Ritual Theory, 202–30.

(41) . Adam B. Seligman, Robert P. Weller, Michael J. Puett, and Bennett Simon, Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

(42) . Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1957), esp. 60–69.

(43) . William Gilders, Blood Ritual in the Hebrew Bible: Meaning and Power (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), esp. 182–89.

(44) . As John Holmwood has pointed out, the stated purpose isn’t a function at all—it’s a motive. See “Functionalism and Its Critics,” in Modern Social Theory: An Introduction, edited by A. Harrington (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 87–109. The ambiguities inherent in Merton’s terms (and evident in his use of them) have rightly prevented this distinction from gaining wider usage. See, for example, Paul Helm, “Manifest and Latent Functions,” Philosophical Quarterly 21.82 (1971): 51–60, and Colin Campbell, “A Dubious Distinction? An Inquiry into the Value and Use of Merton’s Concepts of Manifest and Latent Function,” American Sociological Review 47.1 (1982): 29–44.

(45) . See Klawans, Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 32–34 (cf. vii).

(46) . Roy A. Rappaport, Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 45–50.

(47) . Rappaport, Ritual and Religion, 471 n. 10.

(48) . See Jack Goody, “Religion and Ritual: The Definitional Problem,” British Journal of Sociology 12.2 (1961): 142–64. Goody defines ritual as a “category of standardized behaviour (custom) in which the relationship between the means and the end is not ‘intrinsic’, i.e. is either irrational or non-rational” (159).

(49) . Rappaport, Ritual and Religion, 50–138.

(50) . Rappaport, Ritual and Religion, 45–50.

(51) . So, for example, performing Israelite sacrifice in order to attract and maintain the divine presence is a putative function, but not an actual one. See Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 68–72.

(52) . See Gerald Klingbeil, Bridging the Gap: Ritual and Ritual Texts in the Bible (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2007), 205–25, for further examples of these sorts of functions of biblical rituals.

(53) . Curiously, the fringes and phylacteries are not listed in Klingbeil’s appendix (245–52), perhaps because they are more personal than communal. On the “self-informative” nature of many ritual practices (whether communal or individual), see Rappaport, Ritual and Religion, 104–106.

(54) . As, for example, Gilders does in Blood Ritual, esp. 78–82.

(55) . Note Exod 13:9: “a sign [ot] on your arm and a remembrance [zikaron] between your eyes.”

(56) . What follows summarizes, in part, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 75–100, esp. 84–89, with a few statements reformulated in light of the terminological distinctions introduced above.

(p.122) (57) . For a recent caution against the analytic drive for symbolic consistency (evident, for example, in Milgrom’s works), see Gorman, “Pagan and Priest,” esp. 101–107.

(58) . Smith, To Take Place, 108.

(59) . See, for example, Klawans, Impurity and Sin, which argues for distinctions between ritual and moral defilements in the Hebrew Bible and ancient Judaism.

(60) . See, for example, Gilders, “Blood as Purificant in Priestly Torah: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It?” in Schwartz et al., Perspectives on Purity, 77–83, esp. 82–83.

Notes:

(p.118) (1) . See, for example, Edmund Leach, Culture and Communication: The Logic by Which Symbols Are Connected; An Introduction to the Use of Structuralist Analysis in Social Anthropology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976); Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966); and Victor Turner, The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967).

(2) . For an example of the former, see Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice and the Temple: Symbolism and Supersessionism in the Study of Ancient Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); for a counter-voice, see William K. Gilders, review of Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, in Catholic Biblical Quarterly 69 (2007): 784–85.

(3) . The following paragraphs summarize points more fully developed in Klawans, “Methodology and Ideology in the Study of Priestly Ritual,” in Perspectives on Purity and Purification in the Bible, edited by Baruch J. Schwartz, David P. Wright, Jeffrey Stackert, and Naphtali S. Meshel (London: T. & T. Clark International, 2008), 84–95.

(4) . Douglas, Purity and Danger, 29–57 (chaps. 2–3), 114–28 (chap. 7); cf., more recently, the broad thrust of Leviticus as Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). On these works, see Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, esp. 17–20, 45–46, and also Klawans, “Rethinking Leviticus and Rereading Purity and Danger: A Review Essay,” AJS Review 27 (2003): 89–101.

(5) . See, for example, Turner, The Forest of Symbols, and Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1974).

(6) . In Milgrom’s case, a sympathetic and symbolic interpretation of rituals concerning purity and diet is balanced by a rather dismissive approach to matters sacrificial, one that sees various integral aspects of priestly practice (including the shew bread and the sacrificial act itself) as fossilized vestiges. See Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible 3 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), esp. 440, 1003; see also Milgrom, Leviticus 23–27: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible 3b (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 2091–93. Compare the comments of Menahem Haran, Temples and Temple-Service in Ancient Israel: An Inquiry into Biblical Cult Phenomena and the Historical Setting of the Priestly School (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1985), 17, 221–25, and Roland de Vaux, Studies in Old Testament Sacrifice (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1964), 38–42. Hyam Maccoby also speaks of various sacrificial practices (including the red-cow and scapegoat rituals) as vestiges throughout his Ritual and Morality: The Ritual Purity System and Its Place in Judaism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), esp. ix, 93, 102, 114, 123, 125, 139–40. For a fuller discussion and critique, see Klawans, “Ritual Purity, Moral Purity, and Sacrifice in Jacob Milgrom’s Leviticus,” Religious Studies Review 29 (2003): 19–28, and Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 27–32. Milgrom has recently reiterated his view that various elements of Israel’s cult are indeed vestiges; see “Systemic Differences in the Priestly Corpus: A Response to Jonathan Klawans,” Revue Biblique 112.3 (2005): 321–29, esp. 322–24.

(7) . In Robertson Smith’s case, by contrast with Milgrom, the disdain was directed toward purity rites (“taboos” in his parlance), which were seen as meaningless survivals from primitive times. At the same time, Robertson Smith respected sacrifice: for him it was social, symbolic, and appropriate; it even possessed a “sacramental efficacy.” See Robertson Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites: The Fundamental Institutions, 3rd ed., with an introduction and additional notes by Stanley A. Cook (New York: Macmillan, 1927), esp. (p.119) 269 and 312; for his very different take on purity (taboos), see 446–54. For a fuller discussion of Robertson Smith’s selective approach, see Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 18–19, 32–34.

(8) . Robertson Smith’s conservative Protestantism combines with Victorian prudery and yields a disdain for taboo and a valorization of sacrifice. Milgrom’s work is sympathetic to practices concerning diet and purity that are still maintained by traditional and modern Jews; it is less sympathetic—but by no means hostile—to those aspects of the cult that are seemingly unethical or outdated, such as animal sacrifice. See Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, esp. 28–34.

(9) . See Frank Gorman, “Pagans and Priests: Critical Reflections on Method,” in Schwartz et al., Perspectives on Purification, 96–110, esp. 98–99, where Gorman takes Milgrom to task for this kind of selectivity.

(10) . See Klawans, “Ritual Purity, Moral Purity, and Sacrifice.”

(11) . See T. M. Lemos, “The Universal and the Particular: Mary Douglas and the Politics of Impurity,” Journal of Religion 89.2 (2009): 236–51 (esp. 249–50).

(12) . On Girard, see Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 17–48, and “Religion, Violence, and the Bible,” in Religion and Violence: The Biblical Heritage, edited by David A. Bernat and Jonathan Klawans (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2007), 1–15.

(13) . Ithamar Gruenwald, Rituals and Ritual Theory in Ancient Israel (Leiden: Brill, 2003), esp. 1, 5–6, 34–35, 200–201. See also my review of this book in AJS Review 29 (2005): 163–65.

(14) . See, for example, Edmund Leach, “Mythical Inequalities,” review of Mary Douglas, Natural Symbols, in New York Review of Books, January 28, 1971, 44–45. For a fuller discussion of Mary Douglas’s life and work—including the impact of her Catholic upbringing—see Richard Fardon, Mary Douglas: An Intellectual Biography (London: Routledge, 1999), esp. 75–101 (on Purity and Danger) and 102–24 (on Natural Symbols).

(15) . Jonathan Z. Smith, To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 83–86, 96–117.

(16) . Frits Staal, “The Meaninglessness of Ritual,” Numen 26.1 (1979): 2–22; Gruenwald rightly steps back from Staal’s extreme position in this regard (Rituals and Ritual Theory, 198). For a general discussion on ritual and symbolism, see Catherine Bell, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 61–89.

(17) . See, for example, Douglas, Purity and Danger, 7–28 (chap. 1), 58–72 (chap. 4), and esp. 18–19, 62–63; see also Douglas, Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology, Routledge Classics edition, with a new introduction (London: Routledge, 2003), esp. 1–38 (chaps. 1–2) and 152–67 (chap. 9).

(18) . Jonathan Z. Smith, Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christians and the Religions of Late Antiquity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 1–34.

(19) . See, for example, Douglas’s comments regarding the ritual observances of M. N. Srinivas and Franz Steiner in the acknowledgments (vii) to Purity and Danger.

(20) . See, for example, Melford E. Spiro, review of Purity and Danger, in American Anthropologist, New Series 70 (1968): 391–93.

(21) . For a discussion of anti- and pro-ritual biases in modern scholarship, see Bell, Ritual, esp. 3–22, 253–67.

(22) . Nancy K. Frankenberry and Hans H. Penner, “Clifford Geertz’s Long-Lasting Moods, Motivations, and Metaphysical Conceptions,” Journal of Religion 79 (1999): 617–40.

(p.120) (23) . On symbolic approaches to cultic rituals among Second Temple–era Jews, see Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 111–44.

(24) . Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, translated with an introduction and notes by Shlomo Pines, 2 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), 2:502–10, 612–13 (= Guide III:25–26, 49); Mendelssohn, Jerusalem: Or On Religious Power and Judaism, translated by Alan Arkush, with introduction and commentary by Alexander Altmann (Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 1983), 117–18, 133–34. See discussion on rabbinic sources in Ephraim E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs, translated by Israel Abrahams (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), 365–99. One rather famous tradition attributes to the late-first-century sage Yohanan Ben Zakkai the view that the red heifer ritual of Numbers 19 has no known symbolic or rational basis (Pesikta de Rav Kahana, Parah 7). On the latter source, see Bernard Mandelbaum, ed., Pesikta de Rav Kahana: According to an Oxford Manuscript, with Variants from All Known Manuscripts and Genizoth Fragments and Parallel Passages, with Commentary and Introduction, 2 vols. (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1987), 1:74.

(25) . See, for example, Gorman, “Pagans and Priests,” 100–101, who expresses such a concern.

(26) . See Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900).

(27) . On “ritual density” and its social or cultural variables, see Bell, Ritual, 173–209.

(28) . In this regard, compare the first item in Bell’s list of methodological advice in Ritual, 81–82.

(29) . For a fuller treatment of the relationship between priests and prophets (as well as ritual and ethics), see Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 75–100.

(30) . For example, Joseph Blenkinsopp, A History of Prophecy in Israel, rev. and enlarged ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 146, 157, 167; J. Lindblom, Prophecy in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Blackwell, 1962), 165–73; Helmer Ringgren, Israelite Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966), 214–15, 256–57, and 284; Alexander Rofé, Introduction to the Prophetic Literature, translated by Judith H. Seeligmann (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 71–73; Marvin A. Sweeney, Isaiah 1–39: With an Introduction to Prophetic Literature, vol. 16, The Forms of Old Testament Literature (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1996), 19–20.

(31) . For the classic articulation of Max Weber’s contrasting “ideal types” of the priest and prophet, see his The Sociology of Religion, translated by Ephraim Fischoff (Boston: Beacon, 1963), 20–31, 46–59.

(32) . For a recent assertion of the difference between symbolic acts and rituals, see Ronald S. Hendel, “Prophets, Priests, and the Efficacy of Ritual,” in Pomegranates and Golden Bells: Studies in Biblical, Jewish, and Near Eastern Ritual, Law, and Literature in Honor of Jacob Milgrom, edited by David P. Wright, David Noel Freedman, and Avi Hurvitz (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1995), 185–98, esp. 188–89.

(33) . For example, Hendel, “Prophets, Priests.”

(34) . For a nontechnical review of this evidence (especially cult figurines) and recent scholarship on it, see William G. Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids: William B. Eedrmans, 2005), esp. 176–208.

(35) . For a general critique, see Hans H. Penner, “The Poverty of Functionalism,” History of Religions 11.1 (1971): 91–97.

(36) . Clifford Geertz, Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), 92–93.

(p.121) (37) . See Bruce Lincoln, Holy Terrors: Thinking about Religion after September 11, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), esp. 1–18, 97–102, where Lincoln discusses and reproduces the Mohamed Atta’s final instructions to the 9/11 hijackers.

(38) . Gruenwald, Rituals and Ritual Theory, 198–99.

(39) . Gruenwald, Rituals and Ritual Theory, 69.

(40) . Gruenwald, Rituals and Ritual Theory, 202–30.

(41) . Adam B. Seligman, Robert P. Weller, Michael J. Puett, and Bennett Simon, Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

(42) . Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1957), esp. 60–69.

(43) . William Gilders, Blood Ritual in the Hebrew Bible: Meaning and Power (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), esp. 182–89.

(44) . As John Holmwood has pointed out, the stated purpose isn’t a function at all—it’s a motive. See “Functionalism and Its Critics,” in Modern Social Theory: An Introduction, edited by A. Harrington (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 87–109. The ambiguities inherent in Merton’s terms (and evident in his use of them) have rightly prevented this distinction from gaining wider usage. See, for example, Paul Helm, “Manifest and Latent Functions,” Philosophical Quarterly 21.82 (1971): 51–60, and Colin Campbell, “A Dubious Distinction? An Inquiry into the Value and Use of Merton’s Concepts of Manifest and Latent Function,” American Sociological Review 47.1 (1982): 29–44.

(45) . See Klawans, Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 32–34 (cf. vii).

(46) . Roy A. Rappaport, Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 45–50.

(47) . Rappaport, Ritual and Religion, 471 n. 10.

(48) . See Jack Goody, “Religion and Ritual: The Definitional Problem,” British Journal of Sociology 12.2 (1961): 142–64. Goody defines ritual as a “category of standardized behaviour (custom) in which the relationship between the means and the end is not ‘intrinsic’, i.e. is either irrational or non-rational” (159).

(49) . Rappaport, Ritual and Religion, 50–138.

(50) . Rappaport, Ritual and Religion, 45–50.

(51) . So, for example, performing Israelite sacrifice in order to attract and maintain the divine presence is a putative function, but not an actual one. See Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 68–72.

(52) . See Gerald Klingbeil, Bridging the Gap: Ritual and Ritual Texts in the Bible (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2007), 205–25, for further examples of these sorts of functions of biblical rituals.

(53) . Curiously, the fringes and phylacteries are not listed in Klingbeil’s appendix (245–52), perhaps because they are more personal than communal. On the “self-informative” nature of many ritual practices (whether communal or individual), see Rappaport, Ritual and Religion, 104–106.

(54) . As, for example, Gilders does in Blood Ritual, esp. 78–82.

(55) . Note Exod 13:9: “a sign [ot] on your arm and a remembrance [zikaron] between your eyes.”

(56) . What follows summarizes, in part, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 75–100, esp. 84–89, with a few statements reformulated in light of the terminological distinctions introduced above.

(p.122) (57) . For a recent caution against the analytic drive for symbolic consistency (evident, for example, in Milgrom’s works), see Gorman, “Pagan and Priest,” esp. 101–107.

(58) . Smith, To Take Place, 108.

(59) . See, for example, Klawans, Impurity and Sin, which argues for distinctions between ritual and moral defilements in the Hebrew Bible and ancient Judaism.

(60) . See, for example, Gilders, “Blood as Purificant in Priestly Torah: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It?” in Schwartz et al., Perspectives on Purity, 77–83, esp. 82–83.