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In the WildernessThe Doctrine of Defilement in the Book of Numbers$
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Mary Douglas

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780199245413

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199245413.001.0001

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The Book of Numbers in the Context of Comparative Religion

The Book of Numbers in the Context of Comparative Religion

(p.21) Chapter 1 The Book of Numbers in the Context of Comparative Religion
In the Wilderness

Mary Douglas

Oxford University Press

This book aims to open a place for a new reading of the Book of Numbers. Trying to apply the practice of anthropology to Numbers produces several surprises. For one, the interpretation of defilement in the Bible turns out to be quite different from religious defilement as understood elsewhere. Another is the unexpectedly complex and elegant rhetorical structure of the book. Then the political implications of Numbers turn out to be more universalist, open, and anti-separatist than usually credited. The book first explains some fundamental things about defilement and magic from an anthropologist's point of view. From a religious perspective defilement is not merely a symbol of something else, or even the balance on which ideas of virtue and sin are weighed, but the basic condition of all reality. That the idea is ontological is difficult for modern readers of the Bible to appreciate.

Keywords:   Book of Numbers, anthropology, defilement, Bible, magic, religious perspective, reality

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