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Understanding the Pentateuch as a Scripture

ISBN: 978-1-4051-9639-0
312 pages
October 2017, Wiley-Blackwell
Understanding the Pentateuch as a Scripture (1405196394) cover image


A cutting-edge scholarly review of how the Pentateuch functions as a scripture, and how it came to be ritualized in this way.

Understanding the Pentateuch as a Scripture is a unique account of the first five books of the Bible, describing how Jews and Christians ritualize the Pentateuch as a scripture by interpreting it, by performing its text and contents, and by venerating the physical scroll and book.

Pentateuchal studies are known for intense focus on questions of how and when the first five books of the Bible were composed, edited, and canonized as scripture. Rather than such purely historical, literary, or theological approaches, Hebrew Bible scholar James W. Watts organizes this description of the Pentateuch from the perspectives of comparative scriptures and religious studies. He describes how the Pentateuch has been used in the centuries since it began to function as a scripture in the time of Ezra, and the origins of its ritualization before that time. The book:

  • Analyzes the semantic contents of the Pentateuch as oral rhetoric that takes the form of stories followed by lists of laws and sanctions
  • Gives equal space to its ritualization in the iconic and performative dimensions as to its semantic interpretation
  • Fully integrates the cultural history of the Pentateuch and Bible with its influence on Jewish and Christian ritual, and in art, music, theatre, and film

Understanding the Pentateuch as a Scripture is a groundbreaking work that highlights new research data and organizes the material to focus attention on the Pentateuch’s—and Bible’s— function as a scripture.

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Table of Contents

List of Boxes ix

List of Tables xi

List of Figures xii

Abbreviations xv

Preface xvii

Acknowledgements xxii

1 Ritualized Text: The Pentateuch as a Scripture 1

Torah and Pentateuch 2

Scripture and Ritual 3

The Three Dimensions of Written Texts 6

Ritualizing Scriptures in Three Dimensions 8

The Pentateuch in Three Dimensions 10

Scripturalizing Torah in the Time of Ezra 13

Reading the Pentateuch as a Scripture 17

2 Textual Rhetoric: The Persuasive Shaping of the Pentateuch 19

The Pentateuch as Literature 20

The Pentateuch as Rhetoric 23

Logos: The Story -List -Sanction Rhetorical Strategy 25

Ethos and Pathos in Pentateuchal Rhetoric 59

3 Scroll, Tablet, and Codex: Ritualizing the Pentateuch’s Iconic Dimension 68

The Iconic Dimension of Scriptures 69

The Pentateuch’s Iconic Dimension After Ezra 70

Ezra's Scroll 70

Torah Scrolls in the Late Second Temple Period 71

Textual Amulets 74

Torah Arks 77

Synagogue Scrolls 80

Desecrated Torah Scrolls 84

Relic Torah Scrolls 85

Torah Myths 89

Scroll and Codex 92

Ritualizing Gospels and Bible instead of Torah 95

Publishing Torahs and Bibles 99

Decalogue Tablets 105

Summary 107

The Pentateuch’s Iconic Dimension Before Ezra 107

The Tablets of the Commandments 108

The Ark of the Covenant as Torah Shrine 110

The Priestly Blessing Amulets 113

The Torah as Monumental Inscription 115

Josiah's Torah Scroll 116

The Pentateuch as Replacement for Tablets and Ark 120

4 Reading, Performance, and Art: Ritualizing the Pentateuch’s Performative Dimension 123

The Performative Dimension of Scriptures 124

The Pentateuch’s Performative Dimension After Ezra 126

Ezra's Torah Reading 126

Reading Torah in Later Second Temple Judaism 128

Reading Torah in Synagogues 131

Reading the Pentateuch in Churches 133

The Languages of Jewis Public Readings 135

The Languages of Christian Oral Readings 138

Recitation, Cantillation, and Song 141

Art, Illustrations, and Maps 144

Theater and Film 152

Biblical Art, Film, and Music beyond Scripture 154

The Pentateuch’s Performative Dimension Before Ezra 155

Performing Texts in Ancient Cultures 156

The Pentateuch's Instructions for Ritual Readings 158

Biblical Stories of Torah Readings 159

Composing Torah for a Listening Audience 163

Composing Torah for Scribal Readers 170

Evolving Torah through Oral Performances 173

5 Textual Interpretation: Ritualizing the Pentateuch’s Semantic Dimension 175

The Semantic Dimension of Scriptures 176

The Pentateuch’s Semantic Dimension After Ezra 177

The Rhetoric of scholarly Expertise After Ezra 177

The Rhetoric of Communal Identity and Priesthood After Ezra 189

The Rhetoric of Promise and Threat After Ezra 198

The Rhetoric Law After Ezra 200

The Rhetoric of Origins After Ezra 209

The Pentateuch’s Semantic Dimension Before Ezra 224

Scribal Expertise in the Ancient Middle East and in the Pentateuch  224

The Rhetoric of Communal Identity and Priesthood  Before Ezra 229

The Rhetoric of Promise and Threat Before Ezra 235

The Rhetoric of Law Before Ezra 239

The Rhetoric of Origins Before Ezra 243

6 Scriptures: From Torah to Bible 251

Scripturalization and Canonization 251

In the Time of Judah Maccabee 253

Understanding the Tanak as a Scripture 255

In the Time of Judah Ha -Nasi 260

In the Time of Irenaeus 262

Understanding the Bible as a Scripture 265

Cited Works and Further Reading 268

Index 286

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Author Information

James W. Watts is Professor of Hebrew Bible in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His research involves the overlaps between rhetoric, ritual and scriptures, with a particular focus on the Pentateuch. In this book, he applies insights from comparative scriptures studies and the iconic books project to the Pentateuch for the first time.

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