James W. Watts: 0000-0002-4872-4986
ritual, textualization, scripturalization, Leviticus 12, mothers, purification
University of Lausanne
Biblical Studies | Comparative Methodologies and Theories | Religion
Biblical scholars have increasingly realized that textual representations of rituals do not have the same function or meaning as the ritual performances that they describe. A survey of this theoretical distinction in biblical scholarship over the last 25 years shows the impact of this realization, and also several points of resistance. The significance of the distinction between ritual text and ritual performance can be illustrated clearly in Leviticus 12, which describes the rituals required of new mothers after giving birth. The chapter mandates practices that are unique in the Bible and, possibly, novel in ancient Israel’s religious culture. However, they take the ritual form of standard rising and sin offerings, as described previously in Leviticus 1, 4-5. Thus Leviticus 12 simply announces a payment schedule for standard offerings after every human birth. Its textualization and then scripturalization as part of the Torah has led interpreters to ponder the significance of periods of blood purification long after, perhaps especially after temple offerings had fallen into abeyance. This text about new mothers’ offerings thus took on a life of its own and even stimulated new ritual practices, quite apart from the function and meaning of the ancient practices that it describes.
James W. Watts, “Text Are Not Rituals and Rituals Are Not Texts, With an Example from Leviticus 12,” in Text and Ritual in the Pentateuch (ed. Christophe Nihan and Julia Rhyder; University Park, PA: Eisenbrauns, 2021), 172-187.
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