James WattsFollow

Document Type

Book Chapter




Pentateuch, Leviticus, ritual, rhetoric, priests, scriptures




History of Religion | Religion | Rhetoric


The writers of the Pentateuch combined distinct ancient literary conventions of ritual rhetoric from diverse genres in order to place ritual concerns at the thematic and literary center of the Torah. The combination emphasizes the ritual texts as key components of the Pentateuch's persuasive strategy. Ritual rhetoric plays a vital role in unifying the Pentateuch's diverse contents into a persuasive argument for obedience to Torah and for cultic mediation by Aaronide priests. In the Second Temple period, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers presented a utopian religious ideal (worship in the Tent of Meeting surrounded by the idealized camp of the twelve tribes of Israel) as available from an existing dynastic institution (the Aaronide priesthood). Like priests elsewhere in ancient Near Eastern and Hellenistic cultures, the Aaronide priests avoided writing in their own voice. Instead, they grounded their ritual legitimacy in the ancient edicts of a divine king and his legendary prophet. The resulting document legitimized the priesthoods of both Jewish and Samaritan temples and became the prototypical example of a new religious force, the idea of scripture.

Additional Information

In The Books of Leviticus and Numbers, ed. Thomas Römer, Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium, Leuven: Peeters, 2008, pp. 305-18.


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