Ark of the Covenant, Torah, Bible, Iconic Books, Ten Commandments, Decalogue, tablets, scrolls, reliquary, ritualized texts, scripture, performance, display
Biblical Studies | History of Religions of Western Origin | Jewish Studies | Religion
Torah scrolls are the central icon of Jewish worship. Interpreters usually regard such ritual uses of physical Torah scrolls as a consequence of the Pentateuch’s textual authority and canonization. However, the traditions about tablets of commandments carried in a reliquary ark show that ritualization of texts in the iconic dimension began early in Israel’s history. Was the Pentateuch itself developed with such iconic uses in mind? That is, was the Pentateuch shaped to replace the tablets and the ark? Evidence for such shaping appears in ambiguities surrounding Pentateuchal traditions about the tablets and scrolls of the law. These passages equate the tablets’ contents with Torah scrolls to the point that several texts fail to distinguish clearly between the two textual forms. These ambiguities attest to a desire in the composition of the Pentateuch itself to identify not just commandments with torah, but also tablets with scrolls. As a result, scrolls replaced the ark as the icon that contains and reveals the covenant.
James W. Watts, "From Ark of the Covenant to Torah Scroll: Ritualizing Israel’s Iconic Texts," pre-publication draft, published on SURFACE, Syracuse University Libraries, 2014.
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