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Writing Commentary As Ritual And As Discovery, James Watts Jan 2017

Writing Commentary As Ritual And As Discovery, James Watts

James Watts

This study combines rhetoric, ritual studies, and comparative scriptures studies to open new avenues for understanding both biblical texts and their cultural history as a scripture. Labelling commentary as ritual, specifically as a ritualized genre of text, leads to the observation that commentary not only contributes to the Bible’s status as a scripture, it depends on that status as well. Ritual theories provide explanations for the dynamic interaction of tradition and innovation in commentary writing. Analysis of commentary writing and reading as a form of ritualizing the semantic dimension of a scripture provides a step forward in understanding how ...


Ancient Iconic Texts And Scholarly Expertise, James Watts May 2015

Ancient Iconic Texts And Scholarly Expertise, James Watts

James Watts

This essay probes the origins of iconic textuality in the ancient Near East, informed by post-colonial perspectives on iconic texts. The surviving art and texts from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia exhibit at least four forms of iconic textuality: monumental inscriptions, portraits of scribes, displays and manipulations of ritual texts, and beliefs in heavenly texts. The spread of literacy did not displace the social prestige of scribal expertise that was established in antiquity. The every-growing number and complexity of texts accounts for the continuing cultural authority of scholarly expertise. The tension between expert and non-specialist uses of texts, however, explains scholarship ...


From Ark Of The Covenant To Torah Scroll: Ritualizing Israel’S Iconic Texts, James Watts May 2015

From Ark Of The Covenant To Torah Scroll: Ritualizing Israel’S Iconic Texts, James Watts

James Watts

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 ...


The Historical And Literary Contexts Of The Sin And Guilt Offerings, James Watts May 2015

The Historical And Literary Contexts Of The Sin And Guilt Offerings, James Watts

James Watts

Many interpreters have noted that the common nouns, hattat and asham, carry legal connotations in Akkadian and non-priestly parts of the Hebrew Bible. In P, they also serve as the names of the “sin” and “guilt” offerings. The fact that the offering names evoke legal documents and treaties suggests that they were introduced because priests were playing a larger role in legal matters, or at least wished to. The demise of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah provide plausible reasons for why the Temple would have been looking for additional sources of revenue in the form of the sin and ...


The Three Dimensions Of Scriptures, James Watts May 2015

The Three Dimensions Of Scriptures, James Watts

James Watts

This article proposes a new model for understanding the ways that scriptures function. Several big media stories of recent years, such as those surrounding controversies over Ten Commandments monuments in U.S. courthouses and Qur’ans desecrated at Guantánomo Bay, involve the iconic function of scriptures. Yet contemporary scholarship on Jewish, Christian or Muslim scriptures is ill-prepared to interpret these events because it has focused almost all its efforts on textual interpretation. Even the increased attention to the performative function of scripture by Wilfred Cantwell Smith and his students does not provide resources for understanding the iconic roles of scriptures ...


Scripturalization And The Aaronide Dynasties, James W. Watts Dec 2012

Scripturalization And The Aaronide Dynasties, James W. Watts

James Watts

Priests claiming descent from Aaron controlled the high priesthood of temples in Jerusalem and on Mount Gerizim in the Second Temple period. These Aaronides were in a position to influence religious developments in this period, especially the scripturalization of the Torah. The priests’ dynastic claims were probably a significant factor in the elevation of the Pentateuch to scriptural status. This claim can be tested by correlating what little we know about the Aaronide dynasties with what little we know about the scripturalization of two different portions of the Hebrew Bible, the Pentateuch and Ezra-Nehemiah.


The Political And Legal Uses Of Scripture, James W. Watts Dec 2012

The Political And Legal Uses Of Scripture, James W. Watts

James Watts

No abstract provided.


Relic Texts, James Watts Jun 2012

Relic Texts, James Watts

James Watts

Religious traditions typically ritualize their scriptures in three dimensions. Other kinds of texts may be ritualized in one or two dimensions (e.g. the performative dimension of the scripts of plays or sheet music, the semantic dimension of national law codes), but the regular ritualization of a text in all three dimensions usually distinguishes it as a scripture or sacred text. There are, however, some texts or, more accurately, some specific copies of texts, that tend to be ritualized only in the iconic dimension, and scriptures feature prominently among them. I term such texts “relic books.” Relic books are writings ...


'Olah: The Rhetoric Of Burnt Offerings, James Watts Feb 2012

'Olah: The Rhetoric Of Burnt Offerings, James Watts

James Watts

The ‘olah offering receives pride of place in most lists of sacrifices in the Hebrew Bible, including the ritual rules of Leviticus. Its prominence in these texts suggests that the writers expected its mention to have an effect on their audience. This rhetorical effect must be evaluated and understood before the references to the `olah can be used to reconstruct ancient religious practices reliably. A comparative analysis of the rhetoric about the `olah suggests that its priority burnished the image of priests as devoted selflessly to divine worship and drew attention away from their economic interests in the sacrificial system ...


Biblical Psalms Outside The Psalter, James Watts Feb 2012

Biblical Psalms Outside The Psalter, James Watts

James Watts

Psalms appear irregularly in the narrative and prophetic literature of the Hebrew Bible, at Exod 15:1-21, Deut 32:1-43, Jdg 5, 1 Sam 2:1-20, 2 Samuel 22, Isa 38:9-20, Jon 2:3-10, Habakkuk 3, Dan 2:20-23, 1 Chron 16:8-36; in the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon at Daniel 3, Jdg 16:1-17, Tobit 13; and in the New Testament at Lk 1:46-5,67-79. More often, fragments of hymns and other poems are quoted as natural parts of story-lines (e.g. 2 Sam 1:17-27; 3:33-34) or are employed as elements in prophetic compositions (e.g. Am ...


The Legal Characterization Of Moses In The Rhetoric Of The Pentateuch, James Watts Feb 2012

The Legal Characterization Of Moses In The Rhetoric Of The Pentateuch, James Watts

James Watts

The force of law depends on the authority of its promulgator. Self-characterizations by lawgivers play a vital role in persuading hearers and readers to accept law and in motivating them to obey it. Pentateuchal laws therefore join narratives in characterizing law-speakers as part of a rhetoric of persuasion. They present, however, two speakers of law, one divine (YHWH) and the other human (Moses). I will show that this dual voicing of pentateuchal law has two effects: it restricts Deuteronomy's prophetic characterization of Moses to the narrower definition of prophecy presented in the previous books, while it uses Moses' scribal ...


Disposing Ofnon-Disposable Texts, James Watts Feb 2012

Disposing Ofnon-Disposable Texts, James Watts

James Watts

These concluding reflections on the essays in The Death of Sacred Texts consider evidence that the disposal of secular books also evokes serious concern. There is an inherent tension in most literate cultures between the idea of a book or enduring text on the one hand and the possibility of its disposal or destruction on the other. Disposing of books transgresses inhibitions reinforced by family, school, media, and government. The concern for book preservation involves respect for culture(s), veneration of traditions, and, at its root, the preservation of cultural values. Factors other than information preservation are at work here ...


Desecrating Scriptures, James Watts Feb 2012

Desecrating Scriptures, James Watts

James Watts

Desecrations of books of scripture appear regularly in media coverage of religious and political conflicts. Twenty-first century news media have reported scripture desecrations in various Western, Middle Eastern, African, and South Asian countries. Though political tensions also arise from the desecration of sacred sites, objects, and persons, books of scripture have emerged as particularly potent objects of contestation. That is because, as a (very) old form of media themselves, scriptures encapsulate the religious experiences of many people who are used to handling the physical book with veneration. News of such a book’s desecration thus inverts a common religious experience ...


The Legal Characterization Of God In The Pentateuch, James W. Watts Feb 2012

The Legal Characterization Of God In The Pentateuch, James W. Watts

James Watts

The Pentateuch develops God's character in stories of divine creation and destruction, promise and fulfillment, battle and redemption. The laws of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers supplement such direct characterization by the impressions provided by YHWH's speech. Speeches always indirectly characterize their speaker by providing the basis for inferring the kind of person who talks this way. So the law codes voiced directly by God provide a powerful impression of the divine character.


"This Song" Conspicuous Poetry In Hebrew Prose, James W. Watts Feb 2012

"This Song" Conspicuous Poetry In Hebrew Prose, James W. Watts

James Watts

The Hebrew Bible contains many passages in which prose narrative surrounds conspicuous poetry. The various theoretical and practical difficulties in distinguishing Hebrew prose from verse in other texts do not negate this observation. Explicit genre labels often appear in both the prose frameworks and the beginnings of poems, telling readers that the genre and mode have changed. The interpretive problem then becomes, not whether this is verse, but why poetry appears precisely here. What does poetic expression accomplish that Hebrew prose narrative cannot or will not do?

Comparative study of conspicuous inset poetry suggests that Hebrew narratives use it to ...


Aaron And The Golden Calf In The Rhetoric Of The Pentateuch, James Watts Feb 2012

Aaron And The Golden Calf In The Rhetoric Of The Pentateuch, James Watts

James Watts

In the Pentateuch, the contrast between law and narrative, or more precisely, ritual instructions and ritual narrative, is nowhere more stark than in the relationship between the Golden Calf story (Exod 32-34) and the instructions for building the Tabernacle (Exod 25-31, 35-40). The former vilifies Aaron by placing him at the center of the idolatrous event while the latter celebrates Aaron and his sons as divinely consecrated priests. Though source criticism has long since distinguished the authors of these accounts, it does not explain the intentions behind a literary juxtaposition that is too stark to be anything but intentional. Nor ...


Using Ezra's Time As A Methodological Pivot For Understanding The Rhetoric And Functions Of The Pentateuch, James Watts Feb 2012

Using Ezra's Time As A Methodological Pivot For Understanding The Rhetoric And Functions Of The Pentateuch, James Watts

James Watts

The Persian period saw the transformation of pentateuchal materials into a scripture, the Torah. The story of Ezra exemplifies that transformation by its description of his manipulation of the physical scroll, his oral reading of it before the people of Jerusalem, and his arrangement for its professional translation/interpretation by Levites. These rituals have characterized the function of the Torah (and other scriptures) from that time forward. The Persian period, however, also marks a major change in the nature of our evidence for the form, contents and meaning of pentateuchal materials. The only historical evidence from before the time of ...


Ritual Rhetoric In Ancient Near Eastern Texts, James Watts Feb 2012

Ritual Rhetoric In Ancient Near Eastern Texts, James Watts

James Watts

Many ancient Near Eastern texts reflect a concern for ritual accuracy. They depict ancient kings justifying their ritual practices on the basis of supposedly invariable tradition and, frequently, on the basis of old ritual texts. They also invoke ritual acts and omissions to explain the course of past history and to promise future punishments and rewards. In fact, very many texts assert that ritual performance is the most determinative factor in the success or failure of rulers and nations. The rhetoric of ritual therefore pervaded royal propaganda as well as temple texts. It also provided the principal rationale for criticizing ...


Story-List-Sanction: A Cross-Cultural Strategy Of Ancient Persuasion, James Watts Feb 2012

Story-List-Sanction: A Cross-Cultural Strategy Of Ancient Persuasion, James Watts

James Watts

Persuasion motivated the creation of many ancient Near Eastern texts. Persuasion was not limited to particular genres of discourse and literature but was frequently a stimulus leading authors to combine gemes to create more persuasive forms. In this process, the rhetorical capacities of many different kinds of liiterature were harnessed for overtly persuasive purposes. One such rhetorical strategy combined three kinds of materials-stories, lists and sanctions-to influence its audience's ideas and behaviors. It shaped the form and content of texts from a wide variety of periods and cultures in the ancient Near East and eastern Mediterranean, including the foundational ...


Ritual Legitimacy And Scriptural Authority, James W. Watts Feb 2012

Ritual Legitimacy And Scriptural Authority, James W. Watts

James Watts

In this essay, James W. Watts explains the interdependence of texts and rituals with regard to ancient religions. Specifically, he outlines patterns of practice and developments in the ritual use of texts and the texual authorization of rituals in antiquity. Watts also makes the case that beyond the interplay of texual authority and ritual legitimacy that most ancient cultures engaged in, Judaism was unique in elevating the Torah along with its other laws and stories to special "scriptural" status.


Psalmody In Prophecy: Habakkuk 3 In Context, James W. Watts Feb 2012

Psalmody In Prophecy: Habakkuk 3 In Context, James W. Watts

James Watts

The psalm in Habakkuk 3 resembles songs in Exodus 15, Deuteronomy 32 and 33, Judges 5 and 2 Samuel 22 in its archaic linguistic formations and vocabulary stock, victory hymn form, and appearance outside of the Psalter. Unlike these hymns set within prose narratives, however, Habakkuk 3 appears within a book of prophetic poetry structured in a liturgical and dramatic fashion. Habakkuk, therefore, offers an ideal case for the comparative study of prophetic and narrative composition through the use of the same literary device. The results of such a comparison reveal a sophisticated text which mixes inherited generic conventions to ...


Reader Identification And Alienation In The Legal Rhetoric Of The Pentateuch, James W. Watts Feb 2012

Reader Identification And Alienation In The Legal Rhetoric Of The Pentateuch, James W. Watts

James Watts

Three voices dominate Pentateuchal discourse in turn: the omniscient narrator relates the stories of Genesis and Exodus, YHWH delivers the laws of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, and Moses combines narrative and law in the rhetoric of Deuteronomy. These three dominant voices of the Pentateuch are interdependent and almost interchangeable: the anonymous narrator, like Moses the scribe, requires both divine inspiration and reader acceptance for authorization of the story; the divine lawgiver requires reader acceptance of human mediation of the commandments; the prophetic scribe depends on authority delegated by both God and readers to interpret the stories, the laws, and the ...


The Rhetoric Of Ritual Instruction In Leviticus 1-7, James W. Watts Feb 2012

The Rhetoric Of Ritual Instruction In Leviticus 1-7, James W. Watts

James Watts

Formal and structural features of Leviticus 1-7 distinguish these chapters as some of the most systematic texts in the Hebrew Bible. In a collection of literature otherwise noted for its sweeping narratives and urgent sermons, these methodical instructions for the performance of five kinds of offerings, presented twice in different arrangements, have suggested to many interpreters that they preserve examples of an ancient genre of ritual instruction. However, the identification of a ritual genre in these chapters (and elsewhere in the Pentateuch) has failed to account for all the features of this material. The present form of Leviticus 1-7 can ...


The Unreliable Narrator Of Job, James Watts Feb 2012

The Unreliable Narrator Of Job, James Watts

James Watts

This essay by James W. Watts provides analysis on the book of Job, questioning previous interpretations of its narrative. Watts also compares the book of Job's narrative style to that of modern and historical authors. Watts argues that the author of the book of Job employed an unreliable narrator in the form of an omniscient charatcer, which attacked literative conventions of the time, but ultimately proved difficult for readers to understand.


Public Readings And Pentateuchal Law, James Watts Feb 2012

Public Readings And Pentateuchal Law, James Watts

James Watts

References to reading are remarkably sparse in the Hebrew Bible. Though the variety of forms and styles in the biblical books attests an ancient literary culture in Israel, there is little explicit mention of reading prophecy and virtually no references to reading hymns or history. Most references to reading portray the reading of law. Such references provide valuable insights into how the Pentateuch's writers expected their work to be read. Reading expectations make up the components of genre and shape the conventions used by writers to compose their works. Thus accounts of law readings also illulllinate the ancient literary ...


Rhetorical Strategy In The Composition Of The Pentateuch, James Watts Feb 2012

Rhetorical Strategy In The Composition Of The Pentateuch, James Watts

James Watts

The Hebrew Bible rarely depicts the reading of books or documents, but when it does, it usually portrays public readings of entire law codes. Whether by Moses, Joshua, Josiah or Ezra, law readings to public assemblies play prominent roles in various biblical books. It is not my intention in this essay to discuss Israel's tradition of law readings in depth, but rather to explore its implications for the form of Israel's extant laws as found in the Pentateuch. The tradition of public law readings points out the rhetorical function of law in ancient Israel. The accounts of readings ...


Ritual Rhetoric In The Pentateuch: The Case Of Leviticus 1-16, James Watts Feb 2012

Ritual Rhetoric In The Pentateuch: The Case Of Leviticus 1-16, James Watts

James Watts

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 Rhetoric Of Sacrifice, James W. Watts Dec 2010

The Rhetoric Of Sacrifice, James W. Watts

James Watts

No abstract provided.


Ritual Legitimacy And Scriptural Authority, James Watts Dec 2004

Ritual Legitimacy And Scriptural Authority, James Watts

James Watts

Theorists of ritual have frequently criticized the old tendency in Western culture to dichotomize ritual and text by pointing to the ritual uses of scripture that reinforce its authority. This article extends that argument by illustrating how Torah gained its authoritative position because it validated the rites of the Jerusalem Temple. In first millennium BCE Egyptian, Jewish and Greek cultures, old texts were used to authorize and validate ritual practices. From such usage grew the idea of the religious authority of ritual texts. When one such text, the Torah, included legal and narrative materials as well as ritual instructions, its ...


Text And Redaction In Jeremiah's Oracles Against The Nations, James W. Watts Dec 1991

Text And Redaction In Jeremiah's Oracles Against The Nations, James W. Watts

James Watts

No abstract provided.