Liane M. Feldman, “Story and Sacrifice: Ritual, Narrative, and the Priestly Source,” PhD Dissertation, University of Chicago, 2018.
The priestly pentateuchal writings, identifiable in large part by their focused attention on all things cultic, comprise the largest collection of writing about ritual and sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible. Unlike ritual texts found elsewhere in the ancient Near East, however, the pentateuchal priestly writings are embedded within a larger narrative history. Starting with the creation of the world and ending with the death of Moses at the edge of the promised land, this history of the Israelites has one especially unique component: nearly one half of the story consists of divine instructions about ritual practice and purity regulations. In a story that often zips through hundreds of years in a handful of verses, the priestly narrator lingers at Mount Sinai. Nearly one-half of the entire priestly source covers only eight days’ time, and almost all of the story’s ritual materials are concentrated in this single episode.
These eight days describe the assembly and inauguration of a mobile tent shrine. Over the course of these eight days, there is a curious movement in the story between first-person divine speeches filled with detailed ritual instructions, third-person narration of ritual activity, and moments of dialogue and conflict between characters. Chapter after chapter is filled with lengthy speeches that systematically detail the circumstances necessitating sacrifice and the procedures for offering them, introduce concepts of impurity, criteria for its diagnosis, and remedies against impurity’s negative effects on the tent shrine. In a composition notable for its brevity, the sheer verbosity of this single eight-day episode raises many questions. Why does the pace of the storytelling grind to such a halt at Sinai? What is the function of the extended divine speeches containing ritual instructions? How do these instructions relate to the rest of the story, if at all?
With these questions in mind, my dissertation centered on the eight-day tabernacle inauguration episode in Exodus 40 through Numbers 8, with an eye to two interrelated issues: 1) the question of the relationship between ritual and narrative in pentateuchal literature, and 2) the issue of identifying stratification within a narrative text. This second issue prompted the development of a new narratologically-based approach for the analysis of composite narrative texts that I use throughout the dissertation, and which, I argue, would prove fruitful for the study of the Hebrew Bible and Pentateuch more generally.
One of the few areas of broad consensus in pentateuchal scholarship is the existence of an identifiably “priestly” stratum of texts, and the recognition that this stratum is itself multi-layered and the work of many authors and editors over the course of several centuries. The exact nature of the priestly source is a point of debate, with some scholars arguing that it is an independent narrative composition, and others arguing that it is among the latest redactional layers of the Pentateuch (see overview in Kratz 2011). My starting point in this dissertation is that the priestly source is an independent narrative composition that at one point existed apart from the other non-priestly, non-deuteronomic pentateuchal texts (Baden 2012). While this conclusion is not a consensus opinion in broader pentateuchal scholarship, there is a general agreement among scholars that the episode at the center of this study—Exodus 40 through Numbers 8—is thoroughly priestly and does not contain any non-priestly texts. This enables me to set aside the broader questions of penatateuchal composition and combination of sources and focus on the central episode in the priestly source.
In recent years, there have been a growing number of studies of the priestly source from a literary or narratological perspective. These approaches all share a common flaw: they remove all or most of the ritual instructions in Leviticus from consideration (Boorer 2016; Gaines 2015; Guillaume 2009), favoring instead more conventional prosaic narratives. By ignoring more than half of the priestly writings, I argue that this artificial modern division between “narrative” and “legal” sections of the priestly code fundamentally misunderstand the source and the story it tells. At the core of this dissertation, I demonstrate that the ritual instructions are deliberate literary compositions that are inseparable from the narrative itself. The author(s) of the priestly source have made deliberate use of the genre of divine instruction (i.e. law) as part of the construction of their historical narrative. The priestly source cannot be understood as a coherent, independent story without reading its ritual and narrative components together. Indeed, the resolute separation of these two genres stands at the root of the argument by some scholars that the priestly source must be a redactional layer within the Pentateuch, given that the priestly narrative without its ritual is incomplete and undeveloped. By recognizing that the legal/cultic portions of the priestly source are integral to the broader story it develops, scholars can appreciate both the narratological features of the entire priestly source, and recognize that the priestly source is indeed an independent composition rather than a supplementary layer.
This dissertation has three parts, subdivided into eight chapters. While all eight chapters adopt the same methodological approach to the text, and questions of stratification are raised in every chapter, the primary emphasis of my work varies in the different parts. The first two parts of this dissertation (chapters one through five) are primarily focused on the relationship between ritual and narrative. The third part (chapters six through eight) is fundamentally concerned with the question of stratification and the implementation of narratological criteria for determining cohesion.
Parts One and Two (Ritual and Narrative)
Drawing on narratology, ritual and legal theories, I suggest that the (legally) normative is consistently subordinated to and employed in service of the narrative in this text. This is manifest in at least two ways. First, the ritual elements serve to create an idealized religious system that functions as the foundation of the story world (the imagined universe within which the settings, characters, events, and actions of the narrative exist). Second, while the narrative relies on the ritual instructions in order to move its plot forward, the meaning of the described rituals is developed by the characters within the story who engage in their own theorizing about them. It is in these detailed explanations of sacrificial procedure, purity regulations, and social norms—typically seen as something other than narrative—that the priestly narrative world is most clearly constructed. They provide much of the characterization, description, theological argumentation, and advancement of the plot in the story; ideologies about divine communication, sin, atonement, and communal life are all expressed most clearly through the ritual instructions. This project shifts the paradigm for discussing the biblical priestly text as literature in its own right by demonstrating that ancient authors intentionally mixed literary genres for specific rhetorical purposes.
Chapters one through five of this dissertation contain the most sustained focus on the relationship between ritual and narrative. Chapter one studies Exodus 40 as an orientation to and creation of the physical space within the priestly story world. Chapter two addresses Yahweh’s institution of sacrifice in his first speech from the tabernacle, and the ways in which these sacrificial regulations further define space and a fundamental reorientation of the Israelite social order. Chapter three is a detailed analysis of the ordination of the priests and its introduction of a key organizing concept in the priestly world: holiness. Chapter four turns to the inauguration of the tabernacle itself. It is in my analysis of this episode that the interdependence of ritual instruction and narrative becomes most apparent. (Note: a version of chapter four was published in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures in 2017.) Finally, chapter five turns to Yahweh’s second speech in the tabernacle, and shows how the introduction of the purity laws serves to draw both physical and social boundaries, and reinforce newly established hierarchies.
Part Three (Stratification and Narrative Cohesion)
My focus on the interdependent relationship between ritual and narrative in the priestly source does not mean that I am performing a final-form reading of the priestly source, unaware or unconcerned with its compositional history (as in Douglas 2001). The foundation of this project is the creation of a new, theoretically grounded methodology for the analysis of composite texts. Most scholars recognize that the priestly source has been edited and supplemented by at least one later author. Currently, secondary additions are most often identified by making recourse to either genre, or linguistic and stylistic criteria. If a word or phrase seems out of place, the text in which it occurs is suspected of being a later addition. Likewise, if that word or phrase occurs in another text, that text becomes subject to excision from the reconstructed original stratum (most notably seen in Knohl 2007). This “out of place” criterion is, at best, subjective. The methodological approach I develop in this book takes narrative cohesion as its starting point, turning to markers such as the consistency of the narrator’s voice, the personality and portrayal of the characters, and adherence to the narrative’s established timeline. I argue that these elements all provide more reliable indicators for narrative cohesion or breakdown than the use of a particular lexeme or turn of phrase. My analysis of the text from this perspective yields a new delineation of the source into its primary and secondary layers of authorship, and suggests that more of the source is original than has previously been recognized.
The implications of this methodological approach are made most apparent in Part Three of the dissertation, which focuses on Leviticus 17–27 and Numbers 7–8. Chapter six contains the cornerstone of my argument, and one of the most consequential conclusions of the dissertation. Through a close analysis of the legal logic of Leviticus 17 and its relationship to the narrative development in the broader priestly source, I argue that this chapter is not only a literary unity (as recognized in Schwartz 1996), but that it cannot and should not be attributed to a secondary layer of the priestly source known as the “Holiness Code” or the “Holiness School.” Rather, it is fully continuous with the priestly narrative, and is a necessary and logical narrative and legal continuation of the plot. This conclusion then challenges the identification of a coherent and literarily distinct Holiness Code in Lev 17–26. Chapter seven builds on the conclusions of chapter six, and offers a preliminary and schematic approach to Lev 18–27 from my methodologial perspective. In this chapter, I argue that substantial portions of Lev 21 and 22 demonstrate a literary and legal coherence similar to that of Lev 17, and are best understood as an original part of the priestly source. I further argue that other sections, such as Lev 18–20, 24:10–23, 25–27 are likely later additions to the priestly narrative in large part because they undermine the narrative chronology, ignore established characterization, or violate foundational ritual/legal constructs, thus providing better criteria by which to identify compositeness. Chapter eight turns to the conclusion of the inauguration episode in Num 7–8, and examines it as a site of both analepsis and simultaneity in biblical narrative.
Story and Sacrifice: Ritual and Narrative in the Priestly Source offers a new approach to understanding the priestly source. Much of the focus of pentateuchal studies has been how and where to divide between sources, but a sustained analysis of a recovered text as a literary whole remains a desideratum. This dissertation introduces a new methodological approach for the analysis of composite biblical narratives, and is among the first studies to take the priestly source, including its ritual materials, seriously as a narrative text. It marks the first time that a sustained narratological analysis has been performed on a source-critically recovered text. One of the main contributions of this dissertation is that it takes seriously the embeddedness of ritual writing in narrative, and seeks to answer broader questions about the literary functions of textualized ritual.
Dr. Liane M. Feldman is an Assistant Professor in the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University
Baden, Joel S. The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis. Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.
Boorer, Suzanne. The Vision of the Priestly Narrative: Its Genre and Hermeneutics of Time. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature Press, 2016.
Douglas, Mary. Leviticus As Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Feldman, Liane Marquis. "Ritual Sequence and Narrative Constraints in Lev 9:1–10:3." Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 17, no. 12 (2017): 1–35.
Gaines, Jason M. H. The Poetic Priestly Source. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015.
Guillaume, Philippe. Land and Calendar: The Priestly Document from Genesis 1 to Joshua 18. New York/London: T & T Clark, 2009.
Knohl, Israel. The Sanctuary of Silence: The Priestly Torah and the Holiness School. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2007.
Kratz, Reinhard G. "The Pentateuch in Current Research: Consensus and Debate," Pages 31-62 in The Pentateuch: International Perspectives on Current Research. Edited by Thomas Dozeman, Konrad Schmid, and Baruch J. Schwartz. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011.