Guide Reading Ritual: Leviticus in Postmodern Culture (JSOT Supplement)

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If we can make these parallels between the two systems, then we also can begin to wonder to what extent eating at McDonald's or similar establishments constitutes worship. Back in the Good Old Days Another way to relate our world to that of Leviticus comes from another story. My father was a pastor and a farmer at different points in his life, but he never stopped being both. After years of encouragement and cajoling from my mother, For a detailed account of this action, see Schlosser or.

He chose to begin with fall butchering, the annual slaughter of animals to provide meat for the coming winter. His description of butchering is similar to the Leviticus prescription in that it is mostly about actions rather than attitudes.

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Like Leviticus, the attitudes which are recorded are those of someone who is mostly an outsider in his case the little boy who is being allowed to watch, in the case of Leviticus, Yahweh. This is not to say that those involved had no attitude toward what they did. The animal they killed likely had a name. It had been on the farm since birth, and was known and had been cared for. Its death also represented survival through another hard cold prairie winter. According to Bell's criteria, my father's experience does not constitute a ritual only because it lacks one of the six criteria, namely sacred symbolism.

There is no suggestion in my father's story that the butchering was meant to influence God in any way. Nor were there special 'religious' observances that were part of the activity. Neither was God invoked as a reason for the action. The story can form part of a bridge between ourselves and Leviticus because it shows us a world between. The world of my father's childhood is much like mine in geography, language, and many parts of culture.

It is also available to me, in that I can ask questions of someone who was there. It is similar to that of biblical Israel in a number of ways. It shows a society that is connected to the land. He understood the connection between his food and the earth because he had been involved in every stage of the process: seed to harvest, birth to death, grinding grain, feeding, cleaning pens, then spreading manure back on the fields for another cycle.

This cycle is assumed by Leviticus. My father also understood the poverty of a world like ancient Israel. There is still poverty in my world, but I notice it because some are poor and others aren't.

Reading Ritual: Leviticus in Postmodern Culture (JSOT Supplement)

My father says he never noticed they were poor, because everyone else was, too. There were those who were slightly less poor, but only by small degrees. In this setting, extravagance like that of a whole burnt offering is understood differently than the extravagance of the wealthy. Finally, my father's world had an obvious relationship between work done and food eaten raise a cow, kill a cow, eat a cow. In my world, the process is much less obvious read a book, write a paper, eat a beef sandwich. Most modern Westerners are so separated from communities of production that we must be hesitant to claim to understand the 'theology' of Leviticus until blood has dripped down our hands and arms for a considerable amount of time.

In recognizing a world in between, it is also important to notice the impact of current rather romantic ideals of farm life.


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My children usually experience farms either through books or on television. Farms are bright, clean, healthy places with happy, cute animals who act as companions and interesting pets. There are no crowded pens, there is no manure or smell of manure, animals smile as you pass, and certainly there is little talk of death. Animal Sacrifice Today- 23 The reality of the modem farm especially of the factory farm bears little resemblance to either the romantic farm or to the agricultural world of Leviticus.

Workers on the factory farm buy their meat and bread in the store like everyone else. Thus, as examples of agriculture and the culture of the farm, modern farms have little to teach about how ancient Israel understood animals and their slaughter. Here again we encounter both contrast and comparison. This form of study allows us to see ritual as part of a larger social reality.

It also allows a better understanding of the social structures and mythic systems that protect us from ourselves.

Book Reading Ritual: Leviticus In Postmodern Culture (Jsot Supplement)

Children are not encouraged to make any connection between the cute little calves in their books and the burger on their plates. They do not encounter this connection directly because they never participate in the process of making cattle into ground beef. Modern Ritual Performance Thus far I have been making connections between the modern food industry and the rituals of Leviticus Hopefully these comparisons have helped in the further understanding of Leviticus' world and our own.

The difficulty with making comparisons such as this is that, for most people, neither of these worlds are part of their direct experience. Few people have had the opportunity to work in meat packing, or to be involved in the corporate planning at McDonald's. The danger in making these comparisons is that we will arrive at a purely mental 'understanding' of ritual, rather than a connection we know in our muscles and bones.

This is especially true for scholars of religion. Not only do few of us have experience with blood and raw meat, we are also naturally inclined to intellectual understanding. We tend to live in our heads rather than our bodies. This does not mean, however, that we do not have rituals specific to our vocation. So I am going to use one of these rituals as another example of how modern ritual can show us the world of Leviticus. However, instead of talking about this ritual, I will try to recreate it.

Hopefully this will further enhance the visceral connection you make between the modern ritual and the ancient ones. Each year these two organizations hold a joint conference where scholars read papers to each other on a vast variety of topics, all of which are connected to the study of religion. Reprinted below with some editing is part of a paper I presented there.

It was one of hundreds of presentations at this conference. I had the misfortune of presenting my paper directly following the paper of Stephen D. This means that the room was relatively crowded for Dr Moore's paper, and then most people got up and left. It is important to recognize that we remember emotions long after we have forgotten words. The difficulty in quantifying and describing emotion is one of the factors that makes the study and description of ritual so challenging.

So after beginning with a description of the problem, and going through some of the information contained earlier in this chapter, I continued: There is one activity that is clearly available for our examination which I believe meets all the criteria for a ritual. That, of course, is the action I am performing right now.

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Every year we gather, at a place chosen by a higher power, and bring our offering without defect or blemish, according to the prescribed form, and present it before the assembled priests and acolytes, offering it to the god we serve, whether this is Father Yahweh, Hagia Sophia, or the chair of our department. This ritual, our ritual, connects in two ways to our study of Leviticus As I suggested earlier, one of the keys to understanding ritual is to attempt to recognize and describe the performative aspects of ritual. If we turn that lens upon ourselves, we gain a much clearer understanding of our own attitude toward the performative.

To put is succinctly, one of the rules that governs the performance of this ritual is that no attempt need be made to follow any of the usual rules for public presentation. We have made dullness a virtue, monotony a sign of true scholarship unfettered by emotional display. Thus it would be incorrect to say that presentation is seen as a matter of no significance for our ritual. Rather, it has become important to the ritual that physical activity is not allowed, that performance be limited as much as possible to mental performance.

Even words that lead to higher levels of adrenal activity that might lead to physical activity are frowned upon as unscientific, unscholarly. It is no wonder, then, that our studies of Leviticus have focused on the mental activity of those taking part in the ritual, even when Leviticus records no mental activity as necessary to the ritual.

Not only does Leviticus not provide us a description of the mental activity of those taking part in the ritual, even its readers are not told what they are to think about this ritual, or about this text. Our search for the clues to 'the theology of P' is an attempt to create P in our own image, an activity that is more God-like than scholarly according to P himself. Ritual studies, like most other disciplines in our time, has become increasing self-reflexive and self-conscious. Our analysis of Leviticus has suffered by this, as this is not the focus of the text itself, at least not as it applies to human thought.

How might an analysis of Leviticus proceed if we overturned this dichotomy? To do this honestly would require that we act out a response, rather than write it. There is one final lesson to be learned from the recognition that our activity today meets the formal requirements for ritual, and in significant ways parallels the activity described in Leviticus If I can make valid comparisons between Leviticus and SBL, how might the parallels cause us to rethink our attempt to provide commentary on the text?