Ancient Israelite Religion / Edition 1

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In Ancient Israelite Religion, Niditch illuminates the life and the customs of this ancient people, whose religion has so influenced human history. Drawing on the most recent literary scholarship and archaeological evidence, the book gives readers a compelling account of how Israelite culture changed through the three great periods of their past - the distant pre-monarchic age, the monarchies of Israel and Judah, and the Babylonian exile and return. The heart of her book is a rich account of the Israelites' religious life, as revealed in the anthology of ancient Israelite writings called the Hebrew Bible. Niditch explores how they described their experience in God, in the recurring media typical of traditional cultures. For example, God is often identified with fire (as in Moses' encounter with the burning bush), and several women experience annunciations - revelations that they will give birth to a male hero. Niditch offers fascinating insight into the practices of Israelite common religion, suggesting, for example, that Israelites made contact with the dead through mediums - a practice seen in the story of King Saul, who had the spirit of Samuel conjured up. She notes that the Bible contains condemnations of these and other customs, suggesting how widespread they actually were. Niditch also examines central themes of Israelite myth, concentrating on patterns of origin and death, and explores the legal and ethical dimensions of a faith founded upon the Israelites' covenant with God. Strikingly, their code includes much that is unsavory to the modern mind, such as slavery and the stark subordination of women, and there are hints in the Bible of the practice of child sacrifice. The author also paints a detailed picture of the complex rituals - many centered on the purifying power of blood - that Israelite writers portray as framing their daily and annual patterns of life. Most important, Niditch's account allows us to see the world through the Israelites' eyes,
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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
An overly brief but very well organized and informative overview of Judaism's formative stage during the 13th to 5th centuries b.c.

Bible scholar Niditch (Religion/Amherst Coll.) focuses on the worldview expressed in the Hebrew Bible. She devotes chapters to four aspects of that worldview: the experiential, the mythical, the ritual, and the ethical-legal, largely basing her analysis on close readings of biblical texts. Sometimes, though unfortunately not often enough, she uses insight garnered from archaeological findings or the texts of other ancient Near Eastern religions. Niditch's greatest strength is her succinct, accessible prose; there is solid scholarship, but no academic pretentiousness or jargon here. She is particularly good at capturing and evoking an aspect of ancient Judaism in a sentence or a phrase. For example, after exploring the Yom Kippur ritual of the scapegoat that is prescribed in Leviticus, she observes how it is linked to other biblical rituals involving uncleanliness and danger, then concludes that "sin, like the seductive personification in the story of Cain and Abel, the one who crouches at the door, is real and visceral, a contaminant which makes impossible a healthful continuation of the covenant community." Also enhancing her book is an excellent bibliography. The work's only weakness is an occasional penchant for deriving conclusions from insufficient evidence. An example: Niditch states that the context and content of the ritual of redeeming the first-born son (see Exodus 22) "seems to be support that child sacrifice was indeed a thread in ancient Israelite religion." Far more evidence is needed for this spectacular claim.

On balance, though, this is a first-rate introduction, for undergraduate and graduate students and all serious students of Judaism, to the social, cultural, intellectual, and spiritual underpinnings of the Hebrew Bible.

From the Publisher

"Susan Niditch is well known for her distinguished work on biblical symbolism and folklore in the biblical tradition. In this volume she has drawn upon those resources, and far more, to produce a rich portrait of ancient Israelite religion that considers both the corporate and the individual, the ideas and the ritual, as well as the ethical aspects of the worldview of the people behind the Hebrew Scriptures."--Gene M. Tucker

"Using archaeological evidence as well as biblical texts, Niditch is able to convey the richness and diversity of Israelite religious beliefs and practices without privileging those that are normative in the Hebrew Bible. Furthermore, her sensitive analysis of religious life in the biblical world goes beyond and behind the largely androcentric and urban interests of the biblical writers. She considers issues of gender and social setting, and she connects them to ideas and customs familiar to the contemporary reader."--Professor Carol Meyers, Department of Religion, Duke University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195091281
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/23/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

About the Author:
Susan Niditch is Samuel Green Professor of Religion at Amherst College. She is the author of numerous books on the Bible, including War in the Hebrew Bible: A Study of the Ethics of Violence.

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Table of Contents

1 Religion and the Ancient Israelites 3
2 The Experiential 34
3 Where From, Where To?: Mythic Patterns of Origins and Death 50
4 The Legal and Ethical Dimension 70
5 The Ritual Dimension 99
Conclusion 119
Timeline 122
Appendix: Questions for Further Study 125
Maps 128
Bibliography 131
Index of Biblical Citations 139
General Index 143
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