Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple Symbolism and Supersessionism in the Study of Ancient Judaism

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Ancient Jewish sacrifice has long been misunderstood. Some find in sacrifice the key to the mysterious and violent origins of human culture. Others see these cultic rituals as merely the fossilized vestiges of primitive superstition. Some believe that ancient Jewish sacrifice was doomed from the start, destined to be replaced by the Christian eucharist. Others think that the temple was fated to be superseded by the synagogue. In Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple Jonathan Klawans demonstrates that these supersessionist ideologies have prevented scholars from recognizing the Jerusalem temple as a powerful source of meaning and symbolism to the ancient Jews who worshiped there. Klawans exposes and counters such ideologies by reviewing the theoretical literature on sacrifice and taking a fresh look at a broad range of evidence concerning ancient Jewish attitudes toward the temple and its sacrificial cult. The first step toward reaching a more balanced view is to integrate the study of sacrifice with the study of purity-a ritual structure that has commonly been understood as symbolic by scholars and laypeople alike. The second step is to rehabilitate sacrificial metaphors, with the understanding that these metaphors are windows into the ways sacrifice was understood by ancient Jews. By taking these steps-and by removing contemporary religious and cultural biases-Klawans allows us to better understand what sacrifice meant to the early communities who practiced it. Armed with this new understanding, Klawans reevaluates the ideas about the temple articulated in a wide array of ancient sources, including Josephus, Philo, Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, New Testament, and Rabbinic literature. Klawans mines these sources with an eye toward illuminating the symbolic meanings of sacrifice for ancient Jews. Along the way, he reconsiders the ostensible rejection of the cult by the biblical prophets, the Qumran sect, and Jesus. While these figures may have seen the temple in their time as tainted or even defiled, Klawans argues, they too-like practically all ancient Jews-believed in the cult, accepted its symbolic significance, and hoped for its ultimate efficacy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Drawing on the fields of anthropology and ritual studies, Klawans unearths the powerful symbolism of the ancient Jewish sacrificial cult. He shows that sacrifice was a spiritually rich and meaningful activity illuminated by two 'organizing principles' central to the priestly traditions of the Bible: the desire to imitate God and the concern to attract and maintain God's presence within the community. In so doing, Klawans disables all previous evolutionist (and more or less hostile) accounts of ancient Jewish sacrifice as a primitive and spiritually empty behavior that was rejected and superseded by the eucharist in Christianity or prayer in rabbinic Judaism. His fresh readings of central New Testament and rabbinic texts challenge foundational assumptions and long-cherished prejudices." —Christine E. Hayes, author of Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud

"It is impossible to understand Judaism and Christianity without a grasp of the central biblical institutions of sacrifice and Temple. Yet scholars, clergy, and laity alike neglect and even disparage nothing in those traditions more than these institutions. In this unique and eye-opening volume, we at long last have a study that does them justice. No one interested in Judaism or Christianity should miss it." —Jon D. Levenson, Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies, Harvard University

"Klawans' well-focused and critical yet sympathetic eye identifies a symbolic meaning in sacrifice that clarifies why the practice was religiously relevant in ancient Judaism and in the thinking of Jewish and Christian communities after the destruction of the temple. This superb study goes far beyond previous studies in providing a comprehensive look at the interlocking phenomena of temple, sacrifice, and purity in a wide range of literature, from the Hebrew Bible through early Judaic, Christian, and Rabbinic literature." —David P. Wright, Associate Professor of Bible and Ancient Near East, Brandeis University

"This thorough and stimulating survey of purity, sacrifice, and the Temple follows upon the author's highly acclaimed Impurity and Sin (Oxford University Press 2000), and it maintains the same high standard of style, comprehensiveness, methodological rigor, and originality.—Shofar

"A seminal study for the interpretation of purity and sacrifice within biblical studies and early Judaism. More importantly, however, it is a work that persuasively challenges our habitual ways of thinking not only with regard to sacrifice, but also with respect to the relationship between Judaism and Christianity." —Journal for the Study of Judaism

"Jonathan Klawan's Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple provides a greater sensitivity to the theoretical issues that complicate the academic study of religion today. —Journal of Biblical Literature

"In this forcefully written book, Jonathan Klawans offers a compelling case for pursuing a sympathetic symbolic approach to the sacrificial cult that was at the heart of ancient Israelite and early Jewish religion." —AJS Review

"This book comprises a powerful argument for a paradigm shift in the study of sacrifice, and needs to be read by anyone interested in sacrifice or ritual." —Journal for the Study of the Old Testament

"There is a great depth of scholarship in this book, but it is a tribute to Klawans' abilities as a commentator that sources do not intrude and there is a lightness of touch even on complicated ideas. ...This is an important book and should quickly become essential reading for scholars of both Early Judaism and the New Testament." —Journal of Jewish Studies

"Klawans shows that it is possible engage in a bibliographical survey without becoming obscure. Klawans's methodology and writing are both models of articulate, thoughtful, and balanced scholarship." —Hebrew Studies

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195395846
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 5/13/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 388
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Klawans is Associate Professor of Religion at Boston University. His book Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism (OUP 2000) was awarded Best First Book in the History of Religions by the American Academy of Religion and won the Salo Wittmayer Baron Book Prize from the American Academy for Jewish Research.

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