3. Textual Strategies for Disseminating Torah Knowledge among Ordinary Jews ca. 350-200 BCE

The Use and Dissemination of Religious Knowledge in Antiquity - Diana V. Edelman

Diana V. Edelman [+-]
University of Oslo
Diana V. Edelman is professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Oslo. Her own research focuses on the history, archaeology, and literature of the southern Levant, the development of early forms of Judaisms, and ancient Near Eastern literature viewed from the perspective of social memory. She has thirteen seasons of excavation experience in Israel. While her research tends to focus on the Iron Age and Persian period, she is interested in earlier and later periods and a wide range of topics. Current interests include local responses to imperialism, royal ideology, the development of technology and agriculture, everyday life, issues involving religion and ritual, burial and afterlife beliefs, diaspora studies, migration studies, frontier studies, social memory, ancient economies, and ancient political organization. Her numerous publications include 17 authored or edited books, 44 chapters in edited volumes, 14 articles in refereed journals, 58 dictionary and encyclopedia articles, and 128 book reviews (as of 2/2015).


Given the extremely low level of reading and writing ability among the common population of members of the religious community of Israel in the Late Persian and the Hellenistic periods, some mechanisms for disseminating basic tenets, beliefs, values, and practices would have been needed. Working against the background of Symbolic Convergence theory, I will explore some of the key strategies that were embedded in the five books of Moses by their implied authors to create and maintain group identity and cohesion. Whether the authors or strategies were successful or not is another matter. We lack appropriate evidence to assess how many became part of the lived religion of ordinary Israelites or if the original intentions were modified or new meanings were assigned to any of these key strategies by practictioners. Key tenets and beliefs will be identified by exploring what the writers emphasized must be remembered, taught, or learned. The practices of circumcision, weekly Shabbat observance, mezuzot, tefillin and participation in the three annual pilgrimage festivals will then be explored to consider further how the framers of the books of Moses hoped to involve all members of the community in sharing common beliefs, values, and practices through rituals. A final section will look at portrayals of active and implicit teaching of torah by the Levites in the books of Chronicles (2 Chr 17:17-19; 1 Chr 26:30-32), which likely reflect contemporary practice in the Hellenistic era that has been retrojected to the monarchic era to serve as precedent for the subsequent development. Such teaching seems to go beyond the original strategies put forward in the Torah.

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Edelman, Diana. 3. Textual Strategies for Disseminating Torah Knowledge among Ordinary Jews ca. 350-200 BCE. The Use and Dissemination of Religious Knowledge in Antiquity. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. Aug 2021. ISBN 9781781798768. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=37992. Date accessed: 24 Jan 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.37992. Aug 2021

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