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Cultural Anthropology and the Old Testament…

Cultural Anthropology and the Old Testament (Guides to Biblical…

by Thomas Overholt

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An introduction to the anthropological method and how it can enhance our understanding of ancient Israelite culture and texts. Three papers are collected herein which are tied loosely together: “Cultural Anthropology and the Old Testament,” “Interpreting Elijah and Elisha,” and “Anthropological Views of Israelite Social Roles and Institutions.” The first lays a foundation in terms and method, scans across the origins of the science, seeks to destroy Positivistic assumptions in the discipline such as the evolutionary theory of religion and culture, discusses limits of investigation and the need for multidisciplinary work, and introduces us to the great prophetic figures of Elijah and Elisha in their roles as resuscitators, miracle workers, and healers. The second draws on anthropological data and theory regarding the roles, functions, and symbols of Shamans in society and then sets them against parallels in the Elijah and Elisha narratives to illumine a cultural backdrop which is beyond reach from the text itself and to better explain strange or astonishing events, practices, and perceptions of those narratives. The third focuses primarily on the role divination played in ancient Israelite society by drawing on parallels from anthropological investigation, but also briefly explores avenues of information that may be opened up to us through this method regarding the role of women in premonarchic Israel, how iron and metal-smelting may function as a metaphor, and how one might better understand the situations leading to the rise of the Israelite monarchy. As a person particularly interested in prophecy, prophets, and divination in the biblical texts, I found the book especially engaging. Those who are much less inclined may be better served by skipping the middle essay and the first half of the last one. The concluding plea is particularly keen, “in biblical studies . . . we need to avoid ethnocentrism as much as possible, recognizing that world views different from our own have a logic of their own. We cannot simply categorize such societies as “prescientific” or the like [such as “primitive”] and seek to explain away their characteristic features in terms more at home in modern Western thought.” May we always take this to heart when we approach the ancient texts and cultures of the bible. ( )
  slaveofOne | Jan 7, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0800628896, Paperback)

In bridging the gap between ancient texts and readers of today, contemporary biblical scholarship uses a variety of methods. One of these methods is drawn from the work of cultural anthropologists. This book shows the usefulness of such an approach to increase our understanding of the society that lies behind Old Testament stories and to shed light on some of the more puzzling features of those stories, such as holy men who heal and resuscitate the dead.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:31 -0400)

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