Good and evil, clean and unclean, rich and poor, self and other. The nature and function of such binary oppositions have long intrigued scholars in such fields as philosophy, linguistics, classics, and anthropology. From the opening chapters of Genesis, in which God separates day from night, and Adam and Eve partake of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, dyadic pairs proliferate throughout the Hebrew Bible. In this groundbreaking work melding critical exegesis and contemporary theory, Saul M. Olyan considers the prevalence of polarities in biblical discourse and expounds their significance for the social and religious institutions of ancient Israel. Extant biblical narrative and legal texts reveal a set of socially constructed and culturally privileged binary oppositions, Olyan argues, which instigate and perpetuate hierarchical social relations in ritual settings such as the sanctuary.
Focusing on four binary pairs--holy/common, Israelite/alien, clean/unclean, and whole/blemished--Olyan shows how these privileged oppositions were used to restrict access to cultic spaces, such as the temple or the Passover table. These ritual sites, therefore, became the primary contexts for creating and recreating unequal social relations. Olyan also uncovers a pattern of challenge to the established hierarchies by nonprivileged groups. Converging with contemporary issues of power, marginalization, and privileging, Olyan's painstaking yet lucid study abounds with implications for anthropology, classics, critical theory, and feminist studies.
"Olyan's book is thorough, meticulous, judicious, and nuanced; and he succeeds admirably in accomplishing what he sets out to do."--Byron E. Shafer, Fordham University, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly "This is a significant book that uses anthropological approaches in a clear, non-flashy way to advance our understanding of biblical cult, and especially our conceptions of holiness... Olyan is to be congratulated for writing a very readable, clear and interesting book on a topic that is central to biblical scholarship."--Mark Z. Brettler, Jewish Quarterly Review
Acknowledgments ixList of Abbretiations xiIntroduction 3Status and Hierarchy 7Cultic and Quasi-Cultic Settings 10Rites and Rank 111. Foundational Discourse: The Opposition Holy/Common 15Holiness and Privilege 27Conclusion 352.Admission or Exclusion: The Binary Pairing Unclean/Clean 38Sources of Impurity 40Degrees of Pollution and the Requirements of Purification 50The Hierarchical Dimensions of UncleanlClean 54Conclusion 613.Generating "Self" and "Other"- The Polarity Israelite/Alien 63Forms and Functions of the Polarity Israelite/Alien 64Contesting Alien Exclusion from Israel and Its Cultic Life 90Cultural Mechanisms of Alien Incorporation into Israel 93Conclusion 994.The Qualified Body: The Dyad Whole/Blemished 103Blemishes and Inequality 111 Conclusion 113Conclusion 115Appendix. The Idea of Holiness in the Holiness Source 121Notes 123Index of Authors 175Index of Biblical Citations 179