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Rituals and Ritual Theory in Ancient Israel
Ithamar Gruenwald
Publication Date
June 2010


This book, in many ways the first of its kind, addresses the issue of rituals and their embedded ritual theory in the religion of ancient Israel. The leading idea of the book is that rituals are an autonomous form of expression of the human mind. The human mind expresses itself in rituals, as it does in language, the arts, and mathematics. Rituals are not performative translations of symbols and ideas, and in religion, of any kind of theology. Theology does not explain how rituals are done and how they accomplish what they claim to do. The book begins with a general discussion of what rituals are and argues that the ritual theory of each ritual is not in any general theory of ritual but embedded in the ritual act itself. Every ritual is structured in such a way that its details create the behavioral logic that makes ritual work. The difference is explored between the early and institutionalized phases of the religion of ancient Israel. Here the role of the economic ethos is the focus of the discussion. The book explores the links between myth and rituals, arguing that the connectedness with ritual endows a story with a myth essence. Detailed discussions of various rituals exemplify the major theoretical discourse. The book is of interest to scholars in the areas of halakah (law and ritual), religious studies, and the anthropology of religion.

Ithamar Gruenwald Ph.D., has been teaching at Tel Aviv University since 1967. He is chair of the Program in Religious Studies and acted as chair of the Department of Jewish Philosophy for a total of ten years. He has lectured at universities in North America and Europe and organized over twenty international conferences. His major publications are Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism (Brill, 1980) and From Apocalypticism to Gnosticism (Bern, 1988).