This morning I submitted the final version of my doctoral dissertation (“Deity and Divine Agency in the Hebrew Bible: Cognitive Perspectives”) to the University of Exeter after inputting a handful of typographical corrections recommended by my examiners. The abstract is below. If you’re interested in a PDF of my dissertation, please feel free to reach out to me.
This thesis interrogates the conceptualization of deity and divine agency in the Hebrew Bible, focusing particularly on the problem of the relationship of divine images and representatives to their patron deities. In order to move beyond the tendentiousness of previous scholarship that addresses this problem, I employ an interdisciplinary approach that will center cognitive linguistics and the cognitive science of religion, and also include biblical criticism, archaeology, anthropology, materiality studies, and other disciplines.
I begin in Part One with a methodological discussion that describes the approaches being taken and interrogates some of the conceptual frameworks that have governed the previous scholarship on the question, such as “religion” and the practice of definition. It will then move on to discuss the concepts of agency and personhood, and how contemporary anthropological research on both can help inform our interrogation of the ancient world.
Part Two begins the interrogation of the generic concept of deity, demonstrating that such concepts are products of the engagement of our intuitive and reflective reasoning with our cognitive ecologies, and that they build on our everyday conceptualizations of agency and personhood. These dynamics facilitate a view of divine agency as separable and communicable, which will be demonstrated to undergird the unique relationships understood to be shared by deities and their divine images. Chapter 4 employs a cognitive linguistic lens to propose semantic bases, domains, and profiles for the generic concept of deity in the Hebrew Bible.
Part Three applies the models developed in Chapters 3 and 4 to an interrogation of YHWH as a deity and of YHWH’s divine agents, such as the ark of the covenant, the messenger of YHWH, and the very text of the Torah itself. The Conclusion summarizes findings and discusses implications for further research.