Tag Archives: Aniconism

SBL 2017 Paper Proposal

The calls for papers for most sections of SBL 2017 are up, and I recently submitted the first of two proposals. This paper will be related to my dissertation, but it’s also intended to help me flesh out some tangents I’d like to explore in other publications. I submitted the paper to the Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures section, which is focusing on theophany and the embodiment of God. My paper is titled “‘Now You See Me, Now You Don’t’: The Vanishing of YHWH,” and the abstract is below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

This paper will engage the problem of the development of YHWH’s invisibility on two fronts. First, it will examine passages from early biblical narratives wherein the identity of the God of Israel appears to have been conflated with that of the messenger of YHWH. It will argue that the word mal’ak was interpolated early in the history of those passages and was later accommodated to the biblical worldview through the conceptualization of YHWH’s name as a communicable vehicle for divine agency, with Exod 23:20–21 representing the clearest articulation of that conceptualization.

The second half of the paper will discuss the relationship of those interpolations to the development of YHWH’s invisibility. It will argue that the interpolation of the messenger was catalyzed by three interrelated factors: (1) the de facto aniconism of YHWH’s worship, (2) increasing concern for the dangers posed by looking upon YHWH’s glorious face, and (3) YHWH’s universalization. The first factor largely freed YHWH from semiotic anchoring in material media, rendering embodiment a much more open question. Factor 2 problematized the exceptions to the rule regarding seeing YHWH that were found in the interpolated passages. The third factor problematized YHWH’s physical interaction with humanity. These factors converged to incentivize authors and editors to obscure those interactions and restrict YHWH’s visibility to oblique visionary accounts of his form. The ongoing universalization of the God of Israel facilitated the further distancing of YHWH from human form and perception.

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The Historicity of Josiah’s Reforms

In reading through scholarship on early Israelite religion, it seems to be taken for granted that the biblical account of Josiah’s reforms is accurate. From the priests to the high places to the polytheistic idolatry, there seems to be little thought given to the rhetorical nature of the biblical records. One of the papers I wrote for an archaeology class at Oxford dealt with the archaeological support for Josiah’s Reforms. It responded to the following essay question:

THE BIBLICAL ACCOUNT OF JOSIAH‘S REFORMS IN 2 KINGS 22–23 LISTS SEVERAL ELEMENTS OF FOLK RELIGION PREVALENT IN JUDAH AND ISRAEL IN THE PERIOD OF THE MONARCHY (C. 1000 TO 586 BCE). DISCUSS THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE FOR RELIGION IN THIS TIME AND CONSIDER HOW THIS EVIDENCE AFFECTS THE TRADITIONAL VIEW OF THE CENTRALISATION OF THE OFFICIAL CULT IN THE TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM.

A conclusion I reached is that the account in 2 Kings 22–23 is more rhetorical than historical. I try to approach questions of early Israelite religion, insofar as they bear on Josiah’s reforms, with that in mind, and I’d like to see more of that in scholarship. The paper can be found here. As always, I am looking for ways to improve my work. Any feedback is appreciated.