Circumcision as a kinship ritual in ancient Israel
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This dissertation argues that circumcision functions as a kinship ritual in the non-Priestly, narrative texts of the Hebrew Bible. Secondarily, by showing the continuity between non-Priestly and Priestly conceptualizations of circumcision, this study challenges the prevailing categorization of circumcision as a ritual that only acquired significance during the exilic and postexilic periods. Chapter 1 reviews the history of modern biblical scholarship on circumcision in the Hebrew Bible and explains the basis of the scholarly separation between non-Priestly and Priestly views of circumcision. Additionally, this chapter also discusses and evaluates various views of the function of circumcision in the Hebrew Bible. Chapter 2 presents the critical theoretical basis for the primary claim of this dissertation: that circumcision functions as a kinship ritual in ancient Israel. The chapter introduces Nancy Jay’s theory of the gendered nature of blood sacrifice and shows how it can be productively applied to the study of circumcision in the Hebrew Bible. The chapter argues for the kinship-oriented nature of both circumcision and blood sacrifice, taking into account not only biblical evidence but relevant anthropological data as well. Chapters 3–5 are a literary, historical-critical analysis of three non-Priestly, narrative passages regarding circumcision in the Hebrew Bible (Gen 34; Exod 4:24–26; Josh 5:2–9). Each chapter discusses previous scholarship concerning the function of circumcision in the passage before showing how circumcision is best explained as a kinship ritual in each passage. Chapter 6 focuses on three Priestly texts concerning circumcision (Gen 17; Exod 12:43–49; Lev 12:3) and shows how they too present circumcision as a kinship ritual. In doing so, the chapter suggests that there is more continuity between non-Priestly and Priestly presentations of circumcision than typically acknowledged. Chapter 7 concludes the dissertation, summarizes its main claims and arguments, and suggests a couple of directions for future research.