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Book: The Use and Dissemination of Religious Knowledge in Antiquity

Chapter: 3. Textual Strategies for Disseminating Torah Knowledge among Ordinary Jews ca. 350-200 BCE

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.37992


Given the extremely low level of reading and writing ability among the common population of members of the religious community of Israel in the Late Persian and the Hellenistic periods, some mechanisms for disseminating basic tenets, beliefs, values, and practices would have been needed. Working against the background of Symbolic Convergence theory, I will explore some of the key strategies that were embedded in the five books of Moses by their implied authors to create and maintain group identity and cohesion. Whether the authors or strategies were successful or not is another matter. We lack appropriate evidence to assess how many became part of the lived religion of ordinary Israelites or if the original intentions were modified or new meanings were assigned to any of these key strategies by practictioners. Key tenets and beliefs will be identified by exploring what the writers emphasized must be remembered, taught, or learned. The practices of circumcision, weekly Shabbat observance, mezuzot, tefillin and participation in the three annual pilgrimage festivals will then be explored to consider further how the framers of the books of Moses hoped to involve all members of the community in sharing common beliefs, values, and practices through rituals. A final section will look at portrayals of active and implicit teaching of torah by the Levites in the books of Chronicles (2 Chr 17:17-19; 1 Chr 26:30-32), which likely reflect contemporary practice in the Hellenistic era that has been retrojected to the monarchic era to serve as precedent for the subsequent development. Such teaching seems to go beyond the original strategies put forward in the Torah.

Chapter Contributors

  • Diana Edelman ( - dedelman) 'University of Oslo'