The Speaking Text: Leviticus as Generative Discourse

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2020

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Abstract

The book of Leviticus literarily portrays an encounter between YHWH and Israel that is mediated through discourse. In keeping with the priestly creation account, the book of Leviticus shows the divine discourse at Sinai to be a world- and people-shaping constitutive force: new forms of life are generated that take shape in the daily rhythms of Israel’s cultic and communal life in the wilderness. Although the divine instructions are not directly addressed to the twenty-first century reader, an unconventional use of literary techniques destabilizes a clear sense of grammatical tense or narrative time so that the reader is included in the discourse mediated through the text. This suggests the intriguing notion that the experience of reading Leviticus, maximally understood as the various stages of reading and study that are involved in the process of interpretation, may be analogous to Israel’s experience of encountering the divine discourse at Sinai. This study thus examines the notion of discourse as a way to open up a new understanding of the kind of text that Leviticus is and how it may communicate in the text-reader relationship.

Although recent scholarship has seen a resurgence of interest in Leviticus, the book’s basic character as discourse has largely been overlooked. Scholarly treatments have overwhelmingly focused on what Leviticus may have “said” in its historical context rather than what it may “say” in the contemporary discourse between text and reader. In conversation with Paul Ricoeur and George Steiner, this study argues that the literary presentation of Leviticus asks us to approach the text as a potential conversation partner. It articulates a notion of interpretation as a process of coming to recognize the life-possibilities on offer in the vision of life that a text portrays. This construal of the task and aim of interpretation enables the discourse of Leviticus to generate new ways of thinking and being for contemporary reading communities, as demonstrated through three exegetical probes that seek to connect the function of speech in the priestly writers’ portrayal of life in the wilderness community to the ways that speech is enacted in contemporary discourse. The study concludes that the vision of life that the priestly writers project in the book of Leviticus opens up a number of promising directions of thought that can generate new life-possibilities in and for contemporary reading communities.

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Hamm, Allison K (2020). The Speaking Text: Leviticus as Generative Discourse. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/24441.

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