2012Re-rethinking Religion: Blessing rituals (?) in the Pentateuch and in Judaism.
Conference talk given at: International meeting of SBL, July 25, 2012, Amsterdam. Slides. (Program unit 'Mind, Society and Tradition').




The Pentateuch displays a wide variety of blessings, performed by both divine and human agents, undergone by both specific biblical characters and the whole people. In Judaism, Num 6:22-27 becomes the source of the priestly blessing practice, also performed by non-kohanim in various situations. Additionally, rabbinic Judaism introduces the berakhot, including those in the Amidah prayer, whose structure requires that a human bless the divine.
Contrary to everyday terminology, blessings are not rituals in a technical sense within the framework of Thomas Lawson and Robert McCauley (1990, 2002). Therefore, we shall reformulate this framework in order to also accommodate blessings. The first results of an on-going project at the University of Amsterdam on "The Jewish Mind: Jewish rituals and the cognitive science of religion" will be presented. The performance of the blessing (cf. Victor Turner's 'social drama') will be contrasted to the competence theory of Lawson and McCauley: How does the observer of the ritual 'parse' the action, turning an action within a social context into a mental representation? How does a speaking action become a speech act? What mental structures are necessary to process a social interaction? What is innate and what is learnt? How to account for historical changes (a.k.a. 'cultural evolution'), such as the development of the concept of blessing from biblical to rabbinic Judaism?