Re-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?