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Emotions in Biblical Law: A Cognitive Science Approach


He argues that a focus on the human embodied experience rather than on theological convictions and theoretical ideas may avoid some interpretative dead ends and open up new avenues for understanding ancient texts.

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This study pioneers the use of insights from cognitive sciences, such as evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and developmental psychology, as heuristic tools for interpreting ancient texts. The approach could be described as ‘psycho-biological’. The focus is on emotions in the various Pentateuchal legal collections. Kazen discusses the role of disgust, empathy, fear, and a sense of justice, for particular moral and ritual issues: purity and holiness; humanitarian concern for vulnerable categories; ethnocentrism and xenophobia; divine punishment and demonic threat; revenge, compensation, and ransom (kofer), together with removal (kipper) rites.

The book consists of two main parts, framed by an introductory chapter and a concluding discussion. In the first part, Kazen explores cognitive foundations, including biological and neuroscientific underpinnings for basic affects, and the role of culture in shaping both conventional morality and ritual behaviour. Four particular emotions are then outlined. In the second part, these insights from cognitive science are applied in analyses of particular texts. After an overview of the Pentateuchal legal collections, each of the four emotions is dealt with in a separate chapter. Kazen constantly relates a cognitive science approach to more traditional source and redaction-critical analysis, regarding them as complementary.

As a result, the Pentateuchal legal collections are seen as emotional texts, expressing strong affects —which influences our understanding of the character of Israelite ‘law’. Kazen suggests that interaction and conflict between various emotions can explain discrepancies and tensions between humanitarian concerns and ethnocentrism, and between empathy and justice. He also demonstrates that viewing emotions as common denominators contains a potential for solving some difficult and long-standing conundrums. He argues that a focus on the human embodied experience rather than on theological convictions and theoretical ideas may avoid some interpretative dead ends and open up new avenues for understanding ancient texts.

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table of contents

ntroduction 1. The Role of the Body in Religion PART I: COGNITIVE FOUNDATIONS 2. Evolution, Emotion and Morality: A Biological Perspective Biblical Studies and Cognitive Sciences Rationality and Emotion Morality and Emotion Morality and Evolution 3. Morality, Convention and Ritual: The Role of Culture Culture and Morality Culture and Convention Ritual and Morality Moral and Ritual Impurity Metaphorical Language Comparative Evidence 4. Four ‘Moral’ Emotions: Disgust, Empathy, Fear, and a Sense of Justice Moral Emotions Disgust Empathy Fear A Sense of Justice The Role of Emotions in Legal Texts: A Way Forward PART II: TEXTUAL APPLICATIONS 5. Pentateuchal Legal Collections: An Overview The Problem of Sources Codes or Collections? The Covenant Code Deuteronomic Law Priestly Law Summary 6. Dirt and Disgust in Biblical Purity Laws Introduction Disgust and Dietary Laws Excursus: The Structure of Lev. 11 Disgust and Human Decay Disgust at Repulsive Behaviour Dealing with the Objectionable Conclusions 7. Empathy and Ethics in the Covenant Code, Deuteronomy, and the Holiness Code Introduction Humanitarian Laws in the Covenant Code Excursus: Ancient Roots in Israelite Customary Law? Empathy in Deuteronomy Charity in the Holiness Code Conclusions 8. Punishment and Presence: Fear of Foreigners, God and Demons Introduction Immigrants and Foreigners in the Covenant Code Further Constraints in Deuteronomy Integration and Xenophobia in the Holiness Code Divine Punishment: Scaring People into Empathy and Obedience Divinities, Demons and Rites of Purification Sending Demons Back to Where They Belong Demonic Threat and Revenge Conclusions 9. A Sense of Justice: Acceptance and Atonement in Civil and Sacrificial Law Introduction Retribution and Restitution in ANE Legal Collections Theological and Evolutionary Explanations Compensation versus Ransom Removal and Reconciliation Kipper Effected by Sacrifices Conclusions Conclusions 10. Emotions in Legal Collections: What Can We Learn? Emotion and Human Behaviour Emotion as Common Denominator Conflicting and Interacting Emotions Emotions and Socio-historical Context Law and Emotion

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Thomas Kazen
List Price
£50 / $90 / €60
Hebrew Bible Monographs, 36
Scholars' Price
£25 / $45 / €30
ISBN 13 hardback
Page Extent
xiii + 211
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