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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.

Additional information

Table of Contents

1. The Role of the Body in Religion


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
A Sense of Justice
The Role of Emotions in Legal Texts: A Way Forward


5. Pentateuchal Legal Collections: An Overview
The Problem of Sources
Codes or Collections?
The Covenant Code
Deuteronomic Law
Priestly Law

6. Dirt and Disgust in Biblical Purity Laws
Disgust and Dietary Laws
Excursus: The Structure of Lev. 11
Disgust and Human Decay
Disgust at Repulsive Behaviour
Dealing with the Objectionable

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

8. Punishment and Presence: Fear of Foreigners, God and Demons
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

9. A Sense of Justice: Acceptance and Atonement in Civil and Sacrificial Law
Retribution and Restitution in ANE Legal Collections
Theological and Evolutionary Explanations
Compensation versus Ransom
Removal and Reconciliation
Kipper Effected by Sacrifices

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

Book information

Thomas Kazen
List Price
£50 / $90 / €60
Hebrew Bible Monographs, 36
Scholars' Price
£25 / $45 / €30
ISBN 13 hardback
Page Extent
xiii + 211
Publication Date
October 2011
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