Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Development of Incense Cult in Israel

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Development of Incense Cult in Israel

Article excerpt

The Development of Incense Cult in Israel, by Paul Heger. BZAW 245. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1997. Pp. x + 314. N.P.

This book is an outgrowth of a dissertation recently submitted to the University of Toronto. It divides into three main parts. The first section treats the linguistic relationship between the verbal root qittir and the burning of incense. The second section attempts to classify the various types of incense offerings in the Bible. In order to accomplish this, Heger engages in a spirited dialogue with the recent work of Menahem Haran. The second section concludes with a detailed exegesis of how the incense offerings function in Exodus 30. The third section treats the problem of how the incense cult developed over time in Israel. This section attempts to bring the data and arguments marshaled earlier in the book to a grand synthesis. In brief. the incense cult grew in significance as an outgrowth of priestly needs to consolidate their power base. In the end, "total public participation in the cult" was replaced by "the people's final and emphatic exclusion, to the advantage of one specific clan" (p. 257). Heger summarizes his own results thus: "My hypothesis contemplates historical and cultural conditions prevailing in ancient Israel which fostered the introduction of a daily, distinct incense celebration and advanced its development; this led to the establishment of the punctilious ceremonial which attained its cardinal significance in the final period of the Second Temple, as we have seen in later texts" (p. 190).

Part of the weakness of this book is its wordiness and poor use of English language, as evidenced in the aforementioned quotation. Good copyediting would have made the argument read more coherently. But more peculiar are the methodology and secondary sources used by the author. Heger bristles at what he considers to be Haran's inability to think diachronically (a fault I would not attribute to Haran), yet he scores many of his points by alluding to midrashic and medieval Jewish sources, At least 75 percent of his sources in this chapter derive from premodern materials. The present reviewer is greatly in favor of using the insights of premodern interpreters, but certainly the usefulness of those ancient sources lessens to the degree that one is engaged in arguments about historical development. …

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