Death Cults In Ancient Israel And Modern Scholarship: Practical And Theoretical Issues In Old Testament Studies

Date of Graduation

Summer 2002


Master of Arts in Religious Studies


Religious Studies

Committee Chair

Victor Matthews


Old Testament scholarship has, historically, been marked by particular aims and motives, which must be reexamined. In the study of whether or not ancient Israel practiced a death cult such assumptions and motives come to the fore. Scholars who argue for the existence of a cult of the dead tend to use comparisons between Israel and Syria or Mesopotamia to argue their case, as well as the uneasy marriage of the archaeological data of Syro-Palestine and the biblical text. This work seeks to delineate where this scholarly interpretation of ancient Israel comes from, the main theoretical points that are lacking in present day interpretations, and the problematic adaptations of archaeological material. Finally, this work will investigate the notion of the living supporting the dead in the afterlife as it is addressed in the book of Ecclesiastes. This investigation involves the beliefs and practices associated with the dead and how such beliefs and practices order and classify the society of the living. Thus, the book of Ecclesiastes stands at a juncture in history, between the old order and the new order as imposed on the Jews by the changing social structures of their time. It demonstrates how ideology and practice may cease to be effective in creating meaning in this society, given the turbulent nature of social change and the liminality of death.

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© Erin Danielle Kuhns