"He Kept the Measurements in His Memory as a Treasure": The Role of the Tabernacle Text in Religious Experience Open Access

Robertson, Amy Helen Cooper (2010)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/41687j23r?locale=en



"He Kept the Measurements in His Memory as a Treasure":
The Role of the Tabernacle Text in Religious Experience
By Amy H.C. Robertson
This study examines the literary idiosyncrasies of the biblical description of the
tabernacle (Exod 25-31 and 35-40) using categories and insights borrowed from ritual and
literary theory. It makes the case that the very features of activity that cause anthropologists to
identify a particular activity as ritualized are not only present in literary form in the tabernacle
text, but form the foundation of its character as literature. Building upon this observation, it
considers the question of the reader experience supported by this text, ultimately making the
case that the experience of an absorbed reader of this text can be fruitfully compared to the
experience of an individual who participates in a ritual. Insights about the effects of specific
features of ritualized activity on participants are applied, here, to the profound repetition,
formalism, sensory appeal, and ambiguity in this literature. Furthermore, because the tabernacle
text includes significant lacunae alongside its repetition and formalism, the experience of reading
this text is ultimately compared to ritualized mandala construction, whose texts evince a similar
juxtaposition of detail and gaps, and whose ritual is, primarily, imaginative. In a final chapter
devoted to the communication of implicit messages through ritual, in conversation with the field
of art history and religious philosophy, this study discusses several messages that are suggested
by the literary form of the tabernacle text, but which are left outside the realm of discourse. The
conclusion sketches the application of this methodology to the
Temple Text.

"He Kept the Measurements in His Memory as a Treasure"
The Role of the Tabernacle Text in Religious Experience

Amy H.C. Robertson
B.A., Rice University, 1999
M.T.S, Harvard Divinity School, 2003
Advisor : David L. Petersen, Ph.D.
A dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the
James T. Laney School of Graduate Studies of Emory University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the
Graduate Division of Religion, Hebrew Bible

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Introduction: A Context for Engaging the Tabernacle Text 1

Responding to Literary "Strangeness" in the Canon 1

Introduction to Exodus 25-40 5

Delimiting the Tabernacle Text 8

Meaning Beyond Origin 9

Types of Content 10

Stories Peripheral to the Tabernacle Text 10

Information Peripheral to Tabernacle Construction 13

Tabernacle Texts Sometimes Identified as Secondary 14

Capturing the Academic Imagination 15

The Relationship Between Exod 25-31 and Exod 35-40 21

New Approaches to the Literature 25

Outline of the Present Study 29

Chapter 2: Form, Meaning, and Experience: A Theoretical Framework 32

Reading and Experience, Reading as Experience 35

Is All Reading Experiential? 37

"Meaning" and Experience in Ritual Performance 44

The Problem of Separating Medium and Referent in Ritual 48

The Unstable Nature of Symbols Over Time 48

The "Snapshot" Meaning of Symbols 51

Tying Form and Meaning: The Index 54

Ritual and Literature; Ritualized Literature 59

The Ritual Form: Characteristics of Ritual 60

Formalism 62

Formality in Text 65

Invariant Repetition 67

Repetition in Text 70

Repetition and the Perception of Time 70

Transcending the Bounds of Discursive Communication 71

Performance 73

Performative Aspects of Literature 74

Authenticity in Ritual Experiences 75

Authenticity in Reading Experiences 76

Ritualization and the Sum of the Parts 77

The Tabernacle Text and Difference 78

Temple Texts in the Ancient Near East 70

The Priestly Work: Narrative and Instruction 90

Concluding Question: Where Does Meaning Reside? 96

Chapter 3: Distant Literary Patterns: Formality, Familiarity, and the

Work of Orientation 100

Repetition 100

A Survey of Distant Repetition 102

Variation in Distant Repetition 107

Orality and Variation 111

Aid and Challenge in Recognizing Repetition 112

Aid, Challenge, and Reader Involvement 114

The Effects of Distant Repetition in this Text 118

Familiarity 118

Permanence and Control 119

Directionality and relationships 121

Formalism 122

The Order of Detail 122

Excursus: The Problem of the Incense Altar 125

Rules Surrounding the Accounts of Each Item 126

Punctuating Statements, Repetition, and Formalism 127

Punctuating Statements, Meaning, and Ambiguity 129

Conclusion: Constructing the Tabernacle in Meditatio135

Excursus: Revisiting the Problem of the Incense Altar 139

Chapter 4: Proximal Literary Patterns and the Process of Discovery 142

Proximal Patterns of Repetition 143

Illustrative Repetition 145

Centering Repetition 152

The Priority of Form 163

Mismatch of Form and Content 163

Framing the Reader Experience in Terms of Form 169

Repetition and Visual Experience 170

The Visual Experience and the Absence of Repetition 173

Another Discovery: Non-Visual Aspects of Reader Experience 179

Vision in Ezekiel and the Visual in Exodus 182

Conclusion: The Discovery of Images and Priorities 184

Chapter 5: Messages and Meanings 187

Meaning and Ekphrasis 188

Ekphrasis, Ritual, and Rhetoric 191

Four Messages 193

The Inherent Value of Divine Details 194

Divine Knowledge as an End in Itself 197

The Timelessness of Israel's Relationship with God 204

The Priesthood as an Extension of the Tabernacle Itself 206

The Work of Visualization and the Transformation of the Reader 211

Conclusion: Doings and Ambiguity 215

Chapter 6: Conclusion: Engaging Literature as a Living Tradition 218

Summary of the Present Study 220

Continuing the Conversation 228

Engaging New Texts: The Temple Scroll 229

Religious Studies 235

Conclusion: Envisioning Religion 237

Bibliography 240

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