Abstract of Hearson, Nathanael Blake. “‘Go Now to Shiloh’” God’s Changing Relationship with Sacred Places in the Hebrew Bible and Early Rabbinic Literature.”

Hearson, Nathanael Blake.  “‘Go Now to Shiloh’” God’s Changing Relationship with Sacred Places in the Hebrew Bible and Early Rabbinic Literature.”  PhD diss., Hebrew Union College, 2005. [Israel/Sacred Space/Bethel/Beer Sheba/Gilgal/Dan/Gibeon/Shechem/Shiloh]

Abstract:  While the notion of sacred space is certainly present in the biblical literature, it is an assumed concept and cannot be adequately defined by the semantic field of words associated with holiness. Thus, we must ask what constitutes sacred space according to the authors of the Hebrew Bible. Once a place was deemed to be sacred, how long did it maintain this sacred status? Was it possible for a sacred place to be de-sanctified? If so, how did de-sanctification occur? Did the biblical answers to these questions carry over to the rabbinic literature?

The first two chapters of this study trace the history of scholarly approaches to the topic of sacred space and seek to define what constitutes sacred space in the biblical narratives. Within this first section, three general subcategories of sacred space are outlined. The last three chapters of the study focus on one of these subcategories: places with long-term sanctity in the perspective of the biblical narrators. Within this category, seven representative locations are analyzed with regard to the process of sanctification and de-sanctification; the biblical concept of sacred space is then compared with the treatment of those same sites in the early rabbinic literature.

With respect to the biblical ideas, sacred space is defined as a place where God revealed Himself. God’s revelation indicated a link between the terrestrial location and heaven; therefore, God was thought to be especially accessible at that place. We discerned three general categories based on the duration of location’s sanctity: those places that were sacred only during the actual revelation, places that had ongoing sanctity, and the Tabernacle. Places with ongoing sacred status did lose their sanctity, a process described in terms of God rejecting a place. Sites that were rejected did not return to neutral space, but rather became cursed.

The early rabbinic literature shared this understanding of God rejecting a sacred place. However, the rabbinic authors usually associate sacred space exclusively with the presence of the Tabernacle and Ark. Thus, there is only one primary sacred place at a time and with a sequential progression that culminates with Jerusalem.

Full text available online through ProQuest.

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