HEBREW 198: Sacred Space and Sacred Time in Ancient Israel




Sacred space and sacred time were two axes of religion and culture in antiquity. What purpose did they serve in ancient Israel? In this course we uncover the literary and material evidence of the major shrines and festal celebrations that shaped the history of ancient Israel. We explore key texts of the Hebrew Bible that describe cultic spaces, including the foundational narrative of the imaginary cult at Sinai and the enigmatic “chosen place” of Deuteronomy. We consider the processes by which the Israelite cult was gradually centralized to a small number of temples and priestly families in Israel, and the way in which centralization enhanced the cultic and economic importance of Jerusalem, for Jews, and Mount Gerizim, for Samarians. We also trace the creation of a shared calendar of annual pilgrimages, including celebrations such as Passover and Sukkôt, understanding how the structuring of “time” linked Jews living in diverse locations and provided a sense of connectivity across a growing diaspora. This course equips students with the skills to combine literary evidence, archaeological data, comparative materials from the ancient Mediterranean, and social theories about space and time to advance their understanding of the history of ancient Israelite religion and the emergence of early Judaism.