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This brief concluding chapter recaps the main conclusions of the body chapters, affirms the importance of cognitive theorizing for the study of ancient religion, locates the different religious expressions studied in these chapters along a continuum of cognitively optimal and costly religion, and points to potential areas of future research at the intersection of biblical studies, Israelite religion, and cognitive science of religion (CSR).
This final chapter offers a sustained textual analysis of the Day of Atonement ritual in Leviticus 16 and theorizes the effects of ritualized behavior and cognitive and material costs associated with the ritual ceremony. Several important theoretical frameworks from the cognitive science of religion (CSR), which aim to study different aspects of religious ritual in particular, are introduced and applied to the biblical text. These include Lawson and McCauley’s ritual form hypothesis, Whitehouse’s modes of religiosity, Boyer and Lienard’s notion of ritualized behavior, and others. These cognitive theories offer a new set of questions and methods for approaching ritual in ancient Israel, departing from more traditional ritual theory. The chapter analyzes the purification or purgation of the temple and the scapegoat ritual using these theories.
In contrast to the cognitively optimal religion in the previous chapter, this chapter examines the theological system in the book of Deuteronomy as an example of cognitively costly religion. Deuteronomic theology is characterized as a highly literate, reflective, and abstract tradition with complex doctrines such as the so-called Name Theology of divine presence, cult centralization, and aniconism or iconoclasm, all of which radically depart from prevailing cultural expectations. Each of these key tenets of the Deuteronomic theology is analyzed within the framework of intuitive and reflective cognition and cognitively costly religion. Moreover, understanding Deuteronomy as a type of costly religion helps to account for the book’s unique emphasis on teaching, repetition, and instruction. Deuteronomic theology is best understood as a form of what Harvey Whitehouse calls the doctrinal mode of religiosity.
This chapter likewise draws on ancient visual and material culture in order to examine the worship of divine cult statues in Mesopotamia, the anti-idol polemics in the Bible, and the power of images and ritual activities in the construction of religious beliefs. In particular, the ancient Mesopotamian “washing of the mouth” ritual is studied within a cognitive framework. The discussion highlights both the intuitive and non-intuitive (i.e., costly) aspects of the belief in divine cult statues, and proceeds to examine both the cognitive process and cultural mechanisms that contribute to the belief that an inanimate statue is or becomes the deity. In doing so, the chapter adds a nuanced layer to the nature of belief and also problematizes certain scholarly views about belief in cult statues in ancient Mesopotamia and Israel.
This opening chapter introduces a key set of distinctions in cognitive science and the cognitive sciences of religion between intuitive and reflective types of cognition, implicit and explicit concepts, and cognitively optimal and costly religious traditions. The chapter argues for the importance, relevance, and applicability of cognitive theories and findings for the study of ancient Israelite religion. It is argued that an informed cognitive perspective can illuminate ancient texts, art, and religion, while also acknowledging that such historical materials can be used as valuable fact-checks to critically test and refine current cognitive theories. The chapter envisions a multi-disciplinary endeavor in which historians, biblical scholars, and cognitive researchers contribute to a richer understanding of religion in ancient Israel.
This chapter reframes the traditional dichotomy between popular and official religion and argues that ritual practices in both official and domestic settings were informed by intuitive conceptualizations of supernatural agency. As an alternative to popular and official religion, the categories cognitively optimal and cognitively costly religion are proposed as a fruitful framework for understanding the diversity of religious expression in ancient Israel. It is argued that from the standpoint of human cognition, ritual offerings performed in both popular and official contexts share deep structural features in common − whether in households, villages, local shrines, or state-sponsored temples. The final section of the chapter evaluates the recent shift to the study of family or household religion in ancient Israel. An analysis of material artifacts and religious ritual practices in domestic and official contexts reveals interesting points of continuity across these domains. Overall, a cognitive perspective suggests that the difference between home and temple, ancestors and the national deity, may not have been as great as it is sometimes imagined.
This chapter uses current theories in the cognitive science of religion (CSR) to examine the widespread popularity of hybrid monsters in ancient Syro-Palestinian and Near Eastern art and the role of material culture in enhancing memory and expanding the ordinary boundaries of the religious imagination. The chapter analyzes the iconography of hybrid figures from the perspective of two current cognitive frameworks: Dan Sperber’s epidemiological approach to cultural representations and Pascal Boyer’s theory of minimally counterintuitive (MCI) concepts. Artifacts and imagery include hybrid creatures on glyptic and minor art, monsters and demons, as well as a discussion of hybrid creatures such as the seraphim and cherubim in the biblical books of Isaiah and Ezekiel. It is argued that culturally specific depictions of hybrid animals exhibit a core set of properties, which helps to account for their stability across geographical and temporal distances. The MCI theory is also empirically tested with recourse to the ancient iconographic data.
In this book, Brett Maiden employs the tools, research, and theories from the cognitive science of religion to explore religious thought and behavior in ancient Israel. His study focuses on a key set of distinctions between intuitive and reflective types of cognitive processing, implicit and explicit concepts, and cognitively optimal and costly religious traditions. Through a series of case studies, Maiden examines a range of topics including popular and official religion, Deuteronomic theology, hybrid monsters in ancient iconography, divine cult statues in ancient Mesopotamia and the biblical idol polemics, and the Day of Atonement ritual in Leviticus 16. The range of media, including ancient texts, art, and archaeological data from ancient Israel, as well theoretical perspectives demonstrates how a dialogue between biblical scholars and cognitive researchers can be fostered.
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