Terje Stordalen, University of Oslo, Religion and ‘Social Fields’ in Ancient Israel.

Stordalen had a main role in developing the analytical framework of LDG and will continue to take responsibility for this aspect of the project together with Oystein LaBianca and Birgit Meyer. His material access strategy is to trace textual and archaeological evidence from the first millennium BCE to ascertain the extent of interaction between imperializing and local discourses at the levels of the household, the township, the ethnic group, and the nation or empire. The study is part of a planned monograph on Religion and Society in Ancient Israel. Research on ancient Israelite religion during the last two decades has made evident the misfit between the textual and the archaeological records. The biblical texts – especially the so-called Deuteronomistic layers – portray an Israel that was unanimously “monotheistic”, serving a non-gendered God, through official cult in Jerusalem, shying away from all other deities and cult places, ancestor cults, necromancy, magic, and other traditional religious forms. These texts are best understood as directly or indirectly linked to great discourses, filtered through socially elite channels by those five percent of the population that had access to the skills and the economy of literacy (Hezer 2001). The archaeological record, on the other hand, is more diverse. Often it would reflect popular or ‘little’ practices. It indicates that Israelite people did, in fact perform cult all around the country, pray to many (in part gendered) deities, practice ancestor cult, necromancy, magic, etc. The discrepancies become particularly evident through analyses of the iconographic record (Keel and Uehlinger 1992). Accordingly, it has become conventional to speak about plural religions and religious diversity of ancient Israel (Zevit 2001, Stavrakopoulou & Barton 2010). It has also become conventional to classify “non-orthodox” religion as belonging to family or household religion (Toorn 1996; Bodel and Olyan 2008). There have indeed been attempts at ascribing differing theologies in the Hebrew Bible to specific social levels, such as family religion, village religion, tribal religion, and national religion (Gerstenberger 2002).

While such interpretive attempts are generally appealing, there remain in particular two fundamental challenges. First, there is yet no comprehensive verification that the suggested social levels were in fact functional in ancient Israel (or throughout pre-Modern Levantine societies). Indeed, there has not been sufficient discussion of analytical terms like “social levels” or “fields” in this connection. Scholars of religion have made only modest use of works like that of McNutt (1999). One must ask: what were the forces that conditioned the formation of and social interplay in a given field? What where the main social objectives addressed by religion in each field? Provided that viable definitions and verifications of social fields in Antiquity could be offered, it remains a methodological challenge to specify how each level would likely appear in the biblical and archaeological records respectively.

Secondly, and related to the first, research thus far has concentrated on differences between various theologies and religious practices reflected in the biblical and the archaeological records. This was necessary at the time. As a result, however, the dominant impression still is that of a main “orthodox” Israelite faith and its various “popular”, “local”, “tribal”, etc. opponents. Only recently is scholarship moving on to serious investigation of the interaction (or, alternatively: non interaction) between various forms of religion in ancient Israel. If indeed religious practices were located in distinct fields, to what extent is it probable that differences among these practices would have generated tension in the population of ancient Judah or Yehud? Analysing the social conditioning of the various media involved (texts, rituals, images) will help better locating the associated religious practices in their proper historical context.

Stordalen will attempt to offer a joint interpretation of relevant textual and archaeological data. This interpretation needs to take account of the social heterogeneity of the two records. The task is not only to chart the social setting of each item of evidence, but also to project probable interaction between various items. Only thus could one hope to form an opinion as to what the religious discourse now recorded in the Hebrew Bible meant to everyday household religious practices, and vice versa. This is tantamount to asking for the interaction between elitist religion, household religion, regional religion, so at this point Stordalen’s project mirrors the larger LDG agenda. Indeed, the nucleus of the LDG overarching theory was drafted during his teaching and research in this field over the last some five years. A more detailed account of how this research agenda is mirrored in Stordalen’s recent publications is found in the annotated bibliography.

The two projects and research profiles of Stordalen and LaBianca circumscribe the LDG cluster at large, which is why they are presented more elaborately. Tall Hisban provides the longest and most coherent record, a record that calls for better recognition of the persistence of local traditions, for more nuanced perceptions of globalizing forces of the time, but also for the global as a relevant perspective. Charting religion and society in ancient Israel, on the other hand, provides one incident probing what such analytical recognitions could produce in the interpretation of a set of adjacent historical records. This provides the horizon that the core LDG theme and the participating projects relate to.

Short CV

Terje Stordalen is professor of Theology (Old Testament Studies) at the Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo, and in 2009-2010 serving as the Academic Director for the the research initiative Religion in Pluralist Societies, UiO. Before joining the UiO he was employed at MF Norwegian School of Theology. He also served as Visiting Professor at Lutheran Theological Seminar, Hong Kong (1999-2000) and has had short periods as visiting researcher and lecturer i.a. at Georg-August Universität, Göttingen; Peking University, Beiing;  Shandong University, Jinan, China; Lund’s University, Sweden. He serves in several national and international journal’s editorial boards. In 2008-2010 he served as primary translator in the 2011 translation project for the Norwegian Bible Society.

Selected Publications relevant to the LDG Project

– Echoes of Eden: Genesis 2–3 and Symbolism of the Eden Garden in Biblical Hebrew Literature, (Contributions to Biblical Exegesis and Theology 25), Leuven: Peeters 2000, 582 pages.

«Gammeltestamentlig teologi anno 2002» [ET: Old Testament Theology Anno 2002], Svensk exegetisk årsskrift 2003, 7-42

– «Mother Earth in Biblical Hebrew Literature: Ancient and Contemporary Imagination», in: J. Middlemas, D. J. A. Clines, and E. Holt (eds.), The Centre and the Periphery: A European Tribute to Walter Brueggemann, Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2010, pp. 113-130.

– «“His place does not recognise him” (Job 7:10): Reflections of Non-Inscribed Memory in the Book of Job», in: P. Carstens, T. H. Bjørnung og N.-P. Lemche (eds.), The Bible and Cultural Memory, Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias [forthcoming 2012], 31-52

– «Ancient Hebrew Recitative Meditation», ms. 22 pages, forthcoming in: H. Eifring (ed.), Cultural Histories of Meditation.

– «Adorant? Goddess? Ancestress? Iconographic Reflections on a Group of Egyptian Terracotta Figurines in the Ustinov Collection», ms. 14 pages, forthcoming in a volume edited by Marina Prusac, Oslo.

–  “Introduction: Perspectives on the Ecology of Collective Remembering” ms. 20 pages, co-authored with Saphinaz Naguib, to be published in: Terje Stordalen and Saphinaz-Amal Naguib (eds.), The Formative Past and the Formation of the Future.

– «Canon and Canonical Commentary: The Hebrew Bible – and Beyond», ms., 22 pages, for the same volume.

– «Kanon og kanonisk kommentar» [Canon and Canonical Commentary], Teologisk Tidsskrift 1, 2012, 122-37

– «What Is a Canon of Scriptures?» : inKristinn Ólason, Ólafur Egilsson and Stefán Stefánsson (eds.) Mótun menningar / Shaping Culture: Festschrift for Gunnlaugur A. Jónsson, Reykjavik: Hiđ 2012, pp. 15-33.

– “«An Almost Canonical Entity»: Text Artifacts and Aurality in Early Biblical Literature”, in: Juha Pakkala and Martti Nissinen (eds.), Houses Full of All Good Things: Essays in Memory of Timo Veijola, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008), 666-683

– «The Canonization of Ancient Hebrew and Confucian Literature», Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 32.1, 2007, 3-22

– «Law or Prophecy? On the Order of the Canonical Books», in: Stordalen, T. and O. Skarsaune (eds.), Professor, dr. theol. Arvid Tångberg (1946–2000) in memoriam, (TTK 72/1-2), Oslo: Universitetsforlaget 2001, 129-148