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SBL National Paper on Ritual Accepted

April 2, 2011

The recent posts by James McGrath and Patrick McCullough made me realize that I should mention a second paper of mine accepted to this fall’s national Society of Biblical Literature meeting (for info on my other paper, click here). I will be presenting a paper applying recent work on sacrificial typology by Kathryn McClymond to the Nazirite ritual in Numbers 6. Below is the abstract.

Sacrificial Typology and Nazarite’s Burning Hair

Numbers 6:1-21 contains ritual prescriptions required for those who take Nazirite vows. At the conclusion of such vows v.18 states that Nazirites are required to shave their heads and place their hair on the fire under the well-being sacrifice (שלמים).

Scholars have traditionally looked at the burning of a Nazirite’s hair in Numbers 6:18 as a sacrificial event. Using a combination of internal evidence and ancient Near-eastern parallels, these scholars conclude that the hair represents the Nazirite pars pro toto. The offering of the hair represents the total dedication of the Nazirite to the deity—an act of self-sacrifice.

This paper questions the premise of whether the burning of the Nazirite’s hair is sacrificial and addresses this question by using Kathryn McClymond’s polythetic understanding of sacrifice. McClymond posits a spectrum for ritual activity from more to less sacrificial based on the following general types of action: selection, association, identification, killing, heating, appropriation and consumption. A ritual need not contain all of these types of action to be sacrificial, but the denser the assemblage of these elements, the more sacrificial an activity is.

This paper examines the ritual of the Nazirite in Numbers 6 according to McClymond’s schema and finds that the burning of the Nazirite’s hair has very few indicators of sacrificial activity. The paper concludes by positing other possible interpretations of the Nazirite’s burning hair.

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