IOSOT 2019, © Jonas Leipziger

IOSOT conference with my paper on “Contextualising Ancient Jewish Practices of Reading”

23rd Congress of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament,

4-9 August 2019, Aberdeen


Abstract: Contextualising Ancient Jewish Practices of Reading

The traditional characterisation of ancient Judaism as text-centred and thus as a ‘religion of the book’ is a common narrative: The ‘old’ sacrificial cult of the temple was substituted after 70 CE by a ‘literary cult’ emphasising prayer and especially studying and reading Scripture. The resulting ‘bookish’ nature of ancient Judaism remains mostly unchallenged in recent scholarship.

Studies both on historical reading practices and on other forms of textual reception have long been neglected by Biblical Studies that traditionally focused mainly on the development of what would later become the Jewish Bible, on textual criticism and scribal practices.

However, the afore-mentioned ›literary cult‹ and the development of practices of reading in communities of ancient Judaism have to be put into their historical context of reception and mapped more precisely. Thus, my paper will address the following issues:

  • Which preconditions determine the development of reading practice (presence and distribution of texts, literacy, etc.)?
  • Which texts have been read and in which language?
  • What are the material aspects of reading (format; scroll or codex; layout)?
  • The methodology of my paper will take into account that reading practices and textual reception differ in various sociocultural contexts, epochs, and geographical areas.

Acknowledging that the development of regular and institutionalised Torah reading practices existed in ancient Judaism only from the fifth century C.E. onwards with a wide distribution, my paper will emphasise especially the importance of Greek speaking Judaism in Antiquity and its use of Greek Bible codices.