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December 24 , 2007

Memory and Covenant

The Role of Israel's and God's Memory in Sustaining the Deuteronomic and Priestly Covenants


Memory and Covenant applies new insights into the meaning and function of social memory to analyze the two major “religions” of the Pentateuch (D and P) and their relationship to one another. Both these traditions regard memory as a vital element of religious practice and as the principal instrument of covenant fidelity—but in very different ways. Ellman shows that for the deuteronomic tradition, memory is an epistemological and pedagogical means for keeping Israel faithful to its God and God’s commandments, even when Israelites are far from the temple and its worship. The pre-exilic priestly tradition, however, understands that the covenant depends on God’s memory, which must be aroused by the sensory stimuli of the temple cult. The exilic priestly tradition (the literature of the Holiness school) incorporates the theme of transcendence put forth by Deuteronomy and reconceives of the cult in symbolic terms rather than as literally an appeal to God’s memory.

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