Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 18 (2018) - Review

Økland, Jorunn, J. Cornelis de Vos, and Karen J. Wenell, (eds.), Constructions of Space III: Biblical Spatiality and the Sacred (LHBOTS, 540; London/New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016). Pp. 264. Hardcover. US$136.80. ISBN: 9780567115164.

Third in the five-volume Constructions of Space series, this edited collection emerges from the “Bible and Sacred Space” seminar of the EABS (2005–present). As noted in the introduction, the European spaces in which the papers were originally presented distinguish the volume from others in the series: it is limited in focus to biblical literatures and its authors depend more closely upon primary texts than upon theoretical frameworks for their analyses. The volume specifically explores sacred space, seeking to “trace how the discourses on spaces and those on the sacred intersect and interact in various writings of the Bible” (p. xvii). Constructions of Space III promises to enrich our understanding of both spatiality and sacredness by exploring these points of intersection and interaction.

The book is organized according to scriptural corpora: Part I addresses Hebrew Bible texts and Part II, New Testament and intertestamental literatures; while a one-chapter “Outlook” concludes the volume.

In Part I, Stuart Lasine explores the holiness of Elisha and Elijah as expressed through their movements and locations in the book of Kings. Lasine argues that Elisha's holiness resembles Yahweh's: contagious, powerful, and often seemingly exempt from ethical evaluation. Roland Boer reads biblical texts about Egypt together with Henri Lefebvre's writings on utopia and dystopia and with Boer's own concept of “sacred economy.” He argues that texts portray Egypt as a utopian space of hope when they depict an “allocative economy,” characterized by material abundance and divine generosity (Gen 42:1–3), but as a dystopian space of fear when they depict an “extractive economy,” characterized by institutional extraction of resources and labor (Exod 1:11–14). Biblical ambivalence about Egypt, Boer argues, stems from the inextricability of extractive and allocative economies.

Klaus Bieberstein argues that the spatiality of Jerusalem was long anchored by a binary contrast between the center, marked by architecture seen as sacred, decorated with motifs of life and fertility (the Temple, later Haram es-Sharif), and a periphery verbally associated with death and judgment (Hinnom Valley, Gehenna, Jahannam). Tamara Prosic reads narratives of Yahweh's feats at threshing floors in the Hebrew Bible as textual legitimations for the “religious conversion of a cultic site” (pp. 62–3). She draws on concepts of sacred fertility and the hieros gamos—which, it should be noted, have been critiqued and nuanced in recent scholarship[1]—to argue that texts involving human behavior at threshing floors show the space's association with chthonic or grain deities. Polemics of Yahweh's power irrupting into the site of the threshing floor (e.g., Judg 6) mask the floor's existing associations, she argues, while simultaneously asserting Yahweh's superior power (pp. 62–3). Christopher Meredith focuses on the problem of circularity inherent in bringing theoretical frameworks formed in Western and/or Christian contexts to bear on biblical texts that have themselves profoundly influenced these contexts. A case study examining the intertwining relationships between the Song of Songs, Bernard of Clairvaux's ecclesial building projects, and Lefebvre's notion of “absolute space” demonstrates the point.

Opening Part II, Liv Ingeborg Leid argues that the bodily transformations in 2 Bar 51 are necessarily also transformation of space and spatial relationships. Her approach sheds new light not only on the text's cosmology, but also on its portrayal of the means and mechanisms of final redemption. Nóra Dávid demonstrates that the Temple Scroll (11QTa) relies upon systems of concentric circles, including increasing spheres of both holiness, centered around the Holy of Holies, and corpse pollution, centered around the deceased human. Dávid concludes, “sacred space is formed by the exclusion of certain things that are considered to be polluting,” a reversal of widespread notions that purification is required because of the demands of sacred space (p. 132). This insight opens questions about the Qumran community's relationship to death and corpses and, more broadly, about the production of sacred space through purity/pollution practices.

Moving into New Testament texts, Karen Wenell draws on Bruno Latour's actor-network theory and Doreen Massey's assertion of the openness of space to argue against reading the Kingdom of God in the Gospels either as a purely social concept or as a static space envisioned within a given “context.” Instead we ought to consider the Kingdom as a vital “space-in-motion,” treating its connections to other ideas, spaces, and traditions as the foreground production of something particular and new. Matthew Sleeman offers a Sojan “thirdspatial” analysis of Acts 11:19–30, arguing that these verses, concerning the production of the first ekklesia beyond Jerusalem, constitute a narrative “trial by space” for the early Christian movement, and function to produce Christian or “believer-space” as heaven-centered.

J. Cornelis de Vos argues that the author of Heb 3:11–4:7, exegeting Ps 94:7b–11 (LXX), combines four available meanings of κατάπαυσις, while particularly emphasizing both the creation of rest and God's rest in Gen 1. Mingling these meanings allows the author of Hebrews to re-create the κατάπαυσις of Ps 94b as a heavenly, eschatological space. Jorunn Økland's essay contributes to a growing field of spatial and visual analyses of the book of Revelation. She argues that God's heaven in Revelation is an imagined space bringing together architectural features and ritual practices from Greco-Roman sanctuaries, the second Jerusalem Temple, and written discourses on both the Jerusalem Temple and the heavenly divine throne. Revelation thus participates in ongoing second-century discourses about the Jerusalem Temple while simultaneously critiquing or rhetorically competing with the imperial cult.

David Jasper's “The Space of Liturgical Being,” comprising the final “outlook” section of the book, does not address any specific biblical texts, but rather offers a meditation on the experience of existing in the space produced by (Anglican) liturgical practice.

The vast majority of the essays in this book present novel readings of particular texts, informed by theories of spatial construction: these chapters are enthusiastically recommended for anyone interested in the texts discussed. Additionally, some of the contributions offer theoretical critiques or reflections that advance the study of biblical spatiality as a whole and are recommended for those interested in space and biblical texts: among these are Meredith, Dávid, and Wenell's contributions. As is often the case with edited volumes, this book could have benefitted from more interaction between the essays. For example, Sleeman and Meredith's distinct perspectives on Edward Soja's concept of Thirdspace might have been brought into quite fruitful conversation. Also, while careful attention is given throughout the volume to theorizing space and spatial dynamics, notions of the sacred and of sanctity receive relatively little theoretical consideration. Nonetheless, the volume's strengths far outweigh its weaknesses, and leave the reader eagerly anticipating future work from the Bible and Sacred Space seminar.

Sarah Berns, Brown University

[1] For example, J. S. Cooper, “Sacred Marriage and Popular Cult in Early Mesopotamia,” in H. Matsushima (ed.), Official Cult and Popular Religion in the Ancient Near East (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1993), 81–95; and M. Nissinen and R. Uro (eds.), Sacred Marriages: The Divine-Human Sexual Metaphor from Sumer to Ancient Christianity (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2008). reference