The Creation of Boundaries in the Literary Character of the Old Testament

In his 1957 volume Dynamics of Faith, the philosopher-theologian Paul Tillich proffered a definition of religious faith as “the state of being ultimately concerned”. [1] “Ultimate concern”, in Tillich’s view, is the status for which all the physical and psycho-social needs in daily human life are in constant competition. That is to say, each necessity is alternately a source of human preoccupation, and each necessity possesses roughly equal potential to claim a paramount position in a person’s life or in a society. According to Tillich, “If it claims ultimacy it demands the total surrender of him who accepts this claim, and it promises total fulfillment even if all other claims have to be subjected to it or rejected in its name.” [1]

Although Tillich’s abstraction of these essential principles was informed by years of dedicated Biblical exegesis grounded firmly in the Lutheran Protestant religious tradition, the assessment of faith as an expression of ultimate concern is nevertheless a valuable reference point from which to launch an investigation of certain themes in the literary character of the Old Testament. This reference point is of particular use in assessing the nature of the ancient Hebrews’ adherence to the covenant and its concomitant injunctions of moral rectitude and the proper practice of ritual—and more specifically the extent to which Israelite identity in the Torah is founded on the establishment of boundaries, and the principle of sanctity in separation.

The notion that the maintenance of purity of an animal, a person, or even a nation depends heavily (if not entirely) upon the existence of boundaries is one that figures prominently throughout the books of Leviticus and Numbers. Even as far back as the establishment of the Tabernacle in the book of Exodus, and the division of its sacred space into three distinct levels of sanctity, the character of

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1 Response to The Creation of Boundaries in the Literary Character of the Old Testament

  1. A little short here! What you have seems erudite and authoritative, but it’s hard to see where this is going. What claims will you make? What texts will you use? Be sure to develop this draft ASAP…

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