Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Susan Niditch's "The Responsive Self"

Susan Niditch is Samuel Green Professor of Religion at Amherst College.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Responsive Self: Personal Religion in Biblical Literature of the Neo-Babylonian and Persian Periods, and reported the following:
The Responsive Self page 99 mentions subjects that are critical to the study of religion and that engage my interest in the book as a whole: our responses to death, the material and embodied qualities of religious expression, the importance of physical environment in religious experience, the role of prayer, the qualities of the traditional that characterize ritual speech, the meaning of concepts such as symbol, culture, identity, and worldview. On page 99 I am bringing to a close the study of a particular ancient burial site in Khirbet Beit Lei, dating to the late seventh or early sixth century BCE. I describe the physical contours of the cave; an object found in its vicinity; the way the dead are laid out and the personal and decorative items still found on their skeletons, a ring and earring; the writing on the walls, etched by a weary traveler seeking shelter in the cave or by a person who visits to wait upon the dead; and line drawings, rough graffiti etched into the walls of the space, abstract and concrete, e.g. crossed lines, a ship. How does this burial cave, its site and contents, reflect upon religion as lived in ancient Israel and the ways in which human beings try to cope with loss? What do people actually do, physically and materially, to express deeply held values, potent anxieties, personal and cultural identities?

Page 99 is part of a larger study of personal religion as it emerges in evidence of the late biblical period. I am interested in first person speech found in biblical texts, seemingly autobiographical nuances, questions about individual responsibility for sin and punishment, responses to seemingly undeserved suffering, the traditional forms of expression, verbal and non-verbal, that people make their own, the emotional dimensions of characterization in Ruth and Jonah, self-imposed rituals such as vows, and the portrayal of daily and ordinary things and actions that relate in profound ways to worldview and being. The end of page 99 transitions to a discussion of visions, delving further into the experiential dimension of ancient Israelite religion, but you’ll have to turn the page to learn more.
Learn more about The Responsive Self at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue