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The Signifying Creator

Nontextual Sources of Meaning in Ancient Judaism

Michael Swartz

Publication Year: 2012

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix

The subject of meaning and how it is derived is not one to which I would naturally gravitate. As I imply in chapter 1, I have always been intrigued by the things that language does other than generate meaning. I have also spent a good deal of time analyzing language that most people...

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pp. xi-xii

This book is the result of many opportunities and influences for which I am grateful. First of all, I thank the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies for inviting me to inaugurate the Benita and Sigmund Stahl Lectures in Jewish Studies and Dr. Sigmund Stahl for endowing the series. At...

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1. Introduction: Outside the Text

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pp. 1-11

Jews have been known for centuries as a “people of the book.” This designation was first applied to Jews in Islam, which they have happily adopted as a description of themselves since the tenth century. It is common to think of classical Judaism as the text-centered civilization par excellence...

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2. Myths of Creation

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pp. 13-32

According to the ancient rabbis, at twilight on the sixth day of creation God created the first pair of tongs. This detail appears in the tractate Avot of the Mishnah, known as the Sayings of the Fathers. It is one of a list of ten things created at twilight on the sixth day of creation, a liminal time in...

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3. The Semiotics of the Priestly Vestments

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pp. 33-54

“The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a story about what happens when a player in a ritual reveals the rules of the game. When we engage in rituals, we assume that no one will disrupt them by giving away the facts—that the bear we are hunting hasn’t really agreed to be killed; that the football...

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4. Divination and Its Discontents

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pp. 55-73

In March 1982, Symphony Space in New York celebrated the seventieth birthday of the American composer John Cage by holding an event called “Wall-to-Wall Cage,” a fourteen-hour marathon of composers and musicians performing his works and the works of others who admired and...

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5. Bubbling Blood and Rolling Bones

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pp. 75-90

The first-century Jewish historian Josephus, quoting a book attributed to a writer named Hecataeus, tells a story of a Jewish archer named Mosollamus, who was traveling with the Ptolemaic army. At one point the army stopped marching because a bird was flying overhead and the military...

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6. Conclusions: The Signifying Creator

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pp. 91-94

We have seen that ancient Jews looked not only to the Torah for meaning but to the created world as well. As a consequence they saw a complex world of images, animate and inanimate beings, and events as potential signifiers. We must consider this conception in light of the tendency to...


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pp. 95-115


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pp. 117-119

About the Author

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pp. 120

E-ISBN-13: 9780814723784
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814740934
Print-ISBN-10: 0814740936

Publication Year: 2012