Seminar: August 5-25, 2015

Summer seminar

Exploring Universals:
Ritual and Linguistic Structures

Naphtali Meshel (Religion and Judaic Studies, Princeton University)
Anand Mishra (Classical Indology, Heidelberg University)

Funded by the David A. Gardner '69 Magic Project
Princeton University

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Rituals and languages are primary human accomplishments that point towards the existence of complex underlying structures. Are there universal principles that direct rituals and languages? If so, how can one comprehend or formulate them? Is there a rigorous 'Universal Grammar' common to languages and non-linguistics ritual systems?

A. Ancient Israelite and early Jewish materials

It makes sense to read the Ancient Israelite and early Jewish materials in chronological order. Beginning with the Introduction to each text (uploaded separately), and then the text itself:

  1. The Biblical passages
  2. The passages from the Temple Scroll
  3. The passages from the Mishna (tractate Yoma and Chapter 5 from tractate Zebahim)
Keep in mind that the authors of the Temple Scroll and of the Mishna had both read the Biblical texts you are preparing (in pretty much the same form), but there is no reason to believe that the authors of the Mishna would have read the Temple Scroll.

As you read the passages from the Temple Scroll and Mishna tractate Yoma, ask yourselves how the two differ in their understanding of Leviticus 16.

1. The Biblical passages

For the Biblical text please prepare

  • Genesis Chapter 4 vv. 1-12
  • Genesis Chapters 6-9
  • Genesis Chapter 22
  • Exodus Chapters 25-27
  • Exodus Chapter 30 vv. 1-10
  • Leviticus Chapters 1-10 and 16-17
  • Numbers Chapter 15 verses 1-31
  • Numbers Chapters 28-29, and
  • Deuteronomy Chapter 12.

Please use either one of the following versions (both are available online and can be accessed through Firestone Library’s website):

  1. The New Oxford Annotated Bible
  2. Jewish Study Bible

2. The passages from the Temple Scroll

Further readings

  • Naphtali Meshel : The "Grammar" of Sacrifice with a "Grammar" of 𝚺 (Selected sections)

B. Ancient Indian and Brahmanical materials

Some advanced texts on Paninian Grammar

Vedic Rituals

It is Frits Staal again who proposed his theory of the meaninglessness of rituals based primarily upon his research on Vedic rituals.

The Full- and New-Moon Offerings

We will focus on the full and new moon sacrifices and follow the book by Kātyāyana. Please read the following english translations. Many Sanskrit and ritual terms you may not understand in the first reading, but you will at least have a rough idea of what is going on.

Correlating Rituals and Grammar

Frits Staal has written a few articles about the early sciences, most prominently rituals and grammar. The following articles are important as they point out the correlations between these two streams.

Some other optional readings

The following list consist of some other (sometimes not directly) related texts, which may be of interest to us. It is not mandatory to read these texts, however if you have time and interest, you may browse them.

Maintained by Anand Mishra Heidelberg University, Germany