1.  WORSHIP AS A SUBJECT IN OLD TESTAMENT STUDIES

Almost a full generation has passed since the last comprehensive treatments of worship in the Old Testament were published. H.-J. Kraus's Gottesdienst in Israel (Worship in Israel), which first appeared in 1954, introduced a brief period when this subject emerged as a principal concern. Over the next fifteen years, significant studies were offered by R. de Vaux, H. H. Rowley, and W Harrelson. By the end of the 1960s, few would have quibbled with U. Simon's observation, in reviewing the 1965 English translation of Kraus, that "Worship is nowadays no longer just a department in Old Testament studies, but without a doubt the master-key."

Since Harrelson's 1969 publication, however, the subject of "worship" in ancient Israel seems largely to have faded from Old Testament studies. One can still find discussion of selected aspects of Israel's worship, for example the sacrificial system or the temple and its cult. But when one looks for the kind of comprehensive assessments of worship that characterized the generation of Kraus and his peers, nothing comparable emerges. Indeed, even the general synopses of Israel's worship that were once standard

features in Bible dictionaries and handbooks are now either subsumed under other subjects or lacking altogether.

In 1969, Harrelson observed that a re-examination of Israel's worship could help with the problems confronting the community of faith in an "ecumenical and post-Christian age." Given the perceived secularism that characterized the 196os, Harrelson argued that a study of Israel's worship could contribute toward restoring the quality of relationship between God and humankind, and toward restoring and reappropriating God's design for the world.

This need for a re-examination is no less pressing now, as we enter a new millennium bereft of certainties that our predecessors enjoyed. One no longer speaks of a "post-Christian" world; even this vestige of religious consciousness seems to claim far too much. This is now a post-modern world, defined more by intellectual, spiritual, and moral ambivalence than by faith assertions, whether Christian, Jewish, or otherwise. It is a world advanced and sustained as never before by technology and its by-products and yet at the same time a world that seems to many to be void of any transcendent meaning that may guide human accomplishments toward a construction of life that offers peace and justice to all peoples. As R. Friedman recently suggested, the legacy of the twentieth century is a prevailing conviction that God has simply "disappeared?'

With Harrelson, I believe that a study of ancient Israel's worship may offer a meaningful word in a world where much is askew. My thesis, which must be substantiated in the following chapters, is that the Torah conveys a "vision" of worship. It portrays worship as a principal means by which a community of faith (or a community seeking faith) attains clarity about God, God's design for the world, and the role of humankind in implementing and sustaining the world of that design.

I do not believe, however, that this vision of worship can be fully discerned simply by walking in the footsteps of those who charted the course for previous generations. The world has changed significantly; hence the argument for the relevance of Israel's worship must now be made on different grounds. Further, the ways we read and appropriate Scripture have undergone dramatic changes. The collapse, or at least the weakening, of traditional historical-critical methods has invited a range of new approaches to biblical texts and new possibilities for constructive theological interpretation. I suggest, in tracing the Torah's "vision" of worship for the modern world, that traditional concerns with the "history" of Israel's worship must now be enlarged with new perspectives that make clearer the sociological context in which and for which these texts have been shaped.

As an introduction to that discussion, I offer first a "study of the study" of worship in Old Testament scholarship. How (and why) has worship been studied in the past, and why does it no longer appear as a prominent subject in Old Testament studies? How (and why) may this subject be retrieved as a vital component in a theological discourse fitted for the twenty-first century?

I do not propose a comprehensive review of the discussion of this subject. In a previous work, I detailed the history of scholarship with respect to "prayer' and much of that discussion remains relevant for the present investigation of worship. Moreover, Kraus has provided a basic historical survey of the study of Old Testament worship through 1962. I will simply review the foundations that Kraus and others have provided, then bring the discussion up to date with some broad summary discernments that situate my own approach within the context of the scholarly discussion.

 

 

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