Department of Religious Studies

Sex and Self-Interest in the Book of Leviticus

Dr. Bruce Wells, UT Austin

Wed, April 10, 2019 | CAL 516

12:00 PM - 1:00 PM

This talk will consider the motivation behind the rules governing sexual behavior in the so-called Holiness Legislation (H) in the biblical book of Leviticus. Previous scholarship has generally presumed an obsessive concern with categories and their boundaries on the part of H’s authors. In contrast, the talk will argue that these authors’ self-interest was an important motivating factor behind their concern with categories and sexual behavior. This self-interest stemmed from a desire to maintain a strict separation from other groups, whether foreign or Israelite/Judean, and to strengthen internal order and authority. Research by sociologists has shown that, when a group perceives a threat to its own distinctiveness and social integrity, it hardens its external boundaries and forms strict internal boundaries, often by imposing additional and more stringent sexual taboos. The talk will also look at how H’s particular set of taboos separates it from other Israelite/Judean traditions.

Bruce Wells (Ph.D, Johns Hopkins University) specializes in the study of the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East. Before coming to UT-Austin, he taught for thirteen years in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. During that time, he served for four years as co-Principal Investigator on the NEH-funded collaborative research project, “Neo-Babylonian Trial Procedure,”  and as a Humboldt Research Fellow at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich from 2008–2009. He is the author of The Law of Testimony in the Pentateuchal Codes(2004), co-author (with Raymond Westbrook) of Everyday Law in Biblical Israel (2009), and co-author (with F. Rachel Magdalene and Cornelia Wunsch) of Fault, Responsibility, and Administrative Law in Late Babylonian Legal Texts (forthcoming from Eisenbrauns, an imprint of Penn State University Press).

Sponsored by: Center for Middle Eastern Studies

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