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orion RE: Purity conference (fwd)
Call for Papers
Please note the following information regarding a conference to be held in
Utrecht, Netherlands from June 29-July 1 1998 on Purity and Holiness in
and Christianity. The conference is sponsored by Katholieke Theologische
Universiteit te Utecht (Netherlands) and The Ingeborg Rennert Center for
Jerusalem Studies, Bar-Ilan University (Israel). Special attention will be
devoted to Jewish and Christian interpretations of Leviticus 12-15. The
organizers are Dr. Marcel Poorthuis and Prof. G. Rouwhorst (Netherlands).
Those interested in presenting papers should send an Email with the topic
and a short abstract to Marcel Poorthuis (MPOORTHUIS@ktu.ruu.nl). Copies
can be sent to Joshua Schwartz (firstname.lastname@example.org). The
information on purity included below is to give potential particpants a
understanding of the issues and not to serve as discussion for the
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 25 Sep 97 12:04:00 PDT
From: "M.J.H.M. Poorthuis" <MPOORTHUIS@ktu.ruu.nl>
To: Joshua Schwartz <email@example.com>
Subject: Purity conference
Purity and Holiness in Judaism and Christianity
Purity rules have been a decisive factor in the organisational structure of
religion and hence of society at large. Ideas of purity determine structures
of power, relationships between man and woman as well as and between
believer and non-believer. "Tell my your ideas about the body and I will
describe your society", to paraphrase Peter Browns's Body and Society.
Both Judaism and Christianity are deeptly affected by concepts of purity and
holiness, be it in different ways.
According to Levticus, ch. 12-15 the human body can be defiled by several
circumstances: the birth of a child, different skin diseases, menstruation,
nocturnal emissions and so on.
The interpretation of these passages has been a matter of discussion
both in Jewish and in Christian tradition. For the Jewish tradition one may
point in particular to the Mishnah tractates Negaim, Parah, Niddah and
Although many purity laws have become more or less theoretical with the
destruction of the temple, relationships between man and woman and between
Jew and non-Jew are determined by it.
As for the Christian tradition, it is remarkable that in spite of the
strong relativation of purity laws from its beginnings, the concept of
purity has not been abandoned altogether. As a religious and a moral
metaphor, purity plays an important role in the conscience of believers.
even as bodily defilement, the concept of purity can be traced within
Christianity, without being interpreted in a purely allegorical way, as is
the case with the dietary laws. Admittedly, there are early Christian
documents which unambiguously reject the idea that a woman might become
by menstruation. Other sources, however, take a different position. Origen,
for example, is of the opinion that both mothers of a new born child and
their babies are unclean. In the same vein, from the fourth century on we
encounter in the (likewise Egyptian) Canones of Hippolytus the idea that
women who have given birth to a baby during 40, resp. 80 have no access to
the altar where Holy Communion is distributed. Other types of bodily
defilement give rise to contradictory positions as well. Discussions are
known as to the question of a woman in her period is allowed to go to
church. Sometimes such regulations are rejected as being 'Jewish'. Sometimes
attempts are made to give them a moral meaning. Sometimes they are
interpreted in a strongly litteral and physical way.
In this connection one may point in particular to the wide diffusion
the idea of 'ritual impurity' during the Middle Ages (though being viewed
with suspicion by theologians like Gregory the Great), both in Roman
Catholic and Byzantine tradition. It was only in the modern era that the
idea of ritual impurity has gradually disappeared as a result of
secularisation, Enlightenment and development of medical sciences. In how
far can there a legitimate concept of purity be maintained by modern
religion without denying the fruits of the Enlightenment?
Still one may wonder if the option for an exclusive male ministry in the
Roman Catholic church is rooted in concepts of gender-connected purity.
Anthropological research (e.g. Mary Douglas) may prove fruitful, as
well as research on the connection between certain concepts of holiness and
To conclude, the paramount question of the relation between the cultic and
the moral (are they identical? Is there a tendency to re-interpret cultic
issues in a moral way in Jewish an Christian tradition?) should be posed by
re-assessing Rudolph Otto's concept of Das Heilige.
Viewed as such the theme of purity has implications for Bible study,
rabbinics, Qumran, Early Christianity, history of religions, both Judaism
and Christianity, philosophical and anthropological reflections, debates
about ministry and liturgy and sociology. In
order to focus matter of the conferences, the emphasis of papers
related to textual studies should be upon the
history of reception of Leviticus 12 to 15 in both Jewish and Christian
tradition. Central questions include the following:
- How do Biblical scholars interpret the Levitical purity laws? How does
their interpretation relate to the rabbinical perception and which
transformation did the idea of bodily defilement undergo in Judaism after
the Fall of the Temple? What role did purity play in Qumran?
Is there a difference to be noticed between the Jewish mystical and the
rabbinical approach? How is purity practiced and viewed in contemporary
- On the other side, what role did Leviticus 12 to 15 play in Christian
tradition, in the various periods of its history? What effect did the idea
of ritual impurity have on the position of women in church and society (and
in synagoge and society)? In what way does Christianity claim to have
Finally, anthropological theories about the meaning and function(s) of
ritual purity and ritual uncleanness (M. Douglas) might be taken into
account in order to broaden the perspective as well as a reflection upon the
idea of Das Heilige.