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Gog's Grave and the Use and Abuse of Corpses in Ezekiel 39:11-20 (Critical Essay)

Journal of Biblical Literature 2010, Spring, 129, 1

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The use and abuse of corpses is a powerful trope in biblical texts, extending well beyond the literary imaging of destruction and death to index instead a complex of socio-religious, political, and cultural concerns about the placement, treatment, and status of the dead among the living. As several socio-anthropological and ritual studies have shown, the ways in which the living respond to and deal with a corpse are not simply a matter of disposing of the dead. Rather, the methods and means of dealing with a corpse constitute a process effecting and maintaining the transformation of the deceased from a social person into a nonliving entity, enabling the living community to negotiate and reframe their relationship with that individual. (1) In essence, two very broad types of corpse treatment function within this social context of death: the ideal or "good" response to the corpse, by which the optimal social and cultural valuing of the dead is enacted through normative or "proper" mortuary rituals, and the anti-ideal or "bad" response to the corpse, by which the socially normative treatment of the dead is inverted or ignored. (2) Several biblical texts portray burial (rather than cremation or exposure) in a marked, remembered, and undisturbed place as the ideal treatment of the corpse, coupled with the performance of other funerary and postmortem practices, including mourning rituals and the remembrance of the dead. (3) This ideal treatment of the corpse is itself idealized in many biblical traditions as interment in the family tomb within or upon the bounds of ancestral land. (4) Though in many of these texts this particular type of mortuary practice is often presented theologically as a consequence of divine favor and blessing, it likely reflects a complex set of beliefs about the symbolism and effects of this type of burial: interment in the family tomb on ancestral land facilitated the transition of the dead into the underworld and manifested the integration of the individual into the realm of the ancestors. It also transformed the corpse from its liminal state into a once-living-now-dead member of the social group, thereby reincorporating the individual into the community, and it embodied and reinforced the territorial claims of the deceased's living descendants and their socioeconomic well-being. (5)

Gog's Grave and the Use and Abuse of Corpses in Ezekiel 39:11-20 (Critical Essay)
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  • Category: Language Arts & Disciplines
  • Published: 22 March 2010
  • Publisher: Society of Biblical Literature
  • Print Length: 40 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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