Deciphering a Definition: The Syntagmatic Structural Analysis of Ritual in the Hebrew Bible

  • David P. Wright


This article argues that any action performed by an individual or group can only be properly understood in the context of the larger range of similar activity performed by the individual or group. It builds on Mary Douglas's syntagmatic structural analysis of action within such a broad context and moves to Catherine Bell's similar contextualization of ritualization within a larger framework of action. This type of analysis allows for formulating a clearer definition of ritual and a more precise identification of the strategies employed to create ritual. It also provides a method for the study of ritual, in which any given performance may be evaluated by its relationship to other similar actions, including non-ritual actions. As an example, the paper looks at the story of the feast held by Joseph for his brothers in Genesis 43 and suggests how this may be used for elucidating the understanding of biblical sacrifice.