The Metaphorization of Sacrifice in Second Temple Judaism

Preliminary Mapping and Key Issues

The present research analyzes and compares various types of sacrificial metaphors found in the Hebrew Bible (especially Psalms and Prophets) and selected Jewish texts of the Second Temple period (especially, albeit not exclusively, the Dead Sea Scrolls). Although the development of sacrificial metaphors in these texts has long been observed, many key aspects of this process remain poorly studied or even unexplained, and no comprehensive treatment has been offered in recent research. Furthermore, earlier studies have tended to understand such metaphorization of sacrifices within what could be described as a “supersessionist” framework, according to which the sacrificial cult in ancient Judaism would have been gradually replaced by other, more immaterial forms of religion. Close analysis of the evidence, in combination with key aspects of recent theories of metaphors, demonstrates that this model is inadequate.

On the contrary, the development of sacrificial metaphors in Second Temple Judaism can be shown to imply a valorization of the source domain (the sacrificial cult). Consequently, new models are required to describe the process and its historical significance for Second Temple Judaism. Additionally, and again contrary to earlier treatments, we must also take into account the fact that the use of sacrificial metaphors in Second Temple text is far from homogeneous, so that adequate models need to differentiate more precisely between these usages according to both the literary genre of the texts in which these sacrificial metaphors occur, and the context(s) for which these texts are composed and in which they are performed. From a methodological perspective, the research will make use of selected aspects of cognitive theories of the metaphor, such as the distinction between metaphor as comparison and metaphor as classification (S. Glucksberg; D, Gentner and B. Bowdle, among others), or the concepts of conceptual mapping and blend (G. Fauconnier and M. Turner). The research will also include a comparative perspective, since the emergence and the development of sacrificial metaphors is likewise documented in several other cultures of the Mediterranean. In effect, it can arguably be seen as a logical and almost organic development of the sacrificial cult, which seems however to take increased importance from the Hellenistic period onward.

In the limits of the present research, special emphasis will be placed on the comparison with the development of sacrificial metaphors in Greece, especially in the context of the so-called “sects” (such as Orphics, Pythagorians, etc.). Overall, and based on the previous remarks, the present research will seek to provide a first mapping of sacrificial metaphors in Second Temple Judaism. In particular, it will (a) discuss the various categories of sacrificial metaphors found in different contexts and their uses in these contexts; and (b) address the main implications of this evidence for the development of the cult and cultic metaphorization in the Second Temple period. As such, the development of sacrificial metaphors in the Second Temple period can be seen to provide a significant window into larger processes of “cultification” in ancient Judaism.

Affiliated Persons


Assoc. Prof. Christophe Nihan

Individual Researcher

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