Yonatan S. Miller

Phinehas' Priestly Zeal and the Violence of Contested Identities

Jahrgang 26 () / Heft 2, S. 117-145 (29)
Publiziert 24.05.2019

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Critics of biblical violence particularly scrutinize the case of Phinehas, the priestly zealot who publicly skewered an Israelite man and his Midianite consort in Numbers 25. Such studies are preoccupied with God's approbation of this extra-judicial killing, and how later Jewish readers, from Philo through the rabbis, grappled with divine approval of vigilantism. I contend that these critiques devolve from a flattened and essentialized reading of Phinehas' violence that disregards its biblical context and, by extension, its discursive function. Close examination reveals how Phinehas' violence functions performatively to legitimate priestly identity in the face of contestation by rival groups. This essay recontextualizes Phinehas' violence and traces how ancient and late antique Jewish writers detected the »world-making« functions of the biblical narrative, and shows how these later writers themselves deploy Phinehas' violence, which they contemporize and even subvert, in the service of reinforcing their own group identities.

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