Kerry Sonia received her Ph.D. in Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean from Brown University and is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Colby College. She specializes in the Hebrew Bible and Israelite religion, and her research interests include reception history, material culture studies, and theories of gender and ritual. She is particularly interested in reconstructions of Israelite ancestor cult and its relationship to the Jerusalem Temple. Her first book, Caring for the Dead in Ancient Israel (SBL Press, 2020), examines this relationship in light of recent scholarship on family religion and the dynamics of religious competition in the ancient Near East and Mediterranean.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XXVI, November 17 – 19, 2023
The Changing Landscape of the Dead in Ancient Israel
For a long time, studies of the death and burial in ancient Israel often assumed a stark separation of Yahweh and the dead. Since Yahweh is a god of the living, such studies argue, death is “the ultimate contaminant of all that was particularly sacred to him.” Rituals and spaces associated with the dead, according to this model, are “not the focus of Yahwism and beyond its interest.” However, this talk examines biblical and epigraphic evidence for the shared ritual space between the deity and the dead in the Hebrew Bible and Iron Age tombs in Israel. This notion of shared space is not unique to the Hebrew Bible and ancient Israel but finds analogues in other ancient West Asian cultures as well. This reassessment of the relationship between Yahweh and the dead attests to greater ideological diversity in Israelite religion and gives us a richer understanding of commemorative practices that helped construct and sustain the ancient family and household.