Faculty Publications


Ritual Dynamic Structure

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2004


Scientific study of rituals requires an understanding of their nature. As perceived by H. Hubert and M. Mauss (Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice, 1898), a basic aspect of the nature of sacrificial ritual is its dynamic structure. The present work takes up the neglected quest for a theory of ritual and methodology of analysis that recognize and trace the contours of ritual dynamic structure. The resulting fresh approach provides a controlled framework for interpreting rituals belonging to various cultures and for identifying bases of comparison between them. Two important innovations are: 1. Application of General Systems Theory concepts to study human rituals as hierarchically structured human activity systems. 2. Application of F. Staal's "ritual syntax"(developed in the context of Vedic studies) to ancient Near Eastern rituals. The first part of Ritual Dynamic structure builds a theory and definition of ritual and a corresponding methodology for analyzing specific rituals in terms of their activities and the meanings attached to those activities. The second part illustrates this methodology and its usefulness for comparative studies by applying it to ceremonies belonging to three ancient Near Eastern festival days of cult purification: the Israelite Day of Atonement, the fifth day of the Babylonian New Year Festival of Spring, and the fourth day of the Hittite Ninth Year Festival of Telipinu.