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The Nature and Elements of Sacrificial Ritual

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

After delineating several basic sacrificial activities in the context of the Vedic and Israelite traditions, the following essay makes three observations about the nature of sacrifice. First, despite the emphasis on death and violence in many dominant treatments, close study indicates that sacrifice is largely a non-violent activity. Therefore, it is inappropriate to focus on killing as a definitive or central element of sacrificial ritual. Second, sacrificial systems include animal, vegetal, and liquid oblations, yet vegetal and liquid substances are generally overlooked in sacrificial theorizing. Consequently, sacrificial theories that are driven by animal sacrifice need to be adjusted to address the full spectrum of sacrificial oblations and activity. Finally, sacrificial ritual is best understood as the dynamic interplay of various sacrificial elements rather than a monolithic event marked by a single, definitive activity. This paper offers an alternative polythetic approach that focuses on clusters of sacrificial activity.


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