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Religious transformation between East and West

Herman, Geoffrey. 2014. Religious transformation between East and West: Hanukkah in the Babylonian Talmud and Zoroastrianism. In Wick, Peter & Volker Rabens (eds.), Religions and trade: Religious formation, transformation and cross-cultural exchange between East and West, 261–281. Leiden: Brill.

When religious traditions travel they tend to adapt to their new surroundings. Like new products seeking to penetrate a foreign market, they often undergo a process of modification and re-packaging that makes them comprehensible and inviting to their potential clientele. This can often be a subconscious process whereby the elements in the imported tradition that evoke more familiar local practices rise to prominence and develop further whereas others sink into the background. This article seeks to account for the development of the ritual observance of the festival of Hanukah, a festival that was brought from Judaea to Babylonia. It pinpoints the holiday’s evolution upon its reception in Babylonia. Observing similarities in ritual between the receiving community – Babylonian Jewry, and the prevalent practices found among the Zoroastrians of the region it suggests a connection between the two. This connection intimates that the ritual celebration of Hanukkah was radically and fundamentally transformed in its new religious environment as a result of its encounter with local religious custom.

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