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The Signifying CreatorNontextual Sources of Meaning in Ancient Judaism$
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Michael D. Swartz

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780814740934

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814740934.001.0001

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The Semiotics of the Priestly Vestments

The Semiotics of the Priestly Vestments

(p.33) 3 The Semiotics of the Priestly Vestments
The Signifying Creator

Michael D. Swartz

NYU Press

This chapter looks at an example of ancient ritual discourse about clothing—the significance of the vestments in Jewish sources on sacrifice in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. The vestments of the high priest form a key component of the ritual system and constitute a complex semiotic system that functions both instrumentally and expressively. Whereas all clothing signals information about issues such as the wearer's status, the vestments gained additional layers of hermeneutical possibilities because their fabric, form, and order were commanded by God to be used in the ritual. At the same time, the vestments were thought to have had an active role to play in representing Israel before its God. This led to a semiotic system wherein each detail of the vestments could stand for something greater or perform a significant function in the ritual, depending on the interpreter's discernment.

Keywords:   Priestly vestments, Jewish rituals, ritual system, ancient ritual discourse, Israel, God

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