From one generation to another : the Passover as collective memory
This thesis seeks to provide a fresh perspective on the nature and function of the Old
Testament Passover by considering how it shaped and transmitted Israel's collective
memory. In this context, special attention is paid to the work of Jan Assman, who argues
that the Ancient Near East in general and Israel in particular underwent a transition from
ritual repetition to textual interpretation as the primary medium of cultural memory. This
model is tested by a detailed exegesis of the Passover texts in Exodus 12-13,
Deuteronomy 16 and 2 Chronicles 30 and 35.
It is concluded that there is not a general tendency for text to displace rite so far as the
Old Testament Passover is concerned. A better framework for understanding the
distinctive contribution of each text is the relationship between ritual resemblance
(mimesis) and oral or written explanation (catechesis). The thesis explores how these
two features of Passover observance interact to shape Israel's memory of her past and her
communal identity in the present. Exodus 12-13 portray Israel as a people belonging to
YHWH by virtue of the deliverance from Egypt, Deuteronomy 16 recalls the memory of
the departure from Egypt as a motivation for Torah observance and Chronicles portrays
Israel as an organised cultic community gathered at the temple to petition YHWH to
bring an end to national captivity.
If there is a trajectory in Old Testament Passover texts it is found in the textualisation of
catechesis. In the first instance the Passover's significance is explained alongside the rite
itself. However, over time a developing body of authoritative texts provides an everwidening
canonical context within which the Passover can be practised and interpreted.
The thesis concludes by considering how its findings provide the basis for exploring
other Old and New Testament themes.