Friday, October 7, 2011

Smelling God, Tasting God

As I am revising my dissertation into a book for publication, I was thinking about smells and taste, especially smelling and tasting God. The Epistle to the Hebrews uses "taste" to describe salvific experience: "For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy..." (Hebrews 5:4-6a; RSV). Tasting and partaking are, in fact, strong indicators of proximity to God throughout ancient Jewish and Christian literature. There is the famous Psalm that says "taste and see that the LORD is good" (Ps. 34:8). But olfactory language is vibrant whether interpreted metaphorically or more literally. Most analyses of Jewish and Christian mysticism focus primarily on vision and audition, and rightfully so since these are the primary senses discussed in the literature. But smells and tastes are also prominent features of theophany and ritual encounters with the sacred. For example, what might the incense on the Day of Atonement have smelled like? How might this incense have affected portrayals of and journeys to the heavenly temple? And so on? Smell and taste, in fact, feature prominently in depictions of the afterlife whether in positive or negative fashions. I know there have been a couple new books on olfactory language in early Christianity, etc., and I wonder if it might be interesting to explore the development of smelling and tasting God in early Christianity and ancient Judaism in the broader Mediterranean context more fully with people of different specialties contributing. I wonder if anyone would be interested in a project in conference form, perhaps as a panel, or as an interactive online discussion?

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