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Articles - CfP Topic

Vol. 7 No. 1 (2021): Materiality of Writing. Reconsidering Religious Texts

Writing, Affordances, and Governable Subjects

September 4, 2020


In the Hebrew Bible book of Deuteronomy, writing and the creation of texts is a widely shared activity. The deity writes, Moses writes, the people write, the (future) king is to have writing done for him. Apparently, part of what it means to be Israel and enact this subjectivity is to write. Maybe this is not surprising, since writing in Hebrew, a vernacular language, by those who are not part of an imperial bureaucracy and not serving imperial objectives, was fairly new when Deuteronomy was being written and assembled into a book. As a new technology, writing offered various affordances to writers, and at least three of them were realized and put into action in Deuteronomy. Writing fixes and stabilizes ideas and knowledge. In Deuteronomy, it gave a particular form and vocabulary to the commands, statutes, and ordinances of YHW and Moses, as well as to where, when, and who were understood to be present when these ideas were spoken (according to the text). Writing stabilizes and normalizes those ideas when it becomes part of social action. And writing offers itself for use in mechanisms of assessment once what is written becomes a norm for behavior. The commands, statutes, and ordinances of Deuteronomy create a metaphorical “path” for Israel, indicating how all three of these affordances play a role in creating and defining Israel’s subjectivity, which is offered to readers. When individuals understand themselves to be addressed by the book and work to put into practice what it says, they become Deuteronomy’s governable subjects.