Yael Avrahami’s monograph The Senses of Scripture: Sensory Perception in the Hebrew Bible (T & T Clark International, 2011) strikes a difficult balance in weighing the sensory language employed in scripture against the phenomenological meaning that could be ascribed to such ancient uses. “Are we studying what people thought about the senses, or are we studying the practical way in which people used the senses?” (p. 16).
At first glance, it would not be immediately clear that Yael Avrahami’s The Senses of Scripture is actually concerned with epistemology. Her primary focus is to understand the biblical authors’ uses of sensory language to describe experience. Avrahami seeks to understand epistemological motifs as they are described. In the end, her meticulous survey of the biblical texts and their cognate terms focuses on the division of sensory labor between hearing and seeing. Ultimately, she favors seeing as the primary epistemological tool in the human sensorium. In the long-ranging debates about wisdom and the primacy of either seeing or hearing, Avrahami is able to definitively demonstrate why seeing takes primacy.
This volume is a rich resource on a number of fronts for biblical scholars and theologians alike. Her final chapter, “The Centrality of Sight in Biblical Epistemology,” stands as a definitive summary with which all scholarship interested in the biblical depiction of knowledge must now wrestle. Given the name of the chapter, it comes as no surprise that she strongly concludes: “even if the supremacy of sight cannot be proved, it is nonetheless impossible to claim the inferiority of sight in biblical epistemology” (p 276).
INTRODUCTION: COMMON SENSE
Chapter One: MAKING SENSE OF THE SENSORIUM
Chapter Two: NUMBER OUR SENSES
Chapter Three: THE SENSORIUM: DEFINITION
Chapter Four: THEOLOGY OF THE SENSES
Chapter Five: THE CENTRALITY OF SIGHT IN BIBLICAL EPISTEMOLOGY
CONCLUSION: THE SENSES OF SCRIPTURE