I’ve recently become interested in the possibility that examining conduct and regulations involving body and food in the Hebrew Bible could track somehow with these texts’ various perspectives on insiders/outsiders to the Israelite community. And I found substantial confirmation that this was a productive instinct in the work of people who have already gotten there long before me: the famous English anthropologist Mary Douglas, who finds, for example, that pollution beliefs in “primitive religions” “carry a symbolic load”:
I believe that some pollutions are used as analogies for expressing a general view of the social order. For example, there are beliefs that each sex is a danger to the other through contact with sexual fluids. According to other beliefs, only one sex is endangered by contact with the other, usually males from females, but sometimes the reverse. Such patterns of sexual danger can be seen to express symmetry or hierarchy….I suggest that many ideas about sexual dangers are better interpreted as symbols of the relation between parts of a society, as mirroring designs of hierarchy or symmetry which apply in the larger social system…so also can the processes of ingestion portray political absorption (Purity and Danger, 4).
These sorts of ideas are also already doing work for professional biblical scholars: Alice Keefe’s book Woman’s Body and the Social Body in Hosea proposes a reading whereby the female body does not stand as a symbol for the threatening “other” of nature religion, but rather as the “social body” of the Israelite sodality itself, figuring its continuity, fecundity, and power (185). I am aware of other scholars (Jacqueline Lapsley amongst them) who are interpreting cultural objects (such as the temple in Ezekiel) in parallel with the fates of other, more literal human bodies (such as Ezekiel’s) in biblical texts (see her most recent article in the journal Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Israel.
But I haven’t yet run across the theory by which this stuff gets off the ground. All these authors and others seem to just work with the concept: more or less to assume that “the body” gains real traction as a metaphor for human societies, without grounding this relation more thoroughly – or defending it against the likely accusation that here, too, scholars might be collapsing the details of more concrete realia into the sociopolitical realities that are our grand obsession in the modern age. Far more often, too, I see people trace the “influence” in the other direction, to follow the ways that various societies constitute and label bodies. Anyways, let me know if you know who theorizes the social body.