I’m currently reading an excellent book by Jonathan Klawans entitled, Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism. Klawans makes a simple, yet profound observation — that ritual impurity and the defilement brought about by sin are not the same in OT law and ritual. They are different phenomena. I was surprised to read that this conclusion is controversial or, prior to Klawans’ work, not the consensus in biblical scholarship. It’s something I’ve believed for some time, but can’t actually recall what put me on that path. Klawans’ work gives me plenty of ammunition for it at any rate. (Apparently the confusion is the result of reading later Jewish texts – Qumran, rabbinics) back into the OT in this regard – the later material conflates the two systems – another reason to not use rabbinics to interpret your Bible). I’ll soon move on to Klawans’ follow-up book: Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple: Symbolism and Supersessionism in the Study of Ancient Judaism.
I mention Klawans’ work here because I found an HTR article (Harvard Theological Review) posted online that distills a lot of his thinking in the first volume: “Pure Violence: Sacrifice and Defilement in Ancient Israel,” HTR 94:2 (April 2001): 133-155. Those familiar with my divine council worldview writing will take note that there are a number of breadcrumbs in Klawans’ essay that relate nicely to things I’ve written about, namely when he talks about the logic of sacrifice in relationship to sacred space and the image of God. This is the sort of material that I’ve got slated for a follow-up book to The Unseen Realm. (No idea when I’ll start that, but I’ve taken lots of notes). Leviticus is fascinating … and I’ll be mentioning that book again in an upcoming announcement in January.
Interesting stuff. On page 153 of the HTR link he says:
” Other passages add yet anotherconcern to this notion. The problem with these three sins-idolatry, sexual transgression,and murder-and the reason that they bring about exile, is that God so abhors them that God cannot and will not abide in a land saturated with the residue left by their performance”
It’s these exact three transgressions that you will find in rabbinic text listed as those that one must forfeit his life rather than commit them.
wow – interesting.
The HTR article “Pure Violence: Sacrifice and Defilement in Ancient Israel” is very helpful, especially in light of being heavily influenced by Wenham myself. I believe the metaphorical aspect of sacrifice deepens one’s understanding. This, coupled with the notion of ‘imitating the LORD’ as His “imagers” in the Levitical process, supports the “on earth as in heaven” biblical theological paradigm which you helpfully draw on in your Divine Council work. That moral defilement of idolatry, sexual transgression, and murder served as a “nemesis” to the sacrifices by threatening the departure of God’s presence among His People is key. However, I really appreciated Klawans pointing out the joyful and productive natures of the daily offerings of the People as an aspect of maintaining their blessed communion with the LORD in their midst.
it’s good stuff – who says Leviticus isn’t interesting theology?
This was a great read, thank you. I do think the points raised are important ones (mainly that the systems of purification and sacrifice should be viewed as symbolic and central to the ideas of imitating God and maintaining the divine presence in the midst of the nation). I wonder if New Testament Hebrews still thought of the systems that way (if this was true). Since such a long time had passed between both worlds (Tabernacle days vs. 2nd Temple days). For example, the writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 10:4) in unpacking the meaning of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, seems to think of the daily offerings (or any?) and animal sacrifice as *mainly* for the purposes of correcting or reversing the effects of sin (the very view of sacrifice Klawans claims is the most widespread among scholars and is arguing against.) Hebrews 10:4 seems to have the widespread view in mind: the blood of animals was mainly an attempt to remove sin. But if Klawans’ conclusion is to be taken seriously (i.e. sacrifices are productive with the goal of attracting the deity and grave sins undo this work, not the other way around) then where does that leave verses like Hebrew 10:4?
Depends what “remove sin” means. In the OT, it would mean “remove defilement from sacred space,” not remove moral offense between the sinner and God. If for example (see my reply to Epictetus) deliberate sin could not be atoned for in the OT, then that puts a new spin on the whole “the blood of bulls and goats was not efficacious” idea – only the blood of Christ (cp. the Passover lamb) would be effective for delivering the sinner from the just punishment of sin.
Anyway, this whole thing has a lot of layers. The above is just illustrative of how Hebrews 10:4 might be talked about in light of what Klawans and other Leviticus specialists have brought to light about the sacrificial system.
Dr. Heiser you’re right there are a lot of layers! I keep thinking about how Klawans said that the priest stands in for God and the animals for the people (possible illustration of God’s complete control over life). Then you make the connection between Christ standing in for all (OT) priests and being, himself, the sacrifice and it’s kinda mind blowing. Especially in the context of attracting God’s presence and repelling God’s presence (via moral sin). Christ becomes the one who intercedes for God to draw near and the one whose death keeps God near since Christ’s sacrifice is so perfect that no moral failure could repel God in its presence.
Hello, Dr. Heiser
It’s fortuitous that you’re discussing sacrifices and purity laws today as that has been a recent spate of my reading. I’ve read and re-read much of what you listed by Jonathan Klawans, including his book on sacrifice and supersessionism – very good stuff. Anyways, right now I’m in the middle of Baruch Levine’s “In the Presence of the Lord” and N.T. Wright’s tome “Faithfulness of God.” They all dovetail with the notion of sacrifice, first and foremost, as a means of invocation, attraction, and making present (amnamesis) the Deity and the role purity as in maintaining or driving away that presence. Very cool.
Anyhow, I also had a question I’ve been waiting to ask: Levine spends a part of his book attacking the so-called covenantal perspective of sacrifice epitomized by Robertson-Smith – namely, that sacrifices solemnize and re-enact covenantal/familial bonds with blood, curses, and blessings. Sacrifices then, at least partially, are amnameses of the original convenantal oaths connected to the motif that everyone agrees on – namely, invocation and attraction. At least in my experience, the covenantal view sometimes adds the idea that invocation is achieved through the binding power of the original oath (cf. Stephen Geller’s “Blood Cult: Toward a Literary Theology of the Priestly Work of the Pentateuch” – so sacrifices would be effective through ritual remembrance, i.e., ‘azkarah/zakhor’ – “God remembered x,” relating to the covenant, upon being invoked, generating a divine response).
At the same time, Klawans, Levine (w/ one caveat regarding the additional power of blood as ransom), and Milgrom emphasize that sacrificial offerings, in expiation rites (obviously such notions could not follow with communion or ‘olah-attraction offerings), did not involve any notion of participation or identification of the offerer with the offering so as to eradicate sin, in fulfillment of covenantal curses or oaths, in preparation for the communion meal. Instead, they all emphasize the offering’s death was “only” instrumental in procuring the life-blood used for purification. On the other hand, the dealing with deliberate sin really occurred with the apotropaic ritual of transferring sin to the goat sent to Azazel. This was coupled with the purification of the temple prior to the enthronement of YHWH. The covenantal view, by contrast, takes the identification of offerer with offering much more readily. Levine explicitly separates covenants from sacrificial thinking except insofar as the original covenantal treaties established sacrifices to be offered.
N.T. Wright, by contrast, does seem to read a sacrificial identification in his soteriology. Yet others, taking the emphatic cue from Milgrom et al. that sacrifices did not center on the death of the offering as providing eradication of any kind of transfer, say that NT atonement theology should be seen against the background of apotropaic “scapegoats” alone coupled with separately working motifs of High Priestly blood manipulation (the real function of expiation sacrifices in the OT in their view), invocation meals, and covenant establishment.
In your experience, how should all of this be parsed?
Thank you. I apologize for the long and rambling question. I’ve not yet found a satisfactory answer in the reading I’ve done.
A significant reason for the denying an identification of the offerer with the offering is that, with rare exceptions, the blood of the “sin” (purification) and “guilt” (reparation) offerings was not applied to humans (the offerer) as though it resulted in forgiveness of moral trespass. These offerings purified sacred space / atoned for defilement of that space (i.e., making it possible for priests and worshippers to be on holy ground to whatever extent they were allowed) or sacred objects. Even the Day of Atonement ritual saw the blood applied to the sanctuary. There is also the issue that, for violations of the law, the solution wasn’t really sacrifice, but either restitution or capital punishment. Averbeck argues that the situation wasn’t this black and white, but others take that position. Your note about deliberate sin being transferred to the goat for Azazel would seem undermined by the stipulation that those who sin deliberately (with a “high hand”) would be “cut off from his people” (i.e., the situation wasn’t resolved by the Azazel goat; see Num 15:30-31). But there seems to be a bit of ambiguity here (in the word meaning). Averbeck writes:
“According to Leviticus 4:2–3, “When anyone sins unintentionally [bišgāgâ]” (NRSV), he was to bring a sin offering to the Lord (cf. Lev 4:13, 22, 27; 5:15, 18; 22:14, Num 15:22, 24–29). Some scholars have concluded from this that the sin offering only treated inadvertent sin, that is, sins committed by mistake or sins that were committed not knowing that the particular act was sinful (Milgrom 1991, 228–29). The term translated “unintentionally,” however, means basically “in error” (the verb šgg means “to commit an error, go astray”), not necessarily unintentional or inadvertent (e.g., 1 Sam 26:21; Eccles 5:6), although it could be so (e.g., Num 35:11, 15, 22–23; Josh 20:3, 9). In Leviticus 4–5 it has the sense of someone straying from the commands of the Lord (Lev 4:2), whether unintentionally or intentionally due to temptation. According to Numbers 15 this kind of sin (Num 15:22–29) stands in contrast to sin done “defiantly” (Num 15:30–31; lit. “with a raised hand”). No sin offering would make atonement for the latter kind of sin because it amounted to blaspheming the Lord (Num 15:30) and despising his word (Num 15:31). Such a person should be “cut off from among his people” (Num 15:30–31). However, for “going astray” there was forgiveness available through the sin and guilt offerings (Hartley, 55).”
R. E. Averbeck, “Sacrifices and Offerings,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 719.
I am a little confused as to the issue of “being cut off from the people.” From my recollection, only certain sins have this listed as a consequence. Does this really mean that ANY deliberate sin cannot be atoned for?
The phrase occurs a little over 50 times in the OT (23 in the Torah). Commentators have not reached a consensus on its meaning/implications. Here’s a sampling:
that person shall be cut off from his kin. A penalty formula found in P, which declares that the person’s line will be terminated by God and, possibly, that he will be denied life in the hereafter (see Comment D below). The question needs be addressed here whether such a drastic punishment is inflicted even if the wrongdoing proved accidental, for example, if he is unaware that he is impure or that the meat is sacred. The principle of intention is nowhere expressed in this pericope. Nonetheless, a sound deduction can be made from the sacrificial system in general, and the case of the impure priest in particular. The laws of the purification and reparation offerings make it clear that sacrificial expiation is possible only when the violation of a prohibitive commandment is committed inadvertently or unwittingly (4:2; 5:14, 17). Brazen sins against God are punished by God with excision (Num 15:30–31). As mentioned above, the parallel pericope dealing with the priest who eats sacred food is introduced by the generalization “If any man among your offspring (Aaron’s), while in a state of impurity, intentionally contacts (yiqrab ʾel) any sacred gift that the Israelite people may consecrate to the Lord, that person shall be cut off from before me: I am the Lord” (22:3). Yet the verb qārab, in cultic contexts, implies more than just contact; it connotes unlawful, unauthorized contact and, in most instances, it is better rendered by “encroach.” Thus excision by divine agency is imposed on the impure priest only when he presumptuously comes into contact with holiness. The same must hold here; and we must assume, in consonance with the sacrificial system, which clearly recognizes the principle of intention (chaps. 4–5), that if any person inadvertently eats sacred food, his wrong will be expiated by a purification offering (4:22–35).
“Comment D” is a lengthy excursus on the verb:
Jewish exegesis unanimously holds that kārēt is a divine penalty but is in disagreement concerning its exact nature. Among the major views are the following: (1) childlessness and premature death (Rashi on b. Šabb. 25a); (2) death before the age of sixty (Moʿed Qat. 28a); (3) death before the age of fifty-two (Rabad); (4) being “cut off” through the extirpation of descendants (Ibn Ezra on Gen 17:14); (5) at death, the soul too shall die and will not enjoy the spiritual life of the hereafter (Maim., Teshuva 8.1; cf. Sipre Num 112; Ramban on Lev 20:2). Most moderns, to the contrary, define kārēt either as excommunication or as death by man (e.g., von Rad 1962: 1.264 n. 182). Interestingly, so do the sectaries of the Dead Sea (1QS 8:22–24).
The latter theory can be discounted as soon as the loci of the kārēt are held up to view. All of them fall into the category of fas, not jus, in other words, they are deliberate sins against God, not against man. As the cardinal postulate of the Priestly legislation is that sins against God are punishable by God and not by man (Milgrom 1970a: 5–8), it follows that the punishment of kārēt is executed solely by the deity. There are nineteen cases of kārēt in the Torah, and they can be subsumed under the following categories:
A. Sacred time
1. neglecting the pesaḥ sacrifice (Num 9:13)
2. eating leaven during the maṣṣôt festival (Exod 12:15, 19)
3. working on the Sabbath (Exod 31:14)
4. working or not fasting on Yom Kippur (Lev 23:29, 30)
B. Sacred substance
5. imbibing blood (Lev 7:27; 17:10, 14)
6. eating suet (Lev 7:25)
7. duplicating or misusing sanctuary incense (Exod 30:38)
8. duplicating or misusing sanctuary anointment oil (Exod 30:33)
9. eating of a sacrifice beyond the permitted period, piggûl (Lev 7:18; 19:8)
10. eating of a sacrifice in the state of impurity (Lev 7:20–21)
11. Levites encroaching upon sancta (Num 18:3; cf. 4:15, 19–20)
12. blaspheming (flauntingly violating a prohibitive commandment, Num 15:30–31; cf. Lev 24:15)
C. Purification rituals
13. neglecting circumcision (Gen 17:14; the purification is figurative, Josh 5:9)
14. neglecting purification after contact with the dead (Num 19:13–20)
D. Illicit worship
15. Molech and other forms of idolatry (Lev 20:2–5; Ezek 14:5)
16. consulting the dead (Lev 20:6)
17. slaughtering animals outside the authorized sanctuary (Lev 17:4)
18. sacrificing animals outside the authorized sanctuary (Lev 17:9)
E. Illicit sex
19. effecting forbidden consanguineous and incestuous marriages (Lev 18:27–29)
Thus the rabbinic view that kārēt is a divine penalty is upheld. As for the exact nature of kārēt, two of the five opinions registered above command attention. The first is that kārēt means extirpation (Ibn Ezra; cf. also Tosafot on b. Šabb. 25a), meaning that the offender’s line is terminated. In contrast to the death penalty inflicted by man (yûmat) or God (yāmût), kārēt is not necessarily directed against the person of the sinner. He may live a full life or an aborted one. His death need not be immediate, as would be the case if his execution were the responsibility of a human court. True, the rabbis of the Talmud opt for the definition of kārēt as signifying a premature death (no. 2, above). This view presumes the biblical postulate that each person is allotted a fixed number of years and that if he is worthy he “fulfills his years” (Exod 23:26; Isa 65:20; Pss 39:5; 90:10–11). In the attested cases of premature death in the Torah (Nadab and Abihu, Lev 10; Dathan and Abiram and Korah, Num 16; the plagues in Egypt and in the wilderness, e.g., Exod 11; Num 11–14), however, the term kārēt never occurs. That kārēt, instead, refers to extirpation is supported by the following cases: (1) “May his posterity be cut off (lĕhakrît); may their name be blotted out in the next generation” (Ps 109:13)—this verse is significant because of its parallelism; it both equates kārēt with extirpation and states explicitly that kārēt need not be carried out upon the sinner himself but will affect his descendants. (2) “That the name of the deceased may not disappear (yikkārēt) from his kinsmen” (Ruth 4:10)—Boaz the levir redeems Ruth in order to perpetuate the line of her deceased husband. (3) “May the Lord cut off (yakrēt) from the one who does this all descendants from the tents of Jacob” (Mal 2:12)—there is some doubt that ʿēr wĕʿōneh means “descendants,” but the context clearly speaks of the extirpation of the line. (4) “(Dathan and Abiram and other families) vanished (wayyōʾbĕdû) from the midst of the congregation” (Num 16:33)—although the root kārēt does not occur, it is replaced by the attested synonym ʾābad (e.g., Lev 23:30; Deut 7:24). (5) “The Lord blots out (ûmāḥâ) his name from under heaven” (Deut 29:19)—the context is that of worshiping idols clandestinely. The root kārēt does not occur, but this is a D text and, instead, employs the synonym māḥâ. The crime can only be discerned by God (cf. v 28, Ibn Ezra), and the punishment is extirpation. Furthermore, kārēt, as extirpation, would be in consonance with the Priestly doctrine that God engages in collective responsibility: whereas man can only punish the sinner, God may also direct his wrath at the sinner’s family and community.
Further illumination is provided by the context of the Malachi passage, cited above (no. 3). The priests are accused of scorning God’s name by offering defiled food on the altar and preparing a blind, lame, or sick animal for sacrifice (Mal 1:6–8). As punishment, the Lord states, “I will strew dung upon your faces, the dung of your festal sacrifices, and you shall be carried out to its [heap]” (Mal 2:3). A Hittite text, “Instructions for Temple Officials,” offers a striking parallel: “If … the kitchen servant … gives the god to eat from an unclean (vessel), to such a man the gods will give dung (and) urine to eat (and) to drink” (ANET3 209, lines 600–18). Furthermore, Malachi’s kārēt penalty, which the Lord will impose on the offender and his descendants, is precisely matched in this Hittite text: “does the god take revenge on him alone? Does he not take revenge on his wife, his children, his descendants, his kin, his slaves, his slave-girls, his cattle (and) sheep together with his crop and will utterly destroy him?” (ANET3 208, lines 35–38). These resemblances (and others) between the two documents are so remarkable that the possibility must be entertained that this Hittite text lay before Malachi (Segal 1983–84). Be that as it may, the comparison between the two clarifies and defines the exact meaning of kārēt: extirpation of the offender’s entire line.
The other possible meaning of kārēt is that the punishment is indeed executed upon the sinner but only after his death: he is not permitted to rejoin his ancestors in the afterlife (no. 5, above). This meaning for kārēt is supported by the idiom that is its antonym: neʾĕsap ʾel ‘be gathered to one’s [kin, fathers]’ (e.g., Num 20:24; 27:13; 31:2; Gen 15:15; 47:30; Judg 2:10). Particularly in regard to the patriarchs, the language of the Bible presumes three stages concerning their death: they die, they are gathered to their kin, and they are buried (cf. Gen 25:8, 17; 35:29; 49:33). “It (the term “gathered”) designates something which succeeds death and precedes sepulture, the kind of thing which may hardly be considered as other than reunion with the ancestors in Sheol” (Alfrink 1948: 128). This biblical term has its counterpart in the contiguous river civilizations of Egypt—for example, “going to one’s Ka”—and of Mesopotamia—for instance, “joining the ghosts of one’s ancestors” (Wold 1978)—all of which is evidence for a belief in the afterlife that permeated the ancient world and the concomitant fear that a wrathful deity might deprive man of this boon. This interpretation would be in keeping with kārēt as an individual, not a collective, retribution. Finally, that a person is cut off from ʿammāyw ‘his kin’ implies the family sepulcher in which his kin has been gathered.
It is difficult to determine which of these two meanings is correct. Because they are not mutually exclusive, it is possible that kārēt implies both of them, in other words, no descendants in this world and no life in the next.
Whether kārēt be defined as extirpation or denial of afterlife, or both, it illuminates two cruxes of kārēt. Lev 20:2–3 reads “… [whoever] gives any of his offspring to Molech shall be put to death; the people of the land shall pelt him with stones. And I will set my face against that man and will cut him off (wĕhikrattî) from among his people.” The accepted interpretation is that if man does not put the Molech worshiper to death, God will (e.g., Abravanel). But the two sentences in the text are not alternatives; they are to be taken conjunctively: death plus kārēt awaits the criminal. This means that kārēt is not synonymous with death but is another form of punishment that only the deity can execute. Thus extirpation or premature death or both all fit the bill. The same conjunction of judicial death plus kārēt is prescribed for the Sabbath violator (Exod 31:14). Again, it implies that between them God and man will terminate the criminal: man will put him to death and God will extirpate his line and/or deny him life in the hereafter.
Furthermore, one can readily understand why the Molech and Sabbath violations are given the added punishment of death by human agency. Whereas the kārēt cases assume that the sin takes place in private so that only the deity is aware of the crime, the Molech and Sabbath violations are performed in public and, unless punished at once by judicial execution, they may demoralize the entire community.
Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (vol. 3; Anchor Yale Bible; New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 424, 457–460.
Excursus 1: That Person Shall Be Cut Off (chap. 7)
We encounter, for the first time in Leviticus, explicit references to the penalty of being “cut off” in chapter 7 (vv. 20–21, 25–27). This penalty is usually formulated as follows: ve-nikhretah ha-nefesh ha-hiʾ me-ʾameihah, “That person shall be cut off from his kin,” or similar wording. As a penalty specified for a variety of religious offenses, it is distinctive to the priestly texts. In rabbinic literature the penalty is called karet, “cutting off.”
To understand its priestly function, the nonlegal background of the penalty of karet must first be investigated. On the most elemental level, “cutting” a person off is a metaphor borrowed from the felling of trees and other forms of vegetation. Such actions are often conveyed by the verb k-r-t. A metaphor of this type is preserved in the words attributed to Jeremiah’s enemies, who plotted against his life: “Let us destroy the tree with its sap,/Let us cut him off (nikhretennu) from the land of the living./That his name be remembered no more!” In a similar way, Isaiah of the exile used the metaphor of the tree in reassuring those foreigners and eunuchs who had attached themselves to the people of Israel that they would be redeemed along with the Judean exiles: “Let not the foreigner say, … ‘The Lord will keep me apart from His people’;/And let not the eunuch say,/‘I am a withered tree.’/For thus said the Lord: ‘… /I will give them, in My house and within My walls,/A monument and a name/Better than sons and daughters./I will give them an everlasting name/Which [literally] shall not be cut off (ʾasher loʾ yikkaret).’ ”
Job provides an interesting variation on this theme. He contrasts the fate of a tree with that of a person: “There is hope for a tree;/If it is cut down (ʾim yikkaret) it will renew itself;/Its shoots will not cease./If its roots are old in the earth,/And its stump dies in the ground,/At the scent of water it will bud/And produce branches like a sapling./But mortals languish and die;/Man expires; where is he?” Job’s depressing contrast hardly invalidates the graphic sight of a tree cut down and left as a decaying stump. The point is that, once felled, most trees do not grow again, certainly not to their earlier stature.
In priestly literature, the penalty of karet was understood to include a series of related punishments at the hand of God, ranging from the immediate death of an offender, as in 20:17, to his premature death at a later time, and even to the death of his descendants. In Mishnah Sanhedrin 9:6 and Mishnah Keritot 1:2, this penalty is characterized as mitah bi-ydei shamayim, “death at the hands of heaven.” Since in 20:21 karet is mentioned in the same context as childlessness (ʿariri), there is the implication that it took that course as well.
Some have pointed to the curse pronounced over the house of Eli, the priest of Shiloh, whose sons offended God. In 1 Samuel 2:33 God decrees that although Eli’s descendants will not be “cut off” from the priestly office altogether, none of them will reach old age. The statement is best rendered, “all the increase in your house shall die while still in their prime.”
This introduces another possible aspect of the penalty of karet: being “cut off” from a particular office or status. Thus, in 1 Kings 2:45, David is assured that literally “no person of your line shall be ‘cut off’ from the throne of Israel,” It has also been suggested that at times karet took the form of banishment or ostracism. In the ancient Near East, especially in sparsely inhabited areas, banishment would often have resulted in death, or at least in the extinction of a family or clan as a social unit. Hagar and her son Ishmael almost died after their banishment, as we read in Genesis 21:16f., and they were only spared by God’s intervention. The wilderness is known in Leviticus 16:22 as the land “cut off” (ʾerets gezerah) from the living, which expresses the same theme in other words.
An interesting case of the effects of ostracism may be seen in the aftermath of the internecine war between the league of Israelite tribes and the tribe of Benjamin, as told in Judges 20. After avenging a Benjamite atrocity, the other tribes swore not to allow their sons to marry Benjamite women. Later, they experienced remorse, fearing that if this ban continued for very long, a whole tribe would be “missing,” “cut off” (nigdaʿ), or “wiped out.”
Against the background of metaphor and social reality, we may now focus on the more distinctly priestly applications of the penalty of karet. The priestly conception of God was pervaded by an awareness that He punishes offenders severely for violations of religious law. Priestly writers appropriated widespread notions of death at the hand of God and saw this process at work in specific situations. Uzzah was struck down for merely touching the ark, according to 2 Samuel 6:5–8. Two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, were blasted by God’s fire because they offered “hateful” incense, recounted in the episode of Leviticus 10:1f. Korah and his band were suddenly destroyed for attempting to usurp the priesthood from Aaron’s clan, as we read in Numbers 16–17.
In priestly law, the certainty of God’s punitive wrath was institutionalized in the penalty of karet. It was stipulated for the following offenses: (1) violation of the Sabbath and improper observance of festivals and holy days; (2) violations of certain laws of purity;9 (3) certain prohibited sexual unions, also regarded as a form of impurity; (4) cultic offenses, such as eating blood and fat and mishandling sacrificial substances;11 (5) failure to circumcise one’s male children at the age of eight days, as ordained in Genesis 17:14 and Leviticus 12:3.
In the Sabbath law of Exodus 31:14–15, we observe a curious interaction of human and divine punishment that helps to clarify the penalty known as karet. We are told twice that one who desecrates the Sabbath “shall be put to death” by human agency, which is what the Hebrew formula mot yummat means. In Numbers 15:32–33 we actually read about one Israelite who was apprehended gathering wood on the Sabbath and was put to death by the congregation, on explicit instructions from God to Moses. How is it, then, that Exodus 31:14–15 stipulates karet as the punishment for violating the Sabbath? The accepted explanation is that if the community failed to punish the offender or failed to uncover the offense, God would mete out punishment in His own way and in His own good time.
The policy that a person, family, or tribe would be “cut off” and banished from the larger community because of an offense on the human level translated itself into the perception that God would similarly “cut off” those who had offended Him, if human agencies had allowed such offenses to go unpunished.
Baruch A. Levine, Leviticus (The JPS Torah Commentary; Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 241–242.
Thanks. As a side note, that too was what really impressed me about Klawans – namely, re-emphasizing sacrifice as something altogether more joyful and simple (bringing about the presence of God) than what it is sometimes caricatured to be.
So, how should we see sacrificial language when applied to the Crucifixion? Clearly, there are ancillary notions of ransom from slavery and purification by his blood in the NT – which are sacrificial.
But there is also the idea of Jesus’ identification with humanity and humanity’s participation in him through Israel, taking on our corruption and death to pull us through into life, the angelomorphic life of the divine council as the “new Adam,” whether that is articulated through assuming Israel’s sins through the Torah (N.T. Wright) or enacting covenantal curses (S. Hahn). I know some credit this mutation of sacrificial understanding to the new theology of Jewish martyrs or the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, representing Jerusalem which took on the sins of Israel prior to the Exile, who were visualized in cultic terms.
But, this would seem to imply there was little actual similarity in theology between the purifying rationale for ancient sacrifices and participation-based rationale for the Crucifixion, reducing sacrificial language to simply language and not really describing the NT’s soteriology. There wouldn’t have to be a one-to-one correspondence, but there seems to be very little correspondence at all.
In regards to epictetus’s point concerning azazel, what is your opinion on the word Avon (iniquity/punishment) appearing in leviticus 16.21? The lemma seems to refer to an initial activity that is willful/deliberate in nature (I say initial because the word could be referring to the act or it’s metonymic, deserved consequence). Because Hebrew semantics surrounding this noun tend toward metonymy, you can end up with two pieces in view : the negative action and it’s (justly) negative reaction. So when “punishment/judgement” is the translation that fits the context, you typically have two “avons”, avonim 🙂 , provided by the narrative. Interestingly, to me, klawans’ work referring to the “big three” that repel the divine presence seem pertinent when discussing this word.
With that in mind read the warning in leviticus 18.24-30 in light of these three examples of the lemma avon. (Additionally note the connection between the noun and land/geographical space)
– Cain + murder = exile. (Gen 4.13)
avon1=murder—avon2=exile to nod from ???
– Amorites + presumably defiling activities (the big three? ) not reaching their full (yet)=(soon-to-be) exile/vomiting up.
Avon1=crap-ton of bad stuff, but principally idolatry — avon2 = destruction from the land
– Lot and fam remaining in Sodom + about to open can of consuming fire = possibly getting consumed by the iniquity of the city.
Avon1=sexual sin — destruction of/from the land
So many more interesting examples, but what are your thoughts in regard to avon and intentionality/unintentionality?
I note that Klawans’ ebook is on Google, and has Zero reviews. one of you more skilled than I might want to do him a favor and write one.
His A Part, as recited in the HTR article, leaves me with a lot of questions, which is a “job well done”. I can find a lot to object to but he admits its not a perfect model to explain all sacrifice forms. Still a great effort at breaking embedded bias.
Part B to me is more interesting and the article has set me to studying that more. I’ll be keyword-searching the Google online version to trigger more rigor
thanks Mike. good find on important matters for those that take the sacred texts seriously
Here’s an academic review available online: