Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Random Biblical Thoughts Part 3
The proper offerings for sacrifice in Leviticus are supposed to be 'without blemish'. This is a very significant fact for Christians, though it's original meaning for Jews is unclear. It may have to do with the perfection that is required to stand before God, or it may simply have to do with bringing the best one has to offer.
Everything is scaled according to what one has to offer. If one doesn't have a bull or goat or lamb, a dove is acceptable. If no dove, grain offerings are possible. What matters is the spirit in which the sacrifice is brought.
The priest or rabbi in Judaism stands for the entire community. The Rabbi during the Days of Awe confesses the community's sins as if they were his or her own. This has Christic significance, certainly. It also speaks to the communal nature of selfhood, as found in the Bible. Who you are is in part the community.
The offerings in Leviticus include both sin and guilt offerings. Humanity needs both. We need to be relieved of our sin and the subjective burden of our sin. I need God to take away my sin AND the guilt of my sin.
Aaron and his descendants are the priests. Aaron was descended from Levi. Yet not all Levites are descended from Aaron. Non-Aaronic Levites have some priestly duties as well. All priests are Levites, not all Levites are priests, though all have some religious role to play. It is important to remember that Levites lost their tribal status when they became set apart for religious duties. They had to be available to serve all the tribes, and so could have not tribal status of their own.
Much of the Levitical law is about keeping separate symbols of death and symbols of life. This is why women are sent out during menstruation and why meat cannot be eaten with milk. It is also probably behind some of the prohibitions against homosexuality, interesting enough. Other parts of the law are functional, they probably grew up because they tended to make people healthier. No doubt separating lepers or the injunction against pork has this background. The two are connected. Obviously that which prolongs life would be come to seen as in line with a God of Life. When examining the law we can affirm the underlying theological principle without affirming the specific laws that express that principle. Life-affirmation is absolutely vital, I think. It is the true genius of the Bible: that God is Life alive. Yet affirming only the principle and not the law is tricky. The sacredness of sex, and the need to take control of the sexual impulse is righteous. Blaise attitudes about sex are destructive in ways that proponents of such attitudes rarely comprehend, especially among the poor.
Much of the Levitical law is brutal and distasteful. It is clear that good principles are being badly applied. The attribution of many of these laws to God is clearly misguided. The God of life sounds often more in love with death in many of these passages.
The Passover has roots as a harvest religion but became associated with the escape from Egypt. What is the interplay of life and death here? It is interesting to think about. Passover is about a death being, but the one who directs his steps is Life Divine. What does all this mean?
On the Day of Atonement the priest was supposed to sacrifice two goats. One was sacrificed to the Lord. Over the other the sins of the people were confessed and this one was sent out 'to Azazel'. This is one of the great mysteries of the Bible. Certainly this is a scapegoating scene, and the goat sent out is called the scapegoat, so and Girardian theologians should and do have a field day with that passage. Azazel may simply be an reference to the goats place as scapegoat, but few scholars think this way. It is more than likely some kind of evil spirit, a primitive version of the satan trope. Azazel may have been an ancient desert god and the practice of sacrificing to it got carried over into the Biblical tradition. How interesting, that one of the earliest forms of embodied evil in the Bible is associated with 'scapegoat'. It has connections to satan's later role as accuser, no doubt. Leviticus 16 is a passage I keep coming back to, puzzling over. There is something cosmic, and important here. Some vital lesson I only scratch the surface of. Who or what is Azazel?