“How Repentance Became Biblical” by David A. Lambert

RepentDavid A. Lambert. How Repentance Became Biblical: Judaism, Christianity, & the Interpretation of Scripture. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015, 280 pp., $74.00 (hardcover).

David Lambert (PhD Harvard University) is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina’s Department of Religious Studies at Chapel Hill. A brief view of his previous publications highlight his interest in penitential practices especially in the Dead Sea Scrolls and New Testament. In How Repentance Became Biblical, Lambert aims to draw out a common interpretive tendency among biblical critics, namely to read “repentance” into the Bible with a “penitential lens”. The penitential lens, though, is based on ontological principals thrust backward through history: human subjectivity, virtue, didacticism, and autonomy. Throughout the work Lambert highlights these ontological assumptions “to witness ourselves reading a variety of texts and… gamin insight into the interpretive forms cultural hegemony assumes” (6).  Opposing these ontological assumptions, he focuses on language, comparison, and other choices in the interpreter’s present to draw out alternatives to the penitential lens. Consequently his focus in How Repentance Became Biblical is he focuses upon three elements of texts commonly connected to penitential rites: to identify penitential readings and their ontological underpinnings, explore alternative readings, and examine developments in discourse of biblical literature which brought about “repentance”.

The book is divided in to three parts: Rites, Language and Pedagogy, and Religion. Parts I and II identity part of the Bible which tend to receive penitential treatment and provides alternative interpretations. Part III shifts to early Jewish sectarianism and the rise of repentance as a concept.

Chapter One focuses on fasting, a rite commonly associated with penitence, and suggests an alternative approach: “fasting is an integrated physical-emotional response to suffering, not an outward signifier of repetance”, and directly appeals to divine mercy (17). His modern-day example is helpful as notes fasting in the Hebrew Bible as more akin to modern-day hunger strikes, fasting as a manifestation of affliction with concrete effect on those who perceive it. Lambert effectively demonstrates a major tendency to read the Bible with a penitential lens.

Chapter Two explores prayer, aptly noting its common association as penitential. Alternatively Lambert illustrates the logic of appeal behind prayer. Prayer reinforces Yahweh’s self-interest through “a mutually beneficial relationship, between the powerful and the powerless” (35). Yahweh, argues Lambert, is more interested in constancy than  sincerity or subjective quality of faith, and sin is often times nothing more than “a rhetorical strategy aimed at defusing likely criticism” (38). Portraying cries of people as desperate rather than external expression of internal repentance, Lambert also provides a valuable reconfiguration of the Judges cycle as sin-oppression-outcry-champion, a cycle focusing more on the power dynamics, the logical of appeal, and self-interest of both Israel and Yahweh. Thus, prayer is not meant “to mitigate its pain… through control over self but through social engagement – verbal articulation” (49). As I highlighted in this summary, I greatly appreciate his reconfiguration of the pre-monarchic Judges cycle as it avoids the modern penitential lens and permits a clearer view of ancient Israelite reality.

Chapter Three demonstrates how the articulation of sin, or confession, is not always about providing a statement of repentance; rather, it may be seen from three aspects: “confession as the realization of an entity’s status, as initiation of a particular social, relational state, and as participation in a broader restitutive process” (53). Lambert suggests, for example, that Joseph’s brothers confess their guilt not due to the self in them, but as declaration of existence in a state of liability and diminishment, things implicitly connected to their social standing and reality. Even in Leviticus, articulation of sin of not about consciousness of sin but the sense of danger with the presence of sin. Even David’s confession of sin to Nathan is about recognizing his diminishment and carving out a place for Yahweh to be in power. All-in-all, Lamberts alternative reading draws out the power dynamics present through the articulation of sin.

Chapter Four sifts through uses of shuv, a term commonly understood as “repent”, by reading the term as a material return, more like an appeal with a less mediated, metaphorical understanding of the inner state of repentance. This constitutes shuv as an operative image outside of covenant, especially active in the appeal and oracular inquiry. By briefly demonstrating shuv‘s relationship to materialistic, prophetic inquiry throughout the Hebrew Bible, he demonstrates early prophetic figures, Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah, utilizing shuv as a physical return to prophetic inquiry (Amos), Yahwistic cult sites (Hosea), and rhetoric of appeal to Yahweh (Isaiah). Jeremiah and the DH record a shift in shuv as a cessation of sin, a state of being rather than act of internal repentance.

Chapter Five re-frames the pedagogic evaluation of prophetic utterance by applying to the theory of divine anthropopathy to Yahweh and prophecy in the Hebrew Bible. Often times through passionate anger, Lambert argues that “oracles themselves… stake out the power of Israel’s god and the contours of his reign, his very identity, as well as the reasons for people’s current state” (101). He provides support with the Mari letters, in which the prophet’s devouring of a living lamb materializes the anthropopathy of the deity’s anger and promised devastation at the city, just like Moses’ destroying the golden calf and Samuel destroying Agag. Lambert’s analysis of Moses as Yahweh’s warrior in Exodus,  the DH rendering of prophetic words of doom with no reversal, Isaiah’s words of doom as words of power, and Jonah’s parody of prophecy effectively highlights prophecy in relation to power, namely the anthropopathism portrayed by prophets that attaches collective guilt through words of power. Problematic, though, is the historical disconnect between the letter from Mari (18th century BCE) and the historical kernels in Exodus and 1 Samuel. If Lambert is going to connect such distant literature through the phenomenon of prophecy, he must demonstrate that their was no shift or development in prophetic utterance for nearly one thousand years.

Having considered and critiqued the influence of a penitential lens through practices (fasting, logic of appeal, and articulation of sin), linguistic terms (shuv), and public address (pedagogy), Lambert proceeds to the articulation of redemptive expectations as communal definition, in contrast to tendencies to explore moral demands upon individuals in a community. Redemption in Jubilees, for example, aims not at redemption through the agent of repentance but God’s direct  transformation and re-creation of the community. Jubilees does, however, hint toward individual liability. Likewise, the community imagined by the Dead Sea Scrolls did not take on moral/religious desideratum for community, but assumed a transformation through things like the hadayot and immersion. Lambert’s analysis of the early Jesus movement compares the Gospels and Q to emphasize that the original “baptism of repentance” was about repentance as the consequence of baptism. Even Jesus’ ministry was not about repentance but “one of joining Jesus, attaching oneself to his body of followers” (147). Paul echoes early ideas of “repentance” as a consequence and begins to expand this idea with Hellenistic thought. All-in-all, the notion of divine re-creation is consistent in these texts. Lambert challenges readers of the New Testament to reconsider the penitential lens with clearly explained and explored alternative interpretation.

Finally, Chapter 7 locates the emergence of a “repentance” concept within 1st and 2nd century CE Jewish and Christian literature as an offspring of Hellenistic metanoia. Throughout the works of Philo and Plutarch, meanoia is the internal pain of mind that causes one to change or rethink. Philo and Joesph and Aseneth take the concept of repentance with hypostatization. Even terms like shuv become similar to menanoia resulting in the term as representing “repentance”. Rabbinic Judaism aquires repents, thus, as the concept of teshuva, which requires one to change via their own cognition. Early Christianity also comes to understand Jesus as the hypostatization of the figure Metanoia. From Hellenistic moral philosophy to Christianity and Judaism, repentance became an internal acts of change, and idea that is often, unfortunately, universalized.

As I hope is evident through this review, Lambert’s nuanced analysis explores the multitude of historical contours that tend to be flattened through a penitential lens. With clarity he brings to the fore problematic readings of the Bible and also offers a variety of alternative readings aligned more closely to the texts. Challenging the current presuppositions of mainstream scholarship and laypeople, his book is groundbreaking. Akin to Jeffrey Stackert’s A Prophet Like Moses, which is now cited in most books I have read about Hebrew Bible composition, David Lambert’s work has the potential to become integral to the forward motion of biblical studies. After all, he challenges the mere idea of repentance as a concept throughout the Hebrew Bible, something that has been essential to Christianity and Judaism for centuries.

Additionally, I greatly appreciate his work with regard to the history of biblical interpretation. His dissemination of discourse and development of biblical interpretation from the oldest portions of Hebrew Bible to 3rd century Rabbinic literature issue a starting point for many future studies on the history of biblical interpretation. In addition to critiquing and answer questions, Lambert’s work raises important questions that potentially undermine (challenge?) religious traditions and the frameworks within which they operate.

Finally, with regard to framework, he takes a great step forward in moving beyond theoretical issues with “religion” as a term for discussing the ancient world. He notes that “even while this Enlightenment-inflected definition [of religion] has been challenged on theoretical ground, it continues to inform interpretation” (121). His work explores the validity of repentance throughout biblical literature does, though, provide an alternative framework which does not assume that accounts of redemptive expectations are rooted in repentance. With this framework, I look forward to seeing how other scholars utilize it and, perhaps, reconfigure it to better describe ancient Israelite religion rather than re-describing with modern assumptions.

Especially for research issues pertain to biblical interpretation, I highly recommend How Repentance Became Biblical. The invigorating discussion and innovative analysis holds potential to significantly impact the field of biblical studies. Even if you don’t have time to read the whole book, at least be sure you understand the arguments and ideas set forth by Lambert, as you will likely encounter them in the future.


Jewish Ideological and Scriptural Literalism

Recently, James McGrath reposted Daniel McClellan’s comment on the myth of scriptural literalism. McGrath conveniently created meme of one of McClellan’s comments, on which I will comment.

I must say that I love the succinctness of McClellan’s comment. However, one issue I’ve noticed through following discussion about scriptural literalism, or ideological literalism, is the narrow scope towards Christianity. This is a place where, perhaps, Jewish-Christian dialogue in necessary. In his recently translated work The Jews and the Bible (published in French in 2012 and English in 2015), Attias explores historical relationship between the Hebrew Bible and Jews. Near the end of his work, he comments on how modern Israel’s use of the Bible.

What the average Israeli saw ultimately as an innocent text, which he had got to know at school as the founding document of the people and a component of his identity, suddenly morphed into highly explosive material in the hands of sorcerer’s apprentices all the more alarming for their extreme religiosity. “The Bible ceased to be a common heritage, and from a book that in large measure united people it became one that separated them.” – Jean-Christophe Attias in “The Jews and the Bible”

Why does this matter to discussions of ideological literalism? As he notes, the Bible, which had originally united people, separated people as their own ideological ideas developed. This resulted in some extreme religiosity (perhaps scriptural/ideological literalism, or fundamentalism?) that splintered the unity of Jews. It happened within a specific cultural context and was the result of claiming the Bible’s fundamental status due to a certain ideology. Of course, even to this day the effects are felt in the complexities of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict.

Thus, “Scriptural literalism”, only made possible by ideological literalism, is not merely a Christian phenomenon. Although I wholeheartedly believe that others recognize this, it must be engaged with and included in discussion. Jewish history, which is often closely knitted with concurrent Christian history, contains primary examples of the struggle about how to understand the Bible. What is its place? Too what extent is it, to use the words of Attias, the locus of identity? What happens when the Bible becomes the locus of identity? These are all issues that Judaism has dealt with and may potentially inform and effect how Christianity deals with the issue of ideological fundamentalism and literalism.

Secondary Application of the Conflict Myth in Joshua 6-7 (Part III)

This is Part III of a series analyzing Joshua, especially chapters 6-7, and how the conflict myth in utilized. If you have not read the first posts, click here for Part I and Part II.

Having determined, in Part II, Gods power and strength to direct Israel into Canaan was proclaimed in Joshua 2 by Rahab, who references traditions of the exodus in the Psalms with a conflict myth spin, this particular post will explore how Israel is legitimized and the ideological implications.

The author does so via means of secondary application and legitimizes Israel within two contexts: literary and social. In other words, because God is legitimized to act as he is, Israelites in the book of Joshua are justified to hold such great confidence in God, one dimension of many. Additionally, because God is legitimized to act as he is, the author justifies political action within his own context. The following will go into greater detail as to how the two are active and utilize the conflict myth.

First, the literary context justifies Israel to take Jericho in Joshua 6. Because God is legitimized by the conflict myth, the power represented by God’s defeat of the Sea, the conflict myth proclaimed by Rahab, is applied to the Israelites. Israel in and of itself has no power apart from God, an idea also presented from the outlook of Joshua 1-2. Their power is explained, at least through Rahab, by God as their support, the one who defeated the Sea. The secondary application of the conflict myth enables and encourages Israelites to take Jericho in full confidence. Beyond Israel, secondary application shows the weakness deities foreign to Israel, hence showing the weakness of other gods and thereby those who worship them.

Second, the social context justifies Israel to fight against foreign political entities, though this is complicated. David Howard notes “that portions of the book were written in Joshua’s day and that it was substantially complete by the time of David at the latest” , with much other scholarship dating composition to the time of Josiah or later (1998, 30). Regardless of the specific date, it is clear that secondary application of the conflict motif to legitimize Israel would have provided confidence for the Judeans/Israelites of the historian’s social context. it is apparent that Joshua’s rhetoric legitimizes Israel’s actions and obedience to God’s commands via the application of the conflict motif to God.

At least in Joshua’s final composition, the conflict myth is utilized to legitimize Israel’s actions and the Torah commandments. This is important because the Torah, although multi-faceted, contains an ideology of obeying God. Thus the historian and compiler of Joshua, by legitimizing God, is able to legitimize Torah for his socio-political and literary context.

I suggest that this legitimization of God as the ruler explains why Israel was defeated at Ai and victorious at Jericho. While both draw emphasis towards obedience of God, the obedience and legitimization of the people via secondary application is rooted in the conflict myth presented by Rahab (Josh 2:10). The conflict myth is also utilized to show why Israel should create a memorial to God (Josh 4:23) and circumcise the new generation (5:1). When the people disobey God, as at Ai, they are opposing the god who defeated the Sea and established his kingdom. In contrast, when the people obey God, as at Jericho, they are supporting the god who defeated the Sea and established his kingdom.

Part IV will explore the implications of such a reading for the modern context.

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The Old Testament and “Principles” of Theology

At the moment, I am reading through Catherine Bell’s (1953-2008) introduction to ritual theory, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions (1997). In discussing ritual density, namely, why certain historical periods have more or less ritual activity, she comments on ancient Judaism and its orthopraxic nature. Her observation draws out a serious issue in how the Hebrew Bible tends to be approached, especially from within Christian circles.

“Although ancient Judaism distinguished itself from its neighbors by its avowal of monotheism, one God over and instead of many gods, this idea was not understood as a theological principle so much as a rule about who and what one could worship” (192).

In other words, ancient Judaism, and hence its remnants within the Hebrew Bible, cannot, and should not, be understood as abiding by timeless orthodoxical principles. While their principles may properly be understood as time timeless orthopractic principles for those in adherence to the Bible, reading the Hebrew Bible as orthodoxical principles is to do injustice to the text. A hermeneutic of orthodoxy, reading the Bible as an authoritative set of true beliefs, will result in different conclusions than a hermeneutic of orthopraxy, reading the Bible as an authoritative set of prescribed actions via the medium of text.

A hermeneutic of orthodoxy quickly and easily abandons issues of contradictory statements, statements likely present due to the diachronic composition of the Hebrew Bible. In response to such contradictions, or at least seeming contradictions, readers must maneuver around the “timeless orthodoxic principles” and find a way to unite them. Of course, this is not  a simple process because the Hebrew Bible isn’t full of orthodoxic principles needing to be formed into a synchronic theology. However, a hermeneutic of orthopraxy can help to solve issues found within the orthodoxic approach. Rather than synchronizing abstract concepts from various contexts, the orthopractic approach attempts to synchronize various practices via their timeless, dynamic, and intricate symbolic imagery.

Bell’s example of the monotheistic nature of ancient Judaism is a perfect example. Read as orthodoxy, the declaration of Yahweh as the only god simply declares a fact. Yet this must be read in context of verses like Exodus 20:3, which declare that one must not worship other gods. Hence, an orthodoxic hermeneutic must find a way to maintain continuity  between the existence of one god and the existence of multiple gods.

From an orthopractic hermeneutic, utilizing the same example, the reader need not synchronize to contrasting elements of the Hebrew Bible; rather, the reader needs only to recognize that the declaration of Yahweh as the only god is more or less a declaration of how one should live in practice. Thus, even with Yahweh as the only god, one is still able to recognize the existence of other gods. But this is only possible through a hermeneutic focused the orthopraxy of the Hebrew Bible.

This is an important and absolutely essential element of biblical interpretation that does justice to the biblical text, reading it within its own context.

Holiness in Leviticus 5:1-4

As I frequently mention, it is unfortunate that people often overlook literature regarding cult practices because it does disservice to the text by ignoring the context. Hence it is essential to recognize the text’s context and proceed by translating the concepts into the 21st century. In agreement with Yizhaq Feder, “perhaps the nonverbal symbolism of the sin-offering, though relatively crude and unarticulate, was the seed from which all of these more elaborate theological discourses would emerge” (Feder, 260). In essence Feder suggests that the ancient sacrificial system of ancient Israel was the beginning of the major theological issues of the 1st and 2nd millennium, such as Jewish and Christian concepts of debt to a deity. Thus, in order to fully understand the major theological issues of this era, it is important to understand the seed of the theological discourse. One of such places is the first four verses of Leviticus 5’s discussion of guilt offerings.

Within Leviticus 5:1-4, the editor presents four basic things requiring a guilt offerings in a chiasm.

A1. Not bearing witness in court (5:1)
B1. Touching animal uncleanliness (5:2)
B2. Touching human uncleanliness (5:3)
A2. Making an oath thoughtlessly (5:4)

A1 is connected to A2 because both discuss the issue of public witness. B1 is connected to B2 because both discuss the issue of cleanliness. Rather than skimming over the miniature chiasm, one must seek out why the editor utilized a chiasm at this moment within the text. In order to do so, one must take seriously ancient Israel’s outlook and not dismiss the issue of cleanliness. The purpose is not to provide an explanation for laws about cleanliness; rather, it is simply to demonstrate why cleanliness was so important.

Throughout Leviticus cleanliness relates to animals (Lev 5:2), food (Lev 11), and humans (Lev 5:3, 13:11, Lev 15). Each law of cleanliness is directed related to ones ability to participate within Temple worship. Hence cleanliness also determines ones ability to approach the holy place of God. Because sin, tied to uncleanliness, was considered to be a sort of debt within the ancient world (Feder, 260), inability to participate in Temple or Tabernacle worship literally cut off people from God and His  representative, whether Moses or the anointed priests (cf. Lev 7:21). Consequently as the individual was cut off from the representative of Israel and God, he was also cut off from the people of Israel. Thus cleanliness was essential to maintaining proper standing within the community of God.

Returning to the chiasm of Leviticus 5:1-4, it is then clear why cleanliness is the center of the guilt offering. Through poetic form Leviticus 5:1-4 highlights the importance of maintaining connection to God. Unlike the common way of writing in the 21st century, which places the climax nearer to the end, Hebrew poetic devices, such as chiasms, often place the important statement in the center. Thus, for the author of Leviticus, the most important thing is maintaining a close proximity to the holiness of God.

The outer-brackets of Leviticus 5:1-4 (A1 and A2) relate to the public sphere of behavior and purity.  Leviticus 5:1 focuses on the legal system on the guilt of one who fails to testify even as a witness, while verse 4 attributes guilt to thoughtless oaths to other people or God. While A1 focuses on public courts and A2 focuses on personal interactions, both relate to ones interactions with man. Ones interactions with man are ultimately centered upon mans vertical connection to God. Thus there are two aspects to the editors chiasm: “… Purity expressed in what is sacred and responsibility in taking an oath… This twofold nature of biblical religion is reflected in the Ten Commandments, which begin with one’s personal relationship with God and then move to one’s relationship to others” (Rooker 2000, 118). However, these two aspects, personal relationship with God and relationship to others, are more intertwined than Robert puts forth. Relationship with God can only take place within a community in which one relates to others, hence the editors willingness to unite the issue of oaths and testimony to cleanliness for proximity to God’s holiness through an ancient poetic device.

In conclusion, Leviticus 5:1-4 expresses the absolute importance of people and God. Apart from maintaining purity, which has been interpreted differently throughout the centuries (cf. Kazen 2010), one is unable to truly be part of the people of God. In effect he is cut off from the people of God. At the same time, one must maintain honesty and integrity with his words and witness because it directly affects the public sphere and relations with others. Even within this day and age, the same thing should be sought after within churches and synagogues: purity with God must be maintained simultaneously with purity towards others. Only in doing so is one truly able to adhere to the commandments of God.


Feder, Yitzhaq. Blood Expiation in Hittite and Biblical Ritual: Origins, Context, and Meaning. N.p.: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011.

Kazen, Thomas. Coniectanea Biblica. New Testament Series. Rev. ed. Vol. 38, Jesus and Purity Halakhah: Was Jesus Indifferent to Impurity? Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2010.

Rooker, Mark F. Leviticus. Vol. 3A. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman &Holman Publishers, 2000.

Posted by William Brown


Belief in God and His Servant

Too often I’ve heard it expressed to me that our faith is to be in God alone. And because the New Testament consistently references people faith in Jesus, Jesus must divine. While this post isn’t intended to act as a polemical argument against Jesus’ divinity, it may be perceived as so. Either way, my point in this post is to draw out a possibility of “faith” and its implications for interpreting New Testament literature in light of the Hebrew Bible.

In exploring the “believing” of Abraham in Genesis 15:6, I realized that the same Hebrew root and Greek root in the LXX are used in Exodus 14:31: “When Israel saw the great power which the LORD had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses” (NASB Ex 14:31, italics added for emphasis). As far as I’m aware, no person would go as far to claim that Moses was a divine being. Moses was a human who humbly served God.

Yet because people are to have faith in Jesus, it is often argued that faith placed in Jesus to God designated him as divinity. By the same argument, faith in God and His servant Moses designates Moses divinity. Perhaps my thinking is off. After all, this is a brief post intended to provoke critical thought and encourage people to engage is dialogue regarding what, who, and why they believe. What are your thoughts?

Leviticus as a Window to Ancient Israel

Too often Leviticus is overlooked because 21st century interpreters are generally unable to connect with the cognitive environment of Leviticus. Unfortunately, this results in a skewed and simplistic view of Leviticus and the entire sacrificial system. In reality, the sacrificial system offers insight to the societal organization and cognitive environment. While the ethical standards of Leviticus are most clear in displaying ancient Israel to the modern reader (cf. Lev 18-19), the environment can also be grasped through the sacrificial system.

Take, for example, the arrangement of sin offerings (Lev 4). In it, the sin offerings are grouped in two categories, communal and individual. Each of these categories break into two more sub-categories, for a total of four sub-categories.

  • Communal – Anointed Priest
  • Communal – Community as a whole
  • Individual – Ruler
  • Individual – Common Israelite

In Leviticus 4:3-12, the sin of an anointed priest is described as “bringing guilt on the people” (Lev 4:3, NRSV), hence its categorization as communal. Also communal, Leviticus 4:13-21 discusses the process of a sin offering “if the whole congregation of Israel errs unintentionally” (Lev 4:13, NRSV). Both communal sacrifices require a bull to be brought before the Lord and involve the sprinkling of blood seven times before the curtain.

The second category, individual, involves the actions for a ruler, or judge, who sins or the ordinary person. The individual category simply requires a male goat for the judge and female goat, or sheep, for the ordinary person. Additionally, the blood is not sprinkled seven times before the curtain. The individual category does not imply any need for communal cleansing in response to the actions of an individual, whether ruler or ordinary person.

Distinction by the text of the communal and individual illustrates the cognitive environment and  society of ancient Israel. Additionally, it provides an essential key to interpreting biblical texts, especially texts of more Priestly oriented tradition. Leviticus 4 demonstrates that ancient Israel, while fully aware of the individual, placed much more significance upon the community. First, the communal sin offerings required far greater sacrifice, a bull. In contrast, the individual sin offerings only requires a goat or sheep. Secondly, unlike the individual sin offerings, the communal sin offerings required the priest to spring blood seven times before the curtain. The curtain was the closest that one could move towards the center of the sanctified space because it was the Holy of Holies. So, by the priest sprinkling blood for atonement before the curtain in order to attain atonement for communal sin offerings, Leviticus suggests that sanctification of the entire community is more important than the individual sanctification. While the text clearly suggests that the individual is important, the community take precedence.

In conclusion, this brief examination of Leviticus 4 and ancient Israel’s sin offerings exemplifies how Leviticus holds essential keys to understanding the world and mind of ancient Israel. While such observations in Leviticus are not always immediately noticed by the modern reader, they are present if one is willing to set aside his/her presupposed ideas about Leviticus. By doing so, they will avoid abrogating the meaning and intention of the text and provide it autonomy from the 21st century cognitive environment (cf. John Walton 2015, 15-23). After all, a proper reading of Leviticus results in far richer results of the Bible than are generally expected.

Walton, John H. The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2015. Print.

The Intertextuality of Genesis 15:9 and Leviticus 1

Genesis 15 is the center of the Abraham narrative because God moves beyond mere command and word to covenant, or vow. God does so via moving between a halved heifer, goat, ram, turtledove, and young pigeon. God’s appearance is that of a smoking fire pot and flaming torch which moves through the halved heifer, goat, and ram (Wenham 1982, e.g. Exod. 13:21-22; 19:16; 20:18 etc.) . The covenant ritual God participates in is common within the ancient Near Eastern context (cf. Collins 1992, 223-24). While the nature of that ritual is still an unsolved mystery and deserves full explanation, the following may at least more fully color the intertextual nature of the whole passage. Primarily, my focus is on the animals which God command Abram to bring and the intertextual connections with the burnt offerings of Leviticus 1.

Leviticus 1 presents five creature options for burnt offerings: herd creatures; flock creatures, such as sheep or goats; or turtledoves and pigeons. All of the terms for the animals are plural as they are part of Moses’ commands to all of Israel. Israelite cultic ritual also expects Israelite burnt offerings to be done before God (for an exception, see my previous blog post). Sacrifices must be accepted before the presence of the LORD (אֹתוֹ֔ לִרְצֹנֹ֖ו לִפְנֵ֥י יְהוָֽה).

Genesis 15:9 is similar in it’s expression of Abram’s piety. He is commanded to bring a heifer, female goat, ram, turtledove, and young bird. All of the terms for the animals are singular as they are God’s command to only Abram. Although the ritual is not expressed as needing to be accomplished before the presence of God, as is in Leviticus, it may be assumed because Abram is already with the Lord in his vision from the Lord.

Leviticus 1 and Genesis 14:9

  • herd creatures and a heifer
  • flock creatures (sheep/goats) and female goat/ram
  • turtledoves/pigeons and turtledove/youngbird

Both of these passages, while maintaining distinct theological thrusts, dialogue with each other and provide a richness to the text. The correlation between the order of the order of animals, type, and context all suggest that the two texts are intended to dialogue. The order of the animals in Leviticus 1 are, broadly speaking, herd, flock, and bird. More specifically, they are herd, flock of sheep or goats, and turtledove or pigeon birds. Similarly, Genesis 15:9 includes a heifer (part of a herd), female goat, ram (male sheep), turtledove, and pigeon bird. Although the sheep and goat are in reversed order, the total order of the animals, along with their type, indicate that Genesis 15:9 is utilizing the pattern from Leviticus 1, or vice versa.

Additionally, the contexts of Leviticus 1 and Genesis 15:9 indicate positive correlation. Leviticus 1 operates within a cultic context that offers sacrifices within the tabernacle as part of the covenant (e.g. Lev. 26:9, 15, 25 etc.). Genesis 15:9, though Abram is not officially in covenant chronologically, is within a section that finds the climax at God’s covenant with Abram. Thus, the covenant focuses of both passages indicate a correlation and intertextual dependency.

What is does the intertextuality of Genesis 15:9 and Leviticus 1 indicate for the reader? Already Gordon Wenham has expressed that these five animals are standard sacrifices. He also notes that they represent the nation of Israel as a kingdom of priests (Wenham 1982, 135). To this I wish to extend his thoughts. First of all, Israel is not just a kingdom of priests for the sake of being a kingdom of priests. Rather, they are so in order that they may be priests to the world. Thus, secondly, Abram is represented as upholding the priestly role as the predecessor to the actual ancient Israel. Because Abram sacrifices the same sacrifices in the same order as found in the burnt offerings of Leviticus, he is represented as the totality of Israelite society. In effect, these ideas brings greater depth and focus to God’s universal outlook.

In Genesis 12:3, God promises Abram that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through [him]” (NIV). While this is already quite universal in outlook, the two previous points, Israel as a kingdom of serving priests and Abraham as the representative priest, serve to further demonstrate the universal outlook of ancient Israel. The god whom they expressed sought to move beyond the borders of Canaan once ancient Israel attained the promised land. Through the intertextual connections of Leviticus 1 and Genesis 15:9, the Pentateuch editor reminds the reader of God’s universal outlook by bring back the reader to Abram’s narrative, and thus to God’s promise to Abram to bless all peoples through him.  In conclusion, the editor’s reminder about the universal aim of the God of Israel propels the development of a community which operates to change the world and prevents the development of a community which builds high walls to always avoid the world.

Works Cited

Wenham, Gordon J. 1982. “The symbolism of the animal rite in Genesis 15 : a response to G F Hasel, (19,61-78 1981).” Journal For The Study Of The Old Testament no. 22: 134-137.

Collins, Billie Jean. 1990. “The Puppy in Hittite Ritual.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies vol. 42, no. 2: 211-226.

“Blood Expiation in Hittite and Biblical Ritual” by Yitzhaq Feder

Yitzhaq Feder’s monograph seeks to clarify and more firmly establish the socio-historical context of the origins of blood expiation within the Pentateuch. In part one, he clearly demonstrates that the zurki and uzi Hittite blood rituals are from the same tradition as the Levitical sin offerings. Part two continues by exploring the finer facets of the Israelite and Hittite blood ritual in order to explain the symbolism and meaning encompassing blood ritual’s expiatory nature. In doing so, Feder establishes a solid framework by which future scholars may approach critical theories of the Priestly biblical source, explore ancient Israel’s context, or better understand the role of sin offering in Jewish and Christian theological developments.

First, Feder’s established framework is one of the most commendable aspects of the monograph. He operates on the basis that rituals are not arbitrary gestures akin to magic, but rather they are actions within a socio-historical context where the ritual affects the world from the inside. His approach, unlike some anthropologists who consider ritual action to be arbitrary, honorably respects the depth and life within the Israelite and Hittite rituals. Such respect is not merely a product of his context within Israel. Genuine respect is also a product of his well-explained and well-reasoned methodological approach to the subject of ritual.

Additionally, relating to methodology, Feder provides an important key to prove the historical connection between Hittite and Israelite blood ritual. Feder utilizes Meir Malul’s Comparative Method to provide evidence for the historical connection, testing for “coincidence versus uniqueness, and corroboration to prove the flow of ideas between the two cultures” (115). Presentation and explanation through this framework provides and supports the remaining portions of his argument quite significantly by his clear justification of why his cross-cultural study is valid. In response to his proof of the historical connection, especially in light of the unique nature of blood ritual for Hittites and ancient Israel, I wonder what other connections may be drawn between the two cultures regarding other aspects of ritual.

In conclusion, Feder contributes a new, relevant, and important analysis of biblical and Hittite ritual to propel discussion surrounding biblical history, traditions, and interpretation. Though focused on proving his argument through concrete evidence, he never loses sight of the significance his work holds for 21st century Jews and Christians. In truth, “Blood Expiation in Hittite and Biblical Ritual” is more than a socio-historical study of raw facts and data. It is an explanation for human behavior, especially as it relates to theology.

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“Jesus and Purity Halakhah” by Thomas Kazen

Thomas Kazen’s Jesus and Purity Halakhah explores the historical Jesus and how he related to the purity halakhah of his day. He thoroughly considers multiple approaches to the issues and utilizes a wide variety of primary sources. Divided into four parts, Jesus and Purity Halakhah begins with a demonstration of the necessity of his study and explanation of his historical approach. His brief, but detailed, summary of the history of the quest for the historical Jesus, especially as it relates to purity, provides a solid framework by which his arguments are shaped. By the end of part I, it is evident that his goal is to present a “conscious reconstruction of how Jesus related to concepts of impurity” (41), not necessarily how Markan or Lukan tradition understood Jesus.

Part II identifies Jesus’ adversaries, a basic introduction to that conflict, and the legal texts which assist in the study. After demonstrating his framework through a Sabbath case study, he repeats his approach through a case study of Mark 7 and Jesus’ hand-washing. Such case studies permit him to present the basic nature of the Second Temple Period: purity was a serious issue and debate within the period. Following, he identifies the major elements of defilement through contact: skin disease, bodily discharges, and the corpse. His discussion of each of these elements strengthen his argument with their thorough nature. Based on these categories, Kazen concludes that Jesus was indifferent to impurity halakhah of his day.

He then proceeds to explore, in Part III, three explanatory models for why Jesus was so indifferent to purity: morality, diversity, and demonic threat. For each model he clearly demonstrates how each contributes to a more holistic picture of Jesus’ character. Finally, in Part IV, he concludes and synthesizes his results into a succinct explanation of Jesus’ seemingly indifferent attitude to purity halakah, even briefly discussing practical applications for the Church.

Above all else, Kazen’s use of multiple sources was admirable. While he does utilize any and every possible source, he clearly explains how each fits into his explanatory model or discussion. In doing so, he is clear as to how certain texts, such as the Qumran scrolls, may or may not be significant. Such a clear approach permits the reader to more easily approach the text and yield new observations about the 2nd Temple Period and Jesus’ purity halakhah. Additionally, his writing style is quite story like. Although he is  not necessarily telling a story, his style often feels like a story due to the nature of it. Kazen even notes that the book builds based on previously explicated information. And he expects the reader to grasp a point explained from 100 pages earlier. Though it may, for some, be difficult, I found it to increase the readability as I knew what sort of writing to expect.

In conclusion, Kazen presents a fantastic and convincing argument for a proper view of Jesus’ historical nature and how he regarded purity halakhah. His work avoids strong bias towards theological endeavors and effectively focuses into the historical issues surrounding Jesus. Any desire for discussion, research, or general information regarding Jesus as he relates to purity halakhah of the first century must consider Jesus and Purity Halakhah to be their first secondary source.

Click here to purchase Jesus and Purity Halakhah by Thomas Kazen