Exodus and Leviticus: A Parallel Reading (Part III)

The following is part of series exploring the narrative of P material and its explanation of why Nadab and Abihu are killed in Leviticus 10. Such a study is important because theology often misuses verse like Leviticus 10:1-3 to demonstrate the un-malleability and impossibility of keeping Torah, resulting in antinomianism. In order to demonstrate the true focus of Nadab and Abihu’s death, I will compare two passages of P material, Leviticus 8:1 – 10:3 and Exodus 29 – 30:10. These pericopes, with a close reading, provide a reasonable explanation for the death of Aaron’s son.

In the previous post, I traced the parallels between Leviticus 8:14-30 and Exodus 29:10-30. Click here to read the previous post and the first post. Here I will explore why, although these two portions of the Hebrew Bible are parallel, Leviticus has Aaron anoint himself and his sons and Exodus has discusses the future of the priesthood.

First, although both traditions (Lev 8:30; Exo 29:29-30) occur differently, they grow from the same foundation. As demonstrated previously, up till this point both texts parallel each other, indicating reliance upon each other to a certain extent. Both verses, primarily, focus on the consecration of the garments and the priest. Yet, while Exodus 29:29-30 focuses on the perpetuity of the priesthood by discussing the current and future status of the holy garments of Aaron and his anointing, Leviticus 8:30 merges the anointing of Aaron with that of his sons. Thus, rather than waiting until the future to anoint his sons in his High Priest garments, Leviticus records that action as taking place with Aaron in the present.

This may be explained by two possibilities. First, Leviticus and Exodus may have been composed through distinct priestly traditions, one focusing on a single High Priest and the perpetuity of the Priesthood, the other focusing on the Priesthood as a whole. This understanding complicates the compilation process of the Pentateuch and indicates more strata of the P source, a source already complicated with the presence of H. Secondly, the Redactor himself may have intentionally merged the future oriented Exodus into the present oriented Leviticus because of his own socio-political context. After all, there is no reason to assume that all Temple like structures were necessarily ordered in the exact same fashion. Just like churches in the 21st century, the hierarchy of leadership and structure of sociality may have varied greatly. Thus, the differences between Leviticus 8:30 and Exodus 29:29-30 may reflect the multiplicity of cultural variations with regard to cultic worship.

In my view, both options seem plausible and the redactor synchronized the two traditions into one parallel structure with recognition of the variety of traditions. The redactors, after all, make no attempt to hide textual contradictions. Thus the parallel verses, although approached and applied different, represent voices of past tradition, not contradiction of the Hebrew Bible.

The next post will continue by tracing the parallels between Exodus 29:31-37 and Leviticus 8:31-36.

*Please note that this analysis is ongoing and subject to change at anytime.


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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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“Sexual Pollution in the Hebrew Bible” by Eve Levavi Feinstein

Eve Levavi Feinstein. Sexual Pollution in the Hebrew Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

In Eve Lavavi Feinstein’s most recent publication, the conceptions of sexual pollution in the Hebrew Bible are explored. Looking beyond the simplification of the relationship between sexuality and defilement, she draws out the various threads in the Hebrew Bible from a common root: women were viewed as sexual property of men. Chapter one is rooted in Thomas Kazen’s model of morality, sexuality, and pollution from Jesus and Purity Halakhah, namely the idea of disgust as the beginnings of pollution. Chapter two establishes “some fundamental characteristics of the biblical concept of pollution” and draws out the fundamental ideas of pollution that reach across space and time (11). Most notably, “pure” describes the absence of pollution or sin, “abhor” and “sin” the idea of disgust, and terms for “pollute” to the specific contagious property. Following the terminological definitions, she draws upon modern psychology so as to demonstrate the psychological roots of “disgust” and “pollution”.

Chapter three continues with a discussion of the sexual pollution of women with the exclusions of Ezra, Ezekiel, and Leviticus 18, as they are approached in later chapters. First, she analyzes Numbers 5:11-31 and draws out an important conclusions regarding adultery in the Hebrew Bible: disgust language is harnessed to pollution not to call out women as disgusting but to act rhetorically as a voice against adultery. This same idea, as she demonstrates, is present through some of the prophets in their rhetoric that “function as shaming discourse” (53), an effort to encourage certain moral behavior. Second, she discusses the nature of pollution of the woman in the divorce law of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and refutes seven major interpretations of the passage, settling on the idea that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is rhetorical in nature, harnessing disgust via pollution “suggesting to men that they ought to be repelled by sexual contact between their former wives and other men” (65). Thus, this passage focuses upon the individual man who has divorced his wife rather than any transcendent concept of moral restriction. Third, Feinstein explores the pollution language of Genesis 34 and Dinah’s “rape”. While she does concede that rape may have very well been an angle of the historical event of Genesis 34, she concludes that the issue of the sex of Dinah and Shechem was the polluting nature of Shechem that made Dinah polluted in an unmarried context, premarital sex. Hence, because she was polluted, her family became polluted by relation. And a violent purge was the proper reaction by her brother’s standards. Finally, she notes the strict laws for priestly marriages that illustrate how the “essence” of man was present in women. Thus, priests were held to higher expectations in that their wives, and historically sexual property, required a high amount of purity, unpolluted by another man’s “essence”.

Chapter four shifts to the unique rhetoric of Leviticus 18 in which men become the objects of potential pollution based on their sexual interactions. Sexual interactions of the men addressed in Leviticus 18 are said to affect whether or not the land vomits them out of itself. Chapter five focuses on two major strands originating from Leviticus 18: Ezekiel and Ezra. Ezekiel “rests on the idea that the people of Judah… have polluted themselves through their actions” and illustrates sexual pollution as a component of “moral pollution”, which thereby contaminates the land and demands expulsion (141). Ezra expands the pollution language of Leviticus 18 to stigmatize certain peoples rather than, as in Leviticus 18, stigmatize certain behaviors. In effect, foreign polluted women, and thereby their children, must be exiled. Chapter six concludes with coverage of 2nd Temple Period, New Testament, and rabbinic literature.


Eve Feinstein’s work is a jewel for biblical scholarship. Her broad analysis of the Hebrew Bible’s perspectives on sexual pollution carefully observes the nuances missed by glossed readings or presupposed ideas about it and pull the threads of the topic throughout the Hebrew Bible. Most notable is her careful exegesis of Leviticus 18 that elucidates a distinctly different approach to sexual pollution from other discussions of sexual pollution in the Torah. Furthermore, Feinstein’s thorough coverage of Ezekiel and Ezra demonstrate the variety of traditions within the Hebrew Bible and nuances which flow and ebb, contributing to its living nature as a dialogical character.

Yet, in the midst of her expertly crafted exegesis, thorough coverage, and skilled untangling sexual pollution, she lacks analysis of the book of Ruth. Although the book of Ruth never directly discusses issues of sexual pollution at a surface level or utilizes language of sexual pollution, it acts as a “indie” commentary on Leviticus 18 and comments on the sexual pollution developments of Ezra-Nehemiah. By “indie” commentary, I mean that it does not discuss texts through language, but through actions, namely Ruth’s attachment to Naomi, participation in Israelite society, sexual allusions with Boaz, and identity as a Moabite. Each of these points are relevant to discussion of sexual pollution. As taught in a biblical interpretation 101 classes, one must be attentive to not only what is said but also to what is not said. Ruth is a perfect example. While Ezra-Nehemiah denies status to foreign women and their children, Ruth is open to a Moabite woman joining into Israelite society, even to the extent of a sexual encounter. Although the sexual encounter is silent about issues of purity, it speaks through the silence about how one might be able to understand sexual pollution in light of characters like Ruth. Thematic elements distinct between Ezra-Nehemiah and Ruth are traceable back to common issues, especially the issue of sexual pollution.

Ruth 3 is a perfect example. In Ruth 3, Ruth lays at the feet of Boaz, a clear reference to sex. Thus, recognition of sexual pollution adds a new level to the conflict and tensions of Ruth. More importantly, they demonstrate the author’s perspective on sexual pollution. Perhaps the reason the kinsman redeemer remains unnamed is because the author is aware of the concept of sexual pollution. As an endeavor to demonstrate that Boaz and Ruth are neither transgressing nor polluting another person, the authors shapes the narrative to end with marriage to Boaz, the one from whom Ruth may have received the “essence” of impurity at the threshing floor.

Regardless of this missing key to Feinstein’s work, her work is still comprehensive and provides fantastic grounds for future research on sexual pollution and purity issues as a whole. Her careful exegesis and unique approach to studies of pollution will, hopefully, result in future scholarship of sexual pollution and purity issues within 2nd Temple Period literature. And as a whole, her work unlocks the variety of theological traditions within the Hebrew Bible, demonstrating the depth and value of the Hebrew Bible by untangling the mess of theological tradition. Perhaps her work will help others to more thoughtfully consider how issues of sexual pollution, purity, and disgust have relevance for the modern context.

*I’d like to express my gratitude to Oxford University Press for providing me with a review copy of “Sexual Pollution in the Hebrew bible”

Why Priests?

Within ancient Israel, Priests held extremely important roles. Priestly significance is demonstrated even more so by the entire ancient Near East. Unlike the 21st century western world, ancient civilizations in the Near East placed high value on the “sacred space”, often designating them as temples. The sacred space was essential to the survival of an ancient civilization because “it was considered the center of power, control, and order from which deity [brought] order to the human world” (Walton, 127). In effect, the temple, sacred space, was a sort of “government” for the ancient world in that provided life, prosperity, and justice. The sacred temple was also considered a microcosm of the cosmos, the center of the cosmos. With this context, it is evident why priests in Leviticus are so dignified and viewed with prestige.

The value of priesthood depended not upon the tribe or lineage. In its purest sense, priesthoods attained value because they acted as the ones who ensured the sanctity of the sancta (the sacred space). Consequently the priesthoods allowed (1) the gods to continues maintaining order and (2) permitted human involvement in retaining cosmic order (Walton, 130). Unfortunately, because the temple was simeltaneously a political entity and religious expression, priesthoods could easily evolve into political powerhouses rather than sanctifying/sancitified powerhouses. And due to our own context which dichotomizes religious practice and politics, we easily pick up on the political struggles but miss the high cultural value of priests within a cultic context. In this context, then, it is evident why the priests were so important to ancient Israel. Without priests, order could not be maintained and life could fall into non-order/disorder as the world was left without Yahweh’s presence.

References

Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.

By William Brown

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.

References:

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?

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.

Click here to purchase “Blood Expiation in Hittite and Biblical Ritual” by Yitzhaq Feder.

“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

 

The Christian “Oral Torah”

Recently, Orthodox Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein visited Northwest University. I had the honor of speaking with him for an hour or so about a variety of topics including, but not limited to, Oral Torah, Jewish-Christian dialogue, and creation theology. Amongst the many things which caught my attention, there was one thought he expressed which I thoroughly appreciated. In essence, he said that Jews are unique in that they’ve thought through their theology and recognize the source of their traditions. For Jews, that is the Oral Torah, which is the framework of traditions by which they interpret the Written Torah.

Attending a protestant Christian University, I have often witnessed people who operate from a stance of sola scriptura. Many people I know often understand their traditions as something which originated in the Pentecostal movement of the early 1900’s or in the reformations of the 16th century. Unfortunately, though, people aren’t always able to, or willing to, recognize that they to, just as Jews, have a sort of “Oral Torah”. By “Oral Torah”, I really mean the foundations and environment in which the Church traditions were formulated, which vary significantly and are not completely linear. Foundations of Christian tradition are present in theologians like Irenaeus, Augustine, John Chrysostom, and, really, any other theologian from the past 1900 years who has dialogued with the Church and made any impact, positive or negative. This lack of recognition is often realized in people not being aware of why they think or how they think. In their minds, their framework is simply the Holy Spirit and some biblical interpretation of the 1st century context of the New Testament, or the 4th century BCE context of the Hebrew Bible.

In reality, if Christians truly do hope to dialogue with others and better understand their own beliefs within a contemporary society, it is absolutely necessary to recognize the “Oral Torah” of Christianity, those elements which shaped Christianity into what it is today.