Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mutability of Torah, Example One

For our first example of the mutability of the Torah, we turn to a unique subset of the ancient Israelite priestly tradition, Leviticus chapters 17 – 26 which is often dubbed "the Holiness Code" for its preoccupation with holiness. The opening passage of the Holiness Code reads as follows:

1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: 2 Speak unto Aaron, and unto his sons, and unto all the children of Israel, and say unto them: This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded, saying: 3 What man soever there be of the house of Israel, that killeth an ox, or lamb, or goat, in the camp, or that killeth it without the camp, 4 and hath not brought it unto the door of the tent of meeting, to present it as an offering unto the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD, blood shall be imputed unto that man; he hath shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people. 5 To the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices, which they sacrifice in the open field, even that they may bring them unto the LORD, unto the door of the tent of meeting, unto the priest, and sacrifice them for sacrifices of peace-offerings unto the LORD. 6 And the priest shall dash the blood against the altar of the LORD at the door of the tent of meeting, and make the fat smoke for a sweet savour unto the LORD. 7 And they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices unto the satyrs, after whom they go astray. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations. 8 And thou shalt say unto them: Whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, that offereth a burnt-offering or sacrifice, 9 and bringeth it not unto the door of the tent of meeting, to sacrifice it unto the LORD, even that man shall be cut off from his people.

For emphasis let me draw out the two verses that I am focused on:

3 What man soever there be of the house of Israel, that killeth an ox, or lamb, or goat, in the camp, or that killeth it without the camp, 4 and hath not brought it unto the door of the tent of meeting, to present it as an offering unto the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD, blood shall be imputed unto that man; he hath shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people.

In this passage the faithful are forbidden to slaughter a domestic animal that is not first brought as a sacrificial offering to the Lord. The person who slaughters an ox, a lamb, or a goat for eating without first brining it sacrificially to the tent of meeting or tabernacle is imputed blood guilt. The text reads, “blood shall be imputed unto that man.” Fox (1995) notes regarding this verse, “Such slaughtering seems to be equated with the murder of a human being” (p. 591). Keil and Delitzsch (1891) assert that the phrase “he hath shed blood,” shows that “ such slaughtering was to be recokoned as the shedding of blood, or blood-guiltiness, and punished with extermination” (p. 592). Of note, this passage states, “This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations.” The “for ever” aspect of this passage is noteworthy not only because Messianics often emphasize passages that state that a given precept such as the Passover or the Sabbath is mean to be kept “for ever” but also because of the clear reversal of the is commandment in the passage that follows:

Deuteronomy 12:13-16 reads as follows:

13 Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt-offerings in every place that thou seest; 14 but in the place which the LORD shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt-offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee. 15 Notwithstanding thou mayest kill and eat flesh within all thy gates, after all the desire of thy soul, according to the blessing of the LORD thy God which He hath given thee; the unclean and the clean may eat thereof, as of the gazelle, and as of the hart. 16 Only ye shall not eat the blood; thou shalt pour it out upon the earth as water.
While this passage maintains the requirement of bringing sacrificial offerings to an authorized shrine (more on this in a moment), it loosens the presumably earlier legislation that required all animals to be slaughtered as offerings. In this passage the Israelite is permitted to slaughter his meat “within all thy gates, after the desire of thy soul.” He no longer is required to bring his animals to be offered first to the Lord (YHWH), but he is permitted to slaughter them whenever and wherever. Here what was once deemed a capital offense is now permitted as one pleases. What was once punishable by death is now an innocent pleasure.

It is worth noting that ancient Israel initially had many cultic locations and shrines. This eventually changed in the late seventh century under the reforms of Josiah when the Law of the Lord was presumably found by one Hilkiah the high priest. Where one was in the past able to bring his ox to a local shrine in the village, later one had to travel several days to make it to the singular national shrine in the Temple of Jerusalem. Faley (1970 ) explains this well:

Originally, the slaughter of clean animals, even for profane use, was considered a sacrificial act. The shedding of blood, as an act of dominion over life itself, was the exercise of a divine prerogative and could not be viewed as legitimate unless the life was first restored to God. For this reason, all such killings were reserved for a place of cult (I Sm 14:32-35). This requirement apparently presented no great difficultly as long as local sanctuaries were allowed, but with the centralization of cult under Josiah (621), such a law became impossible (78).

In the above example, the “eternal-statute” legislation demanding that all animals killed for food be brought first as a sacrifice with its severe penalty (i.e., death) is repealed with the permissibility of slaughter wherever one pleases.

Works Cited

Faley, Roland J. “Leviticus” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Champan: London, 1970

Fox, Everett. The Five Books of Moses. Schocken Books: New York, 1995.

Keil, C. F. & Delitzsch, F. Commentary on the Old Testament, vol 1. Translated, Hendrickson Publishers: Massachusetts, 1996.

9 comments:

Tandi said...

7 And they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices unto the satyrs, after whom they go astray.

This is the key verse which provides the distinction between the Scriptures you cited.

Scriptulicious said...

Hello Tandi,

I believe that you are trying to stay that the chok olam ("eternal statute") refers only to the prohibition against offering to false gods. You might even assert that the use of the work chok ("statute") in the singular favors your position. It does not.

Consider Numbers 19 which describes the dozen or components of the red heifer ceremony as the "statute (singular) of the torah" (chok hatorah). The use of the singular chok ("statute") in the priestly literature is not necessarily an indication that only one obserservance is in mind.

Hence, you must deal with the likely possibility that the "eternal statute" of Lev 17:7 relates also to not eating common meat slaughtered away from an authorized altar. And, mind you, read this passage on its own merits. Do not allow another passage to limit what this passage is saying.

Tandi said...

I allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. Would that be the historical-grammatical method?

Scriptulicious said...

“Comparing Scripture with Scripture” is a sure means to undermine historical-grammatical hermeneutics. At best, “Scripture with Scripture” can be included in a faith-based reading of the Bible which can be called canonical exegesis in which other passages are allowed to inform one’s reading of a given text.

Historical-critical and/or historical-grammatical hermeneutics allow a given passage (a pericope) to stand on its own merits and speak with its own voice. In trying to construct the context (sitz im leben) of a pericope, they seek to re-create an understanding and an appreciation for why the text was written (exigency) and to whom it was addressed. They ask, “How would the original reader have understood this text?” They go further, but they absolutely do not allow other passages to muffle the voice of what the passage at hand says.

If you were an early recipient of the instruction/torah in Lev 17, how would you take this passage? If you found out that I was slaughtering my goat in my backyard to process for dinner, would you consider me guilty of blood and so the equivalent of a murderer? How can a behavior that was once punishable by death become innocent and approved unless Torah was indeed changed? Why is the mutability of Torah such a difficult concept?

Tandi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tandi said...

The death penalty is another clue that the prohibition was proclaimed primarily to dissuade from satanic idolatry. This was a very real temptation at the time. The Ten Commandments are everlasting precepts and do not change. Proximity to temple environs for sacrificial purposes can change and adjustments made accordingly. Torah is living, not static.

Scriptulicious said...

Tandi, as I am reading you, you assert that Torah can change based on practical matters such as proximity to the Temple. In the passage we are looking at, the prohibition of common meat with the attendant death penalty is nullified by Deuteronomy 12 based on a change in living circumstances. Does this likewise authorize faith communities today to nullify Torah when its precepts no longer achieve their desired goals of justice, equity, and humanity? Maybe we are to take a hint here and follow suit, adjusting Torah as needed.

Tandi said...

The prohibition against sacrificing to devils (satyrs, etc.) is still in effect! See 1 Cor. 10:20. There is no nullification of the main objective of the commandment. You are making a mountain out of a molehill by focusing on the peripheral issue of "what's for dinner" and where dinner is prepared. The death penalty was never for killing the animal for food in the wrong place. The death penalty was for idolatrous, perverse practices. Research "satyr" and see what was involved. You have not proven mutability of torah with this example.

Tandi said...

Lev. 17:7 KJV

"And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations."

By using the word "whoring" rather than "astray", the KJV makes it clear that these were demonic, orgiastic, drunken, licentious rites. Some involved capturing animals, tearing their limbs off and eating the raw flesh. I have read more than I care to know about perverse pagan practices. No wonder this kind of behavior was prohibited and punished. Rightly so.