26 June 2012

Times and means of rapprochement (II)

Let's dwell a bit more on Leviticus 16. In note 41 on page 230 of Cult and Character, Gane writes: “In this verse [Lev. 16:33] כפר את takes the three parts of the sanctuary as direct objects because the blood is physically applied to them, but purification of the people is expressed with כפר על. Although these sacrifices benefit the people, the preposition על acknowledges that this benefit is not direct in the same way." This statement is a perfect example of how a grammatical point can be overinterpreted for doctrinal gain. כפר על is frequently used with inanimate objects to which blood is applied (even in Lev. 16). And isn't Gane relying on the same prepositional usage of the verb to argue for his theory of exclusive purgation of the sacrifice offerer(s) in Leviticus 4 and 5? Why wouldn't על indicate indirect benefit in the case of outer-sanctum and outer-altar offerings too?

Following many commentators before him, Gane also assumes that the high priest's bathing of Lev. 16:24 is a final step in the removal of sin and impurity from the sancta (and the priesthood). This interpretation fails to notice that the high priest also bathed before entering the sanctuary (v. 4). These priestly washings had nothing to do with shedding guilt or impurity collected from the sanctuary, but were part of the preliminary ritual that also included donning vestments (see m. Yoma in the Mishnah). Ex. 30:20-21 clearly states the apotropaic purpose of temple washings (similar to that of incense use in Lev. 16:12-13), and distinguishes between two types of cultic activities that are preceded by washings - entering the sanctuary and approaching the altar to sacrifice (a distinction obviously mirrored in the duties of the high priest on Yom Kippurim). Thus, there is no hint of decontamination in Lev. 16:24.

Even more remarkably, there is no mention of contamination in verses 26 and 28 either. Contrary to another popular assumption, the persons charged with the disposal of animals do not become unclean. Their ritual use of water is simply a rite of passage (the Mishnah is helpful here too, even if it does use the language of impurity, citing the legal opinion that impurity is incurred by exiting the city, not by contact with supposedly contaminated animals). This meaning of the mikveh is attested in passages such as Lev. 13:6, where the transition from a liminal state (quarantine) to regular community integration is done through water. Being quarantined did not equal being impure (cf. Lev. 13:11). But the road back to community passed through water (this context also illuminates the fact that establishing purity is not necessarily the reversal of a previous condition of impurity - see also vv. 58-59). Additionally, we know from Lev. 4:12 that the carcass of animals whose blood was brought into the sanctuary was to be burned in a clean place outside the camp. Thus, there is no hint of decontamination in Lev. 16:26.28.

24 June 2012

Times and means of rapprochement (I)

Roy E. Gane is one of the best teachers I've had. His cult for in-depth knowledge of primary sources and the understated beauty of his character make him a cherished professor. Not to mention that he is quite the pianist. It was only in the last few weeks that I've been able to read his Cult and Character: Purification Offerings, Day of Atonement, and Theodicy (Eisenbrauns, 2005). Seen through the pages of his work, Gane is primarily an Adventist, then - quite appropriately - a Milgromite (the late Jacob Milgrom was Gane's Doktorvater) and finally, and most importantly, wrong.

Anyone who is in the least familiar with Seventh-day Adventism knows how pivotal the two-phase theory of atonement is to Adventist history and identity. The Great Millerite Disappointment itself dissipated in the Adventist interpretation of the Levitical cult (and in the unhistorical historicism of some Adventist apocalyptic exegeses - a topic I will address another time). Therefore, it is no surprise that an Adventist scholar, writing on Leviticus, argues for “the chameleonic ability of the חטאת‎ blood to switch its nature" (Milgrom, in a 2007 response to Gane's book). I do not question my former professor's integrity (especially as I have just lauded his character). But the world of religious studies has its plentiful share of honest and competent specialists who can't all be right. What's more, I will attempt to show, over several posts, that Gane is wrong not only as an Adventist, but also as a Milgromite.

Let's begin right in the middle of it all. One of the main assertions of Gane's reading of Leviticus 16 is that the Yom Kippurim rituals are concerned primarily with the sanctuary, cleansing it, and only secondarily, by implication, with the priesthood and people of Israel (I should say that I agree with Gane and others who spend little time on questions of the history and redaction of the Pentateuchal text, just as I treat the Israel and temple of Leviticus as fictional). Thus, Gane is able to posit a contrast between the goal of inner-sanctum sacrifices and that of outer-sanctum and outer-altar sacrifices (his terminology), the latter always purifying the sinner(s) or the unclean (not the sancta, as in Milgrom's view).

This is patently false. There are 14 כפר goal-descriptive formulas in Leviticus 16 - in verses 6, 10, 11, 16, 17(x2), 18, 20, 24, 27, 30, 33(x2), 34. Seven of them (vv. refer the כפר activity to the priesthood and the community of Israel. Three of them indicate the location of the כפר activity (vv. 10.17.27). Of the four remaining, two could also indicate location (vv. 16.18), with only the final two (vv. 20.33) pointing to the temple complex as the object of כפר. Obtaining atonement for Israel is the purpose of the Yom Kippurim ritual (Lev. 23:28), just as with any purification sacrifice. Milgrom is perfectly justified in extrapolating from Leviticus 16 a modus operandi for all חטאת‎ sacrifices. But, as I will soon show, he is just as wrong as his pupil in assuming that the Levitical sanctuary is ever in need of decontamination. A clue, for now: it is not the prepositional regime of כפר that is decisive in the understanding of the priestly concept of atonement, but the semantics of כפר itself.

20 June 2012

Volodos and Lisitsa

My wife and I have recently attended two remarkable piano recitals - the May 22nd Royal Festival Hall rare London appearance by Arcadi Volodos and last night's YouTubed Royal Albert Hall debut by Valentina Lisitsa. I had heard Valentina before, in the 2004 inaugural concert of the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago. She gave a lively, exciting rendition of Rachmaninoff's Paganini Variations that fabulous summer night, in the superb acoustic environment of Millennium Park's Great Lawn trellis. As for Arcadi, I had grown to love many of his recordings (I'll be sharing for a while a sampling of his Rach repertoire in the “box of delights").

While the RFH is a wonderful space for music, allowing a single piano in the hands of a master to fill the room with sound of utmost clarity and depth, the RAH is a miserable venue for a piano recital. Yes, it makes for a great video production setting, but the constant noise of the ventilation system and the (lousy) electronic amplification of stage sound wipe out almost any chance of musical enjoyment. Even so, what was really disturbing for us (especially for me, since I, in my atheism, take concert going religiously) was the public's behavior at both events. The unrelenting coughing, fidgeting, dropping of stuff, creaking of stuff, unwrapping of stuff, going off of phones and alarms, and just plain obnoxious muttering accumulate into a sea of despair where the simple pleasure of listening drowns. I have already promised myself and my wife not to attend another piano recital in London ever again. Studio recordings will have to do.

In spite of all that, Arcadi was a constant delight, a pianist in consistent control of his technique and rich in musical insight, while Valentina was a bit of a mess. Indeed, the Kievan has a winsome, unassuming personality (she spoke to the audience, even to let us know what the final score of England vs. Ukraine had been), and generally good interpretive instincts. But her performance is technically uneven and sometimes downright loose, her tempos can be unnecessarily brave, her thinking clouded by impetuosity. On the other hand, the Leningradian's Liszt sonata was an exquisite jewel, showcased with breathtaking simplicity and expressiveness. Some reviewers (musicologists, of course) have found his playing facile (in its seemingly effortless precision) and lacking in Idea. I deem them idiots who haven't understood yet that music itself - well served by the illusion of ease - is the idea.