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.

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