16 November 2012

Times and means of rapprochement (IV)

In a note on page 341, Gane writes: “Transferability of blame / culpability is primarily attested in cultic contexts: Exod 28:38; Lev 10:17; 16:21-22. But the fact that it also appears in the noncultic setting of 1 Sam 25:24 and 2 Sam 14:9 shows that it is not... foreign to the mundane sphere of life." This statement is problematic on every conceivable level. Exodus 28:38 has nothing to do with the “transferability of blame", as it is perfectly equivalent to Numbers 18:1 and refers to the (unborrowed) Levitical responsibility for the sancta. The “sin offering" of Leviticus 10:17 is the very same as the one in 9:15 - an inaugural, purificatory sacrifice (no iniquity involved, unless one would argue that YHWH's glory was welcomed at the sanctuary with a small dose of ill-defined communal guilt). As a general statement on the purpose of חטאת‎ sacrifices (including those of Leviticus 9 and 16), Moses' words only suggest that they are meant to remove any obstacle to approaching the sacred. As for “the goat unto Azazel", quite a few commentators have stressed the fact that Aaron's confession itself suffices to instantiate the ominous onus to be carried away. Aaron and the sancta bear no guilt, no impurity.

To find any appearance of the “transferability of culpability" in narrative texts is even more preposterous. Both 1 Samuel 25:24 and 2 Samuel 14:9 contain highly rhetorical discourse, designed to persuade a figure of authority into clemency. A similar device is mentioned in Matthew 27:25, yet no amount of hand washing has ever exonerated Pontius Pilate. What's more, the two chapters of Deuteronomistic history are nowhere near suggesting the kind of guilt displacement envisaged by Gane. In the first one, Abigail opens her plea with a clear attempt to substitute herself to her nutty husband as chief of clan (so that she be allowed to negotiate with David on behalf of her entire household). She distances herself from Nabal's behavior, and assumes only the guilt of not having known of David's servants' initial arrival (v. 25). Abigail's gift (beracha, one of the names of the mincha that Jacob offered Esau - cf. Genesis 33:10-11) is to be accepted on her account, as it is her (more or less rhetorical) פשע that requires forgiveness (v. 27-28). Nabal is still to be judged for his egregious insolence, by the precise strike of David's God himself (vv. 26.39), through the felicitous scheming of his considerate wife (v. 19.36-37). Abigail never adopted his liability, only his responsibility. Collateral damage avoided - pissing against the wall decriminalized.

In 2 Samuel 14, the wise woman of Tekoa conjures up a case of manslaughter, for which the Torah provided the right of asylum. In granting his subject's (hypothetical) request, David does not pardon a murderer, but redefines the conditions of asylum. He is in no danger whatsoever of incurring guilt, as judges have always been interpreters, not automaton enforcers of the law. In v. 9, the woman simply offers to bear all the responsibility for the security of her son, which the king quickly counters with his willingness to be personally involved in thwarting any threat to said son (v. 10). David is generally quite inclined towards clemency, even to the point of proffering curses on the rightful avenger of blood, especially when clemency would have been politically expedient (see 2 Samuel 3:27-30 in context).

In his desperate attempt to read “transfer of guilt" into the Tanakh, Gane should have rather resorted to Numbers 30:16. The husband who belatedly nullifies his wife's oath is said to bear her guilt. But this would have only served to reaffirm what we've found already: forgiveness is never transfer of guilt in the Levitical world. Forgiveness extinguishes guilt (just as punishment does, with different results).

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