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14. PRIESTLY THEOLOGY OF SACRIFICE AND ATONEMENT We turn now to the priestly sacrificial system set forth in the Priestly sections of the book of Exodus: Exodus 25-31 and 35-40 and the book of Leviticus. The ser­ vice of worship described here is paralleled, with some differences, in Ezekiel 40-48, which envisions the new temple to supersede the one destroyed in 587 B.C. This part of the Old Testament is very difficult for modern readers of the Bible. After the vivid, engaging narratives of primeval history and the ancestral history and those dealing with exodus and Sinai in the first part of the book of Exodus (Exodus 1-24), what a change! Reading this material is the modern form of wan­ dering in the wilderness. The "Leviticus syndrome," as it has been called, weakens and paralyzes the reader's resolve to go forward. Yet it is in the book of Leviticus that we find, like a diamond in the rough, the commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Lev. 19:18, KJV), the commandment quoted by early rabbis and by Jesus as the heart of the Torah. Ritual and Belief To deal with this difficult material, it may be helpful to begin with a general word about the relation between ritual and belief in a community of faith. The rituals of priestly sacrifice, though no longer practiced in Judaism or Christianity, say some­ thing essential about God's relation to the community of faith, "the people of God." Ritual is belief that is acted out by the people in corporate worship or by their representatives, the ministers or priests. In religion what is done in worship is sometimes more important than what is said. Actions may express convictions about God and God's relation to the people more eloquently than words or even specific theological statements.1 Our task, then, is to find out what is expressed in the act of making sacrifices to God at an altar as depicted especially in Leviticus. A Book of Worship In early rabbinic Judaism the book of Leviticus was called "the priest's manual" (torath kohanim). It could be called more appropriately "the book of worship," since it deals not only with the function of priests but also with the laws and rituals that the laity should follow to be a holy people.2 There is a continuity between the books of Exodus and Leviticus. The Priestly material in Exodus tells about the making of the tabernacle and its furnishings, 1. See Jacob Milgrom, "Seeing the Ethical Within the Ritual," BR 8 (August 1992) 6, see also his major commentary, Leviticus (-16, AB 3 (New York: Doubleday, 1991). 2. In addition to Milgrom's commentary on Leviticus see Israel Knohl, The Sanctuary ojSilence. The Priestly Torab and the Holiness School (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995); and Baruch Levine, In tfcf Presence of the Lord (Leiden: Brill, 1974). 116 Priestly Theology of Sacrifice and Atonement 1 17 including priestly vestments. Leviticus 8-10 tells of the investiture and induction of the priests after the sanctuary has been completed. An important detail, found at the beginning of this material, may easily escape attention. The whole layout, we are told, is to be made according to the "pattern" or "design" (tabnith) that God revealed to Moses on the mountaintop (Exod. 25:9, 40). To later interpreters this suggested a typological correspondence between the heavenly and the earthly, between transcendent reality and its shadowy replica as in Plato's philosophy, which contrasts eternal forms (the Good, True, and Beautiful) and their imperfect temporal manifestations. The Epistle to the Hebrews, which quotes the detail from Leviticus (Lev. 25:9, 40), interprets the earthly temple and its sacrificial system as "a shadow and copy of what is in heaven" (Heb. 8:5). Christ is the high priest who enters into the sanctuary of God's presence and makes the per­ fect sacrifice of his own blood. One need not make this specific christological interpretation to sense that the portrayal of the temple and its sacrificial system in Leviticus leads beyond the lit­ eral sense. Speaking out of rabbinical tradition, Jon Levenson, a Jewish theologian, observes that the temple of Zion (here prefigured in the tabernacle) "represents the possibility of meaning above history, out of history, through an opening into the realm of the ideal. . . . The temple and its rites," he continues, "can be conceived as the means for spiritual ascent from the lower to the...


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