Tag Archives: Mary Douglas

April 19, Jerusalem III: The Temple and Sacrifice

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A few years ago a romantic young Jerusalem rabbi explained on television how he would restore the sacrificial ritual of the Temple, once his organisation had taken charge of the site, an event he was confident would occur soon. He was convinced that this was what God wanted.

Scripture seems far less certain about Temple sacrifice; there are plenty of passages like this one:

You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation,

opened my ear;

you asked no holocaust or sacrifice for sin,

then I said, ‘Here I am! I am coming!’ (Psalm 40:6–7)

 

Yet the sacrificial dissection, burning and eating of animals by priest and people went on, day after day, year after year. Why? Mary Douglas suggested that sacrifice was a concrete form of telling the story of the Lord’s presence at the heart of the Temple and of his people. The body of the sacrificial animal ‘corresponding to the tabernacle in the holy nation’,[1] and its life and that of the people were  symbolically returned to God through the blood and vital parts offered at the altar, while the meat shared by priests and offerers expressed communion with God and each other.

The young rabbi’s plan is on hold for the foreseeable future. God wants neither elaborate ritual nor the innermost parts of animals; he wants faith (Hebrews 11); he wants the innermost parts of his servants to ascend to him in a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).

We do not need to be in Jerusalem to make a morning offering!

MMB.

[1]    Mary Douglas: ‘Leviticus as Literature’, Oxford University Press, 1999; p 134.

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April 18, Jerusalem II: No Tame God.

The prophets insisted that the Temple was the place of God’s presence, not just the national shrine of Israel or Judah. Before a stone could be laid upon a stone, Nathan was sent to forbid David from building a house for the Lord (2 Samuel 7). God wanted it clear that he was the one God, and not to be tamed like a Canaanite god by offering sacrifices to force blessings from his hand; nor was he open to trickery like Zeus, who was taken in by Prometheus’ theft of fire;[1] no, he was:

‘Exodus’ terrifying concept of unbearable beauty and power, God known in the thunderstorm on Mount Sinai, God who warns Aaron not to come within the Holy of Holies improperly dressed, lest he die.’[2]

 

            This God sustained a Covenant relationship with Israel. He it was who took the initiative and sent down fire upon the landmark sacrifices of Abraham’s vigil or Elijah’s watch on Mount Carmel (Genesis 15; 1Kings 18). He would do the same for his fledgling Church at Pentecost, when the disciples were transformed, not destroyed, by fire (Acts 2:3); a few years later the fire of the Spirit was passed to Paul’s ordinand, Timothy, bringing him into the eternal life of the Trinity (2Timothy 1:6–11) .

May our light burn brightly so that our lives may point those we love and those we meet to that eternal life.

           MMB.

[1]    Paul Cartledge: ‘Olympic Self-Sacrifice’, in  ‘History Today’, 50, 10; October 2000,
Paul Cartledge, Olympic Self Sacrifice .
[2]    Mary Douglas: ‘Leviticus as Literature’, Oxford University Press, 1999; p 34.

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