Sunday, November 3, 2013

Atonement Series #2: Did G-d Ever Require Blood Sacrifices?

Anti-Missionary:  The Prophets say that G-d rejected blood sacrifices.  Therefore, G-d does not desire or require blood sacrifices.

Messianic:  The Prophets say that G-d rejected the blood sacrifices of the unrepentant.  But G-d still desired and required blood sacrifices.

Issue #1:  Did G-d ever require blood sacrifices?

So let's examine what several well-respected Jewish scholars have to say (Rainey, Hertz, and Heschel):

Anson Rainey (Tel Aviv University):

"The prophets of the First Temple period often spoke out against sacrificial ritual (Amos 5:21-27; Hos. 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; Isa. 1:11-17; Jer. 6:20; 7:21-22).  Righteous and just behavior along with obedience to the Lord are contrasted with the conduct of rituals unaccompanied by proper ethical and moral attitudes (Amos 5:24; Micah 6:8; Isa. 1:16-17; Jer. 7:23).  It has thus been assumed by many scholars that the prophets condemned all sacrificial rituals.  ...De Vaux has shown the absurdity of such a conclusion since Isaiah 1:15 also condemns prayer.  No one holds that the prophets rejected prayer; it was prayer offered without the proper moral commitment that was being denounced; the same holds true for the oracles against formal rituals.  Similar allusions in the Psalms which might be taken as a complete rejection of sacrifice (e.g., 40:7-8; 50:8-15) actually express the same concern for inner attitude as the prophets.  The wisdom literature sometimes reflects the same concern for moral and ethical values over empty sacerdotal acts (Prov. 15:8; 21:3, 27).
     Certain other statements by Amos (5:25) and Jeremiah (7:22) have been taken to mean that the prophets knew nothing of a ritual practice followed in the wilderness experience of Israel.  De Vaux has noted that Jeremiah clearly knew Deuteronomy 12:6-14 and regarded it as the Law of Moses.  The prophetic oracles against sacrifice in the desert are really saying that the original Israelite sacrificial system was not meant to be the empty, hypocritical formalism practiced by their contemporaries.  The demand by Hosea for 'mercy and not sacrifice...knowledge of God more than burnt offerings' (Hos. 6:6; cf. Matt. 9:13; 12:7) is surely to be taken as relative, a statement of priorities (cf. also I Sam. 15:22).  The inner attitude was prerequisite to any valid ritual expression (Isa. 29:13).  Foreign elements that had penetrated the Israelite sacrificial system were, of course, roundly condemned by the prophets.  Such was especially the case with Israel (Amos 4:5; Hos. 2:13-15; 4:11-13; 13:2) but also in Judah (Jer. 7:17-18; Ezek. 8; et al.)," (pg. 84 of Michael Brown's "Answering Jewish Objections")
Dr. J.H. Hertz:

"The Prophets do not seek to alter or abolish the externals of religion as such.  They are not so unreasonable as to demand that men should worship without aid of any outward symbolism.  What they protested against was the fatal tendency to make these outward symbols the whole of religion; the superstitious over-estimate of sacrifice as compared with justice, pity and purity; and especially the monstrous wickedness with which the offering of sacrifices was accompanied," (ibid, pg. 86).

Abraham Joshua Heschel:

"Sacrifice, the strength and the measure of piety, acts wherein God and man meet--all this should be called obnoxious?
     Of course, the prophets did not condemn the practice of sacrifice in itself; otherwise, we should have to conclude that Isaiah intended to discourage the practice of prayer (Isa. 1:14-15).  They did, however, claim that deeds of injustice vitiate both sacrifice and prayer.  Men may not drown out the cries of the oppressed with the noise of hymns, nor buy off the Lord with increased offerings.  The prophets disparaged the cult when it became a substitute for righteousness....
...The sacrificial act was a form of personal association with God, a way of entering into communion with him.  In offering an animal, a person was offering himself vicariously.  It had the power of atonement....
     It is hard for us to imagine what entering a sanctuary or offering a sacrifice meant to ancient man.  The sanctuary was holiness in perpetuity, a miracle in continuity; the divine was mirrored in the air, sowing blessing, closing gaps between the here and beyond.  In offering a sacrifice, man mingled with mystery, reached the summit of significance:  sin was consumed, self was abandoned, satisfaction was bestowed upon divinity.  Is it possible for us today to conceive of the solemn joy of those whose offering was placed on the altar?
Then will I go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy.
I will praise Thee with the lyre,
O God, my God
(Ps. 43:4; cf. Deut. 12:18-19; 31:11; Exod. 34:23-24; Isa. 1:12)," (ibid, pgs. 86-87). 

In the next post we will look at issue #2 "Does the Torah really offer other means of atonement than blood sacrifice?"

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