St. Anne is an old Crusader Church built in 1100’s. It has amazing acoustics – sound reverberates through the whole building although I think it would be a disaster for anyone trying to preach.

According to Catholic tradition, St. Anne was the mother of Mary and this cathedral was built to mark the place where Mary was born. What is of more interest to me is that it was built at the site of the Pool of Bethesda where the sick would wait for healing just outside of the temple.

John 5:2-9 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids–blind, lame, and paralyzed. 4 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 ¶ And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.

The man thought Jesus might help him into the pool. He got much more than that!

Kippur – Part 2

So we have met with a Rabi here on campus several times since the last post…

If there is one thing I have taken from what has been said about atonement is that there is a general desire to downplay the significance of blood in the ceremonies instructed by God on Mt. Sinai. (I think think is true in Church as well)

The Rabi took us to several passages to show that the blood of a sacrifice was not always necessary for atonement in the OT. There was no sin offering mentioned in Leviticus in which a grain offering could be made if the person could not afford a couple of birds.

Leviticus 5:11 – “But if he cannot afford two turtledoves or two pigeons, then he shall bring as his offering for the sin that he has committed a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering. He shall put no oil on it and shall put no frankincense on it, for it is a sin offering.

Another place that mentions atonement apart from a blood sacrifice is in the instructions for taking a census of Israel. A 1/2 shekel tax was to be levied for the maintenance of the temple and so that no plague would break out against the people during the census.

11 ¶ And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 12 When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them. 13 This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the LORD. 14 Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering unto the LORD. 15 The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls. 16 And thou shalt take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shalt appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; that it may be a memorial unto the children of Israel before the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls. Exodus 30:11-16

The atonement money was given “so that there would be no plague” when the census was taken. Was this why a plague broke out when King David numbered the people in 2 Sam. 24?

The Rabi also discussed why atonement was made for the altar. The altar cannot sin… so why atonement? It seems that according the commentators, atonement was made for the altar because it is likely that the altar contained material given with impure motives – and thus atonement was made to purify it… and to separate it from the common. (in other words to sanctify it and make it holy)

What I don’t understand is the desire to disconnect atonement from the blood of a sacrifice? Leviticus seems to be pretty clear on the matter: (even if there are some general exceptions for the poor)

Leviticus 17:11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.

Some other questions that came up:

Was there any significance in the blood applied to the door post and lintel of the house during the Passover feast? No… It was simply a sign of obedience to God and had nothing to do with the sin of the Israelites.

What was the first recorded sacrifice? Cain and Abel.

When was the first recorded death? It was the death of an animal to provide clothing for Adam and Eve. Why did God clothe Adam and Eve? To show his love for them because fig leaves are uncomfortable. Is there significance to Adam and Eves feeling of nakedness and Gods provision of clothing other than purely physical considerations? Could this be considered the first sacrifice?

Anyway, that is the gist of the far ranging conversations that we had…

In finishing off this post, I think there is a danger in focusing only on the atonement sacrifices as though they were the sole purpose of the tabernacle… They were not. The tabernacle was ‘the Dwelling Place’ where God met with his people.

What was the music like? And what craftsmanship and skill went into the making of the tent and its furnishings? What vivid and meaningful ceremonies – such as the pouring out of water and wine at the feast of Tabernacles or the offering of the first fruit’s – were carried out as the people came before God with joy and singing at the appointed feasts? What messages of the prophets were spoken for the first time in its courts?

Psalm 84:10 10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

This was not a dark and depressing cathedral filled with the chanting of men who sound like they are at the edge of the grave.

But what is clear… and this what all of Rabinic Judaism seems to wish to deny… was that the sacrifice of atonement was at the heart of everything else that occurred in the tabernacle.

As the writer of Hebrews said,

Hebrews 9:22 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

Matthew Henry – on the burnt offering:

It must be offered at the door of the tabernacle, where the brazen altar of burnt-offerings stood, which sanctified the gift, and not elsewhere. He must offer it at the door, as one unworthy to enter, and acknowledging that there is no admission for a sinner into covenant and communion with God, but by sacrifice…

Kippur – Part 1

Once a week, after the Ulpan is finished, a visiting Rabi or professor gives a talk on theology, Judaism, etc. With Rosh HaShana (the head of the year) approaching and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) soon after, there has been some discussion on kippur… or ‘atonement’.

Here are a few notes from the session:

The Rabi has said that the goal of our existence is to be increasingly filled with God’s presence. The more we obey God the closer God draws near to us. As far as I understand his concept of salvation, we are saved and are made fit for heaven by our actions. This brought up a question: If God dwells in us based on keeping his commands then what is the purpose and meaning of atonement in the Tannach? Why did atonement figure so prominently in the ceremonies conducted by the priests in the tabernacle?

The Rab knew where this question was going and said that Christians have a concept of atonement that focused on death as the means by which God forgives sin but that this was not correct interpretation of atonement… or of the sacrifices.

According to the Rabi, since the temple has been destroyed, the sacrifices that God finds acceptable are the fruit of our lives – the sacrifices of our lips. So what is atonement?

At this point a religious lady who was a Jew described ‘kaparot’ , a ceremony in which a chicken is slaughtered on eve of Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement). She told us that she could not sleep for two nights after she had done ‘kapporot.’ She told the class that although you can read about it, it is not until you actually do ‘kaporot’ that it becomes meaningful. It is when you grab the chicken by the wings and feel its heart beating and then realize that you deserved to die instead of the chicken…

What she had described was exactly my understanding of ‘kippur’.

The Rabi said that although on the surface atonement appears to have the same meaning to Jews and Christians, that this was not the case. He offered to meet with those of us interested, mostly Christians by this point, to explain atonement further. It was a friendly conversation and it has helped bring the meaning of ‘atonement’ into sharper focus. I will write more about the results of our second meeting with the Rabi another time. (I am out of time right now)

There seems to be an increasing amount of debate surrounding this word in ‘Christian’ circles. There have been a number of books written recently that reject substitutionary atonement and refer to the concept as divine child abuse. (I haven’t read the books but only reviews)

Such a view denies the unity of God and makes a mockery of the tremendous mystery of the Incarnation.

Tacitus on the Jews

Reading Tacitus reminds me a little of reading articles written by Hitchens, Harris or Dawkins about ‘Christian fundamentalists’ except that Tacitus writes with a degree of hatred that can only be understood in the context of that ancient hatred that has been uniquely reserved for the Jewish people.

Tacitus writes of the Jewish traditions,

“Things sacred with us, with them have no sanctity, while they allow what with us is forbidden

[Jewish customs]…which are at once perverse and disgusting, owe their strength to their very badness. The most degraded out of other races…”

What are these customs that Tacitus finds so disgusting?

“They slay the ram, seemingly in derision of Hammon, and they sacrifice the ox, because the Egyptians worship it as Apis.”

Tacitus is not disgusted with the sacrifices themselves (he later criticizes them for not offering sacrifices) but with the idea that the Jews offer sacrifices to spite the Egyptians. Is this simply ignorance? Did Tacitus have no understanding of atonement? Or is this just polemics?

What other criticisms did he have?

They practiced circumcision, they do not sleep with foreign women, they do not expose their children, they keep one day for rest and they do not eat bacon.

Is this all that Tacitus can marshal against “the most base of races”?

Among other observations by Tacitus, I thought this one was most interesting,

“The Egyptians worship many animals and images of monstrous form; the Jews have purely mental conceptions of Deity, as one in essence. They call those profane who make representations of God in human shape out of perishable materials. They believe that Being to be supreme and eternal, neither capable of representation, nor of decay. They therefore do not allow any images to stand in their cities, much less in their temples.”

While jeering, Tacitus unintentionally described the very aspects of the Jewish faith that make it timeless and profound.