JEPD Evidence & Arad

Jonathan D. Safren yonsaf at
Mon Dec 20 03:25:53 EST 1999

George Athas wrote:

> > Leviticus 17 prohibits profane slaughter in general and allows it only
> > in the case of game animals; all other animals must be brought to tha
> > altar for slaughter. This presupposes a situation in which altars are
> > conveniently available to all; i. e., before centralization of cult.
> Or, it could simply have been written for a small audience, perhaps only those in
> Jerusalem and its immediate environs, or perhaps only priestly classes. How many people in
> antiquity had a copy of Leviticus at home that they could pull off the shelf along with
> their cook books? Was it meant for everyone to read?

[JSafren] You are saying then that Lev. 17 was written for a local and not a national
audience. In other words, there were other altars which operated under different rules. That
is exactly what Y. Kaufman says when he claims that the Priestly laws were originally the
cultic customs of the various high places. If you are right, this is no evidence for
centralization of cult, nerely evidence for one small cultic community.

> But, the setting of Leviticus actually implies the existence of a centralised cult -
> specifically the Pavilion-shrine religion of the wandering Israelites after the Exodus.
> The implication of sacrificing elsewhere seems not to be that the people had access to other
> non-centralised altars, but that they could offer their sacrifices to other gods.
> The point of bringing the animal to the altar is to offer it to Yahweh alone in his
> dwelling place.

[JSafren] That is true. And it is only possible if He had many dwelling-places.
Moreover, Lev. 17 is not talking specifically about burnt-offerings - 'olah and i$$eh. It uses
the verb $axat - "slaughter" - and the noun zevax - "offering", indicating that the situtation
is one of family gatherings in which meat is eaten, either on holidays or on any other special
occasion on which meat was eaten (and meat wasn't eaten every day). This passage is NOT
talking about the Temple cultus but about people wanting to eat meat. Otherwise we would have
expected terms such as he'elah 'olah, i$$eh, xat'at and the like. But we only find terms about
slaughter in general.
Deut. 12 makes this distinction very clear when it states that all burnt-offerings must be
brought to the central altar but all general, profane slaughter may be done anywhere.

> There is a bit of interpretative reworking of the tradition here that leads one to posit a
> non-centralised cult here in Leviticus 17. It might be a correct hypothesis, but there are
> many loose threads.

[JSafren} I most certainly have interpreted - and correctly, in my opinion. I have not
reworked anything. It's all there for the reader to see.

> > Deuteronomy 12 allows profane slaughter for the saking of broiling a
> > steak or whatever in any place; only those animals specifically
> > designated as sacrifices need be brought to the central altar.
> > Deuteronomy says, regarding profane slaughter, that anyone may eat them,
> > whether he is ritually pure or impure, just like game animals.
> > One conlcudes that Deuteronomy is specifically referring to the
> > injunctions of Leviticus 17 and nullifying them. In other words,
> > Deuteronomy 12, which reflects the demand for centralization of the
> > cult, is later than Leviticus 17, which precedes it (Yehezkel Kaufman)
> Or, it could reflect a different cult altogether as a result of a changing of the guard.
> Or, again, it could be addressing only a very small group of people. The assumption behind
> these conclusions is that Leviticus and Deuteronomy were necessarily widely circulating
> documents after their first printing run. Is there any evidence of this? To what period can
> we assign that first printing run?

[JSafren] The cult has most certainly changed. Just read what King Josiah did to the Jerusalem
cultus in his cultic reform of 621 BCE.
Leviticus need not have been a widely-circulating document at all. It was enough that it was
known in cultic circles. The Deuteronomistic reformers, who  were principally interested in
cultic matters, would have made it their business to lay their hands on the Priestly material,
whatever its provenience. So it doesn't really matter whether Lev. 17 originated in the
Jerusalem Temple or was brought to Jerusalem by fleeing Northern Israelites, as some claim.

> > According to 2 Kings, centralization of the cult was attempted by
> > Hezekiah and successfully accomplished by Josiah, Ezekiel, writing in
> > Babylon during the Exile, writes in Chap. 44 that only the Zadokite
> > priests will be allowed to sacrifice in the new temple. The other
> > Levites - those who were priests in the now-defunct bamot - will not.
> > So Ezekiel's writings postdate and reflect centralization of cult.
> Did centralisation occur only once? Is the centralisation referred to in Ezekiel the same as
> that implied by Deuteronomy?

[JSafren} Centralization also occurred under Hezekiah, unsuccessfully. But since Ezekiel
starts prophesying in 592 BCE, and since he had been a priest in the Jerusalem Temple until
597, it would appear most logical that he is referring to the Josianic reform, which preceded
his service in the Temple by only about 20 years.

Jonathan D. Safren
Dept. of Biblical Studies
Beit Berl College
Beit Berl Post Office 44905

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