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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Priestly‐cultic Religion

The Priestly tradition, the core of which is the mass of cultic legislation including the end of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and parts of Numbers, represents a type of religion that, like Deuteronomic faith, is also monotheistic and centered on one place of worship. It, too, pre‐sents itself as the result of revelation in a covenant, which it also terms berit, although, unlike Deuteronomic texts, it does not avoid adding the word “eternal” (berit ʾolam). It views the sacrificial cult as an unconditional and permanent establishment, like the Davidic covenant, and unlike the Sinai/Horebcovenant, which was dependent on Israel‐s obedience and was therefore conditional. Like the Deuteronomic tradition, the Priestly tradition uses the term “rest” (shakan) to describe God's link to the shrine (mishkan), but what “rests” on it is not the divine name, but the “glory” (kavod). For this reason it is often said that the Priestly texts reflect a “glory” theology, in opposition to Deuteronomic “name” theology, expressive of an implied idea of divine immanence rather than transcendence. Kavod is the term already used in IsraeliteߚJudean religion to describe the manifestation in theophany of the divine presence as storm cloud, lightning, earthquake, and, above all, as refulgent radiance. These ideas are rooted in the ancient Near East; a similar light surrounded the gods (a late relic of this belief is the halo around saints' heads in Christian art, prefigured by the light that streamed from Moses0027; face [Exod. 34.30 ]). But in Priestly thinking the ancient concepts and images have become more systematic. The divine glory, which was the main manifestation of the Sinai experience (Exod. 24.16–18 ) in the Priestly worldview, is said to have entered the completed Mosaic Tabernacle, model of future shrines, at its dedication (Exod. 40.34–35 ) and to return each year on the Day of Atonement to the Holy of Holies in the Temple, where it appeared over the cherub lid of the Ark (Lev. 16.2 ) (an alternative interpretation is that it was always immanent in the shrine but became visible only on that day). To be sure, it was seen only by the high priest on that day, but Priestly religion is nevertheless in general a religion of seeing, not hearing, like Deuteronomic religion. It is also a religion of touching, and smelling of the propitiating odor (reaḥ niḥoahx0323;) of sacrifice and of the sweet savour of incense and spices. In other words, it is a religion of the physical, in which language, even prayer, plays little role, being quite absent from Torah texts reflecting this tradition. The contrast with Deuteronomic religion on this point could not be greater.

The Priestly tradition includes not only cultic texts dealing with sacrifice and ritual, but also the Priestly narrative source, responsible for the creation account of Gen. 1.1–2.4 and other key stories in Genesis and later in the Torah. If the narrative materials are viewed in conjunction with the cultic ones, it is possible to extrapolate an implicit Priestly theology that blends ritual and theology. The central ritual substance is the blood of sacrifice, and the central religious idea is atonement. The only explicit statement of the connection between the two is Lev. 17.11 , where it is said that the blood of sacrifice effects atonement for the lives of Israelites. The underlying theology is not explained, since, unlike Deuteronomy, the Priestly authors eschew explanation and rationalization; but in the preceding chapter, Lev. ch 16 , it is said that the high priest is to attain atonement for Israel by entering the Holy of Holies and sprinkling sacrificial blood before the divine presence. The link between atonement and blood is therefore quite firm. According to another Priestly text, Gen. ch 9 , avoiding consumption of blood is part of a complex of themes, in which the eating of the meat of animals is presented in the context of a divine concession to inherent human sinfulness. But the preceding chapter (Gen. ch 8 ) contains an eternal divine promise never to allow human sin to lead to another catastrophic flood. It may perhaps be extrapolated that blood is a reminder to God both of human sin and of His promise to forgive. Perhaps it is safer to say that the link between sacrificial blood and forgiveness for sins is a mystery, because the Priestly tradition cultivates mystery and a sense of the immanently numinous. The Priestly complex of blood and atonement was to have a great effect on Christian theology. After the destruction of the Temple, the Rabbis stated that prayer, rather than blood, attains forgiveness for Israel; this reflects a melding of Deuteronomic and Priestly worldviews.

Priestly religion has reinterpreted the old cult of Israelite‐Judean religion to focus less on the ancient whole, communal, and thank offerings (ʾolah, shelem, todah), than on the expiatorysacrifices, the “sin offering” (ataʾt) (better translated “purification offering”) and “trespass offering” (“guilt offering”) (ʿasham). Old festivals were reinterpreted, the ancient probable New Year, as noted above, all but disappearing in the process.

The Priestly tradition also continues the ancient insistence that worshippers be morally as well as ritually pure. It has been suggested that some psalms, especially Pss. 15 and 24 , reflect ancient “entrance liturgies,” declarations of moral purity pilgrims were obliged to make before they could enter the sacred precincts of the shrine. The moral aspect finds expression in the Priestly tradition of later biblical religion primarily in the “Holiness Collection” (Lev. chs 17–26 ), especially in Lev ch 19 (the command to “love thy neighbor as thyself” comes from Lev. 19.18 ). In these chapters, worshippers are enjoined to be “holy as the LORD, your God is holy.” To the developed Priestly tradition holiness means not just the numinous “other,” or moral perfection, but physical and spiritual separation from the impure: clean from unclean, sinner from wicked, Israel from the nations. Gen. ch 1 represents creation itself as a series of separations and distinctions by means of which primeval chaos became ordered. Similarly, the Temple consists of a complex of precincts of increasing holiness. This reclusive, segregating notion of the holy is derived from ancient Near Eastern, ultimately mythically rooted models, like much of Priestly thinking. But in its final form this definition of holiness as separation and exclusion fits especially well with the milieu of postexilic Judah in the 5th century BCE, in which, as the books of Ezra and Nehemiah show, separation from other groups was the key issue. Gone is the broad view of holiness as the divine presence that fills the whole earth (Isa. 6.3 ). Also reflecting postexilic circumstances is the ritual prominence in the Priestly codes of the Sabbath as a weekly day of rest memorializing creation, and the rite of circumcision as a sign of the Abrahamic covenant, distinguishing Jews from their neighbors.

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