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Loyalty and Scope of Expiation in Numbers 15

Pages 249 - 262


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1 See, e.g., Martin Noth, Numbers (OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968), 114; Gordon Wenham, Numbers (TOTC; Leicester, U.K./Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity, 1981), 126; Jacob Milgrom, Numbers (JPS Torah Commentary; Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990), 117; Eryl Davies, Numbers (NCB; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 149–50.

2 Cf. Dennis Olson: “The alleged ‚junk room‘ of Numbers…” (Numbers [IBC; Louisville, Ky.: John Knox, 1996], 101).

3 Davies, Numbers, 156.

4 Olson, Numbers, 91–2, 97; Wenham, Numbers, 126–7.

5 Emphasized by the refrain “throughout your generations” (Num 15:14, 15, 21, 23, 38), and the repeated reminder in v. 41 that the Lord remains Israel's God. Dennis Olson, The Death of the Old and the Birth of the New: The Framework of the Book of Numbers and the Pentateuch (Chico: Scholars, 1985), 171–4; idem, Numbers, 97, 99; cf. Ibn Ezra and Ramban on Num 15:2; Wenham, Numbers; 127–8; Milgrom, Numbers, 117.

6 Olson, Numbers, 98, 100; Jay Sklar, “Num 15:30–31 as Backdrop to Heb 10:26”, SBL paper, Biblical Law Section (November 24, 2008), 6. Olson suggests that “the present form of Numbers 15 involves a collection of material brought together under the theme of the significance of intentionality in determining the degree of guilt and punishment” (Death of the Old, 167; cf. 173–4; idem, Numbers, 96). Placement of purification offering legislation in Num 15 supports Baruch Levine's observation: “The covenant, and the only-to-be-expected violations of it represent the larger framework within which the ḥaṭṭāʾt sacrifice functioned” (In the Presence of the Lord: A Study of Cult and Some Cultic Terms in Ancient Israel [SJLA 5; Leiden: Brill, 1974]), 103. Mary Douglas explains placement of Numbers 15 differently in terms of thematic parallels with chaps. 18–19 (both legal sections dealing with “offerings & purification”) within her “ring” structure of the book of Numbers (In the Wilderness: The Doctrine of Defilement in the Book of Numbers [JSOTSup 158; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993], 118, 122, 146–7, 150–51).

7 Shown by his gathering (קשט) stuff (vv. 32–33; cf. Exod 5:7, 12 gathering straw for the pharaoh); Tzvi Novick, “Law and Loss: Response to Catastrophe in Numbers 15”, HTR 101 (2008): 5–7; cf. Mathilde Frey, “The Sabbath in the Pentateuch: An Exegetical and Theological Study”, Ph.D. dissertation in progress, Andrews University. His stoning by the community (15:36) contrasts with the rebellious Israelites' failed attempt to stone Caleb and Joshua, the faithful scouts (14:10; Olson, Numbers, 98).

8 Simeon Chavel, “Numbers 15,32–36 — A Microcosm of the Living Priesthood and Its Literary Production”, in The Strata of the Priestly Writings: Contemporary Debate and Future Directions (ed. Sarah Shectman and Joel S. Baden; AThANT 95; Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 2009), 50; cf. 51.

9 Wenham, Numbers, 126; Milgrom, Numbers, 127; Olson, Numbers, 98–99; Roy Gane, Leviticus, Numbers (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 622. There is also a link to chap. 16. To each tassel is attached a cord of violet color (15:38), reminiscent of violet cords belonging to the high priestly garments (Exod 28:28, 37; 39:21, 31). This would remind the Israelites to keep themselves holy to God as a nation of his royal priests (cf. Exod 19:6; Milgrom, Numbers, 127–28, 411, 413–14). But in Numbers 16, Korah & Co. mistakenly and rebelliously refer to this holiness of the whole people as an argument against the religious leadership of Moses and Aaron (v. 3; ibid., 131; Olson, Numbers, 100).

10 Ibid., 92–4.

11 Davies, Numbers, 149–50.

12 So Gary Anderson, “The Interpretation of the Purification Offering (חטאת) in the Temple Scroll (11QTemple) and Rabbinic Literature”, JBL 111 (1992): 19, 30–31.

13 P. Saydon, “Sin-Offering and Trespass-Offering”, CBQ 8 (1946) 397.

14 See, e.g., Jacob Milgrom, Cult and Conscience: The Asham and the Priestly Doctrine of Repentance (SJLA 18; Leiden: Brill, 1976), 109–10; Bradley McLean, “The Interpretation of the Levitical Sin Offering and the Scapegoat”, SR 20 (1991): 348; Baruch Levine, Numbers 1–20 (AB 4A; New York: Doubleday, 1993), 398. For detailed review of attempts to reconcile Num 15 with other passages, see Roy Gane, Cult and Character: Purification Offerings, Day of Atonement, and Theodicy (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2005), 205–13; idem, “Numbers 15:22–31 and the Spectrum of Moral Faults”, in Inicios, paradigmas y fundamentos: Estudios teologicos y exegeticos en el Pentateuco (ed. Gerald Klingbeil; River Plate Adventist University Monograph Series in Biblical and Theological Studies 1; Libertador San Martin, Entre Rios, Argentina: Editorial Universidad Adventista del Plata, 2004), 149–156.

15 On these sins as defiant, see, e.g., Adrian Schenker, “Das Zeichen des Blutes und die Gewissheit der Vergebung im Alten Testament”, MTZ 34 (1983): 205; idem, „Interprétations récentes et dimensions spécifiques du sacrifice ḥaṭṭāʾt “ Bib 75 (1994): 65, 69; idem, Recht und Kult im Alten Testament (OBO 172; Freiburg/Göttingen: Universitätsverlag/Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000), 121; C. Labuschagne, “The Meaning of beyād rāmā in the Old Testament”, Von Kanaan bis Kerala (Fs. for J.P.M. van der Ploeg; AOAT 211; Kevelaer/Neukirchen-Vluyn: Butzon & Bercker/Neukirchener, 1982), 145, 146, 148. Wenham relates Num 15 to “deliberate apostasy” in Heb 10:26ff (Numbers, 131). Jay Sklar has emphasized that in Num 15:30–31, “high-handed” sinners are also described as blaspheming the Lord, despising his word, breaking his commandment, and condemned to “cutting off”. Such a person “is not simply committing intentional sin; he or she is committing that sin defiantly and from a posture of complete and total rejection of the covenant Lord himself. In short, it is the intentional sin of an apostate that is in view” (“Num 15:30–31 as Backdrop to Heb 10:26”, 6). Compare the rebellious posture of a hand upraised against one's overlord in the Akkadian letter YOS 3.25: “Why in the world did you lift your hand against the king…?” (transl. A. Leo Oppenheim, Letters from Mesopotamia [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967], 190).

16 Gane, Cult and Character, 210–13; idem, “Numbers 15:22–31 and the Spectrum of Moral Faults, ” 154–5.

17 Inadvertence automatically rules out the possibility of mens rea, an unlawful state of mind on the part of the offender, which could accompany the actus reus, the unlawful act (cf. “Criminal Law and Procedure,” 4–5, legal summary in West Week West Bar Review (Washington, D.C.: West Publishing, 1996), courtesy of Rita D. Giebel, Attorney at Law.

18 Cf. Wenham, Numbers, 130–31; Philip Budd, Numbers (WBC 5; Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1984), 173–4.; Gane, Cult and Character, 212.

19 K. Koch, “Sühne und Sündenvergebung um die Wende von der exilischen zur nachexilischen Zeit,” EvTh 26 (1966): 331–2. However, see Exod 34:7 (including rebellious sin [פשע]) and the case of King Manasseh (2 Chron 33), where God can mercifully forgive rebellious sinners apart from the Israelite sacrificial system.

20 B. L. Eichler, “Literary Structure in the Laws of Eshnunna,” in Language, Literature, and History: Philological and Historical Studies Presented to Erica Reiner (ed. Francesca Rochberg-Halton; AOS 67; New Haven, Conn.: American Oriental Society, 1987), 72; cf. 73–83.

21 Presumably he would have known that he was defying the Lord's repeated commands against work on Sabbath (Exod 16:29; 20:10; 23:12; 31:13–16; 34:21; 35:2–3), although this narrative does not explicitly label his offense as a “high-handed” sin or state that he suffered “cutting off” (כרת). Wenham, Numbers, 131; Olson, The Death of the Old, 167; idem, Numbers, 96; cf. Jay Sklar, who regards his fate as an illustration of “cutting off” (כרת; Sin, Impurity, Sacrifice, Atonement: The Priestly Conceptions [Hebrew Bible Monographs 2; Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2005], 19).

22 Roy Gane, “Numbers 15:22–31 and the Spectrum of Moral Faults,” 155–6; cf. idem, Leviticus, Numbers, 626; idem, Cult and Character, 212.

23 See ibid., 83–6.

24 These would include the laws of vv. 1–16, 17–21, 37–41.

25 So there is at least overlap between the scope of the Leviticus 4 and Numbers 15 rituals. Milgrom, Numbers, 402–3; idem, Leviticus 1–16 (AB 3; New York: Doubleday, 1991), 264–9; Davies, Numbers, 157.

26 Wenham, Numbers, 130. See the lengths to which Ramban (on Num 15:22) went to imagine scenarios of unwitting apostasy, such as a child who was taken captive and grew up unaware of his Jewish identity.

27 Anderson, “Interpretation of the Purification Offering,” 19–24, 32–34, in agreement with the Temple Scroll, but against rabbinic interpretation (e.g., m. Hor. 2:6).

28 Cf. Wenham, Numbers, 130. For other problems with Anderson's view, see Gane, Cult and Character, 83–7.

29 Ariyeh Toeg, “Numbers 15:22–31 — Midrash Halakha,” Tarbiz 43 (1974): 8–10 (Hebrew). Michael Fishbane accepts Toeg's view that the Num 15 passage is an expansion based on Lev 4, but stresses the magnitude of the change in Num 15 (Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel [Oxford: Clarendon, 1985], 193). Others who have regarded the Numbers 15 law as presupposing that of Lev 4 include Diether Kellermann, “Bemerkungen zum Sündopfergesetz in Num 15,22ff.,” Wort und Geschichte: Festschrift für Karl Elliger zum 70. Geburtstag (AOAT 18; Kevelaer/Neukirchen-Vluyn: Butzon & Bercker/Neukirchener, 1973), 107–13; Wenham, Numbers, 130–31. “It seems simplest to suppose that the Leviticus rule is being modified slightly, as occurs with some other pentateuchal laws (cf. Ex. 13:2 and Nu. 3:12f.; Lv. 7:34 and Dt. 18:3; Lv. 11:39f. and Dt. 14:21).” Timothy Ashley agrees, adding comparisons between Num 2:17 and 10:17, and between Lev 27:30–33; Num 18:21–32 and Deut 14:22–29 to illustrate modification and supplementation of laws over time (The Book of Numbers [NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993], 285–6 [incl. n. 10]).

30 Israel Knohl, „The Sin Offering Law in the ‚Holiness School‘ [Numbers 15.22–31],“ Priesthood and Cult in Ancient Israel (Gary Anderson and Saul Olyan, eds.; JSOTSup 125; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991), 195.

31 Ibid., 195–203; cf. idem, The Sanctuary of Silence: The Priestly Torah and the Holiness School (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 53, 171–2. Dennis Cole suggests that listing the burnt offering first here may be to emphasize its accompanying grain and wine offerings (Numbers [NAC 3B; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2000], 251).

32 Gane, Cult and Character, 85–6; idem, Leviticus, Numbers, 621.

33 Milgrom, Numbers, 404–5. Davies suggests the possibility of a complex literary relationship between the two passages, with borrowing in more than one direction (Davies, Numbers, 156–7), but Milgrom has abandoned the quest for literary dependency.

34 Milgrom, Numbers, 124.

35 E.g., W.H. Bellinger, Leviticus and Numbers (NIBC 3; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2001), 236.

36 Olson, Numbers, 94–5.

37 On “cutting off” see, e.g., Donald Wold, „The Meaning of the Biblical Penalty Kareth“ (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1978), 251–5; Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16, 457–60; B. Schwartz, “The Bearing of Sin in the Priestly Literature,” in D.P. Wright, D.N. Freedman, and A. Hurvitz, eds., Pomegranates and Golden Bells: Studies in Biblical, Jewish, and Near Eastern Ritual, Law, and Literature in Honor of Jacob Milgrom (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1995), 13.

38 Cf. Bellinger, Leviticus and Numbers, 236.

39 Cf. Num 6:16, in which the performance/procedural order reverses the administrative order in v. 14, where the burnt offering is listed first (cf. Lev 12:6, 8). On such differences in ritual order, see Anson Rainey, “The Order of Sacrifices in Old Testament Ritual Texts,” Bib 51 (1970): 485–98.

40 In such cases the burnt offering supplements the quantity of expiation, apparently without adding distinct qualitative efficacy (Rolf Rendtorff, Leviticus [BKAT; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1985–1992], 3:177; Baruch Levine, Leviticus [JPS Torah Commentary; Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989], 29; Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16, 304; Roy Gane, Ritual Dynamic Structure [Gorgias Dissertations 14, Religion 2; Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2004], 151–2; idem, Leviticus, Numbers, 122; idem, Cult and Character, 84–5. If this dynamic operates in Numbers 15, as I previously thought it did (Gane, Ritual Dynamic Structure, 151–2; idem, Leviticus, Numbers, 122; idem, Cult and Character, 84–5), a purification offering goat and burnt offering bull in Numbers 15 would simply provide a greater quantity of purification offering expiation than the purification offering bull in Leviticus 4.

41 Milgrom, Numbers, 403–4. Rainey regarded the order in Num 15:24–25 as administrative, missing the implication of עשה (“Order of Sacrifices,” 491).

42 Milgrom, Numbers 404–5, following Rolf Rendtorff, Studien zur Geschichte des Opfers im alten Israel (WMANT 24; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1967), 22–23, 81–83. Neither do these reconstructions of Numbers 15 convince Knohl. He responds: “The fluent and uniform style of the passage and the fine linguistic distinctions in the descriptions of the various sacrifices witness, in my opinion, to a single literary unit that is influenced by both popular and Priestly cultic traditions and seeks to harmonize them” (Knohl, Sanctuary of Silence, 172 n. 20).

43 Rashi referred to this unusual order, which he saw as unique among purification-burnt offering pairs and correlated with lack of the א in חַטׇּה, “purification offering”, as support for his view concerning the unique scope of the ritual complex: to remedy sins involving idolatry.

44 Contra Gane, Ritual Dynamic Structure, 295, where I held that these purification offerings were actually performed before the burnt offerings. Note that עשה is a unifying element in Num 15 (vv. 3, 5, 6, 8, 11–14, 22, 24, 29, 30, 34, 38–40), as noted by Cole (Numbers, 243), and also in chaps. 28–29 (vv. 4, 6, 8, 15, 18, 20, 21, 23–26, 31; 29:1, 2, 7, 12, 35, 39). Ritual complexes for the community at new moons and annual festivals are in addition to, and therefore follow, the regular morning burnt offerings (28:15, 23, 24, 31; 29:6, 11, 16, 19, etc.; Gane, Ritual Dynamic Structure, 288; cf. m. Zebaḥim 10:1). After a regular burnt offering, the first sacrifice of every day, it makes sense to continue with additional burnt offerings, which supplement it, before performance of a purification offering.

45 Milgrom recognizes similarity between Num 15:24 and combinations of burnt and purification offerings of male animals in Lev 9:3; 23:18–19 and Num 28–29 (Numbers, 405).

46 Levine notes that the modified structure of burnt + purification offering resembles procedures in public festivals (Num 28–29) and explains: “A certain degree of blending is to be assumed, whereby combinations characteristic of the public cult were superimposed on the expiatory process, when it concerned communal atonement and, in that sense, represented public worship” (Numbers 1–20, 396).

47 Addition to the efficacy formula is continued into v. 26, where forgiveness is reiterated. Contrast the simpler conclusions in passages dealing with purification + burnt offering pairs (Lev 5:10; 9:7; 15:15, 30; Num 6:11; 8:12). In Lev 14:19–20 a burnt offering following a purification offering is assigned separate expiatory significance (repeating the pi ‘el of כפר). But here these sacrifices are not paired; rather, they come at the end of a series of sacrifices beginning with a reparation offering (אטם; vv. 12–18).

48 Cf. Rendtorff, Studien zur Geschichte, 82–83.

49 Cf. Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16, 175–6, 858.

50 Although in Num 28–29 explicit references to expiation only follow mention of additional purification offerings (28:22, 30; 29:5).

51 Milgrom notes regarding Num 15:22–31: “The lack of an introductory phrase, as in verses 1 and 17, indicates that this section was intended to be a continuation of the previous one” (Numbers, 122).

52 Israel Knohl regards both as products of the “Holiness School” (Sanctuary of Silence, 9–13, 23, 53, 90, 105, 171–2).

53 Nanette, Stahl, Law and Liminality in the Bible (JSOTSup 202; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 12–14. By comparison with repetition of the festival laws in Exod 34 after the golden calf episode, which “transmits a hopeful — if sobered — vision of the ongoing covenantal relationship,” Stahl mentions that the “legal material in Num. 15, Dennis Olson notes, also inserts a conciliatory and hopeful note into the text, in that instance following the account of the colossal failure of Moses' spies to fulfill their mission” (69, n. 33; citing Olson, Death of the Old, 171–3). However, Stahl does not analyze Numbers 15.

54 Stahl, 14; cf. 15–17.

55 Milgrom has no real answer for this difference: “It might be suggested that Numbers 15 has no interest in the cases of the High Priest (Lev. 4:1–12) or of the chieftain (nasiʾ) (Lev. 4:22–26)” (Numbers, 404).

56 It is true that a high-handed sinner could be a high priest or chieftain, but such a case is not envisioned in Numbers 15.

57 Another apparent abbreviation is omission of a sheep as an optional victim for the commoner (cf. Lev 4:32; 5:6).

58 Gane, Leviticus, Numbers, 619; Bellinger, Leviticus and Numbers, 237–8.

59 On the centrality of loyalty in the context of Israel's expiatory system, see Gane, Cult and Character, 305–23.

60 For the independence of the wood-gatherer story, as indicated by its opening words, see Chavel, “Numbers 15,32–36 — A Microcosm,” 51–2.

61 Cf. Novick, “Law and Loss,” 4–8, regarding the hopeless attitude of the wood-gatherer, who may have thought that God's law no longer applied to him.

62 Cf. Dennis Olson, Death of the Old, 173–4; idem, Numbers, 100; Gane, Leviticus, Numbers, 619.


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