Meat. Leviticus 1

Welcome to sacrifice: making holy, bringing near, offering up what matters to you, to God and to others. This first chapter is about ‘olah’, burnt offerings: ‘holocaust’. Cattle, sheep, goats – and turtledoves and pigeons. Meat is delivered, rather than kept. Sacrifice, not consumption.

Imagine the slaughterhouse that feeds your table (if you are a carnivore). Imagine this rendering of animals at an altar in a desert – or at a temple altar. Which is worse? Hunting cultures, like Canadian first nations, show respect for animals in a variety of rituals. If human life relies on killing, how do we contain, order or channel that activity?

Our industrial consumption models leave ‘food production’ invisible. The delivery chain brings us an attractive form. Occasionally our suppressed concerns erupt in stories of global inequity, or environmental damage, climate change, food waste, or sustainability. As the conscientious vegan or vegetarian in your extended family or community, or follow the media reports of the issues.

How much weirder is a sacrifice system than our consumption models? A current TVO documentary on the Saugeen Peninsula (aka ‘The Bruce’) tells a tragic story of millennia of First Nations stewardship disrupted by the excesses of settler culture exhausting the fisheries, deforesting first growth forests, until its current emphasis on beef production and nuclear power generation.

For nomadic people or any older settled agrarian cultures, killing cattle, sheep or goats, is a matter of survival, and a commitment of scarce wealth. Imagine offering up your best animals to the communal altar of the cult, in the desert, or the temple, or in later forms of charity and tithing to the commonwealth through religious or public state taxation. This stuff matters!

Read carefully what is burnt up, and what is kept, and what is shared, as you pick through this and the later chapters about sacrifices. In the olah, or holocaust, only the hide is kept to pay the priest, and most of the animal is surrendered, made, holy, offered up, and brought near. This is less sweat for the birds, grabbed from the fields by agrarian and urban participants in the cult.

Imagine flinging the blood and the fat on a burning altar, and then the sections of the carcass, to burn up in apparent waste. What an affront to our cult of efficiency! No wonder we called mid-century genocide ‘holocaust’, a mystery of ‘bringing close’ for no apparent purpose beyond destruction!

Leviticus 1

The Lord summoned Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying: 
 
2 Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When any of you bring an offering of livestock to the Lord, you shall bring your offering from the herd or from the flock.
 
3 If the offering is a burnt-offering from the herd, you shall offer a male without blemish; you shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, for acceptance in your behalf before the Lord.
 
4 You shall lay your hand on the head of the burnt-offering, and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you.
 
5 The bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall offer the blood, dashing the blood against all sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting.
 
6 The burnt-offering shall be flayed and cut up into its parts.
 
7 The sons of the priest Aaron shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire.
 
8 Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the parts, with the head and the suet, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar;
 
9 but its entrails and its legs shall be washed with water. Then the priest shall turn the whole into smoke on the altar as a burnt-offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odour to the Lord.
 
10 If your gift for a burnt-offering is from the flock, from the sheep or goats, your offering shall be a male without blemish.

11 It shall be slaughtered on the north side of the altar before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall dash its blood against all sides of the altar. 
 
12 It shall be cut up into its parts, with its head and its suet, and the priest shall arrange them
on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; 
 
13 but the entrails and the legs shall be washed with water. Then the priest shall offer the whole and turn it into smoke on the altar;  it is a burnt-offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odour to the Lord.

14 If your offering to the Lord is a burnt-offering of birds, you shall choose your offering from turtle-doves or pigeons. 
 
15 The priest shall bring it to the altar and wring off its head, and turn it into smoke on the altar; and its blood shall be drained out against the side of the altar. 
 
16 He shall remove its crop with its contents and throw it at the east side of the altar, in the place for ashes. 
 
17 He shall tear it open by its wings without severing it. Then the priest shall turn it into smoke on the altar, on the wood that is on the fire; it is a burnt-offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odour to the Lord.