Consumption & Sacrifice (1) Leviticus: 1-4

Glib Liberals Reading Leviticus In Tory Times

We live in a culture of consumption, the consumer society replacing a previous industrial age of production.  We should talk a bit about our stuff, and how much we’ve got and why we accumulate it.  It may take awhile to get past glib guilt about our affluence, claims of our earlier struggles, and agreement about distributive injustices, and the politics of redistribution through state socialism or global capitalism.  Reading Leviticus this time, we’ll take 2 weeks to read the first 10 chapters of Leviticus, with this organizing distinction in mind.

Can we begin to imagine an alternative to consumption? What if we stop maximizing, and choose inefficiencies in the name of other ‘goods’?  What if it’s not “the one who dies with the most toys wins”? The collective options of 20th century communism and fascism don’t get much hearing these days.  The ascendant theocracies of Islam and the aspirations of conservative Christians are equally unfamiliar to us liberal progressives. ‘Community building’ and modest sharing claim too much for us, and demand too little from us, compared to older hippie communes and religious sects and cults.  

Leviticus begins with elaboration of a system of sacrifice. Sacrifice is ancient, and sited at many shrines, but as Leviticus jumps into instructions, you’ll need a ‘mental movie’ between your ears, to imagine and visualize what is described.  Listening to somebody else read may help that.  You might even begin by revisiting the descriptions from the latter chapters of Exodus, already posted at www.hereticslikeus.com, most recently in fall 2016.  

You might envision the ‘tent in the desert’ from Exodus as a set for your movie.  That’s the normative image, and many bibles and online references will provide you with pictures.  A big rectangular wall of tenting encloses a smaller tent, inside of which is a ‘God in a box’, as we Glib Liberals might call it.  Bring sacrifices into the big area, and let the priests take parts into the smaller one.  Where is the barbeque altar?  Where is the waste?  Pause to imagine, often!

The 1st Temple of Solomon is your movie set, 1000 years before Jesus, after David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem in the accounts of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Chronicles.  After ‘pitching a tent’ at stops along its long journey in Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges, God gets a permanent home, and agrees to be found there.  Of course, the 1st Temple is leveled by the Babylonians when they exile the elite 600 years before Jesus.

The 2nd Temple was begun in 500BC, with the permission of the Persians.  Getting started was slow, as Ezra, Nehemiah, and some of the prophets recount.  After the Greeks took over, about 300 years before Jesus, and particularly in the last century before Jesus, this stage set for your mental movie morphed into a massive structure – after the desecration by Hasmoneans and courtesy of the ambitious cooperation of Herodian clients of Rome.  

The 2nd Temple was destroyed in 70AD. Romans put down repeated uprisings, there was only the ‘Wailing Wall’ to remind you what the final version of the 2nd Temple had been.  You could not go anywhere to film your mental movie, and it stayed between your ears.  For 2 millennia, the sacrificial site for reenacting Leviticus is virtual, imaginary, cultic, in synagogues and churches – as it had already been for those scattered by the Assyrians 750 years before Jesus, then by the Babylonians.  You are joining good and numerous virtual company!

Leviticus jumps right into a recital of specific prescribed sacrifices.  It assumes that you have read Exodus, and before that, Genesis.  By the time Torah took this form, after centuries of development from oral tradition through the catharsis and necessary rewriting in Solomon’s court, or Hezekiah’s reform, and in Babylonian exile, its final scribes probably had most of our Hebrew bible.  You can still read it, like watching Star Wars, then prequels and sequels.

What’s the difference between our consumption, and their sacrifice, as ways of framing ‘people’ and ‘stuff’?  Our cultures have used these texts about sacrifice to shape tithing, taxation, sharing and mutual support for millennia.  What has my generation forgotten about that balance between ‘me’ and ‘us’?

I’ll stop here at 750 words, and invite you to listen, (the audio is from Everett Fox’ Schocken Bible translation) read along (the text below is from the New Revised Standard Version) and imagine, as we begin.

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.

Leviticus 2

When anyone presents a grain-offering to the Lord, the offering shall be of choice flour; the worshipper shall pour oil on it, and put frankincense on it, 

2 and bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests. After taking from it a handful of the choice flour and oil, with all its frankincense, the priest shall turn this token portion into smoke on the altar, 
an offering by fire of pleasing odour to the Lord.

3 And what is left of the grain-offering shall be for Aaron and his sons,  a most holy part of the offerings by fire to the Lord.
 
4 When you present a grain-offering baked in the oven, it shall be of choice flour: unleavened cakes mixed with oil, or unleavened wafers spread with oil. 
 
5 If your offering is grain prepared on a griddle, it shall be of choice flour mixed with oil, unleavened; 
 
6 break it in pieces, and pour oil on it; it is a grain-offering. 
 
7 If your offering is grain prepared in a pan, it shall be made of choice flour in oil.
 
8 You shall bring to the Lord the grain-offering that is prepared in any of these ways; and when it is presented to the priest,  he shall take it to the altar. 
 
9 The priest shall remove from the grain-offering its token portion and turn this into smoke on the altar, an offering by fire of pleasing odour to the Lord. 
 
10 And what is left of the grain-offering shall be for Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the offerings by fire to the Lord.
 
11 No grain-offering that you bring to the Lord shall be made with leaven,  for you must not turn any leaven or honey into smoke as an offering by fire to the Lord. 
 
12 You may bring them to the Lord as an offering of choice products, but they shall not be offered on the altar for a pleasing odour.
 
13 You shall not omit from your grain-offerings the salt of the covenant with your God; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.
 
14 If you bring a grain-offering of first fruits to the Lord, you shall bring as the grain-offering of your first fruits coarse new grain from fresh ears, parched with fire. 
 
15 You shall add oil to it and lay frankincense on it; it is a grain-offering. 
 
16 And the priest shall turn a token portion of it into smoke—some of the coarse grain and oil with all its frankincense; it is an offering by fire to the Lord.


Leviticus 3

1 If the offering is a sacrifice of well-being, if you offer an animal of the herd, whether male or female, you shall offer one without blemish before the Lord. 
 
2 You shall lay your hand on the head of the offering and slaughter it at the entrance of the tent of meeting; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall dash the blood against all sides of the altar. 

3 You shall offer from the sacrifice of well-being, as an offering by fire to the Lord, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is around the entrails;

4 the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver,  which he shall remove with the kidneys. 
 
5 Then Aaron’s sons shall turn these into smoke on the altar, with the burnt-offering that is on the wood on the fire, as an offering by fire of pleasing odour to the Lord.
 
6 If your offering for a sacrifice of well-being to the Lord is from the flock, male or female, you shall offer one without blemish.
 
7 If you present a sheep as your offering, you shall bring it before the Lord
 
8and lay your hand on the head of the offering. It shall be slaughtered before the tent of meeting, and Aaron’s sons shall dash its blood against all sides of the altar. 
 
9 You shall present its fat from the sacrifice of well-being, as an offering by fire to the Lord:
 the whole broad tail, which shall be removed close to the backbone, the fat that covers the entrails, and all the fat that is around the entrails; 
 
10 the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver, 
which you shall remove with the kidneys. 
 
11 Then the priest shall turn these into smoke on the altar as a food-offering by fire to the Lord.
 
12 If your offering is a goat, you shall bring it before the Lord
 
13 and lay your hand on its head; it shall be slaughtered before the tent of meeting; and the sons of Aaron shall dash its blood against all sides of the altar.
 
14 You shall present as your offering from it, as an offering by fire to the Lord, the fat that covers the entrails, and all the fat that is around the entrails; 
 
15 the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver, 
which you shall remove with the kidneys.
 
16 Then the priest shall turn these into smoke on the altar as a food-offering by fire for a pleasing odour. All fat is the Lord’s.
 
17 It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, in all your settlements: you must not eat any fat or any blood.

Leviticus 4

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 Speak to the people of Israel, saying: When anyone sins unintentionally in any of the Lord’s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them:
 
3 If it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull of the herd without blemish as a sin-offering to the Lord.
 
4 He shall bring the bull to the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord and lay his hand on the head of the bull; the bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord.
 
5 The anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull and bring it into the tent of meeting. 

6 The priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle some of the blood seven times before the Lord in front of the curtain of the sanctuary.
 
 7 The priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense that is in the tent of meeting before the Lord; and the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt-offering, which is at the entrance of the tent of meeting.
 
8 He shall remove all the fat from the bull of sin-offering: the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is around the entrails;
 
9 the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins; and the appendage of the liver, which he shall remove with the kidneys, 
 
10 just as these are removed from the ox of the sacrifice of well-being. The priest shall turn them into smoke upon the altar of burnt-offering. 
 
11 But the skin of the bull and all its flesh, as well as its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung— 
 
12 all the rest of the bull—he shall carry out to a clean place outside the camp, to the ash heap, 
and shall burn it on a wood fire;  at the ash heap it shall be burned.
 
13 If the whole congregation of Israel errs unintentionally and the matter escapes the notice of the assembly, and they do any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and incur guilt;
 
14 when the sin that they have committed becomes known, the assembly shall offer a bull of the herd for a sin-offering and bring it before the tent of meeting. 
 
15 The elders of the congregation shall lay their hands on the head of the bull before the Lord, 
and the bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord. 
 
16 The anointed priest shall bring some of the blood of the bull into the tent of meeting, 

17 and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle it seven times before the Lord, 
in front of the curtain. 
 
18 He shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar that is before the Lord in the tent of meeting; and the rest of the blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt-offering
that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 
 
19 He shall remove all its fat and turn it into smoke on the altar.
 
20 He shall do with the bull just as is done with the bull of sin-offering; he shall do the same with this. The priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. 
 
21 He shall carry the bull outside the camp, and burn it as he burned the first bull; it is the sin-offering for the assembly.
 
22 When a ruler sins, doing unintentionally any one of all the things that by commandments of the Lord his God ought not to be done, and incurs guilt, 

23 once the sin that he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring as his offering a male goat without blemish.
 
24 He shall lay his hand on the head of the goat; it shall be slaughtered at the spot where the burnt-offering is slaughtered before the Lord; it is a sin-offering.
 
25 The priest shall take some of the blood of the sin-offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt-offering, and pour out the rest of its blood at the base of the altar of burnt-offering. 
 
26 All its fat he shall turn into smoke on the altar, like the fat of the sacrifice of well-being. Thus the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for his sin, and he shall be forgiven.
 
27 If anyone of the ordinary people among you sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and incurs guilt, 

28 when the sin that you have committed is made known to you, you shall bring a female goat
without blemish as your offering, for the sin that you have committed. 
 
29 You shall lay your hand on the head of the sin-offering; and the sin-offering shall be slaughtered at the place of the burnt-offering. 
 
30 The priest shall take some of its blood with his fingerand put it on the horns of the altar of burnt-offering, and he shall pour out the rest of its blood at the base of the altar.

31 He shall remove all its fat, as the fat is removed from the offering of well-being, and the priest shall turn it into smoke on the altar for a pleasing odour to the Lord. Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf, and you shall be forgiven.
 
32 If the offering you bring as a sin-offering is a sheep, you shall bring a female without blemish. 
 
33 You shall lay your hand on the head of the sin-offering; and it shall be slaughtered as a sin-offering  at the spot where the burnt-offering is slaughtered. 
 
34 The priest shall take some of the blood of the sin-offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt-offering, and pour out the rest of its blood at the base of the altar.
 
35 You shall remove all its fat, as the fat of the sheep is removed from the sacrifice of well-being, and the priest shall turn it into smoke on the altar, with the offerings by fire to the Lord. 
 
Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for the sin that you have committed, and you shall be forgiven.