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The Changing Look of Dorian Gray

July 9, 2008

The most recent JBL 127 (Summer ’08 ) contains the latest round of disagreement between Roy Gane and Jacob Milgrom concerning the preposition מן, the understanding of Yom Kippur, and the way sacrifice works in Leviticus (pp. 209-22). This discussion has been going on for some time and doesn’t show signs of ending any time soon.

Gane’s 2005 book Cult and Character sets forth some interesting ideas on purification offerings and Yom Kippur in relation to theodicy. In JBL 126 (2007):161-63, Milgrom responds to a very small point of Gane’s discussion: the translation of מן in Lev 16. Gane always translates the term in a privative sense (i.e. the ablative) when used in כפר clauses. Milgrom’s 2007 response took issue with this understanding. The latest article by Gane is a rejoinder that explains more fully his understanding of the preposition and implications for the cult generally and Yom Kippur specifically.

On the immediate issue of the privative use of מן, Gane seems spot on. However, I’m still trying to work out some of the implications of his theory. For example, he states “blood is only a cultic carrier of
defilement that is downgraded by preliminary purification.” (pp. 220) Gane holds that the blood acts as a carrier of impurities away from sinners during normal חטאת sacrifices and then away from the altar on Yom Kippur.

However, I’m not sure to what extent we have enough contact for blood to act as a means of transfer during the Day of Atonement. We can see such a mechanism in play in the use of blood during the Akitu festival, but such an interpretation seems forced in Lev 16.

In vv. 14-19 the high priest sprinkles blood on cover of the Ark and the adytum. He does apply the blood through contact with the altar (v. 18), but this is between the sprinkling before and after. It seems that if the blood were carrying the impurity from the altar in v.18, it would be then sticking it to the sanctuary more generally in v.19!

If vv. 18 and 19 were flipped, one could argue that the blood is still on the high priest’s hands when the impurity is then transferred to the goat in vv.20-22, but the text as it stands doesn’t seem to support Gane’s understanding.

All this leaves me in quite a quandry. I need to reread Gane’s book now to discover if I can take his interpretation of מן while leaving his understanding of blood or if  the substance of his argument too sticky to come off.


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