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Klawans, Jonathan:


Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple. Symbolism and Supersessionism in the Study of Ancient Judaism.


New York-Oxford: Oxford University Press 2006. XI, 372 S. gr.8°. Lw. £ 45,00. ISBN 0-19-516263-3.


Friedrich Avemarie

J. Klawans, who has already written a monograph on ancient Jewish concepts of purity (Impurity and Sin in Ancient Ju daism, 2000), attempts in his second book a more comprehensive understanding of ritual piety, which encompasses both purity and sacrifice within the general framework of Israelite and Jewish temple worship. If previous studies of the Israelite and Jewish sacrificial cult, according to K., were often marred by modern rationalist aversions and by a tendency to view the biblical sacrificial practices as the fossilized relics of a savage religious thinking no longer shared by the authors of the Bible­ so that their cessation in rabbinic Judaism and Christianity seem ed a natural consequence ­, K. himself not only pleads for a more sympathetic reading of texts relating to sacrifice, but also tries to understand them basically on their own terms (chapter 1).

The main results of his investigation can be easily summa rized. In the pentateuchal legislation, sacrifice has the twofold function of enabling an imitation of God, who as the divine shepherd is Israel¹s model for stock-farming, and of safeguarding the divine presence, which is attracted by the pleasing odour of the daily burnt offering, and maintained by sacrificial expiation in the case of human sin. As God is free from death and sexu ality, ritual purification too, as a symbolic separation from these two realms, is basically imitatio Dei. Conversely, moral defilement, as caused by various sorts of crimes, is incompatible with the presence of God and causes his »glory« to depart (chapter 2). The prophetic critique of Israel¹s cultic practice was not directed against the temple cult as such, but against the moral corruption of its participants. What was wrong according to the prophets was not offering a sacrifice, but taking the sacrificial animal from stock which had been robbed. To be sure, the priests would not have approved of morally tainted sacrifices either; but if the prophets were idealists who demanded moral integrity as a prerequisite of a proper temple cult, the priestly class was somewhat more realistic in admitting transgressors to cultic expiation (chapter 3). In the Second Temple period, various authors, writings and traditions embraced a symbolic understanding of the temple cult. According to Philo, Josephus and others, the temple at Jerusalem symbolized the universe, and according to various apocalyptic and rabbinic texts, it was the earthly copy of a heavenly sanctuary. Rather than implying any criticism of the current sacrificial cult, such ideas give evidence of its inherent symbolic power (chapter 4). Contrariwise, the writings of the Qumran community display a strong hostility against the temple cult at Jerusalem, mainly due to dissenting views about proper moral and ritual conduct. However, these sectarians looked forward to a new and better sanctuary in the future, and their use of sacrificial terminology in designating their own ritual practice cannot disguise that they perceived this practice as merely provisional (chapter 5). Rabbinic Judaism, likewise, knew of cases of moral corruption among the pre-70 priesthood, but other than the Qumran community, it did not therefore regard the Herodian temple and its cult as altogether illegitimate. The »sacrificialization« of prayers and meals and the »templization« of synagogues in rabbinic times testify, again, to the symbolic power inherent in the temple cult (chapter 6). In the New Testament, the traditions concerning the Last Supper provide another example of a sympathetic metaphorical adaptation of sacrificial language. Jesus¹ assault on the moneychangers and pigeon-sellers on the Temple Mount was not directed against sacrifice, but only, and in keeping with his ethical teach ings, against the disproportionate financial burden which the priestly taxation system imposed on the poor of the Jewish society. Substantial »antitemple polemic« occurs in texts such as Acts 7:48­50, Hebr 7­9 and Rev 21:22, which K., however, treats only in brief (chapter 7).

On the whole, K. offers a broad range of interesting insights and suggestions, and even if not every single interpretation or conjecture will gain the approval of the reader, the discussion is always thorough, circumspect and balanced. Moreover, K. is an author of remarkably wide reading, even though the bibliography is by and large limited to titles in English.

There is, however, a certain inconsistency running through the argument. Throughout the book, K. reproaches modern scholarship, both biblical and non-biblical, for confusing its interpretations of animal sacrifice on the basis of modern prejudices. One should therefore expect that K., free from such prejudices, will clarify the meanings and functions which the Bible and ancient Judaism themselves attributed to sacrificial worship. However, such a clarification is provided only in the chapter on the Pentateuch (and in part in the sections on Philo and Josephus), whereas the rest of the book merely demonstrates that the Israelite prophets, the various factions of postbiblical Judaism and the Jesus movement endorsed sacrificial worship. K. neither inquires for the reasons of this endorsement, nor does he consider texts like Ps 50, Tosefta Menahot 7.9 or Sifre Zutta on Num 28:2, which, whilst not questioning the legitimacy of sacrifices, nevertheless regard them with open theological reservation. Moreover, he apparently presupposes that the en dorsement of temple worship automatically implies an approval of animal sacrifice as well. However, if the vision in Rev 21 of a heavenly Jerusalem in which God himself is the temple can be deemed an antitemple polemic, why should not visions of a heav enly sanctuary lacking an altar or blood applications in the holy of holies (cf. 133 and M. Himmelfarb, Ascent to Heaven, 33­36) imply aversions against animal sacrifice? After all, in Mark 11:17 and Luke 24:53 the temple is attributed a function independent of sacrifice. And if the »sacrificialization« of rituals practised outside the temple sufficiently disproves any aversion against animal sacrifice, why was it not until the Middle Ages that the custom of sacrificing a cock or a hen at the eve of the Day of Atonement came into use in Judaism? Conversely, if Hebr 7­9 is judged to be »unmistakable« polemics and »the basis of Christian supersessionist approaches to the temple« (243), how then can, in other cases, the metaphorical use of sacrificial language and the belief in a heavenly sanctuary be taken as evidence for an unreserved support of sacrificial wor ship? Regrettably, questions of this kind are neither posed nor answered.

In sum, K. has written a very good and important book, but if his view had been a bit less distracted by his apologetic concerns, it would have turned out even better.