Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions

By Roland De Vaux ; John McHugh | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ELEVEN
THE HISTORY OF SACRIFICE IN ISRAEL

THE sacrificial rites described in the preceding chapter were those followed in the second Temple, after the Exile. The final redaction of the Pentateuch assumes that the liturgy had always been practised in this way, from the time when Moses instituted the liturgy of Israel in the desert. Literary critics, however, divided the Pentateuch into several different documents, and by dating these documents, they have reconstructed a history of sacrifice which is very different from that which the last editors of the Pentateuch took for granted. We shall now examine this reconstruction.


I. The critical theory

Wellhausen's powerful synthesis, which has had, and still has, so much influence on exegesis, divided the history of sacrifice in Israel into three periods:

In the first period, down to the reform of Josias in 621 B.C., men were not much concerned about rites: their main anxiety was to know to whom they were offering sacrifice, not how to offer it. The fires used in sacrifice did not matter, if the offering was made to Yahweh and was accepted by him. In this period, there were only two types of sacrifice, the holocaust and the communion-sacrifice, and the latter was the more common. This is the situation we find in the ancient parts of the historical books, in the prophets of the eighth and seventh centuries, and in the Yahwistic and Elohistic passages of the Pentateuch.

With the reform of Josias a new period opened. The ritual for sacrifices was not altered, except on one essential point: all sacrifices had to be offered in the Temple at Jerusalem. This new law evidently entailed a unification of the ritual. It was a decisive step towards the systematization of the different usages which had previously obtained in the high places and in the various sanctuaries throughout the provinces. This is the state of affairs which is reflected in Deuteronomy.

From the beginning of the Exile, new trends appeared, and among them was a passionate concern for ritual. It can already be seen in Ezechiel's description of the rites to be followed when the cult was restored, and in his insistence on the idea of expiation. Ezechiel introduced two sacrifices which

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