Earlier this week I discussed the alleged split between the prophets and the priests based on problematic readings of the prophetic critique of the cult. In it, I summarized the work of Jonathan Klawans, who has shown the ideological split has been exaggerated and absolutized. Better to think of it as a contextually-situated critique of Israel’s practice of sacrifice, rather than a wholesale rejection of sacrificial religion as such. At least some of the problem in Israel, was that her economic injustice rendered her ritual sacrifices meaningless: you cannot sacrifice with stolen goods, because if they are stolen, they are not truly yours to sacrifice.
This little passage Ephraim Radner’s commentary on Leviticus is a suggestive addendum:
The movement of qorban is measured by the one who comes. In this light, it is a movement easily stymied, a movement whose fulfillment demands the whole of one’s integrity as a person. Jesus explicitly upbraids those who claim to be bringing qorban when in fact they are seeking a way to hold back, for example, support for their parents. Such offering is a subterfuge for “void[ing] the word of God” in its command to honor mother and father (Mark 7:9-12). If anyone brings an offering, if anyone would come forward to God bearing a gift, then this gift must somehow genuinely carry the whole of one’s self, as the story of Ananias and Sapphira demonstrates negative (Acts 5:1-6).
This is perhaps why the opening call to offering in Leviticus is immediately qualified as an offering of a live beast—often translated ‘cattle,’ but referring in general to land animals, which can be distinguished here only by their presumed cleanliness as coming from a domesticated herd…A true offering to God implies flesh with its blood (Lev. 17:14), something that is subject to human will and dominion, a “creature” to humans as humans are to God…:”You shall bring your offering of cattle from the herd or from the flock”; you shall bring me the life that is yours. (41-42)
There is much that could be unpacked here, but note two things. First, regarding the second paragraph, even the requirement that an offering be made from domesticated animals further reinforces the character of the ritual as offering up “the life that is yours.” It is life that you have tended, poured energy, effort, time, and money into. It is symbolic of your own life because in a very real sense your own life is caught up with it. In which case, we have even more reason to think that economic exploitation would spoil the atoning character of the sacrifice insofar as it is entirely contrary to its ritual meaning. It turns the truth of sacrifice into a lie.
Second, we see this also reflects the critique that is carried over into the New Testament. Jesus is a true prophet who sees through the legalistic corruptions of worship in his own day which rendered even the practices of tithing null. In declaring qorban what was owed to parents, mother and father are being robbed of honor in to sacrifice to the Lord in such a way that it doesn’t cut into your own way of living.
Radner’s addition of the dark tale of Ananias and Sapphira into our analysis tells even more deeply against anti-retributive appropriations of the “anti-sacrificial” polemic. Even in the days of the Early Church, when sacrifice has lost its atoning character after the self-offering of Christ, God still punishes such a perversion of sacrifice, for it is a “lie against the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3).
A lying sacrifice is a false sacrifice.
Soli Deo Gloria