Thursday, July 31, 2008

Jewish Views of the Temple--Some Notes

I want to jot down some thoughts today on Jewish views of the Herodian temple from a historical perspective.

First, I think it is plausible enough to think that those who lived in Judea were very loyal and perhaps even dominantly zealous toward the Jerusalem temple. Of course around 200BC there were also strong forces wanting to make Jerusalem a fully Hellenistic city. But these forces were soundly defeated in the Maccabean crisis. While the Hasmonean rulers were far from purists, elements of Jewish distinctiveness became political boundary markers, with the temple a symbol of Hasmonean power.

To be sure, there were elements in Judea that lost in this power struggle, the Teacher of Righteousness being the best known. The Essenes, particularly those that settled at Qumran, rejected the legitimacy of the tainted temple. They did not reject the notion of a temple per se, only the current temple with its administration. They ran their community as a temple substitute.

We can imagine that they had no better view of the Herodian temple, although at least it was sometimes administrated by "sons of Zadok" (Sadducees). They were apparently willing to join in with others in the battle against the Romans in AD66-73.

Secondly, I want to take a snapshot of the scene at the time of the Babylonian captivity, 586BC. The northern kingdom at this time is 150 years post Assyrian conquest. I'm assuming that means that it is pluralistic and syncretistic. Some people probably worship Yahweh among other gods. But the northern kingdom never had any sense of an exclusive temple, as even the ministries of Elijah and Elisha show. They know nothing of any need to offer sacrifice at the Samaria or Jerusalem temples.

I'm assuming that this situation continues until the Hasmonean period. The Samaritans build a temple to Zeus after the Greek conquest in 332BC. Not until Aristobulus and Alexander Janneus does Galilee seem to become attached to Judea (ca. 100BC). Richard Horsley has suggested that the forced conversion of the Galileans to circumcision and Jewish customs probably did not completely stick (Galilee).

It is tempting to see a correlation here between Jesus' less than stringent attention to the details of Jewish purity concerns and a Galilean context that was only a little more continuous with Judea than Samaria and Idumea. However, we must also take into account that Jesus was a descendent of David, a datum we can hardly question given Paul's affirmation of it in pre-Pauline material in Romans 1:2-3 (and given that the Roman church was likely related to the Jerusalem church, this implies it was their understanding as well).

As it relates to the temple, however, I can easily see some ambivalence, perhaps even resistance to the Jerusalem temple among the Galilean population. After all, it would have corresponded directly in their mind to their Hasmonean conquerers, who held the title of high priest at this time. Further, they were the descendants of the northern kingdom, that had never recognized the authority of the Jerusalem temple. We can imagine at the same time that Jesus, as a descendent of David, would have had a more favorable view of it.

In the end, the gospels seem to align Galilee more with Judea than Samaria, and this attitude seems multiply attested enough to consider historically credible. It would thus seem likely that many Galileans would have identified the Jerusalem temple as their sanctuary. Meanwhile it is understandable if those from Samaria were more resistant to it given that they had their own temple.

Finally, we have to consider the probable attitudes of Diaspora Jews toward the temple. We remember that the Jews in Egypt had a temple at Elephantine from the beginning of the Babylonian captivity. However, it apparently ceased to function long before the New Testament period.

Onias IV also founded a temple at Leontopolis after his father was removed and killed as high priest in around 170BC. Interestingly, Philo does not mention it but considers the one temple in Jerusalem to correspond to the one God.

When we think back to the Diaspora created by the Babylonian captivity, we remember than the exclusivist reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah had been relatively recent developments. In other words, we can easily imagine that many of those who went into the Diaspora at this time may or may not have seen the temple as the only location to sacrifice to YHWH. In fact, Yah apparently was given a consort at Elephantine during this period.

But it also makes sense that those Jews who remained Jews in the Diaspora--who kept their identity connection with Judea--would have "retrofitted" their identity to some extent around Torah and temple. An interesting footnote here is the fact that Philo does not consider Jeremiah to be as authoritative a Scripture as the Pentateuch, and he barely engages other parts of what we consider to be the Jewish Bible. I personally suspect this befits an Egyptian Judaism whose roots date to a time well before the other parts of the Jewish Bible became "canonical" and also given the history of the translation of the Bible into Greek.

At the same time, Philo's views of the temple as important politically and symbolically but not essential to atonement befit a Diaspora context as well.

Any thoughts?


Jared said...

From Jared:

If you are looking for some good recent scholarship on the Temple and its cult, I think one of the best right now is Jonathan Klawans's _Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple_. He is very thorough.

I have also discussed it on my site:

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks for this! I've ordered it for our library... it's a little too steeply priced for me to buy!

Jared said...

Yes...that's the problem with Oxford University Press. Have to wait for the paperback to get some price relief.

Additionally, if you want to do some work in the degree to which the Yom Kippur ritual "atones," you might check out the work of Jacob Milgrom--he has a famous article called, "Israel's Sanctuary: The Priestly 'Picture of Dorian Gray'" Revue Biblique 83:3 (1976): 390-99.

He argues that the sacrificial chattat blood does not (and was never meant) to purify the sins of the sinner, but to purify the temple itself from the impurity that the sins of the people create. In this, holiness serves as a magnet for impurity. Impurity, in this sense, is a dynamic and malefic force. The worse the sin, the further the impurity penetrates into the temple. So, inadvertent individual sins and physical impurities defile the altar; inadvertent communal sins or sins of the priesthood, especially the high priest, defile the shrine; and wanton and unrepented sins defile the the mercy-seat and the holy of holies.

Physical impurity is already removed by ablutions and inadvertent sins require no purificatory rite for the individual to be cleansed--the inadvertency and guilt already purifies him (Lev. 4:2ff). These impurities caused by the people's sins that accumulate all year in the sanctuary, then, are what is purged from the sanctuary with blood on the Day of Atonement. The blood is like a ritual detergent, and it is NEVER applied to the people--only the sanctuary. One might note the phrasing in Leviticus 16: parts of the temple are directly purged (kipper), but when applied to a person, it always says "'al" or "be'ad" or on their behalf: so purgation never occurs on a person, but only on their behalf (Lev. 16:6, 24, 30, 33; Num. 8:12, 21).

This concept of impurity seems to be an adaptation of Babylonian concepts in which impurity is caused by demonic forces, and the kuppuru on the fifth day of the Babylonian New Year's festival, the akitu, is a purification rite that eliminates demonic impurity from the temple (and very highly resembles the Yom Kippur ceremony: see ANET 331-34). But the Priestly tradition, here, removes almost all traces of demonic elements (excepting perhaps the whole Azazel thing), and, instead, it is the sins of the people that create the impurity that accumulates in the sanctuary.

So, if the Yom Kippur ritual is not meant to be forgiveness of sins, why do it? It seems to maintain God's presence: God cannot remain among impure things; thus, as the temple attracts impurity, it must be regularly restored to its original holiness in order for God to remain and not depart. And if God departs, then one is open to destruction by one's enemies.

Klawans also clarifies some of Milgrom's theory in both of his books: "Impurity and Sin and Ancient Judaism" and "Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple."

Can you tell I've been working through these very issues lately?

Jared said...

I had a few other thoughts concerning your post--sorry, but temple traditions is a large part of what I do.

1. There is direct evidence of the Babylonian exiles conceptualization of religious belief and practice was imposed on Egyptian Judahites. The Papyri from Elephantine tell of their temple being destroyed by their neighbors who worshiped the ram-god Khnum (they were offended b/c the Judahites sacrificed rams--the sacred animal). Afterwards, they applied to Jerusalem for assistance to rebuild (this is after the return from exile). There seems to have been some back and forth, and finally they were allowed to rebuild their temple on the condition that they did not offer animal sacrifice there. The other issue is the Passover Papyrus, which introduced this previously unknown festival to the Judahites of Elephantine (the festival that celebrates getting out of Egypt must have seemed a slap in the face to Egyptian Judahites). This papyri is held in the Brooklyn Jewish Museum (and I think is pretty accessible if you call ahead).

2. The imposition of Babylonian exiles' rather reformed religious beliefs and practices were also imposed on the populace that remained in Judah and had not experienced exile and its accompanying literature--including the Torah more or less as we know it, festivals like Sukkoth, and slightly stricter Sabbath observance. And the reinstitution of centralization--I can't remember where, but those who remained in Judah had set up a shrine somewhere.

3. I would be reluctant to use Philo as representative of Diaspora or even Alexandrian Judaism. His level of education and wealth place him in a different category, and we just do not have enough evidence for others. But I am also not sure that we can make a facile equation of the Egyptian Jewish temples of Leontopolis and Elephantine and the religious views of Alexandrian Jews. Whatever people's views of Herod, he did something very smart diplomatically--his high priests (I think all but one) came from high priestly families living in Egypt and Babylon. He kept ties with the temple and the diaspora strong--and the number of priestly families (and high priestly families) in diaspora would have also kept connections strong. At the same time, the high priest, being from the diaspora, would have no local following and, thus, could not challenge Herod's rule. But when considering Alexandrian Jews, we have to remember that Alexandria as a bustling metropolis with a large Jewish contingent did not exist until Alexander--after the codification of the Torah. So, where did THESE Jews come from? Did they emigrate from other places in Egypt, did they come from Palestine seeking opportunities in the big city, or what? So, many of the Alexandrian Jews may descend from people who had already accepted the Priestly reforms of P and Ezra/Nehemiah (especially since a large portion of them were priests themselves). Moreover, the major Jewish festival of Alexandria was in celebration of the anniversary of the translation of the Torah into Greek--the Torah, of course, primarily contains details of cult that are set in a revelation of god to Moses--the cult and the tabernacle are from on high.

4. One might also think of the role of synagogues in this respect, not only in their recitation of the Torah, but in their role vis-a-vis the temple. Of the synagogues that we have direct archaeological evidence that shows decoration, we see rather stable imagery: the akeda of Gen. 22, the Menorah, and Zodiac. The theory would be that these are all temple symbols: Gen. 22 is an etiology of sacrifice on the temple mount (mt. Moriah becomes Mt. Zion), the Menorah in the temple, and the zodiac probably relates to the Menorah itself (at least, in the arch of Titus, the base of the Menorah has the zodiac on it--so the Menorah seems to have kept sacred time by days of the week with each of the seven branches and by zodiacal house at the base). This keeps the temple and the torah as the center and orientation of religious life.

Ken Schenck said...

Jared, thanks for pointing out this wealth of relevant information. I look forward to reading your dissertation. What is the precise topic?

Jared said...

My dissertation, in its present form, investigates how Priestly traditions (focusing on P, Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, and Hebrews) bring together sacred space and sacred time in terms of the Sabbath and the Sanctuary, or how the Priestly tradition (and those who reflect upon it) correlate the Sabbath and the Sanctuary in various ways as interrelated symbols. One thing I have found is that the groups that do bring these two together, tend to prefer Tabernacle language (deriving from P, to be sure), they tend to be hortatory, and they often call for some sort of imitation (of God, of Angels, of Jesus, and oddly of the Temple itself).

As it stands, I start with P, H, and Ezekiel, which interweave the Sabbath and the Tabernacle, participating in ancient near eastern patterns that bring together Creation, Rest, Sanctuary, and Enthronement (Enuma Elish and Baal Cycle). And how especially H and Ezekiel bring the SAbbath and the Sanctuary together, making reverence for them (or not profaning them) representative for keeping the entire covenant, and making them qualitatively equivalent in holiness--paraphrasing Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Sabbath becomes a temple in time. In a way, by doing this, the people have access to something as holy as the sanctuary itself, which is the sole prerogatives of priests. These observations, moreover, have strong implications for understanding Day of Atonement (which is the only other holiday called a "Sabbath") and the Sabbatical Year (which, after the sabbath day and the Day of Atonement, is the only holy time called a "Sabbath").

Then I move on to the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, which also draw the SAbbath and the Sanctuary together with an interesting innovation--the correlation of SAbbath and Sanctuary become heavenly realities. Here, the SAbbath becomes the occasion to evoke the heavenly sanctuary (which I think reflects the end of Exod. 24 and beginning of 25 in which Moses enters the cloud on the seventh day and has a vision of the "Tavnit" (or "pattern") of the Tabernacle). This language shows up in Songs 7 and 12 (which depicts the "tavnit" of the Tabernacle and the "tavnit" of the Throne). But, I think, here tavnit has been reinterpreted from "pattern" to "thing that is built" or "the thing itself"--it is not a sketch, therefore, that Moses saw, but the thing itself in heaven. And the Qumranites liturgically reenact this in their Songs. Moreover, the text has some strong relationships with Shavuot (Pentecost), which was when Moses' revelation on Sinai was celebrated. There is, of course, a lot more to work with!

And I end with one of your favorite texts--Hebrews--speaking of how it reflects upon these Priestly traditions of sacred time and sacred space, participating in the same constellation of issues, but giving them a unique configuration due to the Christocentrism--the very complex layering of space and time in chs. 4 and 9 fascinate me particularly, using the Sabbath to reflect upon spatial issues and the Sanctuary to reflect upon chronological issues, and to do so in the same document (but that is actually a small part of the overall discussion). I also think Hebrews evinces many interesting similarities, at least conceptually, with the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. I am not arguing that Hebrews depends upon SSS, per se, but that they are handling many of the same issues and are drawing upon the same traditional materials, particularly priestly understandings of sacred space and sacred time expressed as heavenly realities. So, Hebrews represents where this priestly impulse goes in early Christianity. And if a post-destruction Roman provenance is correct, then this cultic reflection definitely would be profound--especially since the cultic implements were displayed in the Temple of Peace in the renovated Roman forum.

I've been writing my Hebrew Bible chapter lately, and, unfortunately, my Hebrews chapter right now is on steroids and needs a lot of refining. SSS is in a way rather straightforward, while Hebrews is so sophisticated that once you delve into one issue or theme, it feels like you start dragging all of the others in its wake. But, since you have already published two books on Hebrews, I am sure you are far more cognizant of these issues than I am.

Sorry...I tend to explode in writing when thinking about these issues. But that's what happens when you're right in the thick of it.

I have a much briefer summary on my academic bio page (the link to which is just under my picture on my blog).