Sunday, May 07, 2017

Review 3: Jewish and Greco-Roman Sacrifice

I continue to read Jane Patterson's Keeping the Feast today. Previous chapters reviewed include:
1. Chapter 2 is titled, "Sacrifice as Greco-Roman and Jewish Practice." In this chapter she looks at what she has called the "entailments" of sacrificial metaphor both in broader Greco-Roman and in specifically Jewish sacrificial practices. The audiences both at Corinth and Philippi participated in both symbolic universes. As Gentiles, the Greco-Roman entailments of sacrifice were their cultural default.

Paul was of course enculturating them to more specifically Jewish entailments, although the two were not at all entirely distinct. Paul was "grounding his communities in a Jewish matrix of meaning" (35). On the whole, "the sacrificial metaphors he uses are intended to underscore the invitation to the Gentiles to become part of the people of the Jewish God, YHWH" (36).

2. The metaphors of sacrifice in Philippians, Patterson argues, had the greater degree of overlap between the Jewish and Greco-Roman frames of reference. In Philippians, the shelamim or thank offerings of Judaism overlapped significantly with the predominant nature of Greco-Roman sacrifices as commensal in nature. That is, Greco-Roman sacrifices provided an opportunity for celebration and feasting with the god in question.

Patterson spends several pages exploring the general functions of sacrifice in the Greco-Roman world, which she effectively divides into two categories: commensal sacrifices and covenant sacrifices, the first of which was by far the most common. She also notes the critique of sacrifice that existed in the Greco-Roman world.

In the commensal sacrifice, a portion of the meat is offered to the god, followed by a communal meal filled with merriment and joy. Thus, "Greek sacrifices had mainly to do with cuisine" (57), and some descriptions of Greek sacrifice almost sound like recipes. In such celebrations, "the boundary between human beings and the gods seems to disappear" (38). The god joins the celebration.

Less commonly, what some call "covenantal" sacrifices have to do with moments where a covenant is either made or broken. In such cases, the violence of sacrifice is highlighted, an element missing from the commensal sacrifice. "The consequence of a broken oath are shame and violent death for the perpetrator, and these consequences radiate out from him to all his family" (42), Patterson notes of what would happen to a person who might break covenant with Zeus in The Iliad.

Some have of course seen parallels in some Greek critiques of sacrifice to Paul's sacrificial language. Yet even a philosopher like Epicurus, who did not believe that the Greek gods were real, saw sacrifices as central to civic and public life. One of Patterson's central claims in this book is that "Paul's use of cultic metaphors relies upon the power of the practice, not upon its denigration" (43). "Paul was using metaphors of sacrifice at the same time that he participated in the cult itself" (48).

4. Next she turns to the Jewish sacrificial system. Patterson argues that while the whole burnt offering of the Jewish system has pride of place in the thinking of the priestly layer of the Jewish Scriptures, the shelamim reflected a much more "customary form of sacrifice in actual practice, the offering most frequently experienced by Jews" (47). Another central thesis of the book is that "when Paul refers to sacrifice in Philippians, without any qualifier, it is my contention that his repeated language of rejoicing suggests that he has the shelamim in mind" (47).

Some of the entailments of sacrifices of thanksgiving were festive joy and celebration. They reflected the whole-hearted dedication of the offerer and an intimate relationship with God and one's community. There was often a fragrance associated with them. These entailments "communicate metaphorically across a wide spectrum of ancient cultic experience" (53) and thus made thank-offerings an effective image for Paul to use with the Philippians.

5. The chapter ends with a discussion of the entailments of the more specifically Jewish sacrifice made at Passover. At its root, the sacrifice was probably apotropaic in nature, used to avert evil forces (56). In that sense it has some of the nature of a covenant sacrifice. It thus reinforces the dangers of breaking the covenant and binds together the people of Israel as a unified whole (57). Although the rite may have originally taken place in and around people's homes, at the time of Paul it took place in the Temple courts.

In that sense, there may be a stronger connection than might at first appear between the Passover metaphor of 1 Corinthians 5 and Paul's claim that the Corinthians are a temple of the Lord. The joining of Passover with the Feast of Unleavened Bread suggests an entailment of purity concern connected with the Passover metaphor. Other entailments of the Passover metaphor are those of liberation and of return to faithfulness.

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