Signpost for 19th Ordinary Sunday 12 August 2013: Ps 50:1-8, 22-23; Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
Matthew 5:17 is the verse that got me thinking about the readings this week. It got me puzzling specifically about animal sacrifice: how weird it seems to us and how much a part of life in the ancient world it appears to have been.
The first five chapters of Leviticus spell out unbelievably detailed instructions about how the Jewish people needed to sacrifice goats, sheep, oxen and birds in order for YHWY to be happy with them.
Then along comes Psalm 50:23 (and v14) which tells us that that’s all a load of tosh as far as YHWY is concerned. Isaiah 1:11 confirms that.
If you follow the order of events in the Bible then animal sacrifice appears to be the oldest practice and as time went on people began to abandon it. But it’s not quite that simple because scholars now believe Leviticus wasn’t written until around 538–332 BCE, while most of the Psalms came first (as early as 1300-1200 BCE) and next the authors of Isaiah put pen to papyrus or leather (about 800 BCE).
So when we pray in our modern day service, ‘Accept, oh God, our sacrifice of praise’ we may well be echoing the oldest of traditions, not the newest.
Alexander the Great had conquered all of the Middle East just before Leviticus was written down and that Greek influence changed everything ever after. The Greeks were fond of animal sacrifice. So were the Romans. Is that what really perverted Jewish religious practice over the centuries? Is that why Paul, a Roman citizen, understands Jesus’ death as in terms of the ultimate blood sacrifice?
Speaking of which, though, sins in the first testament are indeed associated with the colour of blood (Isaiah 1:18). On the other hand, that might have more to do with the fact that dyed material in the ancient world could not be changed – they had no bleach.
Meanwhile, what about Hebrews? I found out recently that it’s not a letter, it’s sermon, written by Clement of Rome, Paul, Barnabus, Luke, Apollos or Priscilla. Nobody knows for sure. But many scholars have called Hebrews the second testament’s masterpiece. Better read it all through then, I suppose. I’m off to do that now.