Thursday, August 25, 2011

Special Water for Purification

Making Lustral Water: The book of Numbers, Chapter 19, details the procedure for preparing lustral water, which is special water used for purification:
Procure ... a red heifer that is free from every blemish and defect and on which no yoke has ever been laid. .... Then the heifer shall be burned ... with its hide and flesh, its blood and offal. ... Take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet yarn and throw them into the fire in which the heifer is being burned. ...

Gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them in a clean place outside the camp. There they are to be kept for preparing lustral water. (Numbers 19: 2-9)
The procedure for using the ashes to make lustral water is not described, but anybody who touched the ashes or touched the resultant lustral water would become unclean:
He who has gathered up the ashes of the heifer shall also wash his garments and be unclean until evening. ....

One who sprinkles the lustral water shall wash his garments, and anyone who comes in contact with this water shall be unclean until evening. Moreover, whatever the unclean person touches becomes unclean itself, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean until evening. (Numbers 19: 10, 21-22)
Testing for Adultery: One use of the lustral water -- to determine whether a woman has committed adultery -- is described in Numbers, Chapter 5:
If a man is overcome by a feeling of jealousy that makes him suspect his wife, whether she was actually impure or not, he shall bring his wife to the priest ....

The priest shall ... in an earthen vessel ... put some holy water. Then ... the priest shall ... adjure the woman, saying to her:
If no other man has had intercourse with you, and you have not gone astray by impurity while under the authority of your husband, be immune to the curse brought by this bitter water.

But if you have gone astray while under the authority of your husband and have acted impurely by letting a man other than your husband have intercourse with you .... may the Lord make you an example of malediction and imprecation among your people by causing your thighs to waste away and your belly to swell.

May this water, then, that brings a curse, enter your body to make your belly swell and your thighs waste away! ...
The priest shall ... have the woman drink, so that it may go into her with all its bitter curse. ... Once she has done so, if she has been impure and unfaithful to her husband, this bitter water that brings a curse will go into her, and her belly will swell and her thighs will waste away, so that she will become an example of imprecation among her people.

If, however, the woman has not defiled herself, but is still pure, she will be immune and will still be able to bear children.
In this situation, the lustral water was used for drinking, not for washing. The reason for mixing ashes into the water was so that the water would taste bitter and (if the woman was guilty) would cause swelling, infection and sterility.

Therefore, the lustral water was not an extraordinarily clean water; rather it was an extraordinarily dirty water. That is why anyone who touched the ashes or the lustral water became unclean.

Lustral water was a diagnostic substance that identified people who were unclean. Apparently, the idea was that if the person was possessed by a demon, then the lustral water interacted with that demon in an obvious manner, but if the person was not possessed by a demon, then the water passed through the person without consequences. The lustral water did not purify a person, but it purified a community by enabling the community to identify and isolate its people who were possessed by demons.

The Golden Calf: The book of Exodus, Chapter 32, tells how a mixture of ashes and water was used to purify the Hebrews while they were wandering in the Sinai Desert. On one occasion, while Moses was up on Mount Sinai meeting with God for a long time, the Hebrews thought that Moses never would return, so they made a gold statue of a calf. Then they began to worship the calf. When God saw what the Hebrews were doing, He decided to destroy them, but Moses convinced God to forgive them.

Then Moses came down from the mountain and rebuked the Hebrews. He took their calf statue and melted it down to metal ash. He mixed this ash into water and ordered all the Hebrews to drink the ash-and-water mixture.

Then Moses ordered the Levites, the priest tribe, to arm themselves with swords and to go through the Hebrews' camp and to massacre a lot of the Hebrews. By the end of the day, the Levites had massacred about 3,000 of the Hebrews. Apparently, the massacred Hebrews were those who had most actively worshiped the golden calf and so subsequently had showed visible physical consequences from drinking the ash-and-water mixture.

Lustral Water as Lie Detector: The use of lustral water to examine a woman who was accused of adultery but who denied the adultery involved an elaborate procedure that probably compelled confessions from most women who were guilty. In the passage above, from Numbers, Chapter 5, I omitted some of the procedure, because I wanted the reader to focus on the role played by the lustral water. Now I will quote the passage more completely, and I want the reader to pay attention to the various procedures that would intimidate a guilty woman into a confession, even before she drank the lustral water:
He [the suspicious husband] shall bring his wife to the priest and shall take along as an offering for her a tenth of an ephah of barley meal. ....

The priest shall first have the woman come forward and stand before the Lord.

In an earthen vessel he shall meanwhile put some holy water, as well as some dust that he has taken from the floor of the Dwelling [Temple].

Then, as the woman stands before the Lord, the priest shall uncover her head and place in her hands the cereal offering of her appeal, that is, the cereal offering of jealousy, while he himself shall hold the bitter water that brings a curse.

Then he shall adjure the woman, saying to her:
If no other man has had intercourse with you, and you have not gone astray by impurity while under the authority of your husband, be immune to the curse brought by this bitter water.

But if you have gone astray while under the authority of your husband and have acted impurely by letting a man other than your husband have intercourse with you ... may the Lord make you an example of malediction and imprecation among your people by causing your thighs waste away and your belly to swell!

May this water, then, that brings a curse, enter your body to make your body swell and your thighs waste away!"
And the woman shall say, "Amen, amen!"

The priest shall put these imprecations in writing and shall then wash them off into the bitter water, which he is to have the woman drink, so that it may go into her with all its bitter curse.

But first he shall take the cereal offering of jealousy from the woman's hand, and having waved this offering before the Lord, shall put it near the altar, where he shall take a handful of the cereal offering as its token offering and burn it on the altar.

Only then shall he have the woman drink the water. (Numbers 5: 15-26)
We can imagine that most women who really were guilty of adultery would have broken down and confessed sometime during this intimidating procedure, before the last step when they were supposed to drink the water.   Therefore, this procedure probably was quite effective. The procedure identified the women who really had committed adultery, and the procedure did not cause any serious harm to innocent women who did complete the procedure and drink the water.

Lustral Water as a Purifier: The scriptures detail only the use of lustral waters to test women for adultery, but we can assume that this procedure essentially was applied in other, varied situations, where various people were accused of various crimes. The more the procedure was used, the more false results there would be. In particular, there would be false negatives -- cases where really guilty people drank the lustral water and suffered no physical consequences and therefore were deemed to be innocent of the accusations.

We can imagine that eventually the procedure was re-interpreted. Drinking the lustral water had four possible effects:
1) If you were guilty, drinking the lustral water might cause physical consequences that would expose your guilt to other people.

2) If you were innocent, drinking the lustral water might cause no consequences, which would prove your innocence.

3) If you were guilty, drinking the lustral water might cause no physical consequence, but if you inwardly acknowledged and repented your guilt, then the lustral water purified you.

4) If you were innocent of the particular accusation, then drinking the lustral water might cause physical consequences, but that was because you were guilty of some other sin that you should repent. If you did repent all your sins, then the lustral water purified you.
And so, we can suppose, drinking lustral water eventually became most commonly a method of moral self-purification. The method was not used only on a person who was accused by others. Rather, the method could be used whenever a person blamed himself for his own moral failings and wanted to repent and purify himself.

The Wedding at Cana: As I pointed out earlier, the first chapters of John discuss various purification methods, and Chapter 2 begins with the story of the wedding at Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine. This miracle was done in large, stone waterpots that were used "for Jewish ceremonial purposes."  Other translations say that the waterpots were used "for ceremonial washing" or "for Jewish rites of purification" and similar such expressions.

Therefore, the original story perhaps was understood by the first Christians  more as a parable about lustral water and less as a miracle story proving Jesus's divinity. Lustral water tasted bad, because it was a mixture of water and ash from a burned cow. Jesus turned this bitter, sobering lustral water into a delicious, intoxicating wine. He made the drinking of "lustral water" into an joyful, celebratory experience.

Summary: The making and use of lustral water was an ancient practice that was attributed to Moses. During the wandering in the Sinai  Desert, Moses ground a golden calf into metal ash and mixed the ash with water and caused all the Hebrews to drink the mixture. The Hebrews who subsequently showed physical consequences were massacred.

In the following generations, a red heifer was burned to ash, and the ash was mixed with water. This mixture was used in a lie-detection procedure in, for example, cases where women were accused of adultery.

Eventually, drinking lustral water became a method of self-purification for any person who considered himself sinful and wanted to repent all his sins and purify himself.

The story about the wedding at Cana is not so much a miracle story as it is a story about lustral water.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Purification by Water

Dead Dog: One situation in which water was used as the means of purification was when a person touched a dead, unclean animal. For example, let's suppose that a person touched the dead body of a dog -- an animal that is unclean because it walks on paws. The paws are covered with a skin that is rather soft, which enables demons to move from the ground up into the animal. The use of water in such a case is described in Leviticus, Chapter 11:

Of the various quadrupeds, all those that walk on paws are unclean for you; everyone who touches their dead bodies shall be unclean until evening, and everyone who picks up their dead bodies shall wash his garments and be unclean until evening. (Leviticus 11:27-28)

This passage describes two different events and their different consequences:

1) If you touch a dead dog, then you will be unclean until evening.

2) If you pick up a dead dog, then you must wash your clothes, and then you will be unclean until evening.

The reasoning here starts with the idea that the demons inside a dog are adapted to occupying an animal but not yet adapted to occupying a person. Such demons cannot transition from an animal interior to a human interior easily. They can accomplish the transition, however, if they first establish an intermediate base on a person's clothing. After they have become acclimatized to occupying on a person's clothing, then they can enter the person himself if an opportunity occurs -- for example, if the man ejaculates. The act of ejaculation opens the man's body momentarily, which is long enough for the demon to move from the clothing into the man.

When a person merely touches a dead dog, the implied understanding is that the only contact was between the dead dog and the person's skin -- and that there was no contact between the dead dog and the person's clothing. A demon cannot move from the dead dog onto the person's fingers; the demon can move only onto the person's clothing.

When a person picks up a dead dog, then the implied understanding is that the dead dog touched the person's  clothing, and so a demon was able to move from the dead dog onto the clothing, which then might serve as a base that will enable the demon later to move into the person.

Somehow, the setting of the sun causes the person to become significantly less vulnerable. The person's sweating skin during the daylight's heat caused some vulnerability to entrance by a demon, because sweat is a bodily discharge, somewhat like semen or menstrual blood. After the sun sets, and the person's body stops sweating profusely, then the person's skin becomes a solid wall that demons cannot penetrate.

So, if a person touches a dead dog with his hands (not with any clothing), then his sweaty hands make him vulnerable until the sun sets and the temperature cools and his hands stop sweating. Any demons that came from the dead dog and that are able to wait nearby for an opportunity to enter the person will have to depart when the sun sets.

If a demon from a dead dog managed to get onto the person's clothing, then washing the clothing with water moves the demon off of the clothing, and the demon will have to depart when the sun sets.

Another explanation for the effect of  sweat is a water that washes the skin adequately for situations such as a person's skin touching a dead dog. During the daylight's heat, the skin sweats enough to prevent such a demon moving from a dead dog and  attaching itself to a person's skin. Since the person's clothing does not sweat, the demon can attach itself to the clothing.

The important concept I want to communicate here is that in the case of contact with a dead dog, the person's body does not have to be washed with water. Only the person's clothing must be washed with water, if the clothing touched the dead dog.

Dead Mouse: A mouse is unclean because of two reasons -- a mouse creeps (walks on legs so short that the abdomen often touches the ground) and swarms (moves quickly in groups). A demon can move from the ground up into the animal not only through the mouse's paws but also through the abdomen, and the latter route enables more powerful demons to enter. The swarming is an indication that all the swarm's animals are possessed by demons. So, even though a mouse is much smaller than a dog, a mouse might be occupied by a demon that is much larger and more powerful than any demon in a dog. Leviticus describes the greater danger:

Everyone who touches them [e.g. mice] when they are dead shall be unclean until evening. 

Everything on which one of them falls when dead becomes unclean. Any such article that men use, whether it be an article of wood, cloth, leather or goat hair, must be put in water and remain unclean until evening, when it again becomes clean.

Should any of these creatures fall into a clay vessel, everything in it becomes unclean, and the vessel itself you must break. Any solid food that was in contact with water, and any liquid that men drink, in any such vessel become unclean.

Any object on which one of their dead bodies falls, becomes unclean; if it is an oven or a jar-stand, this must be broken to pieces; they are unclean and shall be treated as unclean by you.

However, a spring or a cistern for collecting water remains clean; but whoever touches the dead body becomes unclean.

Any sort of cultivated grain remains clean even though one of their dead bodies falls on it; but if the grain has become moistened, it becomes unclean when one of these falls on it. (Leviticus 11:31-38)

The reasoning here starts with the idea that a mouse is so small that a person can pick up a dead mouse and easily avoid touching the dead mouse to any of the person's clothing (in contrast to picking up a much larger dead dog). The much more common danger is that a mouse can get onto or into a useful household object and then die there.

The next new step in the reasoning is the difference between still water and moving water. If a dead mouse is in clay vessel full of water, then the water was still, without movement, long enough that a demon is able to move out of the dead mouse and establish a temporary base in the still water, from which the demon then moves into the vessel itself. Therefore, the vessel is possessed by the demon and becomes unclean and must be destroyed.

If a dead mouse is in a spring or a cistern, however, the water always is moving enough that the demon cannot  move out of the dead mouse and establish a base in the water. The demon stays in the dead mouse, because a demon of the kind that occupies a mouse is a demon that cannot transfer itself into moving water. If a person picks the dead mouse out of the moving water, then the mouse still is unclean -- the moving water has not cleaned the demons out of the dead mouse -- and so the person will remain unclean until evening.

The same reason applies to a situation where a dead mouse is in some grain. The demon cannot move out of the dead mouse into dry grain, but can move into moist grain, because this water is still.

In this context, the cleaning of wood, cloth, leather or goat hair and other such items in water necessarily involves stirring the water with the items for a significant length of time and then letting the items lie in still water for a significant length of time. Because the water was stirred first, the demon was frightened and wanted to escape, and then when the water was still long enough that the demon was able to escape, the demon did so. The demon was too frightened to stay in the water's container. When the sun set, the demons escaped.

Summary: When a modern person thinks about using water to wash a dirty object, we understand the effect as the water's movement removing the dirt from the object and carrying the dirt farther away from the item. Certainly an ancient person understood that effect likewise.

The ancient person, however,  understood also another effect. Usually, a demon inside an object could not move from the object into moving water. Furthermore, the demon was frightened by the moving water that surrounded the demon, and so the demon would escape from the object if an opportunity occurred while the demon still was frightened.

For example, if a person washed himself in running water, such as in a river, then a demon inside the person was not washed away by the running water. Rather, the demon was frightened by the running water, and so as soon as  the water stopped flowing around the person, then the frightened demon might escape from the person. The running water did not wash the demon out from the person; rather the running water frightened the demon out from the person.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Purification of Common Conditions

Common Conditions: The previously described purification treatment for leprosy was complicated and expensive, but probably few people developed leprosy symptoms and therefore had to go through this treatment. Practically all adults, however, normally experienced several natural conditions -- ejaculation, menstruation and childbirth -- that were believed to make a person unclean.

The person could experience such a condition himself or herself or experience it indirectly, through contact with a sexual partner. For example, a woman who was in contact with a man who ejaculated became unclean along with him. Likewise, a man who was in contact with a woman who menstruated became unclean along with her.

The purification treatments for such conditions never were as complicated as the treatment for leprosy, but they became gradually more complicated and expensive, ultimately requiring the sacrifice of animals at the Temple.

Ejaculation: The Book of Leviticus, Chapter 15, describes the purification for a man who has experienced an ejaculation of semen. He had to wash his entire body with water, but still was not considered to be clean until  evening. If the ejaculation happened during sexual intercourse with a woman, then she too had to wash her entire body and was  not considered  to be clean until evening.

Menstruation: The same Chapter 15 describes the purification treatment for a woman who experienced a menstrual period:

When a woman has her menstrual flow, she shall be in a state of impurity for seven days. 

Anyone who touches her shall be unclean until evening. Anything on which she lies or sits during her impurity shall be unclean. Anyone who touches her bed shall wash his garments, bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. Whoever touches any article of furniture on which she was sitting, shall wash his garments, bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. ....

If a man dares to lie with her, he contracts her impurity and shall be unclean for seven days; every bed on which he then lies also becomes unclean. (Leviticus 15:19-24)

If the menstruation lasted longer than seven days, then the purification treatment became much longer and more complicated. Eventually the woman had to sacrifice birds at the Temple.

When a woman is afflicted with a flow of blood for several days outside her menstrual period, or when her flow continues beyond the ordinary period ... she shall be unclean .... If she becomes freed from her affliction, she shall wait seven days, and only then is she to be purified. On the eighth day she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons and bring them to the priest ...  The priest shall offer up one of them as a sin offering and the other as a holocaust. ... (Leviticus 15:25-30)

Childbirth: Purification after childbirth is described in Leviticus, Chapter 12:

When a woman ... gives birth to a boy, she shall be unclean for seven days, with the same uncleanness as at her menstrual period. On the eighth day, the flesh of the boy's foreskin shall be circumcised, and then she shall spend thirty-three days more in becoming purified of her blood; she shall not touch anything sacred nor enter the sanctuary till the days of her purification are fulfilled.

If she gives birth to a girl, for fourteen days she shall be as unclean as at her menstruation, after which she shall spend sixty-six days in becoming purified of her blood.

When the days of her purification for a son or for a daughter are fulfilled, she shall bring to the priest ... a yearling lamb for a holocaust and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. The priest shall offer them up before the Lord ..., and thus she will be clean again after her flow of blood.

Dead Animals: According to Leviticus, Chapter 11, various animals were considered to be unclean. A person became unclean by eating such animals or by touching the dead bodies of such animals. These unclean animals included various rodents and insects that were ubiquitous -- rabbits, rats, mice, lizards, moles, flies, mosquitoes. A person who touched the dead body of any such animal was supposed to wash his clothing, and even then the uncleanliness lasted until evening.

There were several animals that made a person unclean if he ate the animal, but did not make the person unclean if he touched their dead bodies. These were animals that swarm but do not creep -- which included snakes, frogs and scorpions.

The animals that swarm but do not creep can be contrasted to the following animals. Eating the following animals or touching their dead bodies made a person unclean, but touching their live bodies did not make a person unclean.

* Examples of animals that creep are weasels, mice, lizards, tortoises, geckos and chameleons. They walk around on short legs, so that their stomachs sometimes touch the ground, which is creeping.

* Examples of animals that creep and also swarm are rats, mice, lizards, geckos and chameleons. They often move around quickly in groups.

* Examples of animals that creep but do not swarm are weasels and tortoises.

Demons: The above conditions made people unclean because they enabled demons to enter a person's body and then to spread onto or into other persons' bodies. The event of a genital discharge -- an ejaculation of semen, a flow of menstrual blood, the birth of an infant -- opened a person's body and so enabled a demon to enter. After a demon established a base inside one person's body, the demon was more able to move onto another person's body.  

Somehow, an animal that creeped -- whose abdomen rose and lowered to touch the ground repeatedly -- was very vulnerable to being entered by demons. Inside such creeping animals, however, the demons were not able to move easily onto people, as long as the animal was alive. As soon as the animal died, however, a demon inside the animal's dead body could move easily into a person who ate or touched the body.

Animals that swarmed -- that moved quickly in a group -- seemed to be possessed by demons. The very act of swarming demonstrated the entire group was possessed. The demons in those animals likewise could not move easily onto people, as long as the animals remained alive. As soon as they died, the demons could move into a person who ate or touched the animal's body.

An animal that does swarm but does not creep -- in particular, a snake -- might be possessed by a demon, but the demon cannot pass through the animal's skin. A person can touch a live snake or a dead snake, and a demon inside the snake's body cannot pass through the snake's skin and move onto or into the person. Only if the person cuts through the skin or cooks the skin and then eats the snake's inside meat can the demon pass into the person.

The purification method for a person who touched the dead body of an unclean animal was to wash the person's clothing, not the person's body. Apparently, a demon inside a dead unclean animal jumped first onto the person's clothing and then had to wait for another opportunity to move from the clothing into the body.

Summary: Some natural, repeating activities of ordinary people -- ejaculations, menstruation, childbirth -- required purification treatments. At the least, the treatments required washing the person's entire body, which still remained unclean until evening. At the most, the treatments required sacrifices of animals at the Temple.

Another common event that required purification treatment was the touching of various dead animals, which were ubiquitous in the environment. In these cases, the person's clothing had to be washed, and the person remained unclean until evening.

A few animals -- in particular, snakes -- could be touched, alive or dead, but they made a person unclean if he ate such an animal. These animals had special skins that contained demons inside the animal's body even after the animal died.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Complexities in the Purification of Lepers

Treatment Overview: Although poisonings from snake bites were healed by the simple act of  looking at the bronze serpent, other afflictions required treatments that were much more complicated, involving various purification methods.  For example, the treatment of leprosy is described with much detail in Leviticus, Chapters 13 and 14.

If a person had a skin blotch that was white, a common leprosy symptom, then he was quarantined for two weeks. If the blotch did not deepen or spread, then the blotch was diagnosed as eczema, and the person merely had to wash his clothes in order to be released from quarantine. If, however, the white blotch deepened and an open sore developed, then the blotch was diagnosed as leprosy, and the quarantine was extended as long as sore remained open.

After the open sore closed and again was covered by white blotch, then the person might be purified with the following treatment:
If the priest finds that the sore of leprosy has healed in the leper, he shall order the man who is to be purified, to get two live, clean birds, as well as some cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and hyssop.
The priest shall then order him to slay one of the birds over an earthen vessel with spring water in it. Taking the living bird with the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, the priest shall dip them all in the blood of the bird that was slain over the spring water, and then sprinkle seven times the man to be purified from his leprosy. When he has thus purified him, he shall let the living bird fly away over the countryside. 
The man being purified shall then wash his garments and shave off all his hair and bathe in water ... On the seventh day he shall again shave off all the hair of his head, his beard, his eyebrows, and any other hair he may have, and also wash his garments and bathe his body in water; and so he will be clean. 
On the eighth day he shall take two unblemished male lambs, one unblemished yearling ewe lamb, three-tenths of an ephah [3/10 ephah = 10 liters] of fine flour mixed with oil for a cereal offering, and one log of oil [one log = 1/3 liter]. ... Taking one of the male lambs, the priest shall present it as a guilt offering, along with the log of oil, waving them as a wave offering before the LORD. Then the priest shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering and put it on the tip of the man's right ear, the thumb of his right hand, and the big toe of his right foot. 
The priest shall also take the log of oil and pour some of it into the palm of his own left hand; then, dipping his right forefinger in it, he shall sprinkle it seven times before the Lord. Of the oil left in his hand the priest shall put some on the tip of the man's right ear, the thumb of his right hand, and the big toe of his right foot, over the blood of the guilt offering. The rest of the oil in his hand the priest shall put on the head of the man being purified. ... 
Only after he has offered the sin offering in atonement for the man's uncleanness shall the priest slaughter the holocaust and offer it, together with the cereal offering, on the altar before the LORD. When the priest has thus made atonement for him, the man will be clean.
Wave Offering: A wave offering was part of a guilt offering, which was part of a peace offering, which is described in Chapter 3 and which included the following procedures:

[The person] may offer before the Lord  a male animal [lamb] ... without blemish. He shall lay his hand on the head of his offering, and then slaughter it at the entrance of the meeting tent; but ... the priests, shall splash its blood on the sides of the altar.
... He shall offer as an oblation to the Lord the fatty membrane over the inner organs, and all the fat that adheres to them, as well as the two kidneys, with the fat on them near the loins, and the lobe of the liver, which he shall sever above the kidneys. All this Aaron's sons [the priests] shall then burn on the altar with the holocaust, on the wood over the fire, as a sweet-smelling oblation to the Lord. (Leviticus 3: 1-5)

Some parts of the offering were not burned right away, but merely were waved in the air and then given to the priest, who ate those parts later, as explained in Chapter 7:

When anyone makes a peace offering in thanksgiving, together with his thanksgiving sacrifice [the lamb] he shall offer unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes made of fine flour mixed with oil and well kneaded. His offering shall also include loaves of leavened bread ... 

From each of his offerings he shall present one portion as a contribution to the LORD; this shall belong to the priest who splashes the blood of the peace offering. .... 

The [lamb's] fat is to be brought in, together with the breast, which is to be waved [in the air] as a wave offering before the Lord. The priest shall burn the fat on the altar, but the breast belongs to [the priests]. Moreover, from your peace offering you shall give to the priest the right leg as a raised [waved in the air] offering. .... I [the Lord] have taken the breast that is waved and the leg that is raised up, and I have given them to [the priests]

Slaughter of the Holocaust: After the blood was smeared on the leper and after several parts of the offering  were waved in the air and set aside for the priests, the rest of the offering were burned as described in Chapter 1.

If his holocaust offering is ... a sheep, he must bring a male without blemish. This he shall slaughter before the Lord at the north side of the altar. Then the priests shall splash its blood on the sides of the altar. When the offerer has cut it [the lamb] up into pieces, the priest shall lay these, together with the head and suet, on top of the wood and the fire on the altar.

The inner organs and the shanks, however, the offerer shall first wash with water. The priest shall offer them up and then burn the whole offering on the altar as a holocaust, a sweet-smelling oblation to the Lord.

Cereal Offering: In addition to offering three animals (two unblemished male lambs and one unblemished yearling ewe lamb), the leper was supposed to offer three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil for a cereal offering. An ephah was about a bushel, about 35 liters. The cereal offering was processed as described in Chapter 2:

... His offering must consist of fine flour. He shall pour oil on it and put frankincense over it. When he has brought it to the priests, one of them shall take a handful of this fine flour and oil, together with all the frankincense, and this he shall burn on the altar as a token offering, a sweet-smelling oblation to the Lord. The rest of the cereal offering belongs to [the priests]. 

When the cereal offering you present is baked in an oven, it must be in the form of unleavened cakes made of fine flour mixed with oil, or of unleavened wafers spread with oil. If you present a cereal offering that is fried on a griddle, it must be of fine flour mixed with oil and unleavened. Such a cereal offering must be broken into pieces, and oil must be poured over it. If you present a cereal offering that is prepared in a pot, it must be of fine flour, deep-fried in oil. 

Every cereal offering that you present to the Lord shall be seasoned with salt. Do not let the salt of the covenant of your God be lacking from your cereal offering. ...

Summary: The purification of a leper involved many expenses and procedures: 
  • a quarantine that lasted several weeks 
  • an offering of two birds
  • mixing one bird's blood with water and releasing the other bird 
  • shaving off all body hair 
  • washing the body and clothing with water 
  • an offering of two male lambs and an ewe
  • an offering  of about 10 liters of fine flour and of 1/3 liter of oil
  • a procedure in which a priest sprinkled and smeared blood and oil
  • the burning of the animals, flour and oil
The priests kept much of the meat, flour and oil for their own consumption. In addition, we might presume that the leper paid some money to the priests to ensure that all the procedures were carried out effectively.  

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Bronze Serpent in the Gospel According to John

Jesus' Summary of His Teaching: Early in The Gospel According to John, in Chapter 3, Jesus Christ meets with a prominent Pharisee, Nicodemus, who recognizes from Jesus' miraculous signs that Jesus is a teacher from God. Jesus confirms that recognition and then summarizes the lesson that he is teaching:
  • People should be purified sufficiently so that they will be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, where they will enjoy eternal life. 
  • One purification method is baptism by means of water. 
  • A second method is purification by means of spirit. 
  • The second method causes a re-birth of the person and is necessary to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • Purification by means of spirit acts like a breeze blowing from above onto the person. 
Jesus  describes the spirit-purification's breeze-like effect:
What is born of spirit is spirit. ... You must be born from above. The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the spirit. (John 3:6-8)
Snake-Story: Elaborating further about purification by means of spirit, Jesus offers an ancient story from the time when Moses was leading the Hebrews from the Sinai Desert toward Canaan:
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man [Jesus Christ] be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)
This ancient story was told in the book of Numbers, Chapter 21. The circumstances were that the Hebrews, after wandering in the Sinai Desert for 40 years, were leaving the desert and heading toward their promised new homeland, Canaan. On the desert's outskirts, the  Hebrews encountered and defeated a remotely-based Canaanite military force. Although this victory enabled the Hebrews to leave the Sinai Desert, the further route was desolate, and so the migrating Hebrew masses soon suffered from and complained about the poor availability and quality of food and water.

God was annoyed by these complaints, and so He sent the Hebrews a plague of poisonous snakes, which bit many Hebrews and so caused much suffering and death. The snake plague compelled the Hebrews to repent from their complaints, and therefore God instructed Moses to arrange a remedy. Moses made a snake statue out of bronze and then erected the statue high enough so that it could be seen distantly. Afterwards, any Hebrew who had been bitten by a snake would be healed immediately if he merely looked at the snake statue with the understanding that the mere sight would heal.

Parallels Between Snake-Story and Summary: Nicodemus, as a Pharisee who had studied the ancient scriptures, knew the snake-statue story well and therefore immediately appreciated several parallels between that story and Jesus' summary of his teachings.

* Just as Moses was guiding the Hebrews as they left the Sinai Desert and traveled toward their new homeland of Canaan, so likewise Jesus Christ was guiding people as they left the Earth and traveled toward the Kingdom of God in Heaven.

* Just as the migrating Hebrews found that the route toward Canaan seemed to be poorly supplied with food and water, so likewise the people who desired to travel to the Kingdom of God found that their route was poorly supplied with the abstract nourishments of understanding and assurance.

* Just as many Hebrews would not be able to continue their trip unless they were provided with some method of removing snake poisons from their bodies, so likewise the people who wanted to travel to the Kingdom of God needed to purify themselves in order to survive their trip.

* Just as the poisoned Hebrews were purified merely by looking through the air at a highly-erected meaningful statue, so likewise people who needed to be purified for their trip to the Kingdom of Heaven would be purified by a spirit that blows from above through the air onto the person.

Foreshadowings in Chapter 1: This story of Jesus summarizing his lesson, told in The Gospel According to John's third chapter, is foreshadowed in John's first two chapters.

Chapter 1 begins (1:1-18) with a poetic meditation about the mysterious effects of words and light. God used words to create life, and God used light to overcome darkness and to enable living beings to understand and survive. God used words to make his divine Son into a person-like being who is visible and understandable to people. Those people who see this divine Son and who understand the sight can become children of God.

This poetic meditation foreshadows Jesus Christ's mention of the story about the bronze snake. After Moses erected the bronze snake and used words to tell the snake's healing power, then the the highly-positioned snake's image passed downward through the air and impacted the eyes of the poisoned Hebrews, who then were purified from the poison and therefore were able to continue their trip toward Canaan.

Then follows, in Chapter 1's second part (1:19-34), another foreshadowing of Jesus' summary. This part tells about John the Baptist and ends with a remark that Jesus was purified when a spirit, like a dove, flew down from the sky and settled on Jesus.

Then follows, in Chapter 1's third part (1:35-51), another foreshadowing. This part tells about Jesus meeting with several men who became his first disciples. This part ends with Jesus predicting to his new disciples that they eventually will see the sky open and angels flying down and up between the sky and the "Son of Man".

Thus, Chapter 1's three parts inform the reader that there is a spirit phenonomen that affects people from the sky, through the air. Words and light from Heaven can cause life to be created on the Earth. John the Baptist saw a spirit descend from the sky and purify Jesus without the water of a normal baptism. Jesus predicted to his first disciples that they will see the sky open and will see angels flying down and up in interaction with human beings on Earth.

Foreshadowings in Chapter 2: John's Chapter 2 begins (2:1-12) with the story about Jesus attending a wedding where he turns water into wine. This story foreshadows the bronze-snake story because the wedding guests complain about the poor quantity and quality of nourishment, as the migrating Hebrews had complained.

Jesus resolved the wedding guests' complaints by changing into wine some water that normally was used for ceremonial washings. This story touches on the idea that purification by means of water is a method that is inferior to purification by means of spirit. Water stored for ceremonial washings was easily disposable when Jesus had to change some available liquid into wine for a wedding. After all, if a purification became necessary, then purification by means of spirit remained as a method that did not require water and that still was available and always was superior.

Chapter 2's second part (2:13-25) tells about Jesus went to the Jerusalem Temple, where he attacked the merchants who sold sacrificial animals and who changed money for such sales. This story touches on the idea that purification by means of sacrificing animals at a temple is inferior to purification by means of spirit.

Aftershadowings: After Jesus summarized his teachings to Niicodemus in the the first part of John's Chapter 3, the narrative continues to touch on Jesus' summary. Chapter 3's second part (3:22-36) describes a controversy between John the Baptists's disciples and Jesus' disciples about baptism by means of water. During the course of this controversy, John the Baptist uses a wedding analogy (3:29-30), which resonates with the previous story about the wedding at Cana.

John's Chapter 4, in its first part (4:1-42), tells about Jesus stopping at a well in Samaria to get some water during a trip during a trip from Judea to Galilee. This story resonates with the ancient story about migrating Hebrews suffering from a lack of water during their trip from the Sinai Desert to Canaan. Jesus tells a woman at the well about a special kind of water that prevents all future thirst. He tells her also that there is a special kind of worship by means of spirit that people should use when they worship God.

Chapter 4's second part (4:43-54) tells about Jesus healing a royal official's son. Jesus was in Cana, in Galilee, while the official's sick son was in Capernaum, about 16 miles away. Thus, Jesus applied a purification method that worked like a spirit moving through the air across a long distance to heal the son.

Summary: The Gospel According to John's first four chapters record that the origin of Christianity coincided with new teachings about methods of purification and worship that worked by means of spirit. The purification method worked through the air and did not require the direct application of a substance, such as water, onto person. In one case, the purification worked when the person merely looked at bronze snake. In another case, the purification method worked far beyond eyesight, when Jesus in Cana purified a boy in Capernaum.


The Bible translation that I will use normally is The New American Bible, published by World Catholic Press.

I think that The Gospel of Mark was written after The Gospel of Matthew and The Gospel of Luke.