Knohl on the Holiness School: Atonement and God’s Food

I started a book yesterday: Israel Knohl’s The Sanctuary of Silence: The Priestly Torah and the Holiness School. I didn’t really get what he was driving at as I read Chapter 1, “The Sabbath and Festivals.” Fortunately, he gave a summary at the end of the chapter:

We have called the ritual outlook of HS [(the Holiness School)] “priestly popular.” The blending of popular and priestly elements is particularly noticeable in the HS firstfruits and feast of Booths passages. Another expression of synthesis is the “Day of Atonement,” which combines the priestly purification ceremonies with the strict prohibition of labor and the injunction to practice self-affliction on the tenth day of the seventh month, which was the creation of the popular tradition. (45)

One point he made that somewhat threw me was that Leviticus 16 doesn’t specify the date of the atonement ceremony, in which sin is expiated and removed into the wilderness through the ritual of the two goats. Actually, v 29 does mentions the date, along with the requirement that the Israelites deny themselves and do no work. For Knohl, v 29 is the Holiness School’s contribution to this chapter. One way he seeks to identify the Holiness School in the Pentateuch is by noticing things that are out of place with priestly ideology, and that accord with Holiness School material. According to Knohl, the Holiness School emphasizes that God’s Torah is for the Israelite and the alien alike, a concept that appears in Leviticus 16:29; therefore, v 29 is from the Holiness School, whereas the part of Leviticus 16 about the two goats is from the priests (P).

I wonder how Knohl would address Leviticus 16:2, which states that the priests are not to come into the sanctuary at any time. Doesn’t that imply that the “two goats” ceremony is to occur at a specific time each year, later identified as the tenth day of the seventh month (v 29)? Knohl may respond that v 2 just means that a priest can’t stroll into the sanctuary anytime he wishes (as did Nadab and Abihu), but that the high priest is to enter the innermost sanctuary according to a very specific protocol. If Leviticus 16:2 were concerned about the exact date of the ceremony, it’s odd that the chapter doesn’t even mention it until v 29!

After I read page 45, I understood a little better Knohl’s point about another issue: whether God eats the animal sacrifices. Knohl states:

PT [(the Priestly Torah)] is very careful not to make any direct connection between the Lord and food; thus it will never speak of “the Lord’s food,” but rather of “the food of the Lord’s fires” or “a fire of pleasing odor to the Lord.” This avoidance apparently stems from the desire to refine the idea that sacrifices are God’s food. In contrast, HS readily uses the expressions “the food of your God,” “the food of his God,” “the food of their God” (Lev 21:6, 8, 21, 22; 22:5; cf. Ezek 44:7).

According to Knohl, the Priestly Torah tries to avoid the implication that God eats the animal sacrifices, whereas the Holiness School conforms to the popular understanding: that God eats. This was an ancient Near Eastern idea, for the Atrahasis Epic presents the gods being hungry during the Flood because no one was offering them sacrifices. And why would Psalm 50 emphatically deny that God eats sacrifices, if there were not people who believed that he did?

A question I’ll have as I read through Knohl’s book is, “Who is the Holiness School”? Were they priests trying to bring priestly rituals to the popular level, by mixing them with the customs of the masses? Were they scribes who believed that it was the responsibility of all of the Israelites to be holy, not just the priests, a key theme in the Holiness writings? I doubt it was a guy off the street who composed the Holiness writings, for the school had to know how to write, and that was something only elites could do, at least at that stage in Israel’s history (though this is a discussion in itself, as there’s Deuteronomy 6:9 to address). So what elite was it?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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