For my write-up today on Jonathan Goldstein’s Anchor Bible commentary on II Maccabees, I’ll quote something that Goldstein says on pages 214-215:
“The high priest [in II Maccabees 3:32-35] offered an expiatory sacrifice for Heliodorus. In the Hebrew Bible sin and guilt offerings were brought only by the individual or corporate sinner, though Jason of Cyrene knows of sin offerings on behalf of the dead (12:43-45…). We do not know what system of Jewish law Onias followed. According to rabbinic law a non-Jew could not bring a sin or guilt offering but he could bring a burnt offering (M. Sheqalim 1:5), and Onias or Heliodorus’ friends could bring a burnt offering on Heliodorus’ behalf (cf. Job 1:5). Such a burnt offering could secure atonement (Lev 1:4; the requirement of laying hands upon an animal did not apply to a non-Jew…).”
I checked Herbert Danby’s translation of Mishnah Shekalim 1:5. It says that Gentiles and Samaritans cannot pay the Shekel (which I take to be the Temple tax discussed in Exodus 30:13ff.) nor “Bird-offerings of a man or woman that has a flux or of a woman after childbirth, or Sin-offerings or Guilt-offerings, but they may accept of them vow-offerings or freewill-offerings.” I wonder if a burnt offering counts as a freewill offering.
This passage in Goldstein’s commentary stood out to me for three reasons. First, I have been curious about what laws Judaism (which is diverse, I know) believed that Gentiles could or had to follow, and which ones it thought were restricted to Israelites. Second, I’m curious as to the difference between a burnt offering and a sin or guilt offering. All of them atone for sin, right? In terms of their meaning and function, is there some nuance differentiating them from each other? Third, I thought about the issue of whether or not a blood sacrifice was necessary for atonement. According to Goldstein, Gentiles according to the Mishnah could not gain atonement through a sin or guilt offering, but they could get it through a burnt offering, which they could offer themselves or someone else could offer on their behalf.
I think that Michael Brown’s remarks on pages 152-153 of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume Two: Theological Objections are relevant:
“In b. Sukkah 55b (see also Pesikta deRav Kahana, Buber edition, 193b-194a) we read that the seventy bulls offered every year during the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot; see Num. 29:12-34) ‘were for the seventy nations,’ which Rashi explains to mean, ‘to make atonement for them, so that rain will fall throughout the world.’ In this context—-and in light of the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E.—-the Talmud records the words of Rabbi Yohanan: ‘Woe to the nations who destroyed without knowing what they were destroying. For when the Temple was standing, the altar made atonement for them. But now who will make atonement for them?'”
I doubt that what Michael Brown presents above was the only game in town when it came to early Judaism’s view on the necessity for blood atonement, for Yochanan ben Zakkai said that prayers substituted for sacrifices after the Temple was destroyed. But (if I’m not mistaken) Yochanan concluded that after great perplexity, and that tells me that he thought that the Temple and its sacrifices indeed were important, and he wondered what Jews would do when they were absent.