A New Look at Atonement in Leviticus: The Meaning and Purpose of Kipper Revisited
A New Look at Atonement in Leviticus: The Meaning and Purpose of Kipper Revisited. James A. Greenberg. Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplement 23. Eisenbrauns. University Park, Pennsylvania. 2019. Hardback, xii + 211 pp, $112.95. ISBN 978-1-57506-976-0.
James A. Greenberg analyzes a considerable amount of preconceived notions and previous views on kipper in this fresh approach to atonement. He compares these presuppositions with a close reading, text-immanent, approach. He challenges Jacob Milgrom’s view of purging pollution from sancta. One main critique Greenberg gives of Milgrom is to ask whether the sanctuary can be both holy and polluted at the same time? He diverges with Israel Knohl’s view that purgation is the main effect of kipper but uses as a starting point Knohl’s definitions of priestly and non-priestly texts. Greenberg asks what the connection is between the sacrifice and its effect on the people of the land. He also disagrees with Knohl’s theory that P does not describe God using anthropomorphic terminology. He diverges from the Church Fathers and modern theories of substitutionary atonement, purgation, coverance, ransom, and expiation theories by showing they are not supported in these passages. This leads to the question: what did the action of kipper offer the people of Israel (6)? Greenberg’s conclusion after accumulating the clues in the text for himself is to propose a desire for a homeostasis relationship that is established and maintained between God and his people through sacrifice (116).
In analyzing Greenberg’s arguments regarding the nuances of the verb kipper, there are questions still to be answered in his theory that merit expanded writings by Greenberg. For instance, a further evaluation (beyond the scope of chapter 4) of the establishment of the homeostasis relationship and expanded context for how it functions in daily life outside of the Day of Atonement. The structure of the book introduces previous theories and thoughts regarding the kipper ritual in Ancient Israel. The chart on page 7 is convenient for analyzing ancient and 20th century scholarly positions on the sancta, with categories of pollution-and-purge, combined, and relationship theories. Greenberg then moves to a proposed link between the Exodus 30:11-16 passage and Leviticus chapters 1-7 in Chapter 1. As Exodus 30 is the only passage with both verb kipper and noun kōper, much analysis by Greenberg is given to this passage and its implications that it does not show “ransom” but rather develops a protective connection for the offer. Challenging Milgom’s theory that blood purges, Greenberg offers the following example: if more than one offerer brings their ḥaṭṭa’t at the same time, then after the first sacrifice, the second and any consecutive sacrifices are rendered unnecessary since their “aerial miasma of impurity” (30) due to sin has already been removed by the first offering. They are purposeless offerings (if viewed in terms of Milgrom’s theory) except to show ritual devotion to God (30-31). In Chapter 2, he reviews the relationship between evil and holy, unclean and holy, and the ordination ritual with the accompanying ḥaṭṭa’t offering. His conclusion is that the piel of ḥṭ’ cannot be to “make a sin offering” as Feder proposes, but must be a privative form of piel glossed as “to bind.” This may be in a physical sense and also spiritually/metaphorically in a relationship sense because it is used in rituals where materials are bound to one another (see Leviticus 14’s ṣara’at ritual) and in rituals that bring about forgiveness (Leviticus 4). Greenberg’s relational aspect of this view of piel privative is what separates Milgrom’s piel gloss of ḥṭ’ as“to purge” from his own privative gloss of “to bind” and in the context of sin, “to reconcile as a result of the separating effect of sin”. His italicized conclusion is as follows: “[T]he combination of the nature of each object (human or non-human), the status of each object (sin, common, unclean, clean, or holy), and the materials used in each ritual act create different results based on the overall objective of the ritual” (88). He then links the frequently associated two ritual verbs together by “subsuming” all uses of the piel of ḥṭ’ within the meaning behind the piel of kpr (120) based on an analysis of Leviticus 8:15. He moves in Chapter 3 to the Leviticus 11-15 section and critically analyzes the pollution-and-purge viewpoint of Milgrom. Greenberg portrays how Jacob Milgrom’s three laws are not compatible with one another in proposed examples. Leviticus 15 models this incompatibility by Greenberg with regard to parturients. If Milgrom is convinced that impurity can contaminate aerially, then the parturient should be removed from the camp. Rather, she is permitted to remain in the camp, despite being contagious. This shows that there is no evidence of pollution transmitted without touch in the purification rituals (98-99). In his fourth chapter, he reviews the Sanctuary itself along with YHWH’s role in the inhabiting and purifying of the sancta in Leviticus 8-10. This chapter also includes other cult initiation texts such as Nazarite vows, Levitical initiation, and the deaths of Nadab and Abihu. Fifthly, he reviews how evil is handled through the ritual sacrifices (contra Milgrom’s proposed ANE demonic interpretation becoming Israelite sin pollution) in other passages of Leviticus along with the offerings associated with purification and immolation in Leviticus 16. This is where he concludes the idea of relational homeostasis being in crisis because of the rebellious sins of the people which prompted the creation of the Leviticus 16 ritual after Aaron’s sons’ deaths as an example. Afterward, he reviews reinitiation texts such as Ezekiel’s vision of the temple, Hezekiah’s actions in his reforms, and Ezra’s second temple. All these passages include or describe rituals which mitigate or cleanse pre-existing evils from the temple. They better demonstrate Greenberg’s relationship homeostasis conclusions, not Milgrom’s purging conclusion.
In this book, Greenberg critically reviews the preexisting dominant theory in the field of atonement theory. He dismantles Jacob Milgrom’s view and rebuilds his own without the purgation elements. The book most frequently references and debates Milgrom’s theory despite other scholars in his discussion on the History of Interpretation (6) . I was also initially confused by the diagrams on pages 2 and 10 but upon communication, I was aided by the helpful injunction to read the diagram from the right rather than from the left. As an Old Testament student I probably should have begun reading from the right with a background of Semitic studies. However, with English as native tongue, I had not considered the right to left approach. Perhaps in a future second edition, the images could be redrawn in reverse or an arrow of direction could be provided (2, 10). His evaluation of the preconditions (we’ašem and hoda‘ ’elayw ḥaṭṭa’to ’ašer ḥaṭa’) for the process of kipper to be accomplished in the Leviticus 4 passage contributes to the promise that there is grace for the repentant offerer but curse of expulsion for the unrepentant or intentional sinner (21). Greenberg encompasses all piel meanings of ḥṭ’ within the understanding of the piel of kpr. While this allows for Greenberg’s theory to hold within the Holiness School and Priestly Torah texts, I don’t believe he sufficiently addresses the non-priestly post-exilic uses. Greenberg’s Ezekiel and Ezra passages show ḥaṭṭa’t sacrifices being offered, but they are too briefly described by Greenberg and also contain far more limited ritual texts to examine than those of Leviticus. Secondly, Greenberg proposes that the piel of ḥaṭṭa’ should be “to bind” (120) as opposed to Milgrom’s “to remove sin”. This gloss does seem to hold among the piel uses in the Hebrew Bible. The passage of Jacob vindicating himself before Laban is possibly the most challenging to use the gloss “to bind” but it still works with regard to incorporating financial loss attributed to Jacob. Greenberg thus defends his viewpoint of kipper as relationally repairing by diagramming what he calls a “modified text-immanent strategy” extending outward from Priestly Torah toward other sources (190). This does prevent an interpretive eisegesis of the texts which previous scholars have done. It also avoids placing too much emphasis on comparative linguistics or other ANE ritual comparisons. Overall, this book provides a fresh perspective on atonement. Greenberg’s cited works show a considerable amount of sources referenced and breadth of ideas considered. He should continue publications to elaborate further. I would recommend this book for studies regarding atonement as it provides alternative and non-Milgromian viewpoints on Priestly Torah texts.