Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Blood Sacrifices, Jesus, and Jews

Got into another conversation about Jewish perspectives on Christian theological claims about Israelite religion. We quickly found ourselves on the "blood" theme, a beloved one in Christian discourse.

Now Jews take blood seriously - we even speak of circumcision, Brit Milah, as a "covenant of blood." But some forms of Christianity will insist God only forgives human sin only if we participate in a “blood sacrifice.” This sounds strange to Jews, yet Christians like to point to this verse to back up this claim.

It is the blood, as life, that effects expiation (Lev. 17:11, JPS)

Let’s start with the context of this verse (verses 10-14) which is that Israelites should not eat blood when they eat animal flesh. Spilling the blood and not eating the blood of the animal you consume is an expiation for killing a living thing for food or sacrifice (bird, deer, lamb, cow) that God has created. This practice is akin to the scene in the movie Avatar where the Nabi hunter addresses the prey she's just killed and acknowledges a life has been taken and offers a ritual confession as expiation. Read it yourself:

10 And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, that eats any blood, I will set My face against that person that eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people.

11 For the life of the meat is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your lives; for it is the blood is in the living thing makes atonement.

12 Therefore I said unto the children of Israel: No person of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourns among you eat blood.

13 And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, that hunts down any beast or fowl that may be eaten, he shall pour out the blood its, and cover it with dust.

14 For as to the life of all meat, its blood is its life; therefore I said unto the children of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any meat; for the life of all meat is its blood; whosoever eats it shall be cut off.

But setting that context aside, Christian polemics go on to argue that the death of Jesus was the perfect "blood sacrifice" that God made on our behalf. Here’s what Jews bring to this discussion:

In the Hebrew Bible, God condemns human sacrifice (Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5).
Even in the Book of Leviticus itself, blood is not necessary for the forgiveness of sins, despite what Christians may tell Jews. Even while the sacrificial system existed, a contrite poor person need only bring an offering of flour (Lev. 5:11). This teaches us that it was not the blood that was critical, it was the contrite spirit shown when someone would acknowledge his or her sin in public through any sort of sacrifice.

Throughout the Torah and the rest of the Hebrew Bible it is clear that blood is not necessary for God’s forgiveness of sins (Numbers 14:20; Lev. 5:11-13; Ezek. 18:21-28; Amos 5:21-22; Hosea 6:6, 14:2; Ps. 51:18-21; Jer. 7:22; Isa 1:11-18; Micah 6:6-8). If fact, it becomes quite clear from these verses that no sacrifices of any sort are required for God to forgive us, save the sacrifice of our own pride by admitting we’ve done wrong. Therefore…

Since the end of the sacrificial system, people’s prayers and sincere repentance are sufficient to be forgiven (see citations above).

Judaism teaches that God is demanding, but does not demand you drench your every sin in blood and death. Jewish theology assumes that God is aware He designed us to be morally vulnerable, so He knows we will make mistakes. Judaism teaches that God accommodates that reality by demanding that we repent when we do wrong. There is no blanket condemnation that requires blood and death to account for sin. When we do, God forgives us. Judaism teaches God wants better living from us, not death (SEE Ezekiel 18:23-28).


Blogger Sara said...

Thanks for this one. I remember that one explanation is that in a lot of the idiom of the time, the idea was that by making an animal sacrifice in a certain way, watching the blood pour and the animal die, was to sort of burn into the person's mind that he too was mortal, that this could be him, maybe even what he deserved, to really show as a sharp visceral reminder something horrible, and know that it is for the sin, to not do it again. Not ever because "God wanted a sacrifice."

4:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a "Christian", that word has many definitions. For some, its not the specific blood sacrifice of the Christ story that makes it real for people. Its more of an identification of the need for sacrifice, love, selflessness, and a general transcending of the Self through the grace and love of God. The Chirst event then is the ultimate symbol of this personal transformation process.

When viewed like that, seems like universal truth.


9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

FYI what you are describing as Christian is not the consistent Christian teaching from the 1 centuries onwards. The idea that Gd demands blood sacrifice and that Jesus is therefore 'satisfies' Divine justice doesn't appear at all in the East and really doesn't quite emerge fully in the West until the Reformation. It is not Christian.

4:17 PM  
Blogger thatgurlcarolyn said...

In response to the two comments about Christianity, I can't claim to be an historical expert on Church dogma and/or doctrine, but having grown up as a "Born Again" Christian, I can attest to the author's statements. Disagreeing with this posting based on "Christian teaching from the 1st century onward" is quite ambiguous. There are (and were) so many forms of Christianity, so many sects and sub-sects, so you can't seriously claim that anything Christian was or wasn't taught as a blanket statement because there were always various groups teaching various things, as in all religions that are spread out around the world.

What the author was getting at is that SOME forms of Christianity DO explain the reasoning for Jesus' death by comparing it to a blood sacrifice. I, myself, was taught that the Jews made blood sacrifices for their sins and that Jesus was the "ultimate sacrifice," therefore as Christians we don't need to sacrifice animals.

Anon, I'm not sure which sect of Christianity you were referring to that hasn't taught this since the first century, but I can assure you that this belief is alive and well today.

2:10 PM  

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