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Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice$

Jennifer Wright Knust and Zsuzsanna Varhelyi

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199738960

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199738960.001.0001

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Jewish Sacrifice

Jewish Sacrifice

Its Nature and Function (According to Philo)

Chapter:
(p.94) 4 Jewish Sacrifice
Source:
Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice
Author(s):

William K. Gilders

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199738960.003.0004

Abstract and Keywords

Offering a close reading of the writings of Philo of Alexandria, William Gilders pursues a “literary ethnography” that analyzes the gap between Philo’s presentation of the symbolic significance of sacrificial action and the effective practice of sacrifice in his period. Philo is unique among his Jewish contemporaries in his concern to address the meanings of sacrifice in conceptual terms, and the concepts he develops are quite specific to his distinctive context. Written by a highly-literate Greek-speaking Jew from Alexandria, Philo’s arguments can only be decoded in light of his specific cultural lexicon. A similar concern with symbolic meanings, however, is mirrored in the work of cultural anthropologists and scholars of religion today, who also seek universal meanings for what may well have been provisional acts. As such, both Philo and contemporary scholars mistake symbolism for practice, thereby overlooking the cultural and historical contingency of all interpretation.

Keywords:   Philo of Alexandria, theories of sacrifice, cultural anthropology, symbolism

In its Second Temple era (ca. 520 BCE–70 CE), Judaism was a religion of sacrifice. As such, it was not in the least out-of-place in the ancient Mediterranean world, where most national cults, in one form or another, were centered on sacrifice. A study of ancient Jewish sacrifice must locate the practice within its larger cultural context. Therefore, this chapter is oriented toward understanding Jewish sacrifice as a practice that made sense in its historical-cultural context and considering the ways in which ancient Jewish texts about sacrifice reflected and engaged that context.

Many readers will recognize that the chapter’s title evokes the classic essay by Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss, Sacrifice: Its Nature and Function, which sought, through a detailed comparative discussion of Jewish and Vedic sacrifice, to elucidate the nature and function of sacrifice as a cultural practice.1 My goal is more modest—to elucidate what Jewish sacrifice meant to some ancient Jews and to explore their understanding of its nature and function. As an exercise in what I will term “literary ethnography,” I will relate to literate-specialist producers of ancient Jewish texts—to use Stanley Stowers’ taxonomy from chapter 1 in this volume—as cultural informants, seeking to make sense of what those informants tell me.

As a specific example, I focus on the writings of the Hellenistic Jewish scholar Philo of Alexandria (ca. 20 BCE–ca. 50 CE). Unique amongst ancient Jewish writers on sacrifice, Philo offers what can be termed an explicit theory of sacrifice (more correctly, to use Philo’s own Greek term, a theory of thysia). I will discuss Philo’s theory of sacrifice as a system of symbolic actions in relation to its historical-cultural context. I will then place Philo’s ancient Jewish thinking about sacrifice into dialogue with modern ritual theory, engaging with debates about the “meaning” of sacrifice as a type of ritual activity. In doing so, I will locate Philo within the history of the interpretation of sacrifice.

Philo wrote in Greek in a context—the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria in Egypt—in which sacrifice was a living reality. While he and many of his Alexandrian Jewish readers might, conceivably, never have seen, let alone participated directly (p.95) in sacrificial rites at the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, they could easily have encountered the sacrificial rituals of their non-Jewish neighbors, and Philo’s non-Jewish readers almost certainly would have had some kind of involvement with sacrificial practice. Thus, before turning to my focus on Philo’s ideas about sacrifice, it will be helpful to discuss ancient Jewish sacrifice more generally, and its relationship with non-Jewish sacrifice.

Sacrifice was something Jews and non-Jews in the ancient Mediterranean world had in common. Jewish sacrifice fit its larger cultural world, in which most cults were sacrificial—that is, they involved the ritualized processing of animal (and sometimes human) bodies, along with vegetal materials, liquids such as oil and wine, and incense, in relation to supernatural forces, usually “gods.” For most adherents of a Hellenistic cult, and particularly for those who participated in the Greek and Roman sacrificial cults, Jewish sacrifice would have been recognizably the same ritual phenomenon as their own. They would have been able to place Jewish practices into the same ritual category as their own. The same would have been true, reciprocally, for Jews. Jewish and Greco-Roman sacrificial practices were indeed very similar in basic form. They involved the slaughter of animal victims at designated cult places and the manipulation of their bodies in various ways. Notable points of commonality were application of blood to an altar, the burning of select body portions in an altar fire as an offering to the deity or deities, and the cooking and consumption of parts of the animals by the sacrificers.2

Thus, when Jewish writers (including Philo) produced texts in Greek, they employed the same word, thysia, for Jewish sacrifice as was used for Greco-Roman sacrifice. Moreover, those Greek-language texts that seem to assume that non-Jews will be part of their readership may explain the distinctive elements of Jewish sacrifice, but they give no indication that sacrifice itself requires explanation. They also assume many of the basic ideas about sacrifice that non-Jewish readers would have assumed. For example, the pseudepigraphic author of the Letter of Aristeas quotes a letter from the Jewish high priest in Jerusalem, stating that he had offered sacrifices for the Ptolemaic king and his family (§45), evoking a common practice in this cultural context—sacrifice as a means of seeking blessing and benefit for rulers.

Philo’s Theory of Sacrifice

Philo is unique amongst ancient Jewish writers on sacrifice in giving focused attention to elucidating the meaning of sacrificial ritual in conceptual terms. Indeed, he not only seeks to explain what is signified by the various distinct sacrificial complexes and the ritual actions that compose them, he also offers general observations about the origin and meaning of sacrifice as a religious practice. Philo offers an explicit “theory” of sacrifice as a system of symbolic actions. This theory is set out in considerable detail in Philo’s work On the Special Laws, his apologia for and elucidation of Jewish cultural practices based on biblical legislation.3

(p.96) Fundamental to Philo’s theory is his conviction that the practice of sacrifice stems from and meets a basic human desire, an aspiration to relationship with the Divine, a dual aspiration to seek positive blessing and to compensate for failures of virtue that might inhibit the relationship. At the beginning of his discussion of the Jewish temple (Spec. Laws 1.66), Philo asserts that the whole universe is truly God’s temple (ἱερόν), with heaven as the sanctuary (νεώς) and the angels as priests.4 There is, however, also a temple made with hands (χειρόκμητον),

for it was right [ἔδει γὰρ] that no check should be given to the forwardness [ὁρμή, or “effort,” “impulse,” “eager desire”] of those who pay their tribute to piety and desire by means of sacrifices either to give thanks for the blessings that befall them or to ask for pardon and forgiveness for their sins. (1.67)

Philo’s characterization of the motivation for sacrifice here is strongly positive, as is his characterization of the temple and its cult. Sacrifice exists to meet a fundamental human need and aspiration. Philo develops this point when he begins his discussion of the distinct types of sacrifices set out by Moses and insists that these various sacrifices perfectly meet the fundamental aspirations of human beings:

For if anyone cares to examine closely the motives [τὰς αἰτίας] which led men of the earliest times to resort to sacrifices as a medium of prayer and thanksgiving, he will find that two hold highest place. One is the rendering of honor to God for the sake of Him only and with no other motive, a thing both necessary and excellent. The other is the signal benefit which the worshipper receives, and this is twofold, on the one side directed to obtaining a share in blessings, on the other to release from evils. (1.195)

This is a rich theoretical statement about sacrifice, which merits close consideration. Philo refers in general terms to human motivations for sacrifice, apparently treating the creation of this practice as inherent to human nature at its best. He makes a claim about the antiquity of sacrifice as a basic human religious act, and he identifies what led to the performance of the act—namely, that the motivation is God-directed. Sacrifice was created to serve as a medium of prayer and thanksgiving through which two goals could be achieved: rendering honor to God and seeking benefits from God.

Of particular note is that Philo does not treat sacrifice as a uniquely Jewish activity. He attributes it to humankind as a whole. What distinguishes Jewish from non-Jewish sacrifice, according to Philo, is the former’s perfection: it serves perfectly the goal for which sacrifice was created. It is not surprising that Philo treats sacrifice this way, since it was the religious norm in his cultural world. Philo’s goal is to establish the worth of the specifically Jewish version of this religious norm. As Jutta Leonhardt puts it in her detailed study of Philo’s view of Jewish ritual, “Philo’s Judaism is the ultimate Hellenistic cult.”5

Why is sacrifice, rather than some other practice, such a positive and fundamental expression of human religious aspirations? Philo does not answer this question (p.97) explicitly. However, his view is strongly implicit in his elaborate presentation of the meaning of the sacrificial acts. For Philo, it is the analogical character of human and animal bodies that makes sacrifice the appropriate vehicle of religious aspirations, since an animal can be used as a symbolic surrogate for a human being, and the various rites can function to represent a human aspiration for complete devotion to Deity.

To understand this view of sacrifice, we must engage with Philo’s basic conception of the symbolic nature of ritual elements and actions. According to Philo, symbols are vehicles of mystical realities, since “words in their plain sense are symbols of things latent and obscure” (Spec. Laws 1.200). Symbolic interpretation is crucial for Philo; material objects and actions in ritual all refer to a higher, spiritual reality. In this sense we can speak of Philo’s “spiritualization” of the cult—that its material, “external” aspects refer to inner and spiritual realities.6 For Philo, the meaning of sacrifice (indeed, of all ritual activity) is conceptual. Actions are given to be interpreted in symbolic terms and contemplated. The elements of sacrifice, especially the parts of the animal, symbolize inner dispositions of the sacrificer: the mind, soul, will.

Philo’s approach to sacrifice is premised on the relationship between animals and humans: animal bodies stand for human inner realities. Thus, the offering of animals represents human devotion to God, and to be valid it must come from and enhance this motivation. A few examples will suffice to illustrate this approach to sacrifice. First, there is Philo’s discussion of the need to inspect the sacrificial animal for blemishes. According to Philo, the careful examination of the animal is really about the inner disposition of the sacrificer:

The examination is carried out with this excessive minuteness in consideration not of the victims offered but of the innocence of those who offer them. For it would teach them through symbols [διὰ συμβόλων] that when they approach the altar to offer either prayers or thanks they must come with no infirmity or ailment or evil affection in the soul [τῇ ψυχῇ], but must endeavor to have it sanctified and free throughout from defilement, that God when He beholds it may not turn His face from the sight. (Spec. Laws 1.167)7

In short, the sacrificial animal symbolizes the soul (ψυχή). Likewise, the blood of the animal offered as a whole burnt offering refers to the mind, the intelligence, the faculty of thought (διάνοια) of the sacrificer:

The blood is poured in a circle round the altar because the circle is the most perfect of figures, and in order that no part should be left destitute of the vital oblation [ψυχικῆς σπονδῆς]. For the blood may truly be called a libation of the life-principle [ψυχῆς]. So, then, he teaches symbolically [συμβολικῶς οὖν ἀναδιδάσκει] that the mind [διάνοια], whole and complete, should as it moves with measured tread passing circle-wise through every phase of word and intention and deed, show its willingness to do God’s service. (Spec. Laws 1.205)

(p.98) The blood manipulation, for Philo, is a symbol that evokes devotion of one’s highest faculties to God. The blood of the animal, identified with its ψυχή (soul), is a symbolic referent of the human mind. As F. H. Colson puts it, for Philo “the ψυχή in its lower sense … is an apposite symbol of the higher ψυχή, ‘the mind.’”8 This passage also makes it clear that Philo sees ritual symbols as conveying concepts; they are pedagogical in character.

Philo exemplifies the fact that sacrifice is always interpreted within a larger worldview and religious framework. Its meaning as religious practice is determined by the value-system into which one places and “reads” it. For Philo, sacrifice is a subsystem of a larger system of contemplative cultivation and asceticism directed, always and ultimately, to what he identifies as the higher and truer human faculty, the soul (ψυχή) (frequently equated with the intellect or mind, διάνοια), “which we are told was fashioned after the image of the Self-existent [τοῦ ὄντος]. And the image of God is the Word [λογός] through whom the whole universe was framed” (Spec. Laws 1.81).9 The cultivation of the soul, the rational (logical) part of the human being is, then, the cultivation of that which is Godlike, and the goal of such cultivation is the bringing of the Godlike part of humankind into communion with God, its source and model. Thus, according to Philo, sacrifice of an animal (or any other offerings) represents self-sacrifice, the giving of one’s true being over to God: “He, then, who is adorned with these [virtues] may come with boldness to the sanctuary [τὸν νεών] as his true home … there to present himself as victim [ἱερεῖον ἐπιδειξόμενος αὑτόν]” (Spec. Laws 1.270).10

In this respect, Philo radically relativizes sacrifice: it is not an end in itself, and he can urge that a preoccupation with the material facts of sacrifice carries the danger of missing its real point (Spec. Laws 1.270–72). Furthermore, he can insist that inward motivation inevitably trumps material offerings, so that a small grain of incense offered by one whose soul is perfected is far superior to huge numbers of animals offered by the unworthy. Indeed, because incense smoke is a superior symbol of the nonmaterial soul, it is superior to sacrificial blood (Spec. Laws 1.275). Nevertheless, Philo’s relativization of sacrifice should not be misunderstood or exaggerated. While he insists that it is not an end in itself, his overall treatment of sacrifice—the context in which he relativizes it—is vigorously positive.11 While only a means to an end, given the supreme value of the end, this means is of immense significance for Philo. Furthermore, Philo insists that the symbolic significances of Jewish practices cannot be separated from the practices themselves, and he criticizes those who argue that one can abandon obedience to Jewish law once one has grasped the inner, spiritual meanings of the practices.12

What has remained unclear to me as I have engaged with Philo’s theory on sacrifice is whether he believed that the sacrifices “worked” only if their conceptual significance was recognized. That is, did one need to be able to fully decode the symbols in order to benefit from the performance of the act? A partial answer to this question comes through attention to Philo’s basic explanation of the source and goal of sacrifice. Philo sees sacrifice as a medium of human aspiration for God. (p.99) Thus, to the extent that sacrifice is performed with that motive in mind—with that intentionality—certainly it would be effective, apart from any exegesis of its symbolic elements. Furthermore, as I have suggested, Philo seems to take the identification between sacrificer and sacrificial animal as inherent to sacrifice. Thus, I would suggest that he regarded some level of the identification of this foundational symbolic key as available to all rightly disposed sacrificers—not only to those who were of Philo’s enlightened status. Still, it appears that Philo believed that most Jews failed to grasp the full symbolic meaning of their activity, and it is clear that he saw serious potential danger in this failure, to judge from his critique of sacrificial practice inspired by incorrect motives.13

A fact that is clear about Philo’s approach to sacrifice is that he does not treat it fundamentally as cuisine. He has very little to say about food-related symbolism, reserving such comments for nonblood offerings; in fact, he distinguishes animals from food gifts (see, e.g., Spec. Laws 1.179). This should come as no surprise, given his emphasis on the symbolic identification of the sacrificer with the sacrificial animal: it would have been problematic to equate the aspiration to union with God in terms of either human or divine preparation and consumption of food. Rather, Philo keeps his focus on the ways in which sacrificial acts can be “read” symbolically as referring to the soul’s relationship to God. The fact that Philo avoids speaking of sacrifice in terms of cuisine highlights the distinctiveness of different approaches to sacrifice even within a common cultural environment, and it should caution us against applying conclusions drawn from one contiguous culture to another.14

Philo’s Theory and Modern Ritual Theory

Philo’s notion of sacrifice as a primarily symbolic activity has striking echoes in the dominant discourses about sacrifice found in the works of modern social-cultural anthropologists. For example, Philo’s insistence that ritual activity works on the senses to shape attitudes and dispositions (see, e.g., Spec. Laws 1.191, 193, 203) anticipates Clifford Geertz’s classic definition of religion as “a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men.”15

Most immediately, Philo’s conception that ritual is a vehicle for symbolic communication finds strong echoes in modern anthropological approaches to activity identified as “ritual.” “Ritual” has frequently been defined so that symbolism is essential to its identity. Ritual, in this approach, is inherently symbolic activity. As Talal Asad explains in his critical assessment of the modern anthropological study of ritual, “Modern anthropologists writing on ritual tended to see it as the domain of the symbolic in contrast to the instrumental.”16 The dominance of this approach is exemplified by the definition of ritual that appears in the new (2008) edition of the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences: “a patterned, repetitive, and symbolic enactment of a cultural belief or value.”17 Robbie Davis-Floyd, the author (p.100) of the reference work’s articles on “Rites of Passage” and “Ritual,” elaborates on the definition by explaining that “a belief system is enacted through ritual,” highlights as a major characteristic of ritual “the symbolic nature of ritual’s messages,” and asserts that “rituals work through symbols.”18 This understanding of ritual has recently been energetically defended and applied by Jonathan Klawans in his work on ancient Israelite and early Jewish sacrifice.19

The argument that communicative symbolism is an essential element of ritual has been challenged in various ways by a number of interpreters of culture. Most notorious, and frequently most misunderstood, is Frits Staal’s assertion of the “meaninglessness of ritual.”20 Staal’s argument, generalizing from his work on Vedic ritual, is that symbolism is not an inherent and primary characteristic of ritual activity and that pure performance is the real concern of ritual actors, even when symbolic or other interpretations are provided. The problem with this argument, however, is that it rests on a too-sharp dichotomy between thought and action and therefore ignores the very real cognitive dimensions of ritual activity.21 A more nuanced approach is offered by Roy Rappaport, whose definition of ritual lacks reference to symbolism, but whose discussion of ritual deals in detail with the symbolic dimensions of ritual activity.22 As Rappaport ably demonstrates, ritual often functions communicatively, especially through its symbolic dimensions, but much else is also involved in such communication, and symbolism is often fraught with tensions and difficulties stemming from the inherent weaknesses in symbolic communication—as Rappaport puts it: “the embarrassments of symbolic communication (notably the two vices of language, lie and the confusions of Babel).”23 In other words, ritual symbols may be used to communicate falsely, and they may be misinterpreted even when the intention is to communicate effectively.

In this connection, it is also worth noting that there are problems involved in defining and characterizing what symbols are and how they relate to their referents. While there has been discussion of “natural symbols,”24 it has come to be widely understood that “symbols are without specific meanings aside from the connotations assigned to them.”25 What this means is that the symbolic meanings that might be attached to ritual acts within a particular cultural context can only be decoded using the cultural lexicon of that context.

The argument that ritual is not inherently symbolic activity does not amount to an assertion that ritual actions should never be interpreted symbolically or that rituals are never devised or performed with symbolic significances in view. Rather, I would emphasize three distinct but related points: First, symbolism is conventional rather than natural and obvious. Second, rituals do not only signify symbolically. To use the terminology of the semiotician Charles Sanders Peirce, ritual actions may signify as “icons,” as “indices,” or as symbols.26 Third, not all cultures, nor all individuals within cultures, understand their own rituals symbolically. A focus on Staal’s particular position misses the fact that many critiques of classic symbolic anthropology have not denied that ritual actions are meaningful; rather, they have questioned the nature of the meaning, where it comes from, and how it is developed. (p.101) For example, the French anthropologist Dan Sperber has argued against what he terms a “cryptological view of symbolism” and “the semiological illusion according to which it is symbols that constitute the significant, the interpreted message.”27 Rather than being interpreted or “decoded,” symbols are often experienced and related to emotionally or engaged cognitively to evoke particular attitudes, ideas, and memories; thus, a ritual symbol may be more like a smell or a sound than like a word. As Sperber emphasizes, “The attribution of sense is an essential aspect of symbolic development in our culture,” but is not a universal phenomenon.28 Similarly, Talal Asad emphasizes the need for attention to the historical contingency of modern approaches to ritual as symbolic activity. Symbolic interpretation has a history.29 Philo, it turns out, is part of this history.

In the case of Philo, we certainly are dealing with an exponent of a view that ritual is symbolic activity and that its true value lies in its symbolic quality. We can, therefore, delve deeply into Philo’s explication of sacrificial ritual and seek to grasp the meanings he, as a cultural informant, attaches to it. From Philo we have what Victor Turner identifies as “the level of indigenous interpretation (or, briefly, the exegetical meaning).”30 It may be that Philo represents a dominant view amongst a certain type of intellectual elite in Diaspora Judaism.31 However, evidence from other textual corpora, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, suggests that other Jewish thinkers approached sacrifice with very different interests, particularly interests in the definition and elaboration of correct practice. A signal example of this approach is the Qumran Temple Scroll, which has a great deal to say about the details of sacrificial performance, but almost nothing to say about the meanings of such performances. Put another way, performance itself seems to be the meaning of sacrifice for the authors of the Temple Scroll.

With this in view, I would agree with Jonathan Klawans’s programmatic statement about the study of ancient Jewish sacrifice: “A full understanding of the meanings of sacrifice in the Second Temple period … must be based not on an anthropologically informed reading of the Hebrew Bible but on careful analysis of symbolic meanings ascribed to sacrifice in ancient Jewish literature such as Josephus and Philo.”32 However, I would put forth two significant caveats: First, while it is indeed problematic to try to understand Second Temple Jewish sacrifice based on “an anthropologically informed reading of the Hebrew Bible,” it is certainly not inappropriate to bring anthropological ideas to bear on the data of Second Temple Judaism to produce “an anthropologically informed reading.” Second, and more seriously, while I have myself given careful attention to the symbolic meanings Philo attributes to sacrifice, I do not believe that we should seek only or primarily symbolic meanings in ancient Jewish texts. We must also be open to nonsymbolic approaches to meaning—for example, to instrumental-effective understanding and to attitudes toward sacrifice that seem to eschew concern for conceptual meaning in favor of attention to proper practice as an end in itself. Otherwise, we run the risk of privileging some “native” voices over others and failing to grasp the rich complexity of ancient conceptions of sacrifice. Philo’s is one compelling ancient Jewish voice (p.102) explaining sacrifice; it is certainly not the only one. Thus, I would add to my caution about applying conclusions from one contiguous culture to another. We must also be very cautious about generalizing the ideas of one representative of a culture to the whole of that culture.

I would emphasize at this juncture that I am not arguing that ancient Jews (and before them, ancient Israelites) were incapable of symbolic thought. Clearly, they did think symbolically, as Philo exemplifies. However, the fact that a culture necessarily includes some forms of symbolic thought does not require that every cultural action will be symbolic in nature or interpreted symbolically. It is noteworthy, I believe, that while we have explicit symbolic activity on the part of Israelite prophets, with attendant exegesis of these symbolic actions, we do not find corresponding symbolic exegesis in the case of cultic ritual. In short, the fact that some prophets drew on metaphor and symbolism to communicate their messages does not require us to conclude that ritual experts did.33

On a related note, I believe it is important to distinguish the symbolic and instrumental interpretations of ritual actions offered by native informants from the symbolic and functional explanations offered by ethnographic interpreters. One of the severe problems with modern anthropological approaches to ritual has been a failure to distinguish clearly between these categories. The result has been that ethnographers’ symbolic interpretations have too often been presented as if they represented indigenous meanings. The same problem exists in the study of ancient Jewish sacrifice. Therefore, in my view, the key issue is not the distinction between symbolic meaning and social function—indeed, the social function of a ritual may very well lie in its symbolic signifying—but the distinction between native categories of interpretation and those of nonnative scholarly interpreters.34 Thus, while we may confidently explore Philo’s indigenous Jewish symbolic interpretation of sacrifice, we should exercise caution in injecting symbolic interpretations where our textual witnesses are silent. We should be equally cautious about proposing social-functional explanations for ritual activity where our witnesses are silent. Such explanations should be clearly marked as being more or different than what native informants themselves assert about the efficacy of their ritual activities.

This leads to a final caution concerning the nature of our evidence. At the outset of this chapter, I referred to literate-specialist producers. It is important to keep in mind that we are dealing with the textual production—and interpretive activity—of a minority elite. It really is impossible to know how the majority of Jews in ancient times related to their ritual activities. A comparison with the case of native informants in modern ethnography is helpful in this regard. Sperber notes that much of the detailed information Victor Turner received on the “meaning” of Zambian Ndembu ritual came from one enthusiastic informant, “marginal in his own society,” and that this information had an impact on Turner’s overall approach to the information he received from other informants.35 By way of comparison, Sperber notes how little “exegetic” explanation he received from informants among the Ethiopian Dorze people with whom he worked.36 Sperber’s examples indicate that ritual (p.103) as “symbolic” activity is approached differently within and between different cultural groups and that particular informants can have distinctive viewpoints about meaning. In the case of ancient Judaism, we are dealing with a widely dispersed people, living in different cultural contexts, and drawing on and relating to different influences. Philo is clearly influenced by Hellenistic philosophical constructions, and it is not surprising, in my view, to find him treating sacrificial ritual symbolically. Symbolic interpretation of ritual—such as Philo’s—is culturally and historically contingent rather than universal. In short, and in sum, it must be kept in mind that not all practitioners of ritual engage in symbolic exegesis of their practice.

Notes

(1) . Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss, Sacrifice: Its Nature and Function, translated by W. D. Halls (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964); originally published as “Essai sur la nature et le fonction du sacrifice,” L’Annee Sociologique 2 (1897–99): 29–139.

(2) . For detailed explorations of Greek sacrifice, see Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernanteds., The Cuisine of Sacrifice among the Greeks, translated by Paula Wissing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

(3) . Throughout this chapter, I cite the Greek text of Philo’s On the Special Laws (Spec. Laws) and F. H. Colson’s English translation from the Loeb Classical Library (LCL) edition: Philo, vol. 7, LCL (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1937).

(4) . On the historical-cultural context of this identification of the whole cosmos as temple with heaven as sanctuary, see Harold W. Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989), 222. He references various ancient non-Jewish and Jewish sources. See, esp., Joseph., Ant. 3.63 §123; 3.7.7 §180–81.

(5) . Jutta Leonhardt, Jewish Worship in Philo of Alexandria, Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 84 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 294.

(6) . For a somewhat different approach to “spiritualization” of sacrifice in Philo, see Valentin Nikiprowetzky, “La spiritualisation des sacrifices et le culte sacrificiel au Temple de Jérusalem chez Philon d’Alexandrie,” Semitica 17 (1967): 97–116.

(7) . See also Spec. Laws 1.260: “For you will find that all this careful scrutiny of the animal is a symbol representing in a figure the reformation of your own conduct, for the law does not prescribe for unreasoning creatures, but for those who have mind and reason. It is anxious not that the victims should be without flaws but that those who offer them should not suffer from any corroding passion.”

(8) . Colson, in Philo (216),

(9) . See also, for example, Spec. Laws 1.96, on the high priest’s contemplation of his vestments.

(10) . See also Spec. Laws 1.272: “And indeed though the worshippers bring nothing else, in bringing themselves they offer the best of sacrifices [τὴν ἀρίστην…θυσίαν].”

(11) . See the similar judgment by Nikiprowetzky, “Spiritualisation,” 100.

(12) . See Philo, Philonis Alexandrini opera quae supersunt (On the Migration of Abraham), edited by P. Wendland, vol. 2 (Berlin: Reimer, 1897; repr., De Gruyter, 1962), 89–93, and Nikiprowetzky’s discussion, “Spiritualisation,” 114–16.

(p.104) (13) . See, for example, Spec. Laws 1.270–71, 283–84.

(14) . On this point, see also Jonathan Klawans’s critique of Bruce Chilton in Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple: Symbolism and Supersessionism in the Study of Ancient Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 44–45.

(15) . Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 90. Note, also, Godfrey Lienhardt’s statement: “What the symbolic action is intended to control is primarily a set of mental and moral dispositions.” From Divinity and Experience: The Religion of the Dinka (1961), quoted by Talal Asad, “Toward a Genealogy of the Concept of Ritual,” in Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 55.

(16) . Talal Asad, “On Discipline and Humility in Medieval Christian Monasticism,” in Asad, Genealogies of Religion, 126; see also Talal Asad, “Concept of Ritual,” 55–79.

(17) . Robbie Davis-Floyd, “Rituals,” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2nd ed., edited by William A. Darity, Jr. (New York: Thomson Gale, 2008), 7: 259.

(18) . Robbie Davis-Floyd, “Rituals,” 259, 260.

(19) . Jonathan Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, (esp. 3, 66–68); Jonathan Klawans, “Methodology and Ideology in the Study of Priestly Ritual,” in Perspectives on Purity and Purification in the Bible, edited by Baruch J. Schwartz et al., Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 474 (New York: T. & T. Clark, 2008), 84–95.

(20) . Frits Staal, “The Meaninglessness of Ritual,” Numen 26.1 (1975): 2–22.

(21) . See Catherine Bell’s concise and cogent critique of Staal in Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 59–60 n. 48; see also Roy E. Gane, Cult and Character: Purification Offerings, Day of Atonement, and Theodicy (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2005), 4–7. Gane (a former student of Staal) highlights what is valuable in Staal’s critique of the view of ritual as inherently symbolic activity, while also pointing to its limitations.

(22) . Roy A. Rappaport, Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity, Cambridge Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology 110 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 24–68, esp. 26 and 50–68. See also Nancy Jay, Throughout Your Generations Forever: Sacrifice, Religion, and Paternity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 6–7; Bell, Ritual Theory, 30–46, 182–87.

(23) . Rappaport, Ritual and Religion, 26.

(24) . The most sophisticated and productive treatment is Mary Douglas’s collection of essays, Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology (New York: Routledge, 2003), originally published in 1970.

(25) . Jerome M. Levi, “Symbols,” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2nd ed. 8: 250.

(26) . For a helpful entry to Peirce’s theory of signs, see Justus Buchler, ed., Philosophical Writings of Peirce (New York: Dover, 1955), 98–119. On the relevance for the study of ritual of Peirce’s distinction between symbols, icons, and indices as three types of signs, see Rappaport, Ritual and Religion, 54–68. For an example of the application of Peirce’s semiotics to the interpretation of biblical ritual, see William K. Gilders, “Why Does Eleazar Sprinkle the Red Cow Blood? Making Sense of a Biblical Ritual,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 6 (2006), online: http://www.arts.ualberta.ca/JHS/Articles/article_59.htm.

(27) . Dan Sperber, Rethinking Symbolism, translated by Alice L. Morton, Cambridge Studies in Social Anthropology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 22, 49.

(p.105) (28) . Sperber, Rethinking Symbolism, 83.

(29) . Asad, “Concept of Ritual.”

(30) . Victor Turner, The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967), 50.

(31) . On this issue, see Klawans’s useful discussion and the scholarship cited there, in Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 117–18.

(32) . Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 45.

(33) . In my view, therefore, the argument for ancient Israelite symbolic understanding of sacrificial ritual on the basis of the existence of prophetic symbolic action is a significant weakness in Klawans’s essay “Methodology and Ideology.”

(34) . I must disagree, therefore, with the thrust of Jonathan Klawans’s contribution to this collection. My critique of his approach to ancient Israelite and ancient Jewish ritual is not that it focuses on symbol over function (pace his interpretation of my review of his book). Rather, my concern is that his approach involves treating symbolism as an inherent and defining dimension of ritual and that he constructs symbolic meanings for Israelite and Jewish rituals on the basis of indigenous evidence that is often quite weak.

(35) . Sperber, Rethinking Symbolism, 18–19.

(36) . Sperber, Rethinking Symbolism, 17–18.

Notes:

(1) . Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss, Sacrifice: Its Nature and Function, translated by W. D. Halls (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964); originally published as “Essai sur la nature et le fonction du sacrifice,” L’Annee Sociologique 2 (1897–99): 29–139.

(2) . For detailed explorations of Greek sacrifice, see Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernanteds., The Cuisine of Sacrifice among the Greeks, translated by Paula Wissing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

(3) . Throughout this chapter, I cite the Greek text of Philo’s On the Special Laws (Spec. Laws) and F. H. Colson’s English translation from the Loeb Classical Library (LCL) edition: Philo, vol. 7, LCL (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1937).

(4) . On the historical-cultural context of this identification of the whole cosmos as temple with heaven as sanctuary, see Harold W. Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989), 222. He references various ancient non-Jewish and Jewish sources. See, esp., Joseph., Ant. 3.63 §123; 3.7.7 §180–81.

(5) . Jutta Leonhardt, Jewish Worship in Philo of Alexandria, Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 84 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 294.

(6) . For a somewhat different approach to “spiritualization” of sacrifice in Philo, see Valentin Nikiprowetzky, “La spiritualisation des sacrifices et le culte sacrificiel au Temple de Jérusalem chez Philon d’Alexandrie,” Semitica 17 (1967): 97–116.

(7) . See also Spec. Laws 1.260: “For you will find that all this careful scrutiny of the animal is a symbol representing in a figure the reformation of your own conduct, for the law does not prescribe for unreasoning creatures, but for those who have mind and reason. It is anxious not that the victims should be without flaws but that those who offer them should not suffer from any corroding passion.”

(8) . Colson, in Philo (216),

(9) . See also, for example, Spec. Laws 1.96, on the high priest’s contemplation of his vestments.

(10) . See also Spec. Laws 1.272: “And indeed though the worshippers bring nothing else, in bringing themselves they offer the best of sacrifices [τὴν ἀρίστην…θυσίαν].”

(11) . See the similar judgment by Nikiprowetzky, “Spiritualisation,” 100.

(12) . See Philo, Philonis Alexandrini opera quae supersunt (On the Migration of Abraham), edited by P. Wendland, vol. 2 (Berlin: Reimer, 1897; repr., De Gruyter, 1962), 89–93, and Nikiprowetzky’s discussion, “Spiritualisation,” 114–16.

(p.104) (13) . See, for example, Spec. Laws 1.270–71, 283–84.

(14) . On this point, see also Jonathan Klawans’s critique of Bruce Chilton in Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple: Symbolism and Supersessionism in the Study of Ancient Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 44–45.

(15) . Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 90. Note, also, Godfrey Lienhardt’s statement: “What the symbolic action is intended to control is primarily a set of mental and moral dispositions.” From Divinity and Experience: The Religion of the Dinka (1961), quoted by Talal Asad, “Toward a Genealogy of the Concept of Ritual,” in Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 55.

(16) . Talal Asad, “On Discipline and Humility in Medieval Christian Monasticism,” in Asad, Genealogies of Religion, 126; see also Talal Asad, “Concept of Ritual,” 55–79.

(17) . Robbie Davis-Floyd, “Rituals,” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2nd ed., edited by William A. Darity, Jr. (New York: Thomson Gale, 2008), 7: 259.

(18) . Robbie Davis-Floyd, “Rituals,” 259, 260.

(19) . Jonathan Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, (esp. 3, 66–68); Jonathan Klawans, “Methodology and Ideology in the Study of Priestly Ritual,” in Perspectives on Purity and Purification in the Bible, edited by Baruch J. Schwartz et al., Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 474 (New York: T. & T. Clark, 2008), 84–95.

(20) . Frits Staal, “The Meaninglessness of Ritual,” Numen 26.1 (1975): 2–22.

(21) . See Catherine Bell’s concise and cogent critique of Staal in Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 59–60 n. 48; see also Roy E. Gane, Cult and Character: Purification Offerings, Day of Atonement, and Theodicy (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2005), 4–7. Gane (a former student of Staal) highlights what is valuable in Staal’s critique of the view of ritual as inherently symbolic activity, while also pointing to its limitations.

(22) . Roy A. Rappaport, Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity, Cambridge Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology 110 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 24–68, esp. 26 and 50–68. See also Nancy Jay, Throughout Your Generations Forever: Sacrifice, Religion, and Paternity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 6–7; Bell, Ritual Theory, 30–46, 182–87.

(23) . Rappaport, Ritual and Religion, 26.

(24) . The most sophisticated and productive treatment is Mary Douglas’s collection of essays, Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology (New York: Routledge, 2003), originally published in 1970.

(25) . Jerome M. Levi, “Symbols,” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2nd ed. 8: 250.

(26) . For a helpful entry to Peirce’s theory of signs, see Justus Buchler, ed., Philosophical Writings of Peirce (New York: Dover, 1955), 98–119. On the relevance for the study of ritual of Peirce’s distinction between symbols, icons, and indices as three types of signs, see Rappaport, Ritual and Religion, 54–68. For an example of the application of Peirce’s semiotics to the interpretation of biblical ritual, see William K. Gilders, “Why Does Eleazar Sprinkle the Red Cow Blood? Making Sense of a Biblical Ritual,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 6 (2006), online: http://www.arts.ualberta.ca/JHS/Articles/article_59.htm.

(27) . Dan Sperber, Rethinking Symbolism, translated by Alice L. Morton, Cambridge Studies in Social Anthropology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 22, 49.

(p.105) (28) . Sperber, Rethinking Symbolism, 83.

(29) . Asad, “Concept of Ritual.”

(30) . Victor Turner, The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967), 50.

(31) . On this issue, see Klawans’s useful discussion and the scholarship cited there, in Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 117–18.

(32) . Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple, 45.

(33) . In my view, therefore, the argument for ancient Israelite symbolic understanding of sacrificial ritual on the basis of the existence of prophetic symbolic action is a significant weakness in Klawans’s essay “Methodology and Ideology.”

(34) . I must disagree, therefore, with the thrust of Jonathan Klawans’s contribution to this collection. My critique of his approach to ancient Israelite and ancient Jewish ritual is not that it focuses on symbol over function (pace his interpretation of my review of his book). Rather, my concern is that his approach involves treating symbolism as an inherent and defining dimension of ritual and that he constructs symbolic meanings for Israelite and Jewish rituals on the basis of indigenous evidence that is often quite weak.

(35) . Sperber, Rethinking Symbolism, 18–19.

(36) . Sperber, Rethinking Symbolism, 17–18.