Transference and the Day of Atonement
Transference, according to Dino Felluga, “is the displacement one’s unresolved conflicts, dependencies, and aggressions onto a substitute object.”[i] I recognize that that the use of terms of psychoanalysis would appear to be out of place in a blog dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke addressed to most excellent Theophilus. But, in fact, it is not.
Luke wrote to the High Priest, who on the Day of Atonement, engaged in certain rituals we barely understand. I suggest you that the Day of Atonement completes the transference of sins that began in every village throughout Israel when the people told their problems to the village priest who placed their problems on his shoulders. Once a year the village priest traveled to Jerusalem and participated in the temple ceremonies on the Day of Atonement. By the time of Theophlius, the priests were so numerous that the village priests only participated in the temple ceremonies five times a year and even on those occasions they drew lots for the privilege of participation.
The village priests bore the sins of the people and transferred those sins from their shoulders to the shoulders of the High Priest. On the Day of Atonement, two goats were offered for sacrifice but an arbitrary decision was made regarding them. The one goat was sacrificed in the Temple for Israel's sin and its blood taken into the Holy of Holies itself. In Leviticus 16:21, Aaron is commanded to lay his hand on the scapegoat and "confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel." This confession and transference of sin to the beast is special to this occasion.[ii] This goat is then sent out laden with this sin into the wilderness.[iii] The purpose of the sacrificial blood is clearly stated:
The life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life.[iv]
Following the slaughter and the blood-rite, and the burning of the fat portions on the altar, the rest of the flesh is consumed by the priests in the sacred precincts.[v]
I suggest to you the Rite of Atonement is the ritual best defined by the use of the term, transference. I plan to return to this subject that I have come to realize is an important part of the theology of the Gospel of Luke.
[i] Felluga, Dino, "Terms Used by Psychoanalysis," Introductory Guide to Critical Theory, Purdue University (2005).
[ii] Two other verses command confession as part of the process of atonement for sin: Lev. 5:5; Num. 5:6f.
[iii] Lev. 16:7-10.
[iv] Lev. 17:11.
[v] Lev. 6:24-30.