Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sacred Space

The phrase “sacred space” does not appear in Purity and Danger yet there is no question that the concept of sacred space derives in part from the rules about purity found in the Book of Leviticus. In this Book, Yahweh addresses Aaron: “You must distinguish between the holy and the profane and between the clean and unclean.” When Ezekiel attached the Jerusalem priesthood, he said: “They have not distinguished between the holy and profane; they have not made known the difference between the unclean and clean.”

The concept of sacred space is also derived in part from the idea of the land as a theological symbol of Yahweh’s benevolence. Land is more than a place to live. In Judaism, land always involves the concept of sacred space that god provides his chosen people. Since the sanctuary was built to house the divine presence, it was a holy place where certain standards of purity had to be maintained.

Somehow from these rules about purity and the idea about the land, a notion of sacred space developed. Richard D. Nelson said: “Sacred space provided the human mind with a fixed center, the solace of formed order in the midst of chaos.” That center was the “holy of holies” at the center of the sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Sacred space is not permanent. God could choose to withdraw the divine presence from the Jerusalem Temple and the Temple would no longer be sacred. The Qumran community believed that the divine presence had already departed from the Temple in Jerusalem. Others believed that the idea that God lived in a house build by human hands was idolatrous. Josephus recorded that in the spring of 66 C.E. the “Shekinah” (divine presence) departed from the Temple.

These ideas and beliefs no doubt influenced the recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews and no doubt caused them to waiver in their faith. The author of Hebrews provides solace for those concerned about the high priest they left behind and the sacred space they no longer enjoy. The author made Jesus the new High Priest and his heavenly abode the sacred space. In Hebrews, there is no sacred space on earth; sacred space is to be found in the heavenly sanctuary. When they respond to the call to go “outside the camp,” they move toward the sacred and their heavenly city.

The Epistle synthesizes the atonement beliefs of Judaism, Luke-Acts and Pauline theology by providing that Jesus Christ is the new High Priest and that heaven is the sacred space why Jesus resides. Why does the author of Hebrews equate Jesus Christ with the Jewish High Priest? Because the recipients of the Epistle are Jewish followers of Jesus and believe that the duties of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement and his death have atoning value. They perhaps were disturbed by the implications of Lucan and Pauline theology. They are comfortable with the theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews because its inclusive approach using imagery drawn chiefly from the Levitical cult and Day of Atonement meant that they are no longer orphans. The idea of sacred space is retained in a new setting, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.”

This work in progress draws in part upon The Cross and Atonement from Luke to Hebrews and further elaborates my ideas published ten years ago.

Copyrighted 2009


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