Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Cultic Atonement Metaphors

On August 9, 2005, Loren Rosson, at busybody, as I mentioned earlier, prepared an excellent review of Stephen Finlan’s new book, The Background and Content of Paul's Cultic Atonement Metaphors. In his first paragraph he states: “I've wondered about the theological roots of it all. How was Christ's death thought to be salvific by the New Testament writers, and Paul especially?” In his last sentence of his book review, he states: “Cultic atonement, bloody sacrifice, was part and parcel of Paul's view, integrated into a martyrdom theology.” In my opinion, Stephen Finlan has properly placed the focus of the investigation of the origin of the Christian doctrine of atonement on cultic atonement metaphors.

I found this paragraph of the book review most interesting:

“Finlan devotes an entire chapter to distinguishing sacrifices from scapegoats, showing why their fusion in the Christian tradition is so radical. Scapegoats were not sacrifices, a point too often misunderstood. They were expulsion victims, and opposite in every way. Sacrifices were pure and offered reverently to God; scapegoats impure and driven out harshly to a wilderness demon. The former were spotless, and their blood a cleansing agent; the latter were sin carriers, vile and corrupt (see pp 81-93). To portray an individual as a sacrifice and scapegoat at the same time, as Paul did, would have been a bewildering oxymoron.”

Perhaps, another explanation would be helpful for understanding the role of the scapegoat and why Paul was able “To portray an individual as a sacrifice and scapegoat at the same time.” As I wrote on April 30, 2005:

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]

The scapegoat ritual is best understood by the use of the term, transference. Only in this way, can we understand what Loren Rosson has called “a bewildering oxymoron.”

As I said earlier, I plan to return to this subject that I have come to realize is an important part of understanding the theology of the Gospel of Luke and the origin of the NT doctrine of atonement.

[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.

copyrighted 2005


Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Richard, thanks for an interesting post. But I fail to see how you've resolved the tension between portraying a single entity as both sacrifice and scapegoat. You claim that, "on the Day of Atonement, two goats were offered for sacrifice," but this isn't true, because the scapegoat was not a sacrifice. It was an expulsion victim. This is Finlan's point in chapter 2.

7:02 AM

Blogger Richard H. Anderson said...


Part of the explanation is that two goats on are "offered" but only one accepted; the other one becomes the scapegoat. The second part, is the that Jesus as the new High Priest is both a scapegoat and sacrifice because the transference is made to him and the sacrifice is made by him. Who seats on the mercy seat?

7:22 AM


Post a Comment

<< Home