Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Sacrifice


Calasso’s Ardor has had an antithetical effect which was stimulating. His remarks on the significance of Leviticus 17:17 particularly:
Elohim then proclaimed another innovation: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you, like the green herb : I have given you all this.” Only one proviso was attached: ”But you shall not eat flesh with its soul, which is the blood.”


For the subtle essence to pass to God in sacrifice the blood had to be foregone. This was the first covenant. I reflected that in the second covenant due to the sacrifice of The Lamb of God the whole substance could be retained, both body and blood. It also could be assimilated in the bread and wine of the sacrifice of the mass, not in a symbolic or metaphorical way but through a transubstantiation as Catholics believe. Others take it to be a flagrant and intransigent atavism, a ‘blasphemous fable’.

Certainly it is a powerful doctrine when by divine fiat there is alteration of commonplace bread and wine in a further development of the concept of Judaic sacrifice. Viewed anthropologically the latter has features in common with vedic practice. No strangling though, the blood must be let. Modern Hindu practice of animal sacrifice would pass and in the West the devotees of Psych sacrifice chickens and rabbits. Common ‘christian’ slaughter has left all elements of sacrifice behind, a desacralization surely.

5 comments:

john doyle said...

The quoted elohimic culinary blessing appears in Genesis 9:4, just after Noah disembarks. The next two verses:

"And surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of elohim he made man. And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it."

This isn't sacrificial language, unless elohim is suggesting that homicide is a sacrificial act. In conjunction with the "life in the blood" assertion it almost seems as though elohim is a kind of vampire, surviving on the lifeblood of beasts and men. One of my fictional characters works over this passage:

--------------

Mrs. Dervain closed the book and sipped distractedly at her espresso. “You don’t know that passage well, am I correct, Stephen?” Her smile was that not of the religious zealot but of the investigative reporter. “It has captured the imaginations of many down through the centuries. As I said, there are easy ways and harder ways. I wanted to give you some context for ‘the life is in the blood.’ Perhaps we should slow down a bit. You have time?”

“As much as it takes,” Stephen said, though not without trepidation. “Another coffee?”

Over the next hour and a half, Mrs. Dervain gave Stephen Hanley a hard interpretation. She asked him to imagine that he was a god. It shouldn’t be so very difficult, she told him: after all, we are made in the image of the gods, are we not? Our desire for beauty is irrepressible; our honor, unassailable; our taste for violence, insatiable. We think of these as uniquely human traits, traits that separate us from the animals. But the gods too possess these traits, multiplied a hundredfold. We humans are like gods, she told him, but we are also like animals. Surprisingly, it seems that the gods too can be fruitful and multiply. Also, it seems that there is enough genetic similarity between gods and humans for the two kinds of being to interbreed. Their coupling, as mentioned in a tantalizingly cryptic passage in the Book of Genesis, yields offspring: a mighty hybrid species called the Nephilim.

Mrs. Dervain led Stephen through the Bible from the gods’ perspective. Why, in the holy text of a monotheistic religion, did she speak of the gods? Because elohim is the Hebrew word for God, but the -im is a plural ending: perhaps the chronicler of these events is really telling us about multiple gods here. And yet the writer uses a singular verb form with this plural noun. So when God created the heavens and the earth, god is plural, but created is singular. In the beginning, a paradox. We humans have little tolerance for unresolved paradoxes: God created, we say; God is one. We who speak in tongues other than Hebrew never realize that the translators are coercing us into seeing things their way.

Why wouldn’t the good-beautiful women marry gods rather than mere men? Why wouldn’t they rather bear children destined for might and renown instead of servile ordinariness? And what about the sons of men, fighting one another over the leftovers, over the bad-ugly women rejected by the higher beings? The boundary between gods and humans having been breached, violence erupted and escalated. In indiscriminate envy and hatred men would hurl their blind fury at one another, even at the gods themselves. Perhaps the Nephilim, the god-human hybrids, challenged Yahweh’s sovereignty even more consistently than did the pure human bloodline.


------

Your comment box informs me that my HTML cannot be accepted because it's too long, so I'll finish up this commentary in a second installment...

john doyle said...

as I was saying...

Of course the humans could never win. Generations passed; the mighty half-breeds flourished. Man’s odds got shorter and shorter. Something had to be done.
It fell to Yahweh – Jehovah, the LORD, the I Am – to quell the disturbance on earth. He may be the only god in the universe, or he may be one among many, an individual member of the elohimic collective. There is no report of Yahweh trying to restrain the sons of the gods, whose lusts apparently caused all the trouble in the first place. Perhaps over the sons of the gods Yahweh exercises no authority. The Flood was just a way for Yahweh to put them all out of their misery so he could start again from scratch.

Noah was a throwback, pure human across the generations. The Nephilim would be swept away along with the humans; through Noah the earth would be repopulated with a pure human strain. There would be no more mixing of blood, of kinds of life. The antediluvian cross-breeding between humans and gods had opened a way to power and sovereignty and beauty, but also to envy and violence and evil. Yahweh had spoken: henceforth the mixing of bloods between men and elohim will cease. Neither shall man pollute his blood with that of animals, courting a return to the indifference of nature. The differences would not hold then. The blood-eaters, the animal-men, would be destroyed, not en masse by Yahweh or the other gods, but one at a time by the purebred men. Zealous emissaries of Yahweh, men would become their own executioners.

Did the mighty and valorous half-breeds survive the Flood? The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, says the text. Either they did not die in the Deluge, or else the sons of the gods returned later and paired off with Noah’s good-beautiful granddaughters. For that matter, wasn’t Jesus born a god-man, the offspring of mixed blood? Maybe even now it still happens, god-men and god-women in our midst.

Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of the elohim he made man. Yahweh the creator, Yahweh the destroyer: more than any man, the I Am knows what the gods are like. Animals do not avenge their dead. Only the proud and the honorable, animated by resentments that do not fade with time, can store up such wrath in their hearts. The righteous slayers of the animal-men would in their turn be slain. On and on it would go. Man was doomed to an escalating cycle of murder and vengeance, simultaneously ascending to divinity and regressing to animality. Yahweh must have known that eventually he would need to institute a circuit breaker to preserve this fragile intermediate species delicately positioned between gods and beasts.

Catherine Dervain eased back into the soft cushions of the old couch. “Perhaps now we’re prepared for the Book of Leviticus.” She glanced at her watch; the reflection from its braided gold band temporarily blinded Stephen. “But I see it’s time to pick up the kids from school.” She closed her Bible. “Shall we continue tomorrow afternoon?”

“How about Monday?” Stephen asked casually, though in fact he felt trapped, unprepared.

“Ideal.” She stepped lightly out the door and down the stairs, her heels clicking like holy beads. It was the first of many strange conversations Stephen Hanley would have with Catherine Dervain.

------

So ends today's reading.

ombhurbhuva said...

Your knowledge of esoteric bible lore is remarkable and you work it in nicely into those extracts from your work. The ‘life in the blood’ theme does occur in Dracula taken in a literal sense of the actual physical blood as though in his own way the Count could strain out the subtle essence, the virtue, of the blood. You will remember that his daylight lair had to have earth of his Transylvanian Family home. Very much an early version of the Aryan blood and soil.

john doyle said...

Thanks for the kind words. As to strangling, letting, or drinking of blood, there's also a lot of sprinkling in the Jewish sacrificial tradition. At seminary I once did a word study of "sprinkle" in my Hebrew exegesis class, but I no longer remember whether I discovered anything notable. Maybe I'll try to unearth the paper.

john doyle said...

My Hebrew paper on sprinkling lies buried deep in the uncatalogued X-files of my attic, unlikely to surface until the next time we move or my executor inventories my personal property, whichever comes first. However, I would like to report a synchronicity.

I'm reading The Lifespan of a Fact, which documents Jim Fingal's excruciatingly thorough fact-checking of a magazine article and the caustic responses of the article's author, John D'Agata. It's a very funny exploration of "truth" versus Truth in realms of what's come to be known as creative nonfiction. The subject of the article under scrutiny: suicides in Las Vegas. Midway through the essay, D'Agata notes that suicide has long been condemned by the major world religions. He writes:

"In 533, at the Second Council of Orleans, Catholic cardinals actually voted to 'outlaw' suicide. The Talmud forbids even mourning its victims." The Talmud forbids even mourning its victims..."

Fingal's notes on that second sentence:

"Almost Confirmed. An article on Jewish attitudes toward suicide states: 'The Talmud, written and codified during the early Christian era, specifically condemns suicide. The Talmud's condemnation of suicide is based on the interpretation of Genesis 9:5 "For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning."'"

Yes, it's the text following the "life is in the blood" Scripture. I guess there's no explicit renunciation of suicide in the Torah, so the rabbis had to stretch a little. Doing my own little fact-checking, I consulted the parallel Hebrew-English Pentateuch and Haftorahs that I received as a wedding present from my (half-)Jewish fellow doctoral student. "And surely your blood of your lives I will require," is how the translators render the beginning of Genesis 9:5. The commentary:

"Lit. 'your blood, according to your own souls.' The Rabbis understood these words literally, i.e., your life-blood, and based on them the prohibition of suicide."