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No. 143: Leviticus 1:2

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 143
Copyright © 2001 Biblical Horizons
July, 2001

(continued from issue 142)

2“Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them,

‘An adam,1 when he brings near from youp a Nearbringing2 to Yahweh,

from livestock3 from the herd and from the flock youp shall bring near yourp Nearbringing.4

2. Qorban, a gift or offering brought near. The verb is translated “draw near, bring near.” The traditional translation “offering” no longer conveys the idea of “bringing near,” if it ever did. There is no precise conventional English word available, except perhaps “propinquity,” which seems even more awkward than “nearbringing.” I initially thought to use “dedication,” but again this word does not bring out the idea of nearness, which is essential. Thus, I decided upon the neologism “nearbringing.”

The English “sacrifice” tends to connote the idea of giving something up for someone else. That has little if anything to do with qorban. “Offering” tends to connote a gift, which again has nothing to do with qorban. The word means to draw near, to get into close relationship with someone, and it is used only in relationship to God. We do not worship God by giving Him anything, for He needs nothing. We do not worship God by giving up anything good, for He is the one who has given us all good things. We worship God by drawing near to Him.

3. behemah, domestic animals. These are considered to be brought near “from you,” from your community, a community that includes these animal “sons” as well as human sons (v. 5: “son of the herd”). The rituals mean that one member of the community (a “perfect” animal) draws near to carry the human member of the community to God. Fowls are not mentioned here, for they are not members of the Israelite domestic community. The text says “herd and flock,” not “bull and ram,” stressing that the animals arise from communities.

The sentence can be translated: “When an adam from among you brings near… .” instead of “An adam, when he brings near from among you… .” From what I can tell, translators and commentators uniformly prefer the former reading, which says that the adam comes from “among you” rather than that the Nearbringing is from “among you.” For two reasons I think my translation is more accurate.

First: There is the problem of the Ascension from the fowls (vv. 14-17). The traditional reading implies that a Nearbringing must be from herd or flock: “An adam from you, when he brings near a Nearbringing to Yahweh, from livestock from the herd and from the flock you shall bring near your Nearbringing.” This appears to exclude fowls, and at the very least makes the addition of the Fowl Ascension problematic. My translation, however, makes it clear that only when a Nearbringing is considered as coming up from the Israelite community must it be from herd or flock.

Second: My translation takes better account of the word order. If we compare Leviticus 17:3 we can see how the 1:2 might have been written: “Any man from the house of Israel who communion-sacrifices an ox… .” This verse does not say, “Any man who communion-sacrifices from the house of Israel an ox… .” In 17:3, the “from you” phrase is right after the “man,” and the meaning is clear: a man from the community of Israel. Why isn’t this the phrasing in 1:2? I submit that it is because the idea is not “an adam from you” but “a Nearbringing from you.” Now, it is hard to “prove” things from word order, but given the context (argued above), the word order seems significant in this case.

4. This statement introduces all the Nearbringings of chapters 1-3 (Ascensions, Tributes, and Fellowship Communion-Sacrifices). As regards the individual adam, these Nearbringings are unprescribed; that is, they are brought when the worshiper wants to do so, not because he must do so, as is the case with the Purifications and Desanctifying Offerings of chapters 4-6. He may bring them whenever he wants to, but only because God has issued a general invitation to him to do so.

The ordinary or “central” Nearbringings came from livestock. Fowls are added in verse 14. The livestock animals come “from you,” that is, from the human society of the sixth day of creation. Fowls do not come “from you,” and are of a different order, being made on the fifth day of creation. These may be said to represent human life in two different ways, as part of a human community, or as freely ranging over the world. Fowls may be offered as Ascensions, but not in a Communion-Sacrifice of Fellowship (as a meal shared with the worshiper); fowls do not convey the idea of community.

Moreover, “from you” implies from the Israelite community as constituted by Passover into a new nation of adams. The fowl points back to the Noahic Covenant, in that the fowl does not arise from this community but freely ranges over the world. As we shall see, the fowl-ritual is radically different from the rituals for herd and flock Ascensions. Later passages in Leviticus make it clear that domestic animals may be brought both by the individual as a member of the community and by the community as a whole, and thus also by groups of individuals (note the plural “you”). Fowls may be brought only by individuals.

The adam brings the bloody Nearbringings (Ascensions and Communion-Sacrifices of Fellowship). The Tribute Nearbringing is brought by a “soul” (2:1). The Tribute accompanies the bloody offerings as the soul accompanies the human being. The total adam ascends in the Ascension, in union with the animal, and then out of his forgiven and accepted “soul” offers his Tribute, both as his good works and as a memorial of his prior acceptance through the Ascension.

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