#222. Must one be pure for Passover OR not? (Num 9:9-11 vs Deut 16:1-8)
#223. Is the observance of Passover an eternal law OR not? (Ex 12:14-17; Lev 23:4-5 vs Gal 3-4)

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As we have repeatedly seen already (#175, #178, #183, #184, #185, etc.) that concern for ritual and ethical purity was top priority for the Aaronid priesthood that penned the book of Leviticus and 75% of what is now the book of Numbers.

Throughout Leviticus, and especially in those chapters devoted to its laws and commandments (Lev 11-22), the role of the Aaronid priests is repeatedly defined through the phrase “to distinguish between the holy and the profane, between the pure and the impure.”In fact, this priestly law code is presented as the very instruction (torah) for doing this. Its torahs are: “to distinguish between the holy and the profane, the pure and the impure” in matters of: diet (Lev 11); women, i.e., menstruation and childbirth (Lev 12); skin diseases and afflictions (Lev 13-14); bodily emissions (Lev 15); sex and nudity (Lev 18, 20); miscellaneous matters (Lev 19); and issues concerning the Aaronid priesthood (Lev 21-22).

Thus, according to the Priestly writer’s god, Yahweh, certain foods are unclean or impure; a woman’s menstruation is impure; any bodily discharge or emission is impure; leprosy and other skin infections are impure; in fact diseases by their very nature are impure; any clothes or a house that comes into contact with the infectious is also unclean and impure. Anything that touches, for example, pork, a corpse, the blood of a menstruating woman—whether a bottle, a piece of clothing, a bed, the walls of your house, etc.—also becomes contaminated and impure and must be purified through washing or simply discarded. Likewise, any individual coming into physical contact with a corpse or the blood of a menstruating woman also becomes impure. Exposing the nudity of one’s relative is impure; homosexuality is unclean and impure; coming into contact with a dead person or animal is impure, etc.

In other words, in the strict sacred space that defined the world of ancient priestly clans, such as our Aaronids here, any one of these acts risked bringing the profane, the unclean, the impure, and the unholy into the realm of the holy, the pure, and the sacred, as conceived of by these priests. Moreover, any individual who has contracted an impurity (i.e., committed a sin) and did not expiate his impurity/sin through a ritualized washing and sacrifice officiated over by the Aaronid priest was irrevocably cut off and banished from the community.

Given this anxiety about issues of purity it is not surprising that we find in Numbers 9 an overt commandment stipulating that: 1) all males must partake in the Passover; it is an eternal law (Ex 12:14-17); 2) all males must be circumcised in order to partake of the Passover (Ex 12:43-49; see #118); and 3) every individual must be pure in order to partake in the Passover (Num 9:1-14).

This commandment is exemplified through a narrative about an individual who contracts impurity by coming into contact with a corpse (cf. #175). That individual, we are informed, is not to partake of the Passover, but alas since every male must partake of the Passover, he is to observe Yahweh’s Passover in the following month. The Priestly source is the only text of the Bible that stipulates purity as a requirement for partaking in the Passover. Both the book of Deuteronomy and the texts of the New Testament express contradictory ideas.

Although the Deuteronomist’s treatment of the Passover in Deuteronomy 16:1-8 makes no mention of the requirement to be in a state of purity during the Passover, it can be inferred that this author in general could care less about these priestly concerns. We have already seen that in other places where the Aaronid text of Leviticus stresses requirements of purity, the Deuteronomist is lax or even silent about such requirements (#178, #187, #188, #190). Additionally Deuteronomy 12 explicitly states that it is unnecessary to be pure for more general sacrifices (#187). Conversely, for the Deuteronomist the central concern was not issues of cultic purity, but of the centralization of the cult and Yahweh’s festivals: the Passover was to be celebrated at and only at Jerusalem (#117)!

Turning our attention to the writings of the New Testament, it can also be confidently inferred that the issues of purity which concerned our Aaronid priests and their Yahweh are, if not absent in the writings of the New Testament, utterly negated and reversed. Luke’s parable of the good Samaritan for example is a story that not only challenges priestly issues of what was pure and what was not, but overthrows those values. See #183 & #184.

I have most likely overlooked many contradictions between the New Testament and these older Pentateucahl traditions, which I will have to treat when we get to the New Testament. But Numbers 10:10 reminded me of something Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians.

And at the time of your rejoicing, on your appointed times and your new moons, you must sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and your well-being offerings (Num 10:10).

The quote comes in a passage dealing with the sounding of the trumpets by the Aaronid priests to assemble the congregation. In the verse above, it is also relegated that the trumpets be sounded at every festival, appointed time, and new moon. The reference is to the Festival Calendar as outlined in Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28-29. Furthermore, in Leviticus 23, the priestly writer gives us the specific dates for these “appointed times,” all of which are governed by the lunar cycle. Moreover, we must not forget that this is the  same writer who penned the first creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:3, and through whose conviction these appointed times, including the Sabbath, were established at creation by God himself (see Gen 1:14)! They are sacred festivals woven into the very fabric of time at creation!—indeed all of which our so-called modern-day Creationists neglect, disdain, and unknowingly despise and in so doing profane the sacred fabric of creation as well as its creator God, according to our priestly writers. But that will have to be a topic for a later date.

At any event, all these appointed times, festivals, and new moons which were identified as “eternal laws” by the Yahweh of this priestly corpus of literature (Ex 12:14, 17; Lev 16:29, 31,34; 23:14, 21, 31, 41) become, in the hands of Paul, antiquated and unnecessary. For in Galatians 4:10 he seems to be specifically chiding his Galatian converts for practicing such appointed times and new moons: “You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years.” This criticism comes in the midst of Paul’s argument that “we” are no longer bound to the law. Yet the issues of the Torah aside, what Paul’s criticism against observing the appointed times that fall on the lunar calendar, to which Gal 4:10 seems to refer, does however is to negate and neglect the very sacredness of the fabric of creation as envisioned by the Aaronid priestly guild and its god who built these sacred appointed times and festivals into the cosmos at its creation, and who furthermore stipulated that they be followed “eternally.” In the end, these are two radically different worldviews and belief systems, and each one legitimated by making appeals to divine authority!

11 thoughts on “#222. Must one be pure for Passover OR not? (Num 9:9-11 vs Deut 16:1-8)
#223. Is the observance of Passover an eternal law OR not? (Ex 12:14-17; Lev 23:4-5 vs Gal 3-4)

  1. Just to clarify, I’m a Christian and really enjoyed your book and I agree with most you’ve written because (sadly) it makes sense. I said “sadly” because for dozens of years I was taught Genesis 1 was literally how the 3rd Planet from this Solar System got life (Genesis 2 was only about the details of the 6th day)… *sigh* (other churches would say they were figures of speech — but not for those who originally wrote it). In any case, trying to compare these believes is like comparing apples and oranges (they don’t even fit in our reality and trying to do that it would just create a 3rd or 4th creation narrative).

    Why don’t we Christians see that? Why don’t we care about such important details? Perhaps we humans only see what benefits us. But I think people shouldn’t be afraid of the truth. If they really believe what they believe is true then they shouldn’t feel “threatened”, and that’s why sometimes I’m sad when some Christians attack this blog, because IMO those actions don’t feel very… Christian.

    Instead those should take the opportunity to rethink if their faith is what they really believe (or don’t believe) and why. Why did you come here in first place? Maybe we were believing in the wrong things? (And naturally, as a Christian, I’m not talking about God, nor about the bible).

    The sad part is that Dr. Steven is examining the bible more seriously than we Christians do, perhaps because we have much to gain (or to lose with it). We just want the bible the way that suits us. But since we are told the bible is the basis of our faith (is it?…), I think is fair enough to try to understand it more. After all, we (mankind) still know very little and personal theological views aren’t helping.

    Christians shouldn’t worry, because nothing will really change (changing your beliefs or not, the reality will be the same). Since I never exclude any possibility I’m not saying Gen1&2 theories Dr. Steven presented in the book (worth buying IMO) are the truth (perhaps they are, perhaps they aren’t), but they do in fact make sense and I think they opened my mind a bit.

    I understand this is not the scope of this blog, but I had to get some things off my chest.

    1. nb, thanks for your candid response. As I expressed in my book I think there are many factors why Christians, especially fundamentalists, are not reading the texts of the Bible carefully and with an eye toward being honest to the text and the beliefs, message, and worldview of its authors. One important factor is that the beliefs and ideas associated with the title “the Holy Bible” have become more authoritative and powerful in defining meaning and message for modern readers than what the texts and their different authors actually profess!

      This particular phenomenon brings me to my last point: this centuries-later interpretive framework, “the Holy Bible,” exerts more power and influence upon the reader than the once unique and independent beliefs and messages of this collection of ancient literature’s sixty some different texts and authors. The modern tendency to harmonize these two creation accounts together, and by extension toss out the individual beliefs and messages of their authors, exemplifies the power and sway of this later interpretive framework over and above the individual beliefs and messages expressed in the texts themselves. Through the aid of this later interpretive framework, it is the reader who now supplies the meaning and message of the text of Genesis 1–2, and not its independent authors. Indeed this later interpretive framework creates a new author—God himself—for the sole purpose of legitimating the beliefs about the text held by its reader which were forged by the interpretive tradition in the first place. Meanwhile the independent and competing messages and beliefs of the authors of Genesis 1 and 2 are relegated to the sidelines, if even that, and the reader now appropriates the text to substantiate his or her views and beliefs about the text, and ultimately in this case about the nature of the world as well. All of this happens, of course, without the reader knowing any better, and this is precisely because this is how interpretive traditions work.

      The relationship between a later interpretive tradition and the text(s) it purports to re-present is something that I have been interested in ever since I was a graduate student, even prior to my interests in the Bible. What we find in almost every case where a later interpretive tradition is imposed upon an earlier text, is that it is the later interpretive tradition that becomes the authoritative voice in asserting what the “true meaning” of the target text is. The interpretive tradition, in other words, becomes more authoritative than the text itself in determining the target text’s meaning. This may not in and of itself be so surprising, but the subversive nature of this interpretive phenomenon is. While innocuously setting itself up to be the voice of the target text(s), the later interpretive tradition actually steps in for the message of the text(s) asserting that its message about the text(s) is the “true” message of the text(s)! (Genesis 1 and the Creationism Debate, 122-23)

      And elsewhere:

      Said differently, modern claims about believing in the Bible are often assertions that profess belief in what “the Holy Bible” as a label implies or has come to mean t the reader on a personal or communal level. The believer believes in the ideas and beliefs that have become associated with this centuries-later interpretive framework, and indeed created by it. These include beliefs that this collection of literature is the word of God or written by the holy spirit, that it is inerrant in its entirety, that it is a homogeneous single-voiced narrative or divine revelation—in short, a holy book. Yet these are all later interpretive constructs that reflect the beliefs of readers who lived centuries after these texts were written and often void of any knowledge about the texts themselves, the historical circumstances that produced them, who wrote them, to whom, and why. In most cases, we can even trace when these beliefs emerged and under what external influences. But presently it needs to be recognized that all of these later reader-oriented beliefs come at the expense of the texts themselves and of the once independent voices, messages, and competing beliefs of the authors of these ancient texts.

      Let me back up a moment and clarify what I am saying and conversely not saying. First, this is not a book that argues against belief in God. It is not a book that argues against faith in general. In fact, it doesn’t even argue against believing that the world was created by God or a god, however one
      wishes to conceptualize this. Rather, it is a book that argues against holding certain traditional beliefs about the texts of the Bible in a day and age when our knowledge about these ancient texts, about ancient literature in general, and about the historical and literary contexts within which these texts were composed reveals that such traditional beliefs are no longer tenable. Why? Because the biblical texts themselves tell us this. Unfortunately, however,
      the authoritative nature of this centuries-later interpretive framework, “the Holy Bible,” and all that this title implies still dictate what this collection of literature is for many readers despite the fact that the texts themselves when read on their terms—not the terms and beliefs imposed by this interpretive framework—reveal that these traditional beliefs are not supported by the texts themselves. (p. 121)

      Feel free to write up a critique on Amazon. It would greatly be appreciated. THanks nb.

  2. Thank you for your replies. I think they were very objective, certainly more objective than M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock… comparing the obeying of Moses law to paganism was a bit stretched, because I see Paul still picking selective parts of the law on his letters, the ones that are most convenient to him (e.g. Ephesians 6:1-3).

    It was interesting to see Paul here trying to cite a passage about Genesis sacred time and at the same time subverting to a complete opposite meaning.

    Now, let me bring Dr. Steven’s chapters about “Creation and Yahweh’s Festivals” and “Sabbath and the creation of sacred time:
    “The author of this text is claiming that the god who created the habitable world also embedded into the very fabric of the skies luminaries for observing the festival dates, the mo‘adîm, which mankind in general, but the Israelites specifically, were obliged to keep. In other words, the luminaries in part were created so that mankind could know, observe, and keep Yahweh’s festivals, these mo‘adîm!”
    (…)
    Thus, as we saw with the creation of the luminaries for the purpose of being able to observe and thus keep Yahweh’s holy festivals (Genesis 1:14-19), the same applies here: the Sabbath is to be observed precisely because the god of creation created the 7th day as a holy, sacred day when he created the world. This is our author’s point. And it explains why the punishment for non-observance was so severe. (…) That the 7th day was created and proclaimed as a consecrated holy day to be distinguished and observed on a weekly basis from the previous six non-sacred or common days was as much of an inviolable fact inherit in the created world for our author as the skies above! Any violation of this created order, what God himself created, was meet with a swift and inflexible death!”

    So:
    – According to the scribe, God created the luminaries for mankind to keep the mo‘adîm that had still to exist (the first was created 3 days later, the other +/-23 days later (I guess) and the others were created with “Moses” before there was even a Jerusalem temple). According to this account, this mechanism was created before humanity existed or even needed salvation in the first place… but in spite of that they still had to keep at least the 1st of the month and the 7th of the week mo’adim and “everything was good”;
    – NT (here and there) seems to express that those mo‘adîm became a thing only for Jewish (both christian Jewish and non-christian Jewish) and, likewise, Jewish today also express that non-Jewish only have to obey to “Laws of Noah” (no mo‘adîm there as well);
    – Currently, Jewish don’t even regard most of those mo‘adîm (thanks to religious reforms implemented by Josiah, I guess).

    It became a complete mess. How could they drop those sacred times so lightly? According to Torah it seems those mo‘adîm were not from the Jewish law only, but from the very fabric of the creation. And why are we Christians still observing selected mo‘adîm (weren’t they dropped?) in a incompatible calendar with different rules (e.g. every week)?
    Everyone should be as puzzled as I am.

    1. “How could they drop those sacred times so lightly? According to Torah it seems those mo‘adîm were not from the Jewish law only, but from the very fabric of the creation…”

      Yes indeed, but nb you may be missing point, or adding one onto mine. What I try to do in my book, objectively and sensitive to cultural context, is to re-produce the beliefs and message of the author of Genesis 1. So as you’ve nicely reproduced above, yes, I am claiming that these mo‘adîm where understood by our priestly author not just as laws to follow (see Lev 26), but as part of the very fabric of the created world itself. So my thesis was that Creationist who claim to believe Genesis 1’s creation account are actually ignorant of what the text actually claims, and perhaps hypocritical as well.

      My role as a biblical scholar is thus to describe—a belief, message, worldview—represented in these ancient texts, NOT to prescribe! That is to claim we ought to or need to follow such beliefs, messages, worldviews. Again I seem to be arguing that anyone who claims they are, is being hypocritical and not honest to the text and its author’s beliefs and messages.

      So when the later church says Christians do not need to follow Yahweh’s mo‘adîm, they represent: 1) contradictory beliefs to those held by the author of Genesis 1, and 2) a contradictory worldview. Perhaps your puzzlement comes into the equation when modern Christians claim they believe the Bible, but as this one example among literally hundreds of others displays, they do not. As I write in my book, they merely feign belief out of ignorance of the beliefs and messages in these ancient texts—contradictory beliefs and messages—or our of hypocrisy. For the worldview that our priestly author believed in clearly exists no longer.

  3. Here is what The People’s New Testament Commentary by M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock says on pp. 588-589: “The Galatians are compared to convicts released from prison who, frightened by freedom and responsibility, welcome the opportunity to return to the security of their cells, where everything was organized and decided for them. The new teachers were persuading the Gentile Christians of Galatia that by adopting the practices of the Jewish law they were progressing toward full membership in God’s people. In Paul’s view, for them as Gentiles to adopt the Jewish law would be turning back to their previous religion, in which the elemental spirits of the world were manifest as idols. For pagans, these cosmic powers had been manifest as idolatry; for Jews, servitude to the cosmic powers was expressed in religious devotion to the law. All, Jews and Gentiles, had been subject to the powers of this world. God’s redeeming act in Christ was for all. The Galatians had been set free, but were about to return to the same religious servitude in another form.”

    1. Ha! Thanks for the laugh… or rather mild repulsion. I’m sure you were kidding here! This hardly qualifies as scholarly opinion, nor scholarly work. They offer nothing on the text nor its historical context. They just use the text as a springboard to pontificate on their own theological views. Furthermore, these commentators fail miserably to grapple with the text; merely claiming that Paul would have viewed this as slipping back into pagan religion is over-simplified, if not outright incorrect. The text doesn’t wholly support this, as I’m sure you’d agree. It’s really this type of commentary that unfortunately aids in generating more biblical illiteracy. I really need to get back to my work on Paul….

  4. Steven wrote:Couldn’t these Galatians renewed interest in observing the celestial bodies, and specifically the moon, have been influenced by this Jewish teaching creeping into Paul’s community here?

    I think this is exactly right. As Nb points out, the Galatians were pagans, and one might wonder how pagans could “turn back” to Jewish holidays if they weren’t Jews to begin with. However, verse 9 says that they turned back to “weak and beggarly elemental spirits/rudiments” (NRSV). So Paul is saying that just as the Galatians had been “enslaved” to the heavenly bodies as pagans (cf. Deuteronomy 4:19), they have allowed themselves to be enslaved to them again by Judaizers, who insisted on observance of the feast days and new moon festivals.

    1. John, it’s nice to hear from you. Sorry, I’ve been quite inactive for some time. Thanks for the additional support here. I like your emphasis on being enslaved and then re-enslaved by these intruding Judaizers.

      It’s been a while since I’ve looked at the scholarly literature on this passage. I’m curious to know what the reigning consensus is among NT critics—that is if my interpretation offers something new. Any ideas on this?

  5. “Turning our attention to the writings of the New Testament, it can also be confidently inferred that the issues of purity which concerned our Aaronid priests and their Yahweh are, if not absent in the writings of the New Testament, utterly negated and reversed. Luke’s parable of the good Samaritan for example is a story that not only challenges priestly issues of what was pure and what was not, but overthrows those values. See #183 & #184.”

    Maybe John 18:28-29 is the only passage to (implicitly) acknowledge that people still had to be pure to prepare (kill) and to eat the Passover meal:

    “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early [in the morning of 14th Abib]; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover [at that night]. 29 Pilate then went out unto them…”

    “At any event, all these appointed times, festivals, and new moons which were identified as “eternal laws” by the Yahweh of this priestly corpus of literature (Ex 12:14, 17; Lev 16:29, 31,34; 23:14, 21, 31, 41) become, in the hands of Paul, antiquated and unnecessary. For in Galatians 4:10 he seems to be specifically chiding his Galatian converts for practicing such appointed times and new moons: “You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years.” This criticism comes in the midst of Paul’s argument that “we” are no longer bound to the law.”

    Colossians l 2:16-17 seems to do that as well and in Romans 14:4-7 Paul looks just too tolerant regarding this topic.

    Still, I’m not entirely sure about Galatians 4:10 here. It’s true it comes right after talking about not being bound to the law anymore, but it also seems he is writing for some ex-pagan regarding their holy days this time:
    – v8 seem to indicate that they were slaves from false gods (pagan gods?);
    – v9 seems to indicate that the Abraham God now knows about them too (not only about the Jews?);
    – v10 “Seasons” here must have a different meaning from Genesis 1 “Seasons”, because it is inside a list with already some “festivals” and I don’t know if there were any feast that lasted longer than a month and less that a year in “mo‘adîm”)
    – v10 “Days, Months, Seasons, Years” seem to differ from Col 2:16 annual, monthly and weekly Sabbaths;

    1. nb, thanks for your comment, and sorry for the late reply. I happen to like this post quite a bit so it’s nice to see a reader engage with it. In general I think there is much work that can be done outlining the differences in worldview between the Priestly writers of the Torah and Paul’s Greco-Roman cultural context, especially with regards to changing perceptions on purity.

      Yea, I was reaching in my statements regarding Gal 4:10, but I still don’t think without warrant. True, scholars have long discussed the pagan context here, especially with regards to Paul referring to them as having been “slaves under the elements of the cosmos” (v.3) and “enslaved to the gods” (v. 8). My work with the Torah, however, has given me a different perspective to view this situation in Galatians, and I was more or less airing it out here. So another way to look at the situation is from the Jewish context from which Paul may have been working.

      So let me add a couple things here. The Greek kairos can be understood as “seasons” or more vaguely “appointed time.” In the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Torah with which Paul would have been familiar, the Hebrew mo’adim in Lev 23 is translated as αἱ ἑορταί in the Greek, “festivals.” However, in Genesis 1:14 not only is the Hebrew mo’daim translated with the Greek kairos, but the whole verse in Greek sounds pretty darn familiar to Paul’s Greek.

      Genesis 1:14 in the LXX: καὶ ἔστωσαν εἰς σημεῖα καὶ εἰς καιροὺς καὶ εἰς ἡμέρας καὶ εἰς ἐνιαυτούς· “And let them be for signs and for appointed times and for days and for years.”

      Paul’s Greek in Gal 4:10: ἡμέρας παρατηρεῖσθε καὶ μῆνας καὶ καιροὺς καὶ ἐνιαυτούς. “You observe the days and months and appointed times and years.”

      This looks awful close to me, and compels me to go even further and claim that it looks like Paul might have been quoting Genesis 1 from memory as it was often done in antiquity, or at least alluding to the verse. If so, then the question becomes why?

      So here we must not forget that there was a heavy Jewish influence in the background. It’s quite clear that some Christian-Jews or just Jews came into the community after Paul left and tried to compel these messiah-accepting converts that they needed to circumcise themselves per “the eternal covenant” of Gen 17 (another contradiction of which I’ve written about, #31). It just might be that this Jewish influence was also trying to compel these Galatians to observe the Sabbath and Yahweh’s sacred days. It is clear in the letter that Paul ferociously rejects this imposed requirement of circumcision, but might Gal 4:10 also hint at a rejection of other Jewish requirements that were also being imposed? Couldn’t these Galatians renewed interest in observing the celestial bodies, and specifically the moon, have been influenced by this Jewish teaching creeping into Paul’s community here? At least this ought to be explored. So I’ve asked the questions.

  6. A good passage which shows that the levitical priesthood was to last forever (and that David would always have a descendant on the throne) is Jeremiah 33:14-18:

    14 The days are surely coming, says Yahweh, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘Yahweh is our righteousness.’ 17 For thus says Yahweh: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, 18and the levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt-offerings, to make grain-offerings, and to make sacrifices for all time.

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