News flash! —- Yahweh has apparently contradicted himself once again at Sinai, claiming at one point that eating a carcass or a torn animal is strictly prohibited and not even a week later—that’s right folks one week later!—claiming that it is permissible to eat. What madness!
Or, we have yet another example of different and contradictory law codes penned by different authors, to address different historical communities, and which were both placed on the lips of Yahweh and at various different places in the narrative: at Horeb (E’s claim), a week later before the Tent of Meeting (P’s claim), and 40 years later on the plains of Moab (D’s claim). When these different textual traditions were brought to stand next to each other in a later editorial endeavor, this and hundreds of other contradictions were created.
The author of Ex 22:30, the Elohist, has Yahweh pronounce as one of its apodictic laws given at Horeb that any carcass or torn animal found in the field is not to be eaten: “You shall throw it to the dog.”
Later, we will see how the Deuteronomist changes this prohibition to allow such carcasses to be eaten by the resident alien who lived among the Israelites. But it remained strictly prohibited to the Israelite:
“You shall not eat any carcass. You shall give it to the alien who is in your gates, and he will eat it” (Deut 14:21).
Yet the author of Lev 17:15-16 has Yahweh declare that the eating of a carcass or torn animal is permissible to both the alien and the Israelite; however, the individual will then become impure and must henceforth purify himself through a ritualized washing. To a large extent, even though the Priestly legislation allows the eating of the meat of a carcass it nevertheless claims that this is an impure act, and thus ought to be avoided. The Deuteronomist’s outright prohibition of the eating of carcass certainly tells us that the Deuteronomist also saw this act as a defilement. So there are points of similarity between both of these authors.
But perhaps the real issue is the alien, and how the alien is perceived differently from the historical perspective of the Deuteronomist and that of the Priestly writer. For example, for the Deuteronomist the alien is just that, an outsider; he is not, nor cannot be, a part of Yahweh’s holy people. Furthermore, it is specifically because the Deuteronomist is making an argument for the holiness of the Israelites that he allows the alien to eat the meat of a carcass seeing that he is already defiled to some extent, an “impure” outsider.
The alien is accorded a completely different standing for the Priestly writer, and in most cases is subject to the same ritual and ethical laws that the Israelite is. So in our current example, both the alien and the Israelite defile themselves when they eat the meat of a carcass. And both must ritually purify themselves in order to expiate this defilement. In the larger picture, what is at stake for the Priestly writer, and absent in the Deuteronomic literature, is a view of the land as pure. All the ritual and ethical laws were created to ensure that the land upon which Yahweh and his holy Tabernacle reside remains in a state of purity. Therefore the alien who shared this land with the Israelite can be no more impure than the Israelite. If an alien were allowed to eat the carcass and thus become contaminated, that would put the land’s purity at risk, which would furthermore place both Yahweh and the people’s security on the land at risk (Lev 26). Conversely for the Priestly writer of Lev 22:8 priests may not eat carcasses.
Finally, each tradition places Yahweh’s revelation at a different time and locale. The Earliest traditions of the giving of the law are found in the Elohist and Yahwist sources, and there Yahweh is presented as giving laws and the Ten Commandments—albeit different Ten Commandments (#134-135)—at Horeb and Sinai respectively (#86). When the Deuteronomist has Moses renarrate this tradition he changes it. In Deuteronomy Moses claims that only the Ten Commandments were given, and 40 years later Moses gave the law code on the plains of Moab. We will look at this in greater detail when we get to the book of Deuteronomy. Lastly, the Priestly writer also creates a narrative where Yahweh gives the Aaronid law code, but this happens at the Tent of Meeting, on the plains of Sinai, about a week or so after the Sinaitic revelation. When these different textual traditions were assembled together to form a continuous narrative, Yahweh is, as a result, seen given contradictory laws and at different time periods, and sometimes this assembled narrative presents the deity given a contradictory law just a week after he originally gave it, as it is now in the combined narrative. Simply divine!