“And they shall make me a holy place and I shall dwell among them.” (Ex 25:8; cf. Ex 29:45)
One or the central and most important theological tenets of the Priestly theocracy was that Yahweh dwelt among the people, tented in the Tabernacle which was at the center of their camp.
This theological conviction alone necessitated a strict ethical and ritual code that quickly expunged and expiated any impurities that came into the camp—thus the Priestly legislation’s strict adherence to purity and cleanliness, both ethically and ritually.
“You will be holy, for I, Yahweh your god, am holy!” (Lev 19.2)
At the center of this “holy” encampment was the Tabernacle where Yahweh dwelt. Only the Aaronid priests were allowed entrance into it. Next, were the anointed Aaronids themselves, and after them were the Levites who ministered to the Aaronid priesthood (Num 4). Extending further from the center were the people, and finally the land. Any impurity or sin that befell an individual or even the land (such as a dead animal on the land) needed to be expiated immediately since this impurity/sin risked to encroach upon Yahweh’s holiness which resided among the people.
This allows us to understand why the Priestly legislation in the book of Leviticus was emphatically concerned with laws that 1) prohibited coming into contact with impure/unclean things or committing impure/unclean acts, and 2) in case of a breach between the pure and impure, the clean and unclean, ritually legislated what was required to mend this breach and bring the individual back to a state of purity, cleanliness lest this impurity encroach upon Yahweh’s dwelling (eg., Lev 16:16). We will specifically look at some of this legislation when we get to the book of Leviticus.
This whole priestly and cultic ideology is completely absent in the Deuteronomic literature. The main reason being that the Deuteronomic scribes—who were non-Aaronid Levites (see #152)—have vastly different ideas about what religion is. The cult played a minor role, if any, in the Deuteronomic literature. But beyond this, the Deuteronomists would have vehemently disagreed with the Priestly writer’s ideology that Yahweh dwelt among the people.
For the Deuteronomist, Yahweh dwelt in heaven. To preserve the holiness of the Temple dwelling, the Deuteronomist claimed that merely Yahweh’s name resided there, not his glory nor presence as the Priestly writer: “the place that Yahweh, your god, will choose to tent his name.”
Likewise, in the absence of the Temple, that is after the temple was destroyed in 587 BC by the Babylonians and the second Temple in 70 AD by the Romans, any remnant of this Priestly ideology was expunged. Thus the author of Acts claims that God does not dwell in a temple. He quotes Isaiah 66:1-2, a text that was also written when the Temple had no longer been standing.
It is instructive to imagine the Priestly writer’s worldview: Yahweh dwells among the people. Furthermore, his presence sat in the inner shrine, the Holy of Holies above the golden cherubim (Ex 25:22). Thus for the Priestly writer the whole space was a sacred space, and as such demanded strict holiness. Imagine what sort of holy, pure, clean, sinless, requirements would be necessitated if God, a god, were to dwell among us! This is what the Priestly writer has done.