Friday, December 04, 2020

Old Testament Impurity System

This blogpost is largely taken from one posted eight years ago, but even before then, I'd at times called attention to verse 10 of Leviticus chapter 10, so some readers might already be quite familiar with my views. But let's start here anyway, for the verse 'explains' why the Mosaic Covenant sets forth all sorts of rules, namely:

so as to make a separation

between the holy (qodesh) and the common (chol),


between the unclean (tame') and the pure (tahowr);

I've borrowed this verse from Young's Literal Translation (YLT), available at the Blue Letter Bible site.

One question that arises is how to understand the structure of this verse: does the structure exhibit parallelism or chiasm?

Normally, the arrangement of a verse this way in the Hebrew Bible manifests parallelism, and this sort of structure is so common, it's called "Hebrew Parallelism" (or sometimes Semitic Parallelism). That would therefore be a good first guess.

Against parallelism, however, would be the fact that "the holy" (qodesh) and "the unclean" (tame') are opposites. That might seem the case with "the common" (chol) and "the pure" (tahowr) as well. And since the holy and the pure seem linked conceptually, and the unclean and the common also, then we might want to read this structure as a chiasm.

But if we know a bit more about these categories, then we realize that the holy and the unclean are both dynamic forces in the Hebrew Bible and that the common in its fundamental state is pure, so there seems to be some parallelism after all.

I therefore suggest that this verse is intended to be read as exhibiting both parallelism and chiasm. Some might scoff at that as an overly scholarly interpretation by one whose mind has been shaped by deep reading in the anthropological literature on the sacred and the profane. That response would fail to give the ancients credit for being fully as intelligent as we are, and would leave us as ignorant as we would imagine they were.


At 3:55 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

At a more abstract level, I wonder what it means "to draw a distinction", and what it means "to place something into context"?

Not directly related to your subject, but in the Talmudic spirit.

Now, that said, what is the Talmudic exegesis of the passages you are working with?

At 6:09 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Are those possible translations alongside "so as to make a separation"?

I've always intended to look into the Talmud on this, but needed time I've yet to have.

Jeffery Hodges

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