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The Meaning of the ‘Kareth’ Penalty in the Priestly Tradition

Roh, Se Young 1

1서울신학대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This article aims to study the meaning of the ‘kareth’ penalty in the Priestly tradition. For this study, a history of research and the theology of the cultic material in the Priestly tradition were, first of all, discussed. Then the author tried to understand the meaning of the ‘kareth’ penalty and how the penalty is related to the theology of the cultic material by analyzing the kinds of punishments that appeared in the text of the kareth penalty formula. ‘Kareth’ penatly can be divided into three different types. The first type is death related to excommunication from the covenant community. Violating the Sabbath(Exod 31:14-15), divination(Lev 20:6) and blaspheming God(Num 15:30-31) belong to this type. The offender who committed these sins had to be put to death. Death here means the absence of God and destruction through excommunication from the covenant community. The second type is death related to the destruction of the nation. Illicit sex and idol worship belong to this type. The offender who committed these sins had to be put to death like the first type, or at least to die without children. Death here also means more than physical death. It means excommunication from the Promised Land and the complete destruction of Israel. Interestingly, a typical clause such as “I am the LORD your God(who makes you holy)” always appears with the ‘kareth’ formula in the context of these two kinds of penalty. This means that God gave the sentence, “I am not the LORD your God any longer, in case you are an offender.” The third type are cases in which the meaning of the ‘kareth’ penalty is not clearly known. Most cultic uncleannesses belong to this type. In these cases, the offender has been given opportunity to remove his/her uncleanness. But if he/she does not remove his/her uncleanness, he/ she loses his/her right to go the temple/tabernacle and to be a member of the covenant community. Accordingly, the ‘kareth’ penalty means that the offender loses God’s sustenance and salvation caused by extirpation from the holy community where God is present. Through this study we come to know how to keep Israel, as a kingdom of priests, was kept holy, and to understand more correctly the texts where the ‘kareth’ penalty is mentioned.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.