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The Ethics of Responsibility and Restoration Underlying Repentance in the Sacrificial Laws: The Meaning of אָשֵׁם and the reading of Leviticus 6:1–7

Sun Bok Bae 1

1서울신학대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

The aim of this article is to find a moral value that underlies in the sacrificial laws. The Priestly document (P) and, especially, its sacrificial laws have been largely considered as having no ethical concern. This scholarly trend, at least partly, comes from the separation of the cultic laws including the sacrificial laws from the main narrative. Yet, a more recent trend stresses the unity of P’s law and narrative. This article begins with the acceptance of this newer trend and seriously takes the narrative context that the cultic laws were meant to serve him residing on the earth, rather than tracing the form or tradition-historical critical meanings beyond the text. Against this methodological background, the first part of this article seeks to figure out the true nuance of אָשֵׁם, while evaluating the three major opinions on the meaning of this Hebrew verb: “to feel guilt,” “to realize guilt,” and “to suffer guilt.” A better-nuanced translation is “to fear guilt” or “to suspect guilt.” This avoids both extremely subjective conviction and objective knowledge of committing sins. This conclusion denies Milgrom’s argument that forgiveness comes before presenting an offering by repentance in the sense of remorse and generates the question of where forgiveness locates. In the latter part of this article, Leviticus 6:1–7 (BHS 5:20–26) is analyzed as a test case because it is a rare instance in which the interpersonal compensation is mentioned in P’s cultic laws together with a sacrificial offering. This text suggests that the sacrificial offering works as compensation for the damage to the deity in the same way that monetary compensation does for the damage to the neighbors. The moral value underlying the sacrificial laws is repentance defined not as an internal feeling but as a responsible action to restore the damage either to God, to neighbors, or to both.

Citation status

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