Saturday, March 19, 2011

Beyond the Holy of Holies as a Place

It just struck me for the first time as I was reading/listening to Numbers 18 that ‘most holy’ as a superlative category has a fairly wide range of referents. I have thought of the Holy of Holies as the only “most holy” item, but that is incorrect. In addition to referring to the Holy of Holies, the terminology  קדשׁ קדשׁים is used for the following items:
  1. Altar of burnt offering (Exod. 29:37)
  2. Altar of incense (Exod. 30:10)
  3. Tent of meeting, ark of testimony, table of showbread and its utensils, altar of incense, altar of burnt offering, lamp stand and utensils, laver and base (Exod. 30:26-29)
  4. The incense (Exod. 30:36)
  5. The remainder of the grain offering (Lev. 2:3)
  6. The sin offering (Lev. 6:25, 29)
  7. Guilt offering (Lev. 7:1, 7)
  8. Showbread (Lev. 24:9)
  9. All items “devoted” (cherem) to Yahweh (Lev. 27:28)

    Note: Lev. 21:22 identifies the types of food a priest with a defect may eat as “both the most holy and the holy”

    The Kohathites work with the “most holy things” (Num. 4:4). They alone are allowed to touch them.

    There is a repeated statement that “whatever touches” a most holy object will become holy. The tent of meeting, ark of testimony, table of showbread and its utensils, altar of incense, altar of burnt offering, lamp stand and utensils, laver and its base--all these are said to transmit holiness (Exod. 30:29). In addition, the altar of burnt offering (Exod. 20:27), the grain offering gifts (Lev. 6:18),  and the flesh of the sin offering (Lev. 6:27) are singled out as items that sanctify whatever touches them, unless touched by someone who is unclean from touching a dead body (Hag. 2:13). Although not in the category of “most holy,” the priestly garments also can transmit holiness and thus are not to leave the tabernacle/temple precincts (Ezek. 44:19; cf. 46:20).

    This changes my picture of the tabernacle having a steady upward gradation of holiness from the outside to the inside of the “most holy” place. “Most holy” things were throughout the tabernacle courtyard, holy place, and most holy place. “Most holy” things were being handled (utensils) and interacted with (altars, lamp stand, showbread, showbread table) on a daily basis.