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Levitical Sacrifice and Heavenly Cult in Hebrews : Benjamin J. Ribbens :

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The Book of Leviticus

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  3. Benjamin J Ribbens (Author of Levitical Sacrifice and Heavenly Cult in Hebrews).
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Such a conclusion, I hope, will help the contemporary reader make interpretive choices regarding his or her understanding and application of sacrificial models of atonement.


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  • Ben Ribbens, Ph.D. 2013.
  • Before diving immediately into the epistle to the Hebrews, we must first examine the idea of sacrifice more broadly so we have something with which to compare it. Although the idea ofsacrifice exists in almost all cultures, let us focus on a definition that illustrates the concept of sacrifice as found in the larger canon of Hebrew Scriptures which our epistle references.

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    Sacrifice seems to be defined most essentially as the offering up of a gift—typically a slain animal—to God. Though the animal had to be killed to providethe blood, and in some cases the meal offered to God is shared among participants, it seems thateither the bringing or burning of the slaughtered gift before God is the point of greatest efficacy.


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    5. Levitical Sacrifice and Heavenly Cult in Hebrews;

    It is here the transaction is made between the human and the heavenly. The offender—who will be the beneficiary of the sacrifice—then lays hands upon the animal to be sacrificed, and it is slaughtered. After the animal has been killed, its blood is spilt upon the altar by the priest and burned, giving off an aroma that rises to heaven.

    The body of the animal, in some cases, is taken outside the camp; in other sacrifices, the remaining flesh of the animal are shared as a communal meal. Outlined in Leviticus 16, this ritual involves two different sacrifices: one for the high priest and one for the people. The bull sacrificed for the high priest follows the typical pattern of the above-mentioned sin offering, but the offering for the people is somewhat different.

    From Priestly Torah to Christ Cultus- The ReVision of Covenant and Cult in Hebrews

    This second step is made only after the high priest himself has been purified and thus enabled to enter the Most Holy Place in which one goat is sacrificed and another serves as a scapegoat, bearing the sins of the people into the wilderness. It is to this ritual—as recorded in the Septuagint—that Hebrews makes reference as he addresses the salvific work of Christ.

    However, first we must briefly examine the way Christ is cast in the sacrificial construct of Hebrews. Of the roles we previously identified within a sacrifice—victim, beneficiary, and priest— Christ takes on the first and the last. The roles of victim and priest are merged so that the one who dies as the source of the blood is also the one entering into the Most Holy Place to bring that offering before God Like the offering described for the Day of Atonement, this work is done not just for the cleansing of the priest, but is effective for all those on whose behalf it has been offered.

    Using the framework of sacrificial language and laws, Hebrews continues to develop his Christology in alignment with his opening superlatives. A mystical apocalyptic tradition stands behind Hebrews' description of the heavenly cult , which establishes the framework for relating the levitical sacrifice to Christ's sacrifice.

    The earthly, levitical cult was efficacious when it corresponded to or synchronized with the heavenly sacrifice of Christ. Still, the author of Hebrews develops the notion of the heavenly cult in unique ways, as Christ's sacrifice both validates the earthly practice but also, due to his new covenant theology, calls for its end. Ribbens' bold proposal joins a growing number of scholars that place Hebrews in the mystical apocalyptic tradition, highlights positive statements in Hebrews related to the efficacy of levitical sacrifices that are often overlooked, and relies on the heavenly cult to reconcile the positive and negative descriptions of the levitical cult.