Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 6 (2006) - Review

Roy E. Gane, Cult and Character: Purification Offerings, Day of Atonement, and Theodicy (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2005). Pp. xxii + 394. Cloth, US$39.50. ISBN 1-57506-101-5.

Gane's intriguing study is dedicated to his mentor Jacob Milgrom. His attention to Milgrom's perception of purification, atonement and theodicy is ubiquitous throughout his book. In reflecting upon Milgrom's perceptions, Gane certainly strikes a new path leading to different, innovative and even astonishing conclusions.

Gane divides his study into four parts comprising 18 chapters. The first part, i.e., the first two chapters, deals with the basic premises of his studies, beginning with a plea for a theoretical framework necessary to analyse ancient Israelite rituals. Based on Brian Wilson's book on “human activity systems” (Systems: Concepts, Methodologies, and Applications, Chichester 1984) as well as his subsequent modification to this particular theory (“Ritual Dynamic Structure,” Ph.D. diss. Berkeley/California 1992) Gane presents a privileged “ritual activity system” perspective. Gane focuses on the problem of an interrelation between ritual activity and text. On this account, the following two aspects have to be considered, namely the nature of both the ritual and the text. Without disposing of any inherent meaning, the ritual actions are predestined to encourage interpretations. In fact, the goal defining both the ritual and its activities has to be drawn from the text. Bearing in mind the secondary growth of the biblical texts, Gane also discusses whether the rituals were intended to function as a system after having been collected over such a long period of time. Last but not least, Gane states that: “the fact that the final form of the biblical text presents the Day of Atonement rituals together as a system that is functionally integrated within the larger system of Israelite rituals” (p. 36) justifies a synchronic reading.

In the course of the following two parts (Chapters 3-13), Gane poses his major questions about duplication or completion concerning the relation between annual purification rituals and purifications carried out on the Day of Atonement. On the whole, his survey is based on Exodus 28-30; 40; Leviticus 4-17; 23; Numbers 15; 19; 29. Gane provides an exceedingly detailed analysis of the text, defining the ritual activities as well as explaining their overall purposes. In the following I would like to introduce two of the manifold questions dealt with in his book.

Chapter 3 discusses the outer altar purification sacrifices. Laying hands on the head of those animals to be sacrificed is among the major actions to be done. According to Gane, the above is a gesture, classified–since the sacrificial act is carried out for the benefit of the owner–as a mark of ownership. This theory is strengthened by two observations: 1) First of all, the gesture is not required in calendrical sacrifices as the offerers are supposed to have “appointments” with YHWH (p. 54). 2) The “ownership” is defined specifically as the “end of ownership”. Thereafter, the animal is dedicated to YHWH (p. 56). Gane has made crucial contributions to the current discussion about the laying on of hands, including the question whether or not the owner has to be equated to the animal, an assumption Gane fiercely denies. The main purpose of the laying on of hands is a purification of the offerer, i.e., the owner.

Gane's answer to the question whether or not the purification offering purifies the sanctuary or the offerer is even more striking (Chapter 6). The purification offerings's blood is sprinkled upon the sanctuary, never directly on the person immolating. This particular observation allows Milgrom to conclude that it is the sanctuary being purified, not the offerer. The ritual is merely executed for the benefit of the offerer. Stressing that it is the purpose that defines the activity, however, Gane comes to a different conclusion. Irrespective of the altar consecration as well as the sanctuary's purification, the purification sacrifice's purpose is to wipe evil from the respective owner.

The fourth part of the book debates “Cult and Theodicy,” looking into the rituals of atonement from a different perspective, scrutinizing God's holiness and righteousness. Rituals permit God's presence in Israel. However, they cannot serve as a substitute for his righteous deeds including punishment. In the following, Gane mainly bases his survey on Leviticus 16; 23; Numbers 14; II Samuel 14; I Kings 2; and the Nanshe Hymn (text and translation W. Heimpel, “The Nanshe Hymn,” JCS 33 [1981] 65-139).

With respect to whether or not the Day of Atonement rituals duplicate or complete the expiatory sacrifices offered earlier in the year, Gane employs the observations compiled in part four. He considers the Day of Atonement to be a second phase. While the noncalendrical purification offering causes an imbalance of God's justice and kindness, the Day of Atonement rituals restore the equilibrium by means of sanctuary purification. Those people showing persistent loyalty by participating and remaining in the ritual with self-denial are assigned to the second phase. As the balance is restored, forgiveness–having already been granted–is now completed.

Gane's book is well-structured. A conclusion is given for each chapter. Tabular listings provide an outline of phraseology variants and contents related to the same subject. Indices of authors and scriptures complete a book of convincing argumentation comprising an appropriate discussion on Milgrom's positions which, indeed, have a stake in the scientific discussion. Gane succeeds in offering fitting alternatives.

Corinna Körting, University of Göttingen