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Sin and expiation.

Janzen, David (2020) 'Sin and expiation.', in The Oxford handbook of ritual and worship. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Expiation refers to a ritual attempt to deal with sin, and while in the Hebrew Bible it can include such things as prayer and acts of mourning, we most frequently find it manifested in sacrifice. Biblical texts rarely explain how sacrifice functions in relation to sin, but sacrifice is described at greatest length in the Priestly writing, particularly in Leviticus 1-7, which has been described as a manual of sacrifice. Even here, however, P does not provide a theory of sacrificial expiation—does not, that is, explain how or why sacrifice functions as the proper ritual response to sin. Jacob Milgrom’s re-creation of the worldview that stands behind P’s understanding of sacrifice claims that the Priestly tradents understood sin as creating a miasma of impurity that polluted the sancta, and saw the blood of the sin or purification offering as a ritual detergent that cleansed the sanctuary. If we read the Priestly narrative without trying to reconstruct this worldview, but look rather for the ways in which P portrays sacrifice and expiation, we see that sacrifice functions as a way for Israelites to publically acknowledge their sin and to signal that they have no intentions of violating God’s commandments again. Part of this ritual message involves honoring God as sovereign, and so acknowledging as well God’s right to command and indicating the sacrificers’ awareness that they must act as loyal subjects to their divine sovereign.

Item Type:Book chapter
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 03 November 2022.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:Janzen, David (2020). Sin and Expiation. In The Oxford Handbook of Ritual and Worship. Balentine, Samuel Oxford: Oxford University Press reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press.
Date accepted:16 March 2017
Date deposited:20 April 2017
Date of first online publication:03 November 2020
Date first made open access:03 November 2022

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