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Secularization and the Book of Deuteronomy

For a very long time, the book of Deuteronomy has been viewed as a comprehensive or even radical framework for reform that had a profound effect on every facet of Israeli social, religious, and political life. The shift toward secularization is one of the most overt topics in this work. Although there are many definitions for this phrase, it is used in this context to allude to the tendency of Deuteronomistic teaching to disregard the sacred and to exclude specific institutions from this category. The commandment of profane killing contained in the twelfth chapter of Deuteronomy is one of the most notable examples of this pattern in the book. The law directs worship to take place at a single location and establishes the allowance for animals to be slaughtered in the towns where people reside.

This is perceived to be a practical command because before the reforms were introduced, the slaughter of non-game animals had to be carried out on an altar. The removal of local places of worship implied that there were no altars available for individuals who were living at a distance from the central altar. In summary, heteronomy 12 makes an allowance for the non-sacrificial slaughter of domestic animals. This made a notable contribution to secularization as Israelites were partly exempted from mandatory participation in the sacrificial animal slaughter. In addition, this allowance could be viewed as a denial of an earlier ideology that the blood of any animal possesses inherent divine qualities. It is noted in Leviticus 17 that the blood of all slain domestic animals had to be presented at the tent of meeting and that this blood had to be sprinkled on the altar. For the blood of wild animals, verse 13 of Leviticus 17 states that the blood should be poured out and covered with soil.

The Holiness of Blood in Deuteronomy 12

Deuteronomy 12 presents a new concept of the holiness of blood. The ideology carried over from exodus is opposed through the directive that the blood of all the animals killed far from the sanctuary must be poured out like water. This statement implies that the blood has no more sacrificial value than water because water is poured out in such a manner. The wording of the earlier law is subtly changed and restated in Deuteronomy to emphasize this new directive concerning the slaughter of animals. Exodus 20:24 states "and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen." In Deuteronomy 12:21, the law is stated as "and you may slaughter from your cattle and your sheep." These differences observed in the text extracted from Deuteronomy arise from the fact that the law is addressing non-sacrificial slaughter.

The notion that Deuteronomy establishes the secularization of animal slaughter has been largely accepted, mostly because of the argument that all slaughter before this law was sacrificial. However, this argument may be countered. The argument that all sacrifice carried out on an altar was sacrificial is based on 1 Samuel 14:32-35 where king Saul responds to the people's sin of eating meat with the blood by bringing a large stone and ordering people to slaughter their animals there. Biblical scholars assert that the act was considered a sin because the people were eating animals that had not been properly sacrificed and were therefore not giving YHWH His rightful portion. Scholars continue to assert that this implied that all sacrifice was supposed to occur at an altar and was considered sacrificial. The validity of this argument could be challenged because there is no reference made to the failure to sprinkle blood onto the altar or to dedicate part of the sacrifice to YHWH.

Works cited

The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford University Press, 2004

April 13, 2023

Religion Literature

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