Jonathan Klawans’s Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple: Symbolism and Supersessionism in the Study of Ancient Judaism responds to evolutionary and supersessionist scholarship that has read sacrifice and the temple as things that were replaced by something better that came along later (Jesus for Christians and prayer for Jews), reading polemics that derive from Hebrews (for Christians) and Maimonides (for Jews) anachronistically back into sources, such as the prophets, the Dead Sea Sectarians, aspects of the New Testament, and Rabbinic literature.
This book builds upon his earlier work, Impurity and Sin in Ancient Israel, and relies heavily upon the insights of Mary Douglas in Purity and Danger and her more recent analysis in Leviticus as Literature, depicting purity laws, sacrifice, and, with it, the temple as a “symbolic system.” Purity, sacrifice, and the temple are all interrelated: you must have ritual purity to approach the sanctuary to offer a sacrifice. After a fantastic literary review of scholarship on sacrifice, Klawans argues that the system of symbols, as opposed to identifying the single referent for each individual symbolic aspect of a ritual, sacrifice, or part of the temple, point to two things: sacrifice and temple/tabernacle-building as imitatio dei and sacrifice as attracting and maintaining the divine presence in the community. Klawans discusses the former as an “organizing principle” of sacrifice and the latter as the “function” of sacrifice. Building the tabernacle or the temple is itself imitatio dei, due to the cosmic significance of those structures. Imitation, indeed, will remain a major centerpiece in the entire book, even as it is transformed in by different Jewish groups throughout the centuries.
From here he demonstrates how different bodies of sources have been misread by scholars, both Jewish and Christian, with anti-sacrificial and anti-temple biases. For example, the line between priest and prophet has been too sharply drawn: many prophets were priests and often had a high view of the temple and, even those in exile, envisioned a future rebuilding of the temple and the reinstitution of sacrifice. Prophetic critiques of sacrifice are not anti-sacrifice, but anti-improper sacrifice. Moreover, many of the “ethics” attributed to the prophets can be found in Leviticus, if you know where to look. Finally, Klawans argues a false dichotomy has been set up between the “ritual” of the temple and the “symbolic actions” of prophets. Since he has argued that sacrifice is itself a symbolic system, then both priestly and prophetic actions are symbolic.
The second half of the book, dedicated to the second temple and a little beyond, is divided up in more of a thematic manner. Klawans firstly carefully distinguishes between two concepts of the temple prevalent in the second temple period, which are not mutually exclusive, but are in tension: temple as cosmos and temple in the cosmos. The first is the idea that the temple represents the cosmos and the second that the temple is a copy of the heavenly temple. This distinction is largely developed, as far as I can tell, from George MacRae’s famous article from thirty years ago, concerning eschatology and the heavenly sanctuary in the Epistle to the Hebrews, a document he argues employs both concepts. Klawans claims, however, that, perhaps excepting Hebrews, no single text contains both concepts (I have not tested this hypothesis myself, but if true, it is definitely a helpfully clarifying insight). One of the interesting results of the second concept is the need for a heavenly priesthood to correspond to the earthly one; thus, they tend to have a highly developed angelology. In these texts, moreover, imitatio dei often slips into imitatio angeli, although, as I have been taught, this latter term should probably be imitatio angelorum. He then turns to the Dead Sea Scrolls, which largely employs the heavenly temple view, to discuss how they have been misread. He basically argues that the Dead Sea Sect had an extremely heightened view of the temple, and it is for that reason that they had to abandon it, due to the ritual and moral defilement of the temple. They then believed that their community substituted for the temple at that time, but, against previous scholarship, he argues that the community saw this substitution as provisional (there would be a future temple or reinstatement of proper temple protocol) and comparatively deficient to a physical temple. In the rather novel idea that their community was the temple, the Dead Sea Sect represents the last form of imitation: imitatio templi. Klawans also argues that the Rabbis always looked forward to the future reinstatement of the temple and its sacrifices, and attempting to emulate the temple’s sanctity by “templizing” rituals pertaining to food and prayer.
Finally, Klawans turns to the New Testament. He argues that many passages have been incorrectly interpreted in a supersessionist manner: the last supper and the overturning of the tables in the temple. He argues that the last supper passages, in both the gospels and Paul, do not, in themselves, indicate a replacement of the sacrifices of the temple, but rely upon that imagery to indicate the seriousness, legitimacy, and efficacy of the ritual meal. They are metaphors not meant to “spiritualize” sacrifice, but they “borrow from” sacrifice, operating upon the assumption that temple sacrifices are efficacious. He then argues that Jesus’ actions in the temple were not anti-temple, but probably had something to do with Jesus’ attitude toward the poor. This relies upon an extending discussion on the nexus between property and proper sacrifice, that you should only sacrifice something you truly own. Klawans argues that the pigeon sellers and the money changers would have had the most monetary impact on poor pilgrims, who should not have to pay or offer what they could not easily afford, and this situation, in particular, would have raised Jesus’ ire.
But the New Testament is not without its anti-temple polemics. Given that much of what Klawans is responding to partly derives from particular passages in the New Testament that are supersessionist and perhaps the root of Christian supersessionism, it is surprising that he only devotes about two pages to all of these passages: Acts 7, Revelation 21-22, and Hebrews (pretty much all of it). Indeed, speaking of Hebrews, Klawans says, “This text is the basis of Christian supersessionist approaches to the temple, and, by extension, it is the ancestor of many modern scholarly approaches to the temple and its ritual" (243). Considering that such a text would be, therefore, central to Klawans’s argument about the difficulties caused by such texts for modern scholarly readings of other texts, it is very disappointing that Hebrews receives only a paragraph’s worth of attention. Indeed, while Hebrews is the most anti-priestly, anti-sacrifice, and anti-temple of any document I know, it is, because of this, the most priestly document in the New Testament at the same time. The priesthood, the temple, and sacrifice take on a heightened importance because of the polemic against them. It relies upon the old earthy-heavenly temple correspondence, turning it on its head, making the correspondence more oppositional, but it also is very “templizing,” to borrow Klawans’s term. The importance of the heavenly temple, Jesus’ priesthood, and Jesus’ sacrifice all depend upon sacrificial and temple imagery, but also employing that imagery in a supersessionist way: the heavenly temple is better, Jesus is a greater priest, and his sacrifice is more efficacious. I am also surprised that Klawans failed to mention the destruction of the temple passages in the New Testament, the most famous of which is in John 2:19-22.
Overall, this is a fantastic book, and I am sure my dissertation will be peppered with references to its insights. It is both comprehensive in its coverage and comprehensible in its argumentation. His key methodological underpinning that purity, sacrifice, and the temple form an integrated symbolic system is very attractive, and his central thesis that this symbolic system was organized by the concept of imitatio dei (and all of its later iterations) and attracting the divine presence seem very helpful (it integrates much of the earlier scholarship on the temple that has had difficulty accounting for the divine presence, ritual, and temple symbolism in the same breath). Even if there may have been other "organizing" and "functional" factors not discussed (and I imagine there are), his analysis provides a platform for all future discussion of the complexities of the integrated symbolic system of purity, sacrifice, and the temple.