Why Does Eleazar Sprinkle The Red Cow Blood? Making Sense of a Biblical ritual

  • William K. Gilders

Abstract

Numbers 19:1-10 is a prescriptive ritual text concerned with the preparation of the ashes of a burnt “red cow” to be used to counteract the impurity caused by exposure to a human corpse. Like many other biblical ritual texts, this one is relatively rich in details on ritual practice, but offers little that might be termed “interpretation” of the various ritual actions. In response to this conceptual gap, various attempts have been made to specify the “meaning(s)” of the actions and objects. Giving special attention to the blood manipulation component of the ritual complex (Num 19:4), this paper explores a variety of theoretical questions about the interpretation of ritual activity represented in biblical ritual texts. It highlights the significance of the textuality of our access to biblical ritual, the need to fill gaps while interpreting biblical ritual texts, and points to the value of considering the indexical qualities of ritual actions.
Published
2009-03-06
Section
Articles