Who would’ve thought that one odd little ritual would turn up so much interesting stuff when you research it?
Okay, well, I would have. I was vaguely aware that there was some stuff going on in terms of people trying to raise cows that could actually qualify under the stringent conditions needed to meet the requirements in this chapter. One of the things I learned in reading up on this is that, in rabbinic tradition, this ritual has only ever been performed successfully nine times in all of Jewish history, simply because the right kind of cow is that rare.
There’s a group of Jewish Israelis right now called the “Temple Institute” who are preparing for the rebuilding of the Third Temple, based on an interpretation of Maimonides that believes ordinary humans will rebuild it (as opposed to God or the Messiah). They’ve twice thought they had the right cow, only to later conclude it wasn’t good enough. Meanwhile, because there are Evangelicals who think, based on a screwy interpretation of Revelation, that Christ won’t come again until the Third Temple is rebuilt, so you’ve got ranchers in America trying to breed red heifers.
In order for either of these plans to work, the current building on the site of the temple, the Dome of the Rock, would have to be removed. I think both groups involved see that as a fringe benefit rather than an impossible difficulty.
Speaking of Muslims, there’s actually a chapter in the Qur’an that covers this ritual, only it implies that the Israelites kept pestering Moses to be more specific about what kind of cow was best because they didn’t want to sacrifice something as valuable as a heifer. Female cows could, after all, produce more cows, which made them much more valuable. So I guess the animosity goes both ways.
Meanwhile the rather anti-Semitic Epistle of Barabbas argues that this, like all Jewish ritual, was really a metaphor for Jesus, who was killed outside the city (“outside the camp,” v 3) and whose sacrifice purified people via anointing with water (baptism). Barabbas was rejected from the canon (thank God – literally!) and so this never became an official Christian belief. But if it had, this would be yet another example of feminine imagery for the second person of the Trinity, since the sacrifice specifically requires a female cow.
What did I get out of it? Mostly that even what seems to be a boring, impossible-to-perform ritual can lead to all sorts of varying interpretations and complex problems. And maybe there’s no one right way of reading anything in the Bible. That’s part of what makes religious texts interesting.
The Japanese: kitei “regulation, rule” (v 1), kubiki “yoke,” kekkan “defect” (v 2), hikiwatasu “to deliver, to hand over” (v 3), i “stomach” (v 5), hozon suru “to preserve, to conserve” (v 9), todomaru “to stay, to remain” (v 13), futa “lid,” youki “container, vessel” (v 15), shinsen “fresh, clean” (v 17), hitasu “to dip, to immerse” (v 18).
Yet more words I’ve encountered before but forgot the meaning or the characters. *sigh* I shouldn’t have let 4 months go by…